by Dan Flanders*
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This story is being written both as a testimony of the love of our Heavenly Father and as a way of sharing with others who are on this journey the steps I went through, with the grace of God, that brought me healing. It is my hope that those who also struggle with SSA may find some answers here and that they will come to recognize that God is working in their lives even at those moments when they don't recognize it. For the purpose of this account, I will not spend much time talking about the experiences of my youth that helped me develop SSA except to say that I was a sensitive child who was abandoned by his father, physically abused by one stepfather, sexually abused by a male babysitter and emotionally abused by another step father. My mother was a good woman but was and is herself needy and therefore was not able to provide the emotional support I needed. I was not raised in the Church but joined after completing college at the age of 21. I served a mission and was married shortly after my mission in the Salt Lake Temple to a returned missionary upon the prompting of the Spirit.
I will begin the story of my journey about seven years ago. At that time, there was a great gulf between my conscious mind and its desires and my subconscious mind and its desires and needs. Although I had SSA, I was mostly in denial and did not fully recognize it. I frequented a park where SSA people often met, "because I wanted to get some sun." I would tell myself that I would only spend a few hours there but somehow once I was there, I found myself powerless to leave. I arrived early, before the heat of the day. Other SSAed men did not arrive until much later. Although I did not at first engage in any activities with these men, I enjoyed the attention they showed me as I lay in the sun. As time went by, I found that I hungered after that attention and found myself powerless to leave until someone came along and offered me some of the attention I craved. My cravings were not for sex, they were for male attention. Unfortunately, those who provided that attention were not willing to leave it at attention and often forced the issue.
This pattern started much earlier in my life when I was innocently enjoying the sun, under doctor's orders to help my skin condition, and some older men took advantage of my vulnerability. While this would have been termed abuse, it did not seem like abuse to a young teenager who wanted male attention. Even though there was a part of me that felt that this was wrong, there was a part of me that hungered for love and affection from a "father figure."
I prayed every night for strength to overcome my weaknesses, without naming them. I prayed for strength to endure to the end. And though I prayed for years, those prayers seemed to be going unanswered. I struggled with the same issues, week after week, year after year. It was at this time that I wrote the following poem.
Hope Against Hope
As I walk through darkened corridors,
The silence is deafening;
I search for an escape,
But other pathways seem darker still;
Ahead of me I see a faint light, promising relief.
In the light I see a pathway, marked by one before me;
Desperately I follow the trail,
Hoping against hope that it leads to the light.
Shadowy figures lean from the shadows, beckoning to me;
Longing for company, I follow awhile;
Yet their darkness is even greater than that I face.
Sometimes I call out, hoping to hear some voice,
Other than the echo of my own calling.
I look for fellow travelers
Who are also searching for the light,
But most pass by unheeding, hurrying to their goals,
Unmindful of others along the way.
Sometimes I meet a stranger, who shares a crumb of bread,
Or a cup of water to meet my thirst;
But these friends are so few, and so far between,
That often I slump to the ground,
Wishing to die rather than to continue.
In darkest moments, somehow the light ahead
Seems even warmer and brighter,
And in faith I trust it was lit by one,
Kinder, more benevolent, than I have known in life;
A voice declares, it is your brother who waits ahead;
He shares in my grief, He lightens my burdens,
He calls softly to stay on the path;
And so, although alone, hungry and tired,
I rise once again to resume my journey,
I watch for the evidence that He has passed this way before,
And I take yet another step, weary but resolute.
Then one day, though still largely in denial of my real problem, as I pondered on the fact that I was not happy with life, I realized that I needed a close friend. Somehow I knew that this needed to be a male friend and that my wife would not do. I mentally reviewed the roster of men in my ward and could not find a single person on that roster with whom I had enough in common to become close friends. Over the years I had found some men who became friends but either I or they had moved away. I felt terribly alone. Sometimes I had found someone that I was close to but his wife didn't really care for my wife, so our relationship never fully developed. As I somehow deeply felt the need for such a friend, I prayed, more earnestly than usual, pleading with the Lord to bring someone into our ward with whom I could develop a deep friendship.
Not long afterwards, a family moved into the ward from a neighboring stake. Their oldest son was leaving soon on a mission so the family spoke in sacrament meeting. I felt an immediate kinship with the father in this family. We were exactly the same age and had children of similar ages. He was a dynamic and outgoing individual who very soon received a stake calling. Although I felt drawn to him, I wasn't sure he would feel the same towards me. But amazingly, he returned my love and became my dearest and closest friend. Even better, his wife became a friend of my wife and his children became friends with my children.
I was serving in the stake at the time and had frequently been responsible for stake audits. This responsibility was being turned over to high councilmen and I was asked to train my friend. As a consequence, we rode together to distant wards and branches to perform audits, which gave me the opportunity to spend significant blocks of time with him in one on one conversation. He shared with me some of his deepest thoughts and struggles, things he shared with no one else outside his family. What was amazing to me was that while I found much in him to admire and to be attracted to, he found much in me to be admired and he was very good at telling me, very specifically, those things about me which he admired and which he wanted to develop within himself. My attraction to him was not a physical one, although he is a good looking man. It was at a much deeper level. Getting to know him and spending time with him was the beginning of the development of my self esteem.
I continued through this period to struggle with my acting out behavior, which had developed into a habit. I was serving as stake clerk at the time and felt the conflict developing within myself but seemed unable to do anything about it. I did not understand why I did what I did and I did not know how to stop it.
Things went from bad to worse in my life. My marriage seemed empty. I felt like a failure as a father and a husband. I could see problems developing in my children -- insecurities. My occupation, in which I had been a leader throughout the country was being undermined by my new boss and I was being isolated and left out in the cold. I worked for an office in Washington, D.C., but was the only employee in Cincinnati. As I became more and more isolated, I became more and more depressed. I began acting out at lunch time and would be gone for hours. While I knew that I could get into trouble for this if anyone found out, I seemed powerless to change my behavior and after I went to a place to act out, I seemed to lose total control of myself. It was as though there was another person taking charge of my body. I could see what was going on but I couldn't control it or change it.
It was during one of these experiences that I ran into another man and we agreed to meet somewhere more private. When we got there, he was obviously nervous. I didn't even know what we would do, but I knew that I wanted to be wanted. Someone else came near and he left in a hurry without having done anything. Weeks later I saw this same man coming out of our stake center. Suddenly I was jolted into a state of panic. Who was this man, did he know who I was? Would he tell someone of our encounter and where I was when he met me? I became driven with a desire to find out who he was. I found out that he was coming to the stake center for a rehearsal each week. I started calling around until I found someone else who was also there who knew him.
After I learned his name, I watched for him in our acting out area, determined to confront him. When he saw me approaching him, he took off and tried to hide behind a column. I succeeded in following him and as I approached him, his back towards me, I called him by his nickname. Shocked, he turned around. I told him we needed to get together and talk. He asked me why, and I explained where I had seen him and that I was a member of the Church. We agreed to meet for lunch later that week. We met in the courtyard of our public library where we talked for quite a while. I found that I really like him. Unlike me, he had admitted to himself that he had a problem. He was seeing a therapist and attending group meetings and had talked with his bishop and stake president. He was married and had several children. We exchanged phone numbers and agreed to keep in touch with each other.
Over the months, we met several times and talked on the phone weekly. I began to consciously recognize that I too had a problem and that I needed to find help. I came out of the closet of my mind.
After a while, my friend starting having excuses for why we could not get together. When I called him at work, he was always friendly, but just couldn't get away for lunch. I began feeling very lonely. About this time, I had surgery and had to spend a week in bed recovering. As I lay in bed, I had lots of time to think about where I was. I thought about my new friend and as I did, the veil seemed to part somewhat and I could hear the two of us laughing together in the pre-existence. Somehow I knew that we had been close friends there. We had many similar interests and talents, though I felt that, even in the pre-existence, I had been attracted to him because he was so much more talented in an area that I loved. It saddened me that we were drawing apart. I also took a hard look at myself and realized that I could not go on living a lie. I hated myself for the things I felt and did. I determined that something would have to change or I could not continue living. I wept for hours.
Shortly after I returned to work, I received an advertisement at the office for a set of tapes by Tony Robbins called "Infinite Power." As I read the brochure, I thought to myself that I needed exactly what these tapes promised to deliver. Being somewhat skeptical though, I went to the library and looked for the book. All copies were checked out but his newer book, Awaken the Giant Within, was available. I checked it out and was strongly impressed that the principles taught within it were in harmony with Gospel principles. So I ordered the tapes too.
Soon afterwards I scheduled a personal retreat. Making reservations at a local retreat center operated by the Franciscans, I checked in for a weekend of meditation, prayer and study. I brought with me my scriptures, my Tony Robbins tapes and book, and a notebook. Over the weekend, I examined my values and my behavior. I determined just what my values were and prioritized them. I then made a commitment to myself to make the decisions in my life based upon those values. In setting my values, I tried to think about what the Savior would set as His values, and what priority he would place upon those values. Since it was my desire to become like Him, I felt that my values must align with His. The following were the values I set:
I made a decision to try to live within the parameters of these values over the next several months. If I was successful in doing so, I promised myself that I would go to my bishop and confess. I didn't feel that I could confess until I was sure that I could stop my behavior. I believed that if I confessed, I would be told I couldn't do it any more. Then if I went out and did it again, things would be even worse for me. I had to believe it was possible for me to stop. The other factor that affected my confession was the fact that I couldn't bear the thought of losing my membership in the Church. The only thing in my life at the time that gave me any esteem at all, was my calling as stake clerk. I felt like my labor there was greatly appreciated by the stake presidency and that I had the respect of many men throughout the stake. If I confessed, I knew that I would lose that calling and I felt that I would lose the respect of those men. It had taken me years to gain the respect of others, if I lost that, I would truly be alone and empty.
The months passed and I did very well in my commitment. I worked very hard to get everything organized in the stake clerk's office. I went through all the files and organized all of the information in them. I created a notebook with step by step instructions on how to perform all of the recurring responsibilities of that office. I prepared everything for stake conference, with a determination that following that conference I would be talking with my bishop. We had a visiting authority, and as I sat in a meeting with him, the mission president, and the stake presidency, I had strange feelings as the stake president told our visiting authority that I was the best stake clerk in the Church. I felt sad to know that it would all soon end. Immediately following the stake conference, I handed my bishop a manila envelope in which I had placed a written confession of my sins. I wrote them down because I couldn't possibly conceive that I could cover all that I wanted to cover in a face-to-face interview. I told him that if he had planned on spending the rest of the day with his family to not open it until later. Then I waited anxiously.
It was not long afterwards that I received a call from my bishop asking to meet with me. Although he knew everything there was to know, he had me tell him about it again. I guess he knew that confession needs to be verbalized in order to feel complete. He then told me he would have to speak with the stake president. He asked permission to give him a copy of what I had written. I gave that permission. Soon afterward I met with the stake president.
I had served under our stake president for nine years in several capacities, both while he was a counselor in the stake presidency, and as stake president. He was a very formal man who did not show a lot of emotion. Most of those nine years, he called me by my full given name Daniel*, not realizing that everyone who knew me called me Dan*. I had worked in the closest councils with him as stake clerk for two years. I had come to love and respect him and I knew that he appreciated my work, but I never felt that he appreciated me as a person. Yet when I met with him that evening, I felt his deep sense of caring. He told me that of all of the meetings he had participated in as stake president, this one was the one he least looked forward to. I never knew him before or since to be filled with so much love. His love and compassion filled me with hope that I would be able to endure this. After pondering for a few minutes, he told me that he did not feel that my situation warranted excommunication and that he would therefore send me back to my bishop for a bishop's court. He then asked me if he could give me a blessing. I was filled with hope and comfort as he blessed me.
Shortly afterwards, a bishop's court was held. I had hoped that since I had been making very good progress for the last six months, and since my repentance was obviously sincere, that these things would weigh heavily in my behalf. After they pondered on my situation for quite some time, I returned where I was told that I would be disfellowshipped for a period of at least six months. I was told that this was not intended to lower my self-esteem, but rather to raise it.
I found it difficult to accept this decision. I knew that I probably deserved it. I wondered what advantage was there of disfellowshipment over probation, given that I had been free of my behavior for nearly six months? And my self-esteem -- there was no way that this action raised my self-esteem. It was completely shot. To have to sit in church, in front of everyone and not partake of the sacrament, not raise my hand in sustaining -- I felt like everyone would know that I had done something terrible. What made matters worse was that the next general conference (just a few weeks later) was a solemn assembly where members didn't just raise their hands, they had to stand up. I couldn't stand up! I was so traumatized by the experience that I broke out in a sweat. I felt so lost and alone.
The second counselor in the stake presidency told me that my situation did not change his opinion of me one iota and that he wanted me to hurry back. The first counselor would not talk to me for years. The stake president called me a week later to see how I was doing. That really made me feel good, but those good feelings faded fast when I never heard from him or anyone else for months. I was going through the most difficult experience of my life and not one person called me or visited me throughout this period except my bishop, who met with me monthly and called me at lunch time from time to time. Yet even my bishop made many commitments to me that he broke. I felt alone and unloved at the very time in my life when I needed to feel an increase in love.
My wife was very supportive and my children expressed their love for me as I met with each of them individually to explain that I had been disfellowshipped. They did not ask for details. My oldest son got up out of his chair and came over and gave me a hug.
Still I felt abandoned by those whom I had served with unwearied diligence for so many years. I thought about the baptismal covenant to mourn with those that mourn and to comfort those that stand in need of comfort and wondered where was there someone to do that for me. Those feelings were especially strong towards my bishop and stake president, who were in "father" roles. I felt abandoned by them, just like I was abandoned by my father. The pain of that first abandonment, long repressed, came to the surface again. I spent many sleepless nights kneeling in my livingroom, pleading with the Lord to help me and to comfort me. I prayed that someone might be aware of my pain and call, just so that I would know that God answers prayers by prompting others. I had heard those stories told. Why didn't I deserve the same kind of miracle in my life. Maybe God didn't care either. Maybe I was so bad, so disgusting that even God didn't want to comfort me. Maybe I hadn't earned His love.
As I thought about the Savior's teachings of the good shepherd and the role our priesthood leaders should play, I wondered why my leaders weren't being good shepherds. I wrote the following parable.
The Parable of the Shepherds
A shepherd had an hundred sheep. He dearly loved his sheep and called them all by name. Day and night he counted his sheep to make sure they were safely in the fold. On occasion, one of his sheep would wander from the safety of the flock and immediately the shepherd would go in search of that which was lost, leaving the ninety and nine. Upon finding the lost sheep, he rejoiced, laying the sheep upon his shoulder and bringing him back to the fold.
Another shepherd also had an hundred sheep. He loved his sheep. Day and night he looked over his sheep, watching for danger to his flock. On occasion, one of his sheep would wander from the safety of the flock. After a time, the shepherd found that one of his sheep was missing. From time to time he called out for the lost sheep to come home to the flock, sounding his horn to call him home. When the sheep did not respond to the horn, the shepherd lamented the loss of his sheep, fearing that some enemy had taken him. By and by the shepherd heard the lost sheep calling in the wilderness, calling to come back to the flock. Immediately the shepherd responded to the call of the sheep, rendering aid to help the sheep get loose from the thicket where he was caught. Then he pointed the way for the sheep to return to the flock and led the way. Periodically, the shepherd looked back to see if the lost sheep had returned to the flock. He sounded the horn once each week for him. Sometimes he went out in search of the sheep, encouraging the little sheep to come home. Sadly, one day he found that the sheep had been devoured by wolves on his way back to the flock. The shepherd lamented the loss of his sheep and said, "What more could I have done for my sheep? Did I not call to him each week from the safety of the flock to come back? Did I not show him the way? Why did the sheep not come home to the flock more quickly? Now I have lost my sheep!"
During this period of despair, I recorded the following experience:
I had an interesting experience yesterday morning on the way to work. As I entered the skywalk that connected my building with another, I found a bird inside. He was madly flying around looking for a way out of the predicament he had gotten himself into. No one had forced him to fly into the skywalk, he flew there on his own, perhaps out of curiosity, perhaps in search of food. Once there, however, he could not find his way out. He became trapped by the consequences of his earlier action. He was powerless to leave on his own. As I observed him flying around, I noted that he tried each of the potential exits -- doors and windows. But each was a barrier to him rather than an escape route.
Others walking on the skywalk were frightened of him. They did not know how to deal with the situation so they ran away from it. I was tempted to go on my way and even started to walk from the area but thought better of it and returned to assist this frightened bird. I went to the door and held it wide open, waiting for the bird to find his way out. But his random flight to the various doors and windows did not lead him in my direction. So I whistled to him, calling him to the open door. Shortly he flew to where I was and escaped into the freedom of the outdoors.
How much like that little bird we are sometimes. Having made poor choices, we become trapped by the consequences of them. We want to return to the freedom of our life before we made those poor choices but we cannot find our way alone. We need someone to open the door, and just as importantly, we need someone who is willing to encourage us in the direction of that open door and to wait as long as it takes until we find it.
We are the door keepers as home teachers and church leaders. Too often we think that others can find their way out by themselves if we just mark the door. But what is needed is diligent, continued effort to open the door and lead the way, patient waiting and encouragement. The ultimate result of those efforts is the knowledge that each of us will be able to fly free of our past mistakes and fully partake of the blessings of the Savior's atonement.
The six months finally came to a close but the bishop didn't say anything about another court. I sensed that I needed to request it. So I did request one and one was scheduled. As the time approached, I began having second thoughts. I had very low self esteem and very little confidence in myself. I wasn't sure I would be able to handle my problems. There had been no healing during this period. I was still just as troubled with my feelings as before. I knew no more about why I felt the way I did. I had received no counsel on how to overcome these feelings. I wasn't sure I was ready for this court. In fact, I came very close to canceling it. I played the piano before the court to try to calm my nerves and to try to bring the Spirit into my life. Three songs in particular gave me comfort, "Be Still My Soul," "When Faith Endures," and "Where Can I Turn for Peace?" The words of the first song, second verse, gave me the courage to keep going. "Be still, my soul: Thy God doth undertake to guide the future as He has the past. Thy hope, thy confidence let nothing shake; All now mysterious shall be bright at last...."
I admitted in the court my reservations and the fact that I had almost canceled the court. But despite my reservations, I was restored to full fellowship.
During the period of my disfellowshipment, the bishop had asked to be my home teacher and had met with me in monthly interviews. Now that I was restored to full fellowship, he no longer met with me and he asked to have me reassigned for home teaching. I was devastated. I felt like he only cared as long as I was on his list of people that he had to report to the stake president about. I was called to be ward clerk. Although I met with the bishopric from 8:30 pm sometimes until 11:00 pm or later, it was rare that the bishop ever asked me how I was doing. I felt like he didn't ask because he was afraid I would tell him. I shared my feelings with my best friend, who out of concern for me told my high priest group leader, who then told the bishop. When the high priest group leader left his office, the bishop asked me to come it. Being sensitive to such things, I knew exactly what had transpired. The bishop didn't come straight out and ask me about it, but asked some leading questions. Knowing what he was trying to lead to, I just came out with it. I told him that I didn't think he cared about me now that I wasn't on his problem list. I wept as I told him that I had never had a home teacher asked to be released from visiting me before.
(One thing that was very difficult for me to understand was why my leaders couldn't get any inspiration for me. I understood why I might not be able to get answers; I wasn't worthy to. But why not my leaders. These were spiritual men. Weren't there any answers? I thought the Gospel had all of the answers. Or didn't God care enough about me to give them answers for me?)
Later that day, he called me and asked me to meet with him that week. In that meeting he made a commitment to meet with me each week and to spend time with me. Not always counseling, but sometimes just talking together. He kept that commitment for a while, but when I tried to spend an evening just getting to know each other better, he wasn't able to open up. Soon he was breaking commitments and though I tried to help him understand what I felt I needed, he couldn't seem to give it. For a while he would give me a hug after our meetings but then he stopped abruptly and never did it again. Finally I wrote him a letter and told him that I was releasing him from his commitment. Each time he didn't keep a commitment, I felt I was going backwards, not forward. He asked to come over and talk to me. We talked and he said he understood. He said that from now on, when we got together, it would not be a regular scheduled thing, but just a surprise. We never got together again.
Somewhere along the line, in my meetings with the bishop, he and I began to think that perhaps I needed professional counseling. I visited with our LDS Social Services representative for an evaluation. He recommended Joseph Nicolosi's treatment methodology. Since he was not local, it was suggested that I find someone local. All of my efforts to find someone were met with disappointment. Two therapists I did meet with turned out to be miserable failures. Finally our LDSSS representative recommended a local therapist. He was not part of my insurance program so I had to pay the cost on my own. He began by having me read a number of books by John Bradshaw on the family and on our inner child. He taught me how to do inner-child therapy. I met with him for nine months, spending over $3,000. While I learned a lot including how to communicate with my inner child, we never really began working on Nicolosi's approach. I felt that I could not continue to see him due to the cost. But I continued my inner-child therapy on my own.
If I were to describe the benefits of inner-child therapy I would put it this way: Prior to this, I was faced with a lot of inner conflict. There was the conscious, adult part of me that wanted to live the Gospel and be a valiant member of Christ's church. That was the part of me that was a good missionary and succeeded in magnifying every calling I ever held. But there was another part of me, call it my wounded inner child. It was deeply repressed so as to not feel pain. It began as a child when I was abandoned and abused. As a child I could not handle such abuse because it felt like it was directly related to my identity. If I was abused, it must be because I deserved it. That was such a painful feeling that I repressed it and everything connected with it. But the feelings were still there, just pushed way down deep in my subconscious. Keeping those feelings there was like trying to hold a beachball under the water. There was constant pressure for them to come to the surface. So when some event hit upon an area that was wounded, the related pain would surface. Being unable to handle the pain, I would seek for some method to numb it. Some use alcohol or drugs. I used my acting out. When I got into an acting out experience, my sub-conscious self took over and began seeking for validation and affection. As time went by, it became more and more bold in its efforts to secure it. Once satisfied, it would retract back into the subconscious part of my mind, leaving the conscious part of me to answer for it's behavior.
By establishing contact with this subconscious, inner child, I was able to find out each day how my inner child was feeling and what his needs were. Then I could consciously find ways to either help my inner child understand and deal with his inappropriate feelings or find ways to meet his needs in a healthy way. In a sense I became parent to myself. I was amazed at how resourceful my adult self could be when it was asked to parent my inner child. I was also amazed at how much my inner child could tell me about things that were repressed. Over the months I was able to raise those unconscious feelings and fears to a conscious level where I could deal with them and get past them.
A few months after I began therapy, I found a Christian support group for men's sexuality issues. At first I was apprehensive about going. But I gathered up all of my courage and decided to attend. I thought that these men would not understand my problems because they were different, but from the first meeting, I felt like I had found others who understood where I was and how I felt. For the first time in my life I was not alone. I found these meetings to be so helpful, that I have not missed a meeting, when I was in town, for over two years. Some men do deal with different issues, yet I have found that we all suffer from low self esteem and that nearly everyone in the group has experienced some kind of issue related to their father. What an eye-opener, since I am a father, too!
The group is based loosely on the 12 Steps developed by AA and modified slightly for those with sexual addictions. What is amazing to me is that even after I entered into therapy, I did not recognize the fact that I suffered from a sexual addiction. Looking back, I am astonished that I was so blind, that I was in such a state of denial. I couldn't deal with my problems earlier in my life because I was in denial. I didn't know at the conscious level that I had a problem to deal with. I was keeping it repressed too deeply to deal with it.
Eventually, I began working the 12 Steps with the help of a sponsor, and little by little I chipped away at the years of repressed feelings. During this process, I began feeling a lot of anger, which I had previously repressed but which was always there, though disguised. Some of that anger was expressed towards my Church leaders and some towards my wife. But as I continued to work the Steps, I was able to work through those feelings.
First I learned to forgive those who began this cycle of pain in my life, my father, mother, stepfathers, and others who abused me. It was difficult, but I found ways to do so. My father has passed away, so I had to write him a letter to express my feelings. As I continued my work in this area, my anger subsided and I began to feel better about myself.
But I found it easier to forgive those who injured me in the past, unintentionally, than to forgive those who had injured or let me down in the present. I remember one day being in the temple and not particularly feeling the Spirit. As I contemplated on this, I remembered the scripture that says that if we have a gift to bring to the altar but remember that we have something unresolved with our brother, go to that brother, take care of the problem, and then return to offer the gift. I knew that I had to let go of my feelings towards my bishop and stake president if I were to find peace and the spirit. I first went to my stake president because he had been released and was likely to move away soon. I didn't want him to leave without resolving my feelings about him. I called and asked for an appointment. I explained how, through no fault of his, I viewed him as a "father" and that I had felt like he abandoned me during my difficult period. I told him of the feelings that followed that perception of abandonment, acknowledging that those feelings were wrong and asking for his forgiveness. He said that, of course, he would forgive me. We talked for a few minutes about some other things and then I left. While I still wish our relationship could have been more personal, I feel that I was able to get rid of the strong negative feelings I had.
It was a lot harder and took longer to resolve my feelings towards my bishop. I guess the root of it all was that I felt that, personally, my bishop didn't like me. I knew that he cared about me the way a bishop cares about his flock. But I once asked him if he weren't my bishop, would he choose to be my friend. He responded with "That's a hard one to answer." The answer, to me was "Not really." It was hard for me to build my self-esteem when I felt like my bishop would not choose to be my friend. This man knew more about me than anyone. I thought he knew about the good things in me as well as the bad, and he wouldn't choose me as a friend! I had a very difficult time dealing with that. Nevertheless, I knew that I would never find peace without dealing with this issue. Finally I realized that my expectations of my bishop had been totally unrealistic. I had wanted him to become that special man in my life who would make me better. It couldn't happen any more than someone I met while acting out could make me whole.
About this time I felt impressed to share with my home teacher the struggles I was having. I had come to trust him over the past year and I felt that he genuinely cared about me. We met and I told him my story. He accepted all he heard with understanding and compassion and he agreed to meet with me, weekly if necessary to help me work through some of the issues. We met together often and his love and interest in me helped me to be able to see myself in a different light.
I met with my bishop one week, at his request and loaned him my Nicolosi book. I was perplexed about why he had requested it. It had been a long time since we had discussed the concepts in it and he had never followed through with the things related to it that he said he would do. For instance, he said that he would tell me whenever he saw me doing anything that was masculine. Well, he never did, so I was left not knowing whether he never saw anything masculine about me or whether he just forgot. I soon found out why he asked to borrow the book. The next Sunday he was released. He had shown the book to my new bishop.
The new bishop saw me at a stake event that night and told me he had talked with the previous bishop and he wanted to help. He suggested that we get together soon. The next time I saw him, he pulled out his calendar and we set a date. I had a lot of mixed feelings about this. In some ways I dreaded going over the same territory again. At the same time, he was a psychologist, and perhaps he could understand things that my former bishop couldn't. I felt a mixture of hope and fear.
The meeting came and I told my story. At the end, my new bishop asked what I wanted him to do. I told him I was afraid to ask him to do anything since I had asked my former bishop to do things he wasn't able to do. He confirmed to me that the things I had asked of my former bishop were a lot to ask. He then told me that he had a problem in mixing his profession with his calling as a bishop. I walked away, recognizing that I would not be able to turn to my bishop for the answers to my problems. However, he did give me the name, address and phone number of a Columbus Evergreen contact as well as the Evergreen address.
I sent a letter to the Columbus contact and received a phone call when I was home sick one day. They invited me to their weekly meeting. If I had found any sense of belonging in my other support group, it was multiplied many times in this group. The fact that we were all LDS and sought to put our lives in harmony with the Gospel gave us a special bond. Also the stories of our backgrounds were remarkably similar and our reactions to church leaders were often the same. It felt good to know that other LDS men suffer from the same affliction and that I was not alone. I attended those meetings as often as I could, at the same time talking with my new stake president about the need for such a group in Cincinnati. I found the stake president to be very supportive. He expressed to me that he very much regretted that the Church had not been able to support me more as I had struggled over the past several years.
About the same time that I made contact with Evergreen, we had a general conference in which the theme was "Faith In Every Footstep." I realized now that I didn't always know what was best for me and that I couldn't expect everything to be handed to me at once. Yet I could see the Lord's hand at work in my life over the past several years. In particular I felt that the following events were evidence that the Lord had continued to strive with me:
* My best friend moving into the ward
* Meeting another LDS SSA individual who helped me get past my denial
* Being stake clerk and hearing the inspired counsel of my stake presidency over and over again as we attended ward conferences.
* Being led to a therapist who taught me inner-child therapy and about dysfunctional families
* Being led to a men's support group
* Receiving a wonderful, supportive home teacher
* Being led to Evergreen and then Disciples
* Impressions at general conference to have faith in every footstep.
As I worked with my home teacher, attended Evergreen, joined Disciples, and continue to do my inner-child therapy, I was finally able to recognize my part in the struggle with my former bishop, and I was able to let go of my fears and resentments. Eventually I was able to write a letter to my former bishop thanking him for all he did and asking his forgiveness for not appreciating all he did. I enclosed it in a friendship card that said that friends come and go, but only once in a while does someone come along who makes such a difference in your life. (He later told me how much he appreciated that note.) At the same time, I decided to stop testing his concern for me by waiting to see if he would say hello or make the first contact, and start showing him that I cared about him by making the first contact.
I cannot express in words the changes that have taken place in my life over the past several years. And it has taken years. None of this came overnight. Yet now, having let go of all of my resentments and anger, I find a great peace within myself. I find myself filled with love for all men. I spend a lot of time trying to do that little something that will touch another person's life, and I walk daily with the constant companionship of the Holy Ghost. Does that mean that I don't look at other men any more? No, I still find myself looking at other men. Sometimes I even wish I could look like they do. But I don't lust after them, or think sexual thoughts. I don't indulge in masturbation and I don't even desire to. Like King Benjamin's people, I have no desire to do evil, only to do good continually. Will it last? I sincerely hope so. I love walking in the Spirit every day. I love feeling like I am progressing at the rate the Lord would have me progress. My fear has turned to hope that if I have faith in every footstep, I will eventually reach Zion. I don't know how long the journey will take. I don't know if I will die before my journey's through. But I will trust, as the pioneers, that if I am faithful, I will reach my goal. It is my desire to help others to do the same.
My new calling as ward mission leader is evidence to me that the Lord recognizes that I am ready for new challenges and that He has confidence in me. The opportunity to work with the full-time missionaries and to teach and bear testimony often are so invigorating. The story of my journey has been long, even though an abbreviated account. For those who have endured reading through it, I hope you have found some ideas that will help you. I hope that I have been able to help you to have hope that healing is possible. I love all of you and I am so thankful for the love and support I have received from so many along the way. May the Lord bless us all to be able to meet at our journey's end.
*Dan Flanders is a pseudonym.
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