KaRyn: The Story (of a Utah Mormon)

Today I am thinking a little about where we’ve been and where we’re going and how we’re going to get there.  The truth is that as I’ve been forced into this journey with Justin and accepted the challenge, my heart has expanded exponentially toward everyone.  I find myself constantly reminding myself that we’re all just trying to do our best and today, for today, THAT’S ENOUGH.  

I’ve also been thinking about the power of narrative and active listening to help us get to know each other.  Do you know how many group therapy circles I’ve been in during the last 4 months?  so many…and they are amazing.  People telling their stories, bringing you in, letting you see them as they really are even if it’s just for a minute.  And there’s something sacred about that.  

You haven’t heard much from me because I’ve been moving into my crazy work mode (fall and spring) and helping with a fundraiser for the FAR BETWEEN documentary that is all about STORYTELLING.  Last weekend, I got to perform a story at two fundraising events in conjunction with another great organization THE PORCH and it was such an amazing experience.

 

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Mid Story at Pioneer Book in Provo Photo: Jay Jacobse

 IT was amazing because storytelling and stand up comedy are things that I have been wanting to experiment with for a while now, but it was also amazing because for the first time in a long time, Justin and I both felt so connected.  We have always been knit together in our desire to serve and this was a sweet opportunity to explore that again when it wasn’t all about Justin and his health and healing.  I think we both just felt NORMAL and outwardly focused for a few days.  Like we remembered who we want to be when this is a little further down the road.

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Photo credit: Jay Jacobsen

 

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Anyway, here’s an essay-ish version of the story I told:    

In the winter of 1997 my Philadelphia singles ward made a pilgrammage to NYC for the macy’s thanksgiving day parade.  Somehow in between making fun of Kenny G’s mullet float:

2012 Tournament of Roses Parade in Pasadena

and the pirate ship full of the cast of cats (grown men in unitards pretending to bat at nothing. Really?)

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we found time to make friends with the other people around us.  We shared bagels and huddled together for warmth and when a large contingency of rainbow shirted children and adults made their way down the parade route singing and waving their jazz hands in mock cheerfulness, it wasn’t at all unnatural for someone to make a comment.  The surprise was that the comment came from one of our new found NY friends who turned and said loudly.” Ah, here come the Mormons. Yep, look at those hands and faces. Mormons!”  We all kind of laughed nervously because this is the part where a missionary moment is supposed to happen, right?  Of course someone from our group said, “well, you know, we’re mormon and we’re not like that!”  With out skipping a beat, our friend looked us straight in the eye and said “Honey. Honey. NO.  Those.  Those are UTAH Mormons.” THere it was…And suddenly I had a name for this group of people who made me feel bad that I had no pioneer ancestors and hadn’t ever been to EFY.  UTAH MORMONS. From that point on, Utah Mormons came to mean overly cheerful, inauthentic, and bad fashion sense. Because, rainbow shirts?  

SO I probably need to back up and tell you that I grew up in Pennsylvania where we attended church in a tiny branch with about 80 people every sunday.  The missionaries referred to it as OUTER DARKNESS, so you can imagine how popular it was.  It was probably only because of those missionaries and the western transplants who came to our town that I realized we were different from other Mormons.  I knew THEY were different with their Hawaiian Haystacks (seriously, what the crap?) and the constant references to being “in the mission field”, and I guess that meant that I was different from them. But somehow I also knew that being Mormon in Pennsylvania had a slight air of  “coolness”.  Don’t get me wrong, it didn’t make ME cool, because nothing could help that greasy middle school hair and sally jesse Raphael glasses.

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But it is true that in a town where everyone was Polish, Italian and VERY catholic, I was different. Unique. And that was kind of cool.  So when the kids in my 8th grade geography class wrote Christmas jingles about Joseph Smith on the bus, it was flattering instead of horrifying.

You know what happens next. I moved to Utah. I came to Utah for lawschool (oh, don’t worry, I didn’t actually GO to law school) at the ripe old age of 23 and I was convinced that Utah Mormons were the devil and I was bound and determined to avoid the appearance of evil.  I did everything I could to be un-UTAH mormon – I joined an interfaith council at the U of U even though I wasn’t even a student.  I got a job at the freaking NATURE CONSERVANCY which is probably the least Mormon organization I could work for… And I vehemently proclaimed that I was from Pennsylvania every chance I got (which may not have been to my credit since few people equate cultured refinement and Pennsylvania.)

 One of my very first non-utah Mormon acts of rebellion was to attend a local poetry slam in downtown SLC. Because Mormons HATE poetry, right? I had attended and even performed at a few in Philadelphia so I guess I knew what to expect. I was thinking cool hip-hop vibe, a little overt sexuality and maybe the hint of the political. I remember sitting at a table by myself feeling very grown up as I waited for the spoken word to start, but as the evening wore on, my feelings changed from excitement to shame and I don’t know…fear? I am certainly prone to exaggeration, but I’m pretty sure that EVERY. POEM. was about how the LDS church was ruining their lives and how they felt marginalized by the Mormons in their midst. I shrunk lower and lower in my seat… felt like everyone in that place could TELL that I was Mormon and they hated me for it without even knowing ME. I think now, looking back at that experience and my subsequent actions, I allowed that shame to get in the way of the opportunity to be a real change maker. I channeled my shame about being Mormon into hating other Mormons as a way of distancing myself from other people’s judgement. So i refused to own my new home and I rejected a lot of people because of that. Now looking back at it, I’m most ashamed to say that I have purposely not accepted people into my heart because of the way they say MELK and MELL and MOU-EN. I have not been true to myself and my desire to be a peace-maker, a bridge-builder because of this perception that I am better than someone just because I don’t wear bejeweled pants and see things with the same black and white surety that they do.

 I wish I could say that I had some epiphany about my Utah Mormon hatred that changed everything. But the truth is, over my 8 combined years as a citizen of this state, it’s been a slow burning process to come to a place of acceptance…I’ve left Utah and come back twice now, so obviously, there is something I love about it being here, but it’s still not easy. Something that has helped me to accept and attempt to move past my own prejudice is my own work as an ally to the gay community.

 When I moved to Utah it was from Oregon where I had just been in love with a gay Mormon man. My first gay Mormon. Not my first gay crush by a long shot… I was a theater nerd in highschool and college..so you know. In fact, I would say that I was in love with no less than 4 gay men during my 4 years in school…many of whom were Jewish…but no Mormons.  It wasn’t hard for me to make sense of their sexuality because it had nothing to do with me.  I just enjoyed the non-committal party fondling that being the straight fat girl in the gay community afforded me.  And I felt like I had a pretty ROCKIN’ gaydar by the time college was over. But Mormon gays flirt. And I know all gay men flirt. But gay men GAY FLIRT and Mormon gay men STRAIGHT FLIRT. Seriously, the night my Mormon gay came out to me, I was still convinced he was going to kiss me… I was like… “Feel all that nervous tension in the air? That’s makeout tension… YEAH.” Well we all know what that nervous tension was really about.

 It was a bitter sweet experience, his coming out. Because this wasn’t just a crush but true and honest love, I was, for the first time, acutely aware of the constant crush of his faith and culture on his heart and the way it hindered him from leading a truly authentic life. His faith community (my faith community) was failing him in ways that I didn’t quite understand yet, but somehow I knew that I needed to be part of a solution. Here’s where it gets tricky…While the conservative culture that I perceived as belonging to the UTAH Mormon community seemed like the perfect representation of all that was oppressive and wrong, I have since realized that it is ME who needs to change.

The truth is that I NEED to believe that there is space for everyone in this faith, church and gospel that I love so much. I NEED for there to be room for all in my church pew: gay, straight, Pennsylvania, Utah, conservative, liberal, black and white thinkers and those of us who swim comfortably (or not so comfortably) in the gray. And in order to be a true ally, I have to be the one to MAKE THE SPACE. I know now that I am doing more harm than good for my gay brothers and sisters, for ALL my brothers and sisters, by separating myself from the rest of my people. My own prejudice has crowded my church family out in ways that I don’t really fully understand yet, but want to understand. That wanting to understand is the first step, but more than that I need to own this community and become part of it.

Because the next time some fabulous New Yorker turns and says, “Honey. HONEY. THOSE. Those are Utah Mormons.” I hope and pray that she is pointing at me.  And I will say, proudly, I am a UTAH MORMON and I am open. I am a UTAH MORMON and I see you. I am a UTAH MORMON and I choose authenticity instead of perfection. I am a UTAH MORMON and I seek to understand. I choose empathy as Christ did. I allow others to be who they are and expect the same respect. I am a UTAH MORMON and I am an ALLY to those who feel abandoned, marginalized, alone, rejected and displaced by their community be it religious or otherwise. I am a UTAH MORMON and though I will always fight against be-dazzled pant pockets and big hair, I am ready to embrace my home and make room in the pew for YOU and everyone. I am a UTAH Mormon.

KaRyn: The Pieces

I hate this part of blogging – the part where I haven’t written in two weeks, but I’ve got at least 6 things to catch up on, each of which could be its own entire blog post.  But let’s be honest.  If we waited for me to get to all of them, we’d be waiting a long, long time (do I need to remind you about that whole thesis business? hmmm??) So I’m just going to have to practice the long lost (to me) art of brevity and give you what I think cliff’s notes would do with the last two weeks of my life starting chronologically from past to now:

MY -ITIS

I think I mentioned my autoimmune disease in at least one other post.  The thing about this that is important is that I like to pretend it’s not real.  There.  I said it.  I don’t want to be a sick old lady with -itises that I drop into casual conversation as though you care.  The problem with this approach is that it doesn’t really work.  It’s still there and occasionally, regardless of how well I ignore it, it pops up in the most inconvenient times and places to let me know that I need to take care of myself.

10543646_10152213239972651_7161511943996106500_nThis time, it was iritis which is a condition where the colored part of your eye gets all flamey and painful.  it usually affects only one eye at a time with a red sort of halo and it makes it insanely painful when exposed to sunlight – hence the doubled up sunglasses.  I haven’t had this in almost 10 years but I knew EXACTLY what it was when it started and was able to catch it early.  The really awful part is that I can no longer live in denial.  This was a wakeup call to do what I need to do:  sleep more, take my dumb pills, make time to see a doctor, reduce stress – all things that require me to care for myself, which we all know is not my favorite thing to do.

Do you know the weirdest part?  FOR YEARS and I mean YEARS, I have been telling my mother to see the doctor for things that ail her and I have been genuinely baffled by this strange trait that makes her say, “I don’t have time for that”.  And here we are.  Apples don’t fall far from that tree, evidently.  It’s what primes the pump for unchecked codependency if we don’t keep a close eye on it (pun intended). Continue reading

KaRyn: The Challenge (of Living with a Clean Addict)

There was this from the Alanon “ONE DAY AT A TIME” book:

“THe change from active alcoholism to sobriety makes a great upheaval in our lives.  It is a challenge to both partners.  Making this difficult adjustment requires entirely new thinking patterns.  In the years of active using, the husbands of compulsive drinkers had to take on many extra responsibilities.  Along with earning a living for the family, they had to provide for the care of the children, take care of the home and get the meals.  Wives of compulsive drinkers often had to work to supplement the skimpy budget or do without many necessities, as well as doing the man’s chores around the house.  With sobriety, many of these roles must be reversed, many habits unlearned. Continue reading

KaRyn: In Training

I started going to cross-fit about three weeks ago.  My neighbor does it in his backyard and invites anyone who hears the grunting and thinks it would be fun to join him.  If you are unfamiliar with cross-fit, this description of one of my daily workouts should give you a clue to what we’re dealing with here.  

WOD (workout of the day) for Wednesday:

first:  Get a sledgehammer (don’t worry, neighbor has at least three of varying weights -pick the lightest one for your own safety). Stand around a large pronate tire that has presumably fallen off a monster truck and into your neighbor’s back yard.  Lift the sledgehammer above your shoulders and hit the tire as though you are breaking concrete on a chain gang.  Repeat the action as many times as you can for 1 minute.  When the timer goes off, switch arms and repeat the action again for another minute. When you are finished with this work, cry a little.

ifaacademy_combat_conditioning_fitness_02Second: Stand upright. (if you can after sledgehammer business).  Fall down into the grass until you are in a sort of horizontal place with the ground. Push yourself back up off the grass in a motion that might look a little bit like a push up.  Crawl apologetically back up to your feet, put your hands in the air and clap them high above your head.  Repeat as many times as you can in 1 minute.  This is called a burpee.  Why?  I have NO idea.  MODIFICATION:  Fall down into the grass and play dead until the timer goes off.  

Rest for 30 seconds and then start over again.  Do 20 minutes of these rotations.  

Yep. Cross fit.  I’m the special needs participant in a group of highly fit people.  My first day there, they told me there was NO SHAME IN THROWING UP (!) because at some point or other, every one has done it.  I modify everything and have an irrational fear of jumping up on a high box, but still I go every other day.  I’ve been fit before and have often said that I want to learn how to become an athlete.  This is not something that comes naturally to me.  In fact, almost every day when the text message comes telling us what time we will start falling on the ground and getting back up again, I think I might just do what DOES comes naturally instead. “Maybe today i will do what I know how to do well.  What I’ve always done.  What feels safe and intuitive.  Maybe today I will just eat this bag of kettle corn while watching old episodes of 30 Rock and Arrested Development and scroll through instagram until it’s time to go to bed.” (note: there is NOTHING WRONG with that occasionally.)

But then I remember that I actually feel better after cross fit.  I put on my shoes, grab some water to stave off the inevitable dehydration (sledgehammering a tire will do that to you), and make my way to the neighbor’s yard for 30 minutes of hard, hot work.  It’s worth it to feel the strength returning to my legs and arms.  

Justin has been home for 6 days.  His sobriety is precious and it is impossible to do everything right and exhausting to have to work at every aspect of our interactions.  I feel constantly drawn to what I’ve known and how I’ve done things before.  Sometimes, when there’s even just a hint of tension, I start strapping on the kettle corn feedbag (ie…old communication patterns).  For example, we were having a tense conversation in the car about my crappy driving and I felt like Justin was accusing me of not taking responsibility for myself and I just lost it. I screamed. Banshee screamed. I felt every ounce of my own sobriety slipping away…I was seemingly suddenly weak and unbalanced and afraid.  Afraid of not being loved.  Afraid of being abandoned and victimized.  THere was this tenuous moment where it was all collapsing, sliding into the kind of pit that takes days to dig out of. The miracle came when we were somehow able to recover.  I can’t even really remember what that recovery looked like (a fumble and catch?) but the thing is: We are getting stronger.  Slowly.  We are falling down and crawling back up again.  I take comfort in knowing that we aren’t going anywhere and tomorrow is another day to try again.  

Now, quickly, I want to say that I am not so presumptuous to believe that Justin’s sobriety can be undone by me.  I mean, I didn’t cause his anxiety, addiction or his recovery, so it would be pretty impressive if I could CAUSE his relapse.  But I CAN add to the stress that might cause a relapse.  So I am sensitive to that, but not overly.  What I’ve realized is that my brain is in training the same way his is.  I have neural pathways that have gotten really comfortable jumping to their conclusions and subsequent reactions.  I’m allowed to feel tired because the work I am doing is exhausting too!  But the important thing is that I keep showing up, choosing  to hit the tire and giving myself and my marriage the opportunity to evolve into something with real muscle.  And sometimes I cry to release the tired and that’s ok too.

Are there any other family members of alcoholics and addicts reading this who have felt this exhaustion when their loved one first comes home?  What has your experience been?  How long did the funky/walking on eggshells/finding your sea legs part last for you?

KaRyn: The Hole

Tonight, the ache in my heart required bad poetry.  It demanded it as I sat crying on an overlook above the city.  Here’s a bad picture to go with my bad poetry.

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There’s a part of me that wants to describe where the poem came from, but really, it’s not that subtle (as bad poetry often isn’t).  The reality is this: my husband is giving 110% of his energy to healing right now and though I have every right to feel empty, neglected and sorry for myself, I cannot blame my emptiness on anyone else.  I would venture to guess that this poem and this post are my Higher Power’s way of reminding me to seek Him to fill the void.

This night, this heart

is a gaping maw

Toothless gums gnashing open

closed, empty

a low gutteral hum whistling through its depths

Even the dusk-filled skyline

holds her flickering dotted gems at arms length

all is unable to satiate

all is hunger, want

why, heart

The sun retreats in a trail of curdled sky

swirling flames put out with his distance, but

not this heart’s desire.

What hopes to soothe it? why

nothing can be made from that

From here, it seems like something quieted by darkness

but really it is not reconciled.

It will wake again, desperate

for things it cannot create, gather, wish

out of this night, this heart

KaRyn: The Creation

It’s Homecoming Eve.  I need to go to bed because I have to get up early to head to the treatment facility to pick up Justin, but I also needed to document this milestone.  Or rather, the night before the milestone.  I’m not going to bother trying to describe my feelings.  Suffice it to say nothing makes you look more insane at work than having a panic attack followed by maniacal laughter.  Yep.  It’s like that.

I’ve cleaned the house because that makes me feel like I’m ready for something.

I tried to make something because that makes me feel the most like myself.  I started with a fancy BLT for dinner…heirloom tomato, REAL bacon from the deli at harmons (none of that turkey business for a last meal).  It was nice but somehow didn’t quite hit the poetic notes that I was hoping for.  I don’t know, I guess I imagined it like a scene in a movie where there is some sort of moody music playing while the camera shows slow shots of my hands close up, slicing the perfect purple red tomato, the crackling bacon and then my face with my eyes closed while I savor every bite – the music crescendo-ing to remind you of how alone I am.  It was more like just a sandwich in the hands of a moderately hungry person.  I don’t think I savored anything. Then I tried to make some fruit leather.  That was not a winner.  I used some cherries that I acquired yesterday and it took me forever to make because of all those stupid pits.  Then I cooked it wrong and it turned into a sort of tar paper with a flavor profile reminiscent of death and defeat. Like I said, not really a winner.   But that’s ok, maybe what I should be creating is not food related.

We’re making a contract, me and Justin.  It’s a document that says what he’ll do to maintain his recovery and what I’ll do to maintain mine and help with his.  We’re going to talk about it tomorrow with Ted.  We’ve also contacted our old marriage therapist who will start to see us again next week.

I realize that everything is going to change, maybe even this project.  I mean, how can it not?  I’ve been having this sort of one sided conversation with my husband, and he with me for three months.  He couldn’t read any of my posts while he was in there so I felt safe to say what I really wanted to say.  How will his ability to fully participate on this blog change what I say and how I say it?  Will I censor things more?  Will I stop writing all together?  And what about Justin…will the ability (and requirement really)to post his own videos change his experience?  Will he feel like he can’t really say things because he’ll KNOW that I’m watching? (even though he knew I was watching before, he didn’t have to watch me watching…if you know what I mean.)

There’s still so much to create, really.  First a contract, then a relationship and a revised life together.  Then trust.  Then, who knows!  I hope all this creation includes writing and video and The Beauty for Ashes Project because it’s been good for me.  Whatever we end up creating, Luckily, creating together is one of the best things about my relationship with Justin.  I probably won’t try to create cherry fruit leather again though.  You’re welcome.

 

KaRyn: The Countdown

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IMG_8466Justin comes home this friday.  I don’t even know what to say about it that will make sense to anyone. ever.  People sometimes ask me, “So are you excited?”.  To illustrate how that question causes me problems, I would like to tell you a story.

Because I have some weird food things right now, I have become chummy with a few of the food service staff at the treatment facility.  Nothing forces you to create a bond faster than constantly asking if there’s dairy in the breakfast/lunch/dinner menu.  One fellow, we’ll call him Ron, was especially helpful and often went the extra mile to make sure I had food to eat.  By the end of my family week tenure, we were trading recipes for granola and discussing the price of cantaloupes.  You know, the usual. Continue reading

KaRyn: Falling Apart (& How We Put It Back Together)

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Sometimes, the washing machine breaks on an ordinary Tuesday night.    And occasionally, when you hear that unbalanced sound of metal crashing into metal and you realize with horror that there is nothing with a zipper in this load, your heart starts beating faster than normal and you push the “end cycle” button so hard that it pushes the button right off the machine.  It’s possible that you might open the washing machine lid to see everything just horribly wrong in there – basket askew, water not draining – and you remember that you bought it (and the one year warranty) in February of last year and it is now June.  Sometimes, the washing machine breaking feels like the whole world collapsing and so you collapse on the washing machine and just FEEL.  Maybe that feeling looks like a lot of hot, angry tears and a tiny “woe is me!” especially when you remember that your husband, a huge and vocal proponent of extended warranties, definitely invited you to extend THIS warranty, and you politely declined. Because, well, you know better.

Fast forward to Wednesday and the start of another family week at Justin’s treatment facility.  This time, I went in preparation for his homecoming in two weeks.  His treatment team thinks (and I agree) that sober living (a sort of half-way house for addicts) is not the best option for a dude with a wife and kids.  It’s time to come home, step out of the safety bubble of rehab, go to intensive outpatient treatment and start rebuilding relationships and life in general.  A huge part of this planning and transitioning was a weekend home pass that we’ve been jokingly calling Justin’s Furlough.  Overnight passes Wednesday and Thursday and then home with me and the kids Friday to Sunday.

After it was clear that the washing machine was definitely compromised and after I had cried enough to feel like I’d done some good, I did what any normal person without an active warranty does…I started to poke around in there to figure out what the problem was.  This is where my Sue O’Daly gene takes full effect.  I realized, after feeling up the insides of my washing machine, that there was a sort of metal pole missing.  I took to the internet and began with the most logical thing: A diagram. Must. Find. Name for metal thingy.

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Continue reading

Justin: The Good (seeing it in other people!)

June 21.   Justin notices that he’s beginning to really believe that people are good and not just always out for themselves.  His sobriety is reminding him that he wants to see other people succeed and he’s excited to see other people the way God sees them.  The help he received from everyone involved in the project is a powerful reminder of the goodness of others.

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