I wrote yesterday about a metaphor, about learning to live with only one arm. A counselor had once, years ago, used this metaphor as a therapeutic tool to help me come to terms with abuse I suffered as a child. I recently came to realize how this metaphor can be constructively applied to the choice I made 20+ years ago to follow the Church’s teachings and get married, even though I knew I was attracted to men.
I went on, in yesterday’s post, to describe how an abused child typically takes the blame for abuse upon himself, unable to process the psychological and emotional trauma that would come from acknowledging the truth about his parent(s). He cannot bring himself to believe that the person who is supposed to love and cherish him is actually beating him.
The acceptance/transference of this blame, among other things, implants an almost inerasable code deep within a child that he is worthless, bad, unlovable. He learns survival techniques that work with varying degrees of success when he is a child; but as he grows into adulthood, these same techniques turn against him, sowing seeds of destruction in relationships.
The more I thought about this process of absorbing blame, the more I saw parallels to the situation I wrote about yesterday, i.e., the relationship of the young gay Mormon to the Church, of his desire to follow the Church’s teachings and get married, believing that this will “cure” him of his dreaded disease. It occurred to me that, analogous to the abused child who cannot blame his parent, we cannot bring ourselves to “blame” the Church for telling us that we suffered from a “perversion”, that our essence was “impure and unnatural”, or for counseling us to enter into mixed-orientation marriages.
Why can't we do this? Why, even though these things caused us incredible pain - caused us to believe that we are worthless, bad, unlovable – why could we not bring ourselves to blame the Church? Because the Church is true! Because its leaders speak for God! Because to blame the Church would bring psychological, emotional and spiritual trauma that can be likened to the trauma that a child would face if he acknowledged the truth about his abusive parent(s).
Therefore, to preserve our belief in the truthfulness and divinity of the Church – that which made sense of all the trauma, all the self-hatred, all the depression, all the pain – we took upon ourselves the blame: we believed what we were taught about ourselves; we developed survival techniques; we internalized the message that we are impure and unnatural; and we vowed to do all we could, despite our fatal and unalterable flaws, to be all that the Church said we could be.
This we did, and we struggled to survive, to carry the burden that we had imposed upon ourselves. Then one day, we perhaps have an experience such as the one I had a number of years ago. I was thinking about my mother, how she had had a rotten childhood, about how I had always excused her for the abuse I suffered at her hands because she herself had been abused. There had to be blame for my abuse, however, and since I had let my mother off the hook, I took it upon myself (subconsciously, of course).
Then came the epiphany: her childhood may have explained what she did to me, but it did not justify it. Furthermore, she was the parent; I was the child. In that moment, I felt a psychological logjam burst away within me. This was the foundational experience, the turning point, in my starting to deal in a healthy way with the abuse and what it had done to me and how its effects were still haunting me as an adult man with children of his own.
Which brings me to another metaphor my counselor – a brilliant man – employed to help me understand what had happened to me as a child. He told me to picture a little boy, a scared little boy. In front of him, some distance away, stood a dragon. Beyond the dragon, he could see his mother, whom he loved and trusted. She beckoned to him to come to her. Bravely, he ran around the dragon and into her loving, warm, safe arms. She would protect him from the dragon.
“But what if,” my counselor asked, “your mother was the dragon? What does that do to you as a child?” He then left me to ponder this.
If we think about this metaphor in the context of us engaging with the Church concerning our homosexuality, the Church becomes the mother: safe, warm, loving, empowering, defining. It is our refuge, our source of truth, our anchor, the gatekeeper to God. But what happens when this maternal figure also becomes the source of much of what makes us hate ourselves, that tell us that we are impure and unnatural, that tells us we can and must change, that condemns us if we fail to live up to what it requires of us, that tells us that God does not accept us? What, indeed.
The Church becomes the dragon.