Thursday, March 31, 2016

Letter to the First Presidency: The Purpose of Sex

Late last summer I had an extremely concerning experience with my Stake President. More can be read about that, here. In response, and in an effort to seek a resolution, I recently wrote the following letter to the First Presidency.

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February 18, 2016

Office of the First Presidency
47 East South Temple Street
Salt Lake City, Utah 84150

Dear Brethren:                                                         

I’m so sad that I even need to write a letter to express concerns regarding my Stake President. The things I am going to share are very personal and I very much wish to have this experience resolved already. However, the experience I am about to recount was entirely too painful to make an appointment to meet with him; risking it happening all over again, and he has not made any effort to reach out to me, either. I do want you to know, that although this experience was painful, I do have a sure testimony of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I know that His plan of redemption has been fully restored to this earth through the Prophet Joseph Smith. Furthermore, I freely and fully sustain the power and authority of the Priesthood on this earth, as well as the keys that are held on my behalf. And, gratefully, I have never had any conflicts with any of my previous Priesthood leaders.

My husband and I make it a habit to nurture a good working relationship with our Priesthood leaders because for most of our lives we have both struggled with sexual addiction. Gratefully, almost seven years ago we both found recovery through the Church’s Addiction Recovery Program and since then—through incorporating many other recovery programs, practices and tools—we are now doing really well. Part of working our ‘program of recovery’ includes meeting with our Bishop regularly, and sometimes even our Stake President, for it has helped us maintain our sense of self-worth, feeling the love of the Savior, and has given us hope in our ability to complete and maintain spiritual goals. However, as well as we were doing in our individual personal recovery, we were having some difficulties in our marriage. So, around six months ago, we met with our Stake President as we already had been for quite some time. During this particular meeting, my husband and I met separately with him, me going first.

Our conversation started off well enough. I’d already established what I felt to be a good working relationship with him; trusting him enough to share some recent struggles that I’d had, both personally and with my husband. Toward the end of my recount of the recent events, he asked me how my husband was doing. I replied honestly, saying I felt he had been somewhat distant. It was after this question, and my subsequent answer, that I felt the energy in the room shift.

He then asked me how our marital sexual intimacy had been fairing. I was taken aback by the question, but because I’d previously had positive interactions with him, I answered honestly. I shared that considering the struggle I have with my own sexual addiction to pornography and masturbation, and striving to heal from the sexual abuse I have suffered at the hand of my husband, things weren't exactly great. I wasn't ready to be that physically vulnerable yet because I didn’t feel safe with him or trust him, so my husband and I had mutually agreed to slow things down sexually in an effort to focus on our emotional and spiritual connection. So things were progressing, even if slowly.

We sat a moment in silence, and then he looked me right in the eye and told me it is my responsibility to have sex with my husband. He told me that if I didn't, my husband would eventually stray, because men need sex. Stunned, I asked; "So you're saying it's my job to service my husband?" He hummed and hawed about my choice of terminology, but in the end, confirmed that yes, it's my job to provide sexual relief. I sat there in silence, my usual witty responses in just as much shock as I was.  

The conversation continued…

Stake President: ‘It even says it in the church handbook.’
Me, not believing him: ‘Where? I want to see it.’
Stake President: ‘Well, it says something like that, that one of the purposes of sex is to bring couples closer together.’
Me: ‘I know that one of the purposes of sex is to bring couples closer together, but don't you think after all that I have shared with you that there may be extenuating circumstances in my marriage?’
Stake President: ‘Well, the brethren also mention it in conference talks.’
Me: ‘Really? Who? I want to see that, too.’
Stake President: ‘Well, they don't just come out and say it. You have to read between the lines.’

By this time, a war had begun to rage within me. I felt torn because I have always trusted my Priesthood leaders; believing that they hold keys to guide me, but at the same time, everything in me resisted what he was saying. All of my recovery work, all of my learned ability to rely on the Lord and all of His personal revelation has led me to a very different understanding of my role as His beloved daughter. My belief is that it is not my responsibility, obligation, or purpose to sexually ‘satisfy’ my husband. And to have that distortion presented as truth to me by my Stake President felt really wrong. Not only that, but it deeply hurt me. I felt that he was not able to see my worth as I see my worth, as my Savior sees my worth. It is also my understanding that dictating the frequency of sexual contact between married couples does not fall under the stewardship or purview of Priesthood leadership.

Gratefully, through the sweet prompting of the Spirit, the right words were given to me in response to him in a clear and direct, yet respectful, way; "I'm sorry, but I don't agree. I don't feel God placed us here on this earth to be slave to our sexual drive, but to rely on our Savior in order to rise above it, and master it." He didn't seem to hear me though, and I was so hurt and offended by that point that I couldn’t really recover in that moment anyway, so I picked up my bag, rose, said I couldn't listen anymore, and left.

By the time I reached the outside doors to the building I had started to cry. By the time I reached the edge of the parking lot, I was overcome by racking sobs.

I couldn't believe it. I couldn't believe that my Stake President, the man that I'd already established so much trust in, this man of God that holds keys for me and is supposed to receive revelation for me, would actually say those things.

Due to the depths of my sexual addiction, I have spent most of my life feeling like a piece of meat, ripe for the taking. Since starting recovery from my addiction, I have fought these feelings, truly striving to see myself as the beautiful daughter of God that I am; divinely worthy, and valuable far beyond the function of my body. And then, somehow, my Stake President managed to strip me of all that work in a matter of moments. Listening to his words took me back to the time when my feelings of self-worth were so low that I thought prostituting myself was all I was good for. Gratefully, that flashback was but for a moment, because deep down I know that what he said isn’t true. My value does extend farther than the function of my body. This I know, because my Savior has born witness of it.

I also can’t help but think about others that his comments may affect. Not because of what he said directly to me, but because of the possibility his core belief has influenced them. At one point he also said to me that he has met with many men who struggle with sexual addiction, and many of them say the same thing; that they aren’t getting enough sex at home. Although sexual intimacy has a beautiful God-given purpose, those bound in sexual addiction are dictated by lust and carnal craving. There is nothing intimate, connective or loving about it. And here is their Stake President, justifying and rationalizing their lust addiction for them. And their poor wives, many of whom may leave his office actually believing that it’s their job to satiate their husbands sexual ‘needs.’ I just feel so incredibly sad for them; the men and the women both, for the toxicity of lust extends far beyond the reach of its host.

I’ve spent the last six months trying to ‘get over’ what my Stake President said to me. I did get to a point where I felt as though I’d moved passed it, until I attended Stake Conference a couple of weeks ago. It was there, faced with the conflict of sustaining my Stake President, that I knew I had to do something more to be free of the hurt and anger I still harbor. So I met with my Bishop. From him I learned that concerns with Stake Presidents are handled through The Office of the First Presidency. So here I am. Sharing my experience.

Thank you so much for taking the time to read this very long-winded letter, and I am genuinely grateful for your personal attention to this very painful experience.

Sidreis Agla

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It took about a month and a half, but this past Sunday I received a call from my bishop informing me that my Area President wanted to meet with me.

That experience can be found, here.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

The Sean Astin Miracle

This past Friday I had the opportunity to attend the bi-annual Utah Valley University (UVU) Conference on Addiction. This year the keynote speaker was none other than Sean Astin... or Mikey, or Rudy or Special Agent Oso, or Samwise Gamgee, as well as a plethora of other characters he portrays.

Sean's presentation, or his narrative as he calls it, was nothing short of amazing. He was raw, thoughtful and funny. Mostly, he was vulnerable and real. He touched me on many different levels; invoking a wide spectrum of emotion, from laughter to compassion to empathy to tears.

But as much as he touched me, I think he touched the woman sitting next to me even more. His words managed to bring her a deep level of hope that she'd been lacking for upwards of two years.

The story began after I arrived at the conference, some 40 minutes early.
...after I carefully chose which table I was going to sit at.
...after I reserved my seat with my things.
...and after I saw Sean standing at the back of the stage and mustered up the courage to approach him for a hug and a selfie. (He gives the most excellent bear hugs by the way.)

Yes, after all that, I found myself back at my seat, alone, until a woman (whom I will call Jane) approached and asked if she could sit by me.

"Sure!" I responded, and as she sat I asked her what brought her to the conference. Her response was not quite what I expected, however, given the conference was full of therapists, clinicians and other addiction treatment personnel. "I don't know," she said. "I'm not sure why I'm here. This whole addiction thing, it's just really overwhelming." Although I didn't really understand. I smiled and agreed, because addiction really can be, and often is, mercilessly overwhelming.

A few minutes later, Jane's mom joined the table and quickly joined our conversation. It was then, during our pre-conference chitchat, that I learned that Jane's brother had died two years prior from a drug overdose. My heart grieved as the weight of Jane's loss sank in. Of course addiction felt hopelessly overwhelming to her, she had lost her brother to it. The grip of addiction was so strong that it literally stole him from her.

We sat quietly next to one another for the duration of Sean's presentation, until the end, when the miracle happened.

Sean referenced a scene in The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, where Sam and Frodo were alone in the ruins of Osgiliath, nestled in the shadow of the majestic city of Minas Tirith. It was there that they found themselves surrounded by the Nazg├╗l ringwraiths, flying atop their giant black felbeasts.

It was at that moment that Frodo really felt the full weight of his mission; carry the One Ring to the depths of Mount Doom, the only place it could be destroyed.
It was there that he felt the deepest despair and the most devastating hopelessness.
...and it was there that the darkness of his burden nearly consumed him.

But then hope bloomed as one life touched another;

“I can’t do this, Sam.”

“I know. It’s all wrong. By rights, we shouldn’t even be here. But we are. It’s like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo, the ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger they were. And sometimes you didn’t want to know the end because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened? But in the end, it’s only a passing thing this shadow. Even darkness must pass. A new day will come. And when the sun shines, it will shine out the clearer. Those were the stories that stayed with you that meant something. Even if you were too small to understand why. But I think, Mr. Frodo, I do understand. I know now. Folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back, only they didn’t. They kept going because they were holding on to something.”

“What are we holding on to, Sam?”

“That there’s some good in this world, Mr. Frodo. And it’s worth fighting for.”

With tears glistening my eyes, I turned to Jane and said; "There's your hope." And with tears in her own eyes, she smiled, nodding in agreement.

Jane may not have understood why she was at that conference when she arrived, but we both knew why she was there by the time Sean concluded Sam's words.

My heart soared heavenward as I thanked Heavenly Father for touching one life, through the life of another, as He always does.

There truly is good in this world.
There is hope amongst the darkness of addiction.
And it is worth fighting for.

Thank you, Jane.
Thank you, Sam.
Thank you, Sean.

Ezekiel 34:11-12,16

"For thus saith the Lord God; Behold, I, even I, will both search my sheep, and seek them out. As a shepherd seeketh out his flock in the day that he is among his sheep that are scattered; so will I seek out my sheep, and will deliver them out of all places where they have been scattered in the cloudy and dark day. I will seek that which was lost, and bring again that which was driven away, and will bind up that which was broken, and will strengthen that which was sick"