Friday, November 10, 2006

Cognitive therapy

Don't let the post title scare you away. This is not a post about gay therapy at all. Rather, it's a post about thinking your way through a challenge. When I was rotating through psychiatry, lots of patients were prescribed cognitive behavioral therapy--fixing problems by changing the way you think about things and the way you react. Phobias, depression, delusions, and anxiety can all be helped by thinking carefully and rationally about the issue.

Here's my problem: I see the passionate experiences of folks like John Galt and Enduring Eric and I want those experiences for myself. Here are married men who had extended affairs that were by all accounts highly enjoyable and now are in the process of returning to the church and receiving full forgiveness and all the blessings of the gospel. Their own blogs explain the details and all the obstacles and heart-wrenching repentance they have and are experiencing, but at the end of it all I keep thinking they've managed to have their cake and eat it too.

I want to love and be loved in the powerful way John describes. Gay or straight, I think few people find a soul mate as attractive and perfectly suited as John has. I wonder if the forbidden nature of an affair makes it that much more passionate. Actually, I'm sure of it. Regardless, that's the kind of passionate sexual connection I've never experienced. And I should be thankful, all things considered, but I find myself feeling cheated. Why shouldn't I experience it just like John did and then repent and go on with my family life?

Commence cognitive therapy.

The problem with my thought process on this subject is that, like many church members, I've tried to distill the atonement into some kind of spiritual arithmetic--the kind that always ends with dividing by zero and being forgiven of all debts. But the gospel of Jesus Christ isn't only about the tally of sins and the ability of the atonement to "cover" them like a credit limit, it's about becoming like God. And you don't become like God by milking the system. You can't become holy by planning your sins and delaying your repentance to get the maximum experience. Every sin contributes to Jesus' suffering. Every one. What kind of person has his sexual fling knowing that the cost is another person being hung from nails through his wrists? Not a divine person, to say the least.

When Elder Eyring says:

This is my warning to you today. It is a bad estimate of your personal costs to believe that a choice to commit sin is made so free by the power of the Atonement that we can have painless forgiveness... how much better to choose to be good and to do it early, a long way upstream from the terrible effects of sin.

I revert to my self-defeating mental exercise of rationalizing that I would be willing to endure a large amount of pain to have the intense experiences John describes. But, then I remind myself that it's not primarily about the happiness or pain involved. It's about becoming a divine person.

Elder Eyring also says:
If we stay at it long enough, perhaps for a lifetime, we will have for so long felt what the Savior feels, wanted what he wants, and done what he would have us do that we will have, through the Atonement, a new heart filled with charity. And we will have become like him. That promise also is in the Book of Mormon: "Charity is the pure love of Christ, and it endureth forever; and whoso is found possessed of it at the last day, it shall be well with him. Wherefore, my beloved brethren, pray unto the Father with all the energy of heart, that ye may be filled with this love, which he hath bestowed upon all who are true followers of his Son, Jesus Christ; that ye may become the sons of God; that when he shall appear we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is; that we may have this hope; that we may be purified even as he is pure. Amen." (Moroni 7:47-48.)

I don't have to experience what seems like the most passionate and intense feelings in life. I don't need to "experiment" with my gay feelings to see what it's like... to know that, yes, I really am gay, and yes, I really will be missing out on that amazing sort of passion I desire in order to become who God wants me to become.


Anonymous said...

-L-, when I started to compose a comment here, I realized I had a lot to say, so rather than take up too much space on your blog here, I decided to respond on my own blog.

John Galt said...

1. This sounds like the Prodigal Son.
2. Elder Eyring is right. It's all about becoming Godlike. I'm trying. I realize I did something abhorrent. And all I can do is say I'm sorry. Sorry to my wife, to my Savior, to everyone. And to change.
3. It's a fallacy that the more we sin the more Christ had to suffer. His Atontement was omniscient and infinite. It could not be added to nor taken away. The theory of me putting one more nail into Christ's palm is sensationalistic.
4. Regardless of how wonderful it sounds, being with my "other half" has scarred me forever. What my wife feels now, what I will always feel inside, will never be worth it. I apologize if I made it sound too good. I would be lying to say it was not absolutely wonderful in the most carnal sense. I was not writing my blog to influence anyone. I needed to get the truth out. I am ashamed that some young gay LDS single men may have read my blog and hoped to find such a relationship. If you believe in the Gospel, you will never find peace with a man, regardless if he's your other half or not. No matter how badly your body aches for him, your testimony and your blood of the covenant will burn and destroy whatever love you find. It is insatiable. You cannot serve two masters. You will have to choose. And to deny the very blood of Israel that runs through your veins is tougher than you think. You don't know how much the Spirit means until you've lost it.
4. Do not suppose that repentance comes easily. I never ever ever ever imagined that I could feel the intense misery, despair and destruction I have these past few months. It is worse than anything I could possibly describe. Physically, emotionally, spiritually... it is my literal hell. Anyone with less resolve and conviction would have turned back or given up life. It is not worth it, the risk.

Whew, that all sounds so serious. Life does get better. I love my Savior. And my wife and children. I owe them everything.

Thanks for this post L.


-L- said...

Thank you both for your feedback. I probably shouldn't have included your names in there because it really is a personally pensive post, not directed at you. But I figured you were good examples of how sin isn't all bad--it's genuinely very very desirable. And you are examples people know. So, thanks for agreeing to let me use your names.

John, the way "infinite" describes atonement is vague. I mean, I know what infinite means in mathematical sense and it doesn't apply. So, it's not surprising to me that I'm still using a sensationalist view of the Savior's suffering. However, I'm interested in that more if you care to comment.

It is like the prodigal's son. And I've always been puzzled with that one. I have a lot of learning to do!

Again, thanks for your post and comment.

Chris said...

L, I hope you don't take this the wrong way. Seems like we aren't always very good in our communication with each other.

But it seems curious to me that you would mention the example of two men who carried on long-term extramarital homosexual affairs as sources of envy. Do you not ever contemplate other options for yourself?

One of the things that frustrates me in discussing the marriage issue with many of the gay married Mormon bloggers is the "all or nothing" view that most seem to have of the options before them. The choice almost always seems to be framed as stay married and faithful or give up the whole eternal family. I've blogged about a third way and I'm trying very hard, every day, to live it. I'm not foolish or arrogant enough to hold myself up as any kind of example--God knows I'm still trying to figure this out. But having traveled as far down the road as I have, I think it is fair to say that I haven't lost my family. I didn't leave them. My children and I are still very much a part of each other's lives and their mother and I maintain a close, supportive relationship with each other.

Perhaps the examples of john galt and enduring eric are appealing because you know you won't go there. Perhaps you can envy what they've done because you know you won't do it. I do find it frustrating that these men are the examples cited in the gay Mormon bloggernacle of men who have "been on both sides" of this. They had affairs with other men, wrapped in secrecy, shame and guilt. From where I stand in my life, that is hardly the same thing as living an honest gay life.

FoxyJ said...

I know this is an issue that my mother has struggled with for a long time, and only now as an adult we can talk about it more fully. She grew up in an active family and went to BYU for a year. Then she dropped out of college, dropped out of the church and partied for a few years. She and my dad decided to move in together, then got married a few months later. She told me that they only decided to move in together after getting drunk on the beach and having sex together. After my older brother was born she decided to reactivate. It took my dad much longer to become active, but they've been married for over 30 years and were sealed in the temple a few years ago. Anyways, despite the fact that she's been totally active and completely forgiven for many years, my mom still struggles with her self-esteem and feelings of worth. Doing those kinds of things will always stay with you, even after you repent. This is one of those issues that I struggle with how to teach to my children. Many types of sin seem very enticing. They're probably pretty enjoyable while you're doing them. You can also do them and still have a pretty good life (contrary to some of the scary "sin is unhappiness" simplification we try and give youth). You can probably even repent and have a blessed life afterwards. But how do we convey the subtler consequences of sin? What about the struggle to forgive yourself and feel God's love? What about those who don't sin and feel resentment towards those that do and repent and look like they're getting a "free ride"? I think that these are some of the toughest issues that many Mormons face. I also feel that we need to keep focusing on the big picture--we are here to become like God. There's a fabulous talk by Elder Oaks from conference a few years ago where he talks about the need to focus less on numbers/arithmatic and to focus on our personal spiritual progression. That's what I try and worry about more and more: where am I at and am I going up or down. I don't want to risk going down any more, even if there's a good chance I could climb back up.

Anyways, now I'm rambling and I basically wrote a post in the comments. Sorry.

John Galt said...

Chris, it sounds like you've been away from the church for too long to remember how us Mormons think :-).

THERE IS NO MIDDLE ROAD TO THE CELESTIAL KINGDOM. It's not a cultural decision L or any of us are making. We believe that it is required of us. That we can become like God by perfecting ourselves through self-discipline, denying the natural man within us.

With this perspective, it's not about "sure, we can separate from our wives and still be good fathers to our children and then find the man we want." That is not an option for us, considering the eternal consequences, according to our beliefs. Of course cheating should not be an option either. But as a fantasy - which L seems to have an obsession with here, lol, - his only fantasy scenario is the one I lived. That's the point of his post... he has no desire to seperate from his family and his testimony. And he knows it's wrong. But as a gay man, sure, he wants sex with another man. He may even want more than that... a romantic attachment... to play out those feelings that are so powerful and binding. But since we believe it's about becoming a God, well L is not going to do it, now are you L??? :-). OK, I'm being cheeky here, sorry for speaking on your behalf L - I don't even know you. But you understand I'm talking about the standard gay mormon married bloke (maybe you're different). And since your post was directed at me, I gave myself the liberty to reply to Chris. And he likes me so he won't mind me saying this :-)

Bottom line is that within our belief system (called the Gospel of Jesus Christ), there is no middle road. Either we carry our cross to the Celestial sun or we eat our cake to the moon or stars. I realize that will sound harsh or narrow minded down in Greenwich Village but it's simply a difference in beliefs.

Chris said...

john galt,

I do like you. And because I like you, I think that's all I'll say.

-L- said...

FoxyJ, I loved your comment. Feel free to post in my comment section long and interesting things all you want! The "subtler consequences" are crucial to this issue, I think.

Chris, you know you're welcome to add perspective and if I misunderstand you can always clarify. I have a lot of respect for how you've handled your situation, but it doesn't quite strike the envious cord John's affair does. What can I say? I would never betray my wife, so it's all academic, but I want that forbidden experience so much I can be wrongly envious of someone who had it and then is still enjoying a wonderful family life afterward. If his situation is like "having your cake and eating it too", mine and yours are choosing one or the other (or, would be, if you still believed the church).

Anonymous said...

Hi Chris, it has been awhile since I talked to you... but I assure you that I do think you are a good person at heart and I commend you for following your conscience and doing what you feel is right in your life. I have a great deal of respect for you in that regard.

I have to second John Galt's response to you above and affirm that John and I are following our consciences as believers of the Gospel taught in the Church. We desire to conform our desires and actions to that required of us to receive our eternal reward.

While I would not choose the path you have chosen, it does not mean you are a bad person, it simply means your path does not conform to my believes.

Chris said...

Guys, I'm sorry I interjected into the conversation. All the best.

LDSwithSSA said...

I would like to bring up the talk that was given at a General Conference about the Atonement. The speaker brought up that many people, as John Galt said, that it is what it is and nobody can add to or take away. However, his talk made his suffering in the Garden very real to me. He said that it wasn't just that he felt all the hurt, pain, and guilt in the world, he took us one by one and bore everything we would have to bear.

Now, in my own life, when I am faced with a decision, I try to remember that. Like some others, I sometimes think, well, if I do end up committing this sin, Jesus already paid for it, it's not like He will have to pay for it in the future. Then I hope that when He paid for my sins, this one that I'm contemplating wasn't one of them. Usually, that makes me choose the correct path.

So as not to take up any more room, I will post on my blog, something that I wrote previously on my xanga regarding the Atonement.

TK said...

Some thoughts to include in your cognitive therapy:

We're a composite of all of our experiences. We can repent for the experiences that involve our doing negative things - that repentance is also an experience that contributes to who we become (to some extent, negating the thing for which we had to repent.)

When we make mistakes b/c we didn't know better, and then repent, I don't think it's the same as when we make 'mistakes', knowing somewhere inside us that we'll repent later. It's a different ATTITUDE, and I picture that different attitude as contributing -differently- to the person we will become. And I don’t think it really matters WHAT we DO – only to the extent to which it influences WHO WE BECOME. (Isn’t that the real reason for all of the commandments God has given to us?)

I don't mean to suggest that the atonement can't be still effective in this case. Perhaps what I'm getting at has to do with what one person told me after she was excommunicated. She said she wanted so bad to put her life in order and be re-baptized, but she said it was just so hard b/c she no longer had the companionship of the Holy Ghost to help her.

My understanding of 'sin' is that it's anything which interferes with our progression (not necessarily just 'eternal progression'). Through the atonement, we can still continue to progress, but so much time is wasted in working our way back. I like this definition of 'sin' b/c it reminds me that it's not just a matter of my 'disobeying God', but a matter of my making a bad choice which will waste my time! It helps me to try a little harder.

Another thought: As appealing as the adversary can make certain things appear, buying into his temptations often involves bringing down another person, too. Even if I said I didn't care about the consequences to myself, I'd have a pretty hard time ever forgiving myself for bringing down another person, especially if it was someone I loved!

Kengo Biddles said...

All sin can be described here:

" is scrumptious to the taste, and ever-so sought-after..."

We get wrapped in the emotional high of it all. How many sex books suggest that couples role-play, add an element of "illicit" behavior to "spice-up" the situation. I think that's why the idea titillates L, myself and others.