The days that followed my religious court and subsequent disfellowshipping were fraught with emotion. My body was both electrified by panic and weighed down by sorrow. A strangely vague yet powerful tension encircled my chest like a misplaced noose. I routinely forgot to breathe. I would realize it with a start and a gasp, my heart racing with frantic palpitations.
I continued to attend every church meeting, every devotional and every fireside. I prayed dozens of times a day and read my scriptures for hours. I threw everything I had into the repentance process. Despite the subtle doubts that had tugged at my consciousness before, I committed myself to following through with the path I had chosen. I chose to believe that my efforts would be worth it, that this path would culminate in forgiveness, salvation and peace.
Life had become painful. But while I struggled on the inside, my outer reality continued to be just as glorious as it ever was. What a strange juxtaposition my life had become. I woke from the chaos of frantic nightmares to the sound of palm trees swishing in the breeze and the scent of plumeria tickling my nose. To escape my ruminating mind, I roamed the streets of La’ie past the cartoonish outlines of flattened giant frogs toward the beach and the staid reassurance of its ever-crashing waves. I spent time with my parents who had come for a visit and who had been unbelievably kind and supportive of me since my admission. I went snorkeling and attempted to silence my racing mind in the reverberating silence of the sea.
On one such excursion, I was startled by a giant sea turtle emerging from the dark recess of my own shadow. Instinctively, I thrust out my hand and trailed it lightly along the great creature’s brilliant green back. The turtle turned its scaly head to look at me. I saw myself reflected in its big black eye, my hair waving like the tentacles of a wild octopus silhouetted in the sun. We contemplated each other for a long moment. Then it turned and sailed gracefully ahead, disappearing into the deep blue of the sea. It felt good to lose myself, even for a moment.
I soothed my tortured soul by disappearing into the bookstore and the comfort of a stuffed armchair, a stack of books and a cup of steaming hot chocolate with extra whipped cream.
It was a disjointed time – the best and the worst of everything, all at once.
It was a strange and incongruous time – the perfection of my surroundings contrasting violently with the anguish in my soul. Surely each heightened the other but it was impossible to say which did so more.
In church, I tried not to notice who stared as I declined invitations to pray and handed the sacrament tray over without partaking. No bread. No water. I was Hester Prynne with the scarlet letter emblazoned on my chest.
I met with the Bishop routinely to monitor my progress on the path to repentance. These meetings usually consisted of a short report from me and a moral discourse from him. If I hadn’t felt Godly sorrow before, I certainly did so now. Bishop Smith seemed to relish expounding upon the corrosive nature of sin and the severity of my transgressions. He didn’t need to. I already knew.
Throughout, he maintained that this process was through God and for my ultimate good. I was stained and corrupted. I had done despicable things. Thankfully, with the Bishop’s help and my hard work, God might one day be willing to forgive me. If I continued to strive, God willing, I could eventually come back into the full fellowship of the church. My soul would be saved. All would be well.
I hoped all would be well. It did not feel that way now. I felt like a menace to moral society. I had never dealt with depression, being blessed with a naturally buoyant personality. Now I found myself teetering on the brink. The hovering gloom threatened to swallow me whole. In fairness, I wasn’t putting up much of a fight.
I knew I should be feeling terribly. I accepted that I ought to be overcome with sorrow for my transgressions. The Bishop had been clear on this point. My studies had been clear on this point. So, I let these feelings wash over me, did everything I was asked and dove in whole-heartedly all the while hoping for an end.
The end, however, continued to elude me.
Weeks passed, followed by months. In the back of my mind, I struggled with the realization that while I felt terribly about what I had done, I felt surprisingly worse about who I was becoming. It was a person as foreign to myself as a stranger on the street. Except, unlike a stranger on the street, I loathed her.
Ultimately, I was becoming the person that I had always been actively encouraged to embody. It was part of the path. But to do so, I had hacked away large sections of my soul. I agreed with things I never had before. I tried desperately to do whatever was asked of me, even when those things felt like betrayal. I replaced boldness with meekness and curious exploration for conformity.
I had been a vibrant painting – colorful, messy and chaotic. My meetings with the Bishop shredded, bleached and dissolved me into pulp, ultimately pressing me into a plain sheet of blank white paper to be stacked and bundled with thousands of exact copies.
I thought about Gabriel, far away on his mission. He had worked so hard and sacrificed so much to go. Was he happy? Was it worth it? I had lost track of him after he left. I suddenly wished I hadn’t.
He had been through this before. What would he advise me to do? Would he have any comfort, any help, any wisdom to impart? I had no way of knowing now. I was certain, however, that he would want me to hang in there. He would want me to persevere and keep moving forward … like he had done.
This is the latest installment in my story. If you haven’t yet read the previous entries, click here to start at the beginning. Then continue to read each post in numerical order.