Today I came out the other end of the tunnel.
For me, it was the peace and hope offered through General Conference that pulled me out of the abyss. For you, it will probably be something different. I'm writing today not simply to document my saga or keep my friends updated, but because this crucible has taught me some lessons so I pray that in being vulnerable I can reach and help others still down in their own tunnels. I'm going to stick with my tunnel metaphor as opposed to the normal obstacle course that is life to emphasize the heavy darkness that accompanied this particular journey.
I didn't panic right off- after all, I've been in dark places and tight spots before. I had a go-to list of what I needed to do: talk with my friends, let myself cry, pray, study the scriptures, go to the temple, volunteer, listen to conference talks, magnify my calling, keep a gratitude journal, do family history and indexing, seek medical and professional help as needed, etc. And I set to the task of pressing forward with faith. Maybe the tunnel was longer than any previous trial I'd endured or the smothering weight of the darkness heavier than I was prepared for, but after a few months the insidious doubts set in. Perhaps I wasn't being faithful enough, or maybe I had unresolved sin or pride that was preventing me from feeling the peace and hope that I know the gospel brings. My dear friends, whatever you are going through, don't stop acting in faith regardless of the feelings that may or may not come. I specifically remember pleading to the Lord while in the temple just to feel His love and no reassurance was forthcoming. I know, I know, with my whole soul that there is no darkness that the light of the Savior cannot penetrate, but I couldn't find it. Build your testimony and conversion on the confirmation the Spirit has whispered to your soul time and time again, but do not hang your faith on always feeling those feelings. Keep connecting to the the Lord through prayer, scripture study, and faithful Sabbath day worship, but don't do it for what you hope to get in return- instead hold onto your testimony that it is the commandment of the Lord. Trials do not always come due to lack of faith and they do not always depart with increased faithfulness.
During this ordeal, there were a few flashes of light as some friends attempted to illuminate my path. Instead of helping, these flashes were blinding and disorienting. Whatever wisdom or assurance they offered, while well-meaning and loving, it would send me on wild goose chases down dead ends. I would throw myself into correcting something they suggested in the vain attempt to dig my way out while I had a flash of light. But when the flash was gone, the darkness would be worse than before and cripple my morale. Hopefully you will have friends who will love you through your darkest tunnels, but keep in mind that how they love you might not solve the problem or even ease the ache. Don't be mad at them if they don't quite understand. One of the worst aspects of any heartbreaking experience is that you will feel alone and misunderstood and the adversary will prey off that pain. Every force will combine to isolate you and cause you to withdraw from those who love you most. Some people need to talk through their tunnel, others need...not to talk. Communicate as well as you can to your friends and family that though the darkness may choke you, you love and need them.
To some degree I knew this next one, but I've gained a new depth and perspective on allowing myself to feel and experience every stage of the journey. This personal tunnel of mine was not like a train tunnel, rather a rabbit hole and a long twisted jungle. Some days were angry, some were sad, others hopeless and still others were numb. I was so hard on myself, frustrated that I couldn't just acknowledge all these feelings, give them to God, and move on. I tried, I really did. Sometimes the Lord does not lighten a load because He is teaching you what you can carry. The saying goes that what doesn't kill you makes you stronger, but sometimes it just kills off a portion- your hope, your perspective, your vision. The pain and darkness are going to change you, but sometimes you can consciously decide what to let go of. Pride, control, anger. My heart-wrenching experience became the vehicle for refining my soul and humbling me before the Lord and I cannot begin to express my joy and excitement when I realized that I had finally emerged. But if you are reading this in the midst of your own tunnel no matter if it's six months or six years, press forward in faith, be kind to yourself, and hold onto the lifeline that you are not alone.