By Nicole Hilton, April 13th, 2020
Opposition. Knowing we came to earth to experience it doesn’t provide much solace when we’re confronting it. Facing extreme opposition as a child trained me to attract and fan the flames of more and more opposition in my life. It also robbed me of the emotional tools to cope with all of it. Some say we will never be tempted more than we can handle; it’s a lie. If it were true, then there would be perfect people on earth, and we wouldn’t need Christ’s atonement. The fact is, that for many of us, we are asked to confront more than we can bear and, then, we finally learn to rely on God.
At the end of 2011, at age 22, I sat in my and *Josh’s living room on the burgundy couch, staring at the scar on my thumb. We lived in the basement of a house near downtown Provo, Utah. How had my life ended up here?
* * *
After my amazing spiritual experience in the hospital in 2009 (God Loves Broken Things), my life had tanked. The doctors had told me my thumb required surgery. Ever since I broke my back, it hadn’t worked. My left leg had gotten stronger, and I could walk, again, but my thumb still stubbornly wouldn’t do anything I told it to. So, I had gone in for surgery. They cut me open, and found nothing wrong with it. Then they cut my wrist open and tested the tendons. They worked perfectly. So, they sewed me back up.
While I was recovering from all these painful surgeries and wondering if I’d ever play the piano again, Josh received a phone call. I didn’t hear what was said on the other line, but I felt the world drop out from underneath me.
“Is it Teddy Bear?” I said.
He didn’t have to say anything.
I collapsed and couldn’t breathe. It may sound strange to those of you who haven’t owned a dog, or even to some of you who have had one. The reality of Teddy Bear’s death—which I had been feeling was going to happen for months—was unfathomable to me. I couldn’t process it. Even after I had driven all the way to St. George from Provo, I had begged his lifeless body to get up and run around. He had been my best friend. The little 2.5 year-old cinnamon colored labradoodle was as smart as a whip and completely hilarious. Those who met him often asked questions like, are you sure that’s a dog? Or is it a little boy in a bear suit? He had taken to sleeping in my room on my empty bed ever since I’d gone away to college and gotten married. He had comforted me when I broke my back. He was hit by an unrepentant neighbor who hated animals. And, now he was gone.
I spiraled into the deepest depression of my life for six months after that. To this day I still tear up when I think about Teddy.
* * *
Josh got home from work.
“Hey babe,” he said.
Then he went into his office and shut the door. I thought more about how I ended up there.
* * *
With physical therapy, my thumb eventually showed improvement. But, meanwhile, my food addiction got away from me, again. I ate to comfort myself—food was the only thing that was consistently there for me. It hadn’t occurred to me any “comfort” I received from food was fleeting.
I tried to go to my classes at BYU, but my heavy backpack was too much for my broken back. And my depression after Teddy’s death increased my feelings of powerlessness and abandonment. I eventually dropped out of college.
One day I had to get a password or something from Josh’s email. That’s when I stumbled on the explicit messages, and pictures, he’d sent and received through an online sex service.
He came home to find me red-eyed and bristling with anger. I threw the evidence I had printed out down at his feet, and he fell on his knees, begging for my forgiveness. The bishop—our ecclesiastical leader—came over and talked to me about forgiveness. However, I wasn’t offered any counsel to help process my own pain or to heal from my emotional trauma. This wasn’t the first time, or the last, that after being injured by a loved one, the responsibility was placed upon me to simply forgive my perpetrator so that everything could go back to “normal,” again. Without real healing on both sides, forgiveness simply becomes a way to pretend that nothing bad happened, and both repentance and healing are robbed.
I obeyed my bishop and forgave Josh, but he hurt me further. He often complained about not having the newest TV, iPhone, sound equipment, or car. I finally caved, and we took out thousands of dollars of loans, in my name, so he could get the things he wanted. But with how much money we were making, there was no way we could pay back the loans.
Furthermore, Josh didn’t want to have physical intimacy with me anymore—I was too chubby. I kept on thinking about the “perfect” girls in the online pornography, and there was evidence he was, too. I didn’t stand a chance against the fantasy.
Worse than the money or even the possible cheating and intimacy issues was the overpowering realization in my heart looming over every meal we ate and every PlayStation game we played together. It said, you aren’t supposed to be married to this guy.
Since I had broken my back and tasted of that other-worldly love I had felt during my “baptism of fire” experience, I wanted more. I never wanted to go back to being “normal” again, especially not the normal that was my current life.
But Josh didn’t have these same desires. He hadn’t felt what I had felt. “Normal” was okay to him.
And I loved him.
As a last-ditch effort to save our marriage, in 2010, I proposed that we get married in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints temple in a sacred ordinance called a “sealing”. I thought, maybe if we’re married in the temple, Josh will become more spiritual and we’ll get along better. Of course, a sealing is meant to reflect a sacred matrimonial bond, it is not meant to create one where it doesn’t already exist.
After we threw a big second wedding to celebrate our temple sealing and all the hullabaloo was over, I found that I was pregnant. After 12 weeks of pregnancy (and being off my psychiatric meds), I felt like I was losing my mind. I started taking Prozac again, and soon after that, I miscarried.
I blamed myself for the miscarriage. And I felt more alone than ever. After getting out of the hospital, I had saved the remains of my miscarried fetus. I stood in the doorway of Josh’s office.
“I’m going to go bury our baby in the backyard.” I said.
“Okay, have fun.” Josh said.
He hadn’t been listening.
A few nights after that, the Provo Tabernacle burned down. We lived a block away. I saw the flames reaching sky-high, and I remembered singing in the old building for a concert.
The next day, I stopped my bike there and stared at the smoldering ruins.
That’s exactly how I feel inside, I thought.
All of Provo was rocked. It had stood as a symbol for the town for more than a century—and now all that was left were the brick walls and charred wood.
I was reading about the tabernacle when someone sent me a picture—one of the firefighters had found a charred picture of Christ in the ruins—the flames had burnt the entire picture up to his outline, then stopped.
On October 1st, 2011, we had gotten tickets to General Conference, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints meeting where thousands gather together in the Conference Center in Salt Lake City.
I sat in my red seat—one among 21,200 people. And our then-president prophet Thomas S. Monson got up and announced that the Provo Tabernacle would be re-built into a beautiful new temple.
I felt something inside of me stir, and whisper, this is a symbol for your life.
I was unsure whether to trust the voice or not.
* * *
I was sitting on the couch, still staring at my thumb, when I snapped out of my reverie. I still didn’t know how I had gotten to where I was, even though I knew each step, each choice I had made. None of it made any sense to me. I didn’t know at the time that I had multiple personalities, and I didn’t know that my marriage to Josh, breaking my back, not being able to hold down a job, going into debt, and not being strong enough to divorce Josh had all been a product of the abuse and programming I’d suffered since I was a little girl.
I reached up and felt my hair. I had, just the other night, been in one of my screaming and crying fits, and I’d cut it all off. Now my head was half-shaved. I didn’t know why I did these things, and as I looked up at Josh’s office door—which was closed—I realized that it must be awful being married to me.
Why am I here?
As I went back to gazing at my thumb, I felt pure truth enter my mind.
The thumb is opposable. It’s in opposition to the rest of the fingers.
The thumb represents the Adversary.
Your thumb stopped working the entire time you were in the hospital with your broken back. You received special protection during that trial, and there was nothing to oppose you spiritually. You were free.
Yes! I remembered…I had felt so free and clear—so “whole” even though I was broken while I was in the hospital that time. I had felt the hands of God on my shoulders. I had felt heavenly fire and a love so consuming fill my entire body that I would never ever be the same again.
But in the past three years, as I tried to continue life in the same way I had before, it had fallen apart. And I wasn’t strong enough to change it.
But God was.
*name has been changed