The Redemption of Melville Dutad

Melville was a bright boy. In his room he would devour calculus textbooks and dismantle the family electronics. Alone, his preferred state of being, he would sort through the neighbor’s junkyard of a car lot and take apart internal combustion motors and then build a forge for smelting shards of metal in his backyard. His mother was confused but unsure of what to do, and he would shrug her touch and affection, returning his nose to the texts that provided keys to his insatiable mind. Decades ago, there were not ready diagnostics for a child who with an aversion to social and physical contact, a dislike of strong smells and textures, a perceived unwillingness to communicate. He was so obviously smart, so willfully disobedient, he understood but refused to listen, he frustrated everyone. It was much easier to label him a bad kid, hopeless. The vocabulary of autism spectrum disorders being a fluent part of the public vernacular was still decades away— school in the 1970’s was a string of wretched situations and expulsions.

Melville knew he was different, but he didn’t understand why or what was ‘wrong’ with him any more than anyone else. What he did know was that when he was in his middle teens, and his neighbor offered him some drugs, those drugs hit his central nervous system and for the first time in his life, he felt what he imagined “normal” might be. Melville left high school, and with the aid of his new “normalizers” got a degree and bounced around silicon valley, working for Apple, Silicon Graphics, Applied Semiconductor; as long as he could focus on the circuits, the electronics, the logic, he thrived. And he made good money.

Now in his mid twenties, Melville wasn’t happy. His drug use was increasing, as his tolerance grew and grew, and what once made him feel ‘normal’ now hardly took the edge off. Physiology trumps mental perception, as the family of every addict knows. A series of unfortunate events landed him in rehab and a court-appointed 12-step program, and Melville began to discover God. He got clean, sober and moved himself away from everyone he knew who might pull him back. He was brave.

He married a girl he had been friends with for several years, and who was supportive of him through his rehab and who, in her own naiveté, believed she could help him and saw the beauty in his distant genius. She imagined a life full of brilliant books, building telescopes to view the skies, and thought the idea of a forge in the backyard was charming. She didn’t know or understand that the season of peace he was inhabiting would be brutally short.

A season of peace for an addict is a powerful and persuasive narcotic in and of itself. Those who love an addict know the hopes and dreams that can be built in in this bubble- and for a few fortunate souls, the bubble may last years or even decades. For Melville, it was six years.

In those short years, Melville and his wife had three children, bought a home, and discovered the Gospel. They joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and built a life resembling something respectable and beautiful. But it was fraying around the edges even with the birth of the second child, and by the time the third was born, Melville’s ability to cope with the demands of three children, a mortgage, a wife and the daily grind of a job was becoming dangerously perilous. When the second child was diagnosed with autism shortly after the birth of the third, a picture began to emerge where for years there were only blank spaces.

Now firmly woven into a community of faith, but where people still generally lacked the understanding or vocabulary for not only an adult with autism, but for an addict, Melville’s crash was spectacular and fast. The pressure to be a Latter-day Saint provider and priesthood holder was a crushing weight to a man without understanding of his own disability, but keenly aware of his own differences.

Over a period of three years, Melville burnt through eight relapses, two stints in rehab, and untold hell for him and for his family. His wife hung on as long as she could, but eventually she could no longer, and she left too. From the outside, it was so easy to assign blame, to fit the wretched implosion of a family into an acceptable narrative of Good and Bad- and to a certain extent those labels were useful. When an addict is using, there is nothing good to be mined, and those who are innocent should be protected.

Melville lost his wife, his children, his home, his job, his savings, and his membership in the church of the God in which he believed. Rock bottom is a different place for everyone, addict or not, and it’s impossible to say where it will be found. The only true rock that can be hold onto in such a situation is that the Savior descended below whatever level of hell is your personal bottom.

Melville slowly, and with now un-numbed pain and vision for what he had done, began to gather himself back into human form, placing his clay heart into the hands of God. It took more than a year before he was strong enough to appear at church again, attending a ward where he didn’t know anyone and sitting alone in the back. The humility required in that simple act was nearly heroic.

“One day at time” is more than a mantra from AA meetings for an addict. It’s a way of life, and sometimes even taking it a day at a time is too much, and time compresses and crunches down to ‘one hour at a time’, or on bad days, even into moments. Those scores of moments between Sunday meetings, Melville walked mostly alone.

After a year of moments strung together, Melville began the work of moving from a shadow in the back of the chapel and returning to full fellowship. He requested to have the missionaries visit him regularly, and began counseling with his bishop and working the church’s addiction recovery plan. Invisible to the outside is the anguish he carried with him, a constant companion, but one that he knew he must bear.

It has taken Melville nearly three years of painful, hard work, but he is once again a full member of the church he loves. Judges in Israel have weighed his heart, and found him worthy, and he can even enter the Temple again. But you might not know that if you watched from the outside.

When Melville enters his old ward now, there are people who remember his wife, his children, his home and what came before. Perhaps it is a misguided idea of allegiance or faithfulness to what appear to be the innocent. There are those who are kind and smile and shake his hand. But there are more who glare at him, snub him, turn away, whisper, and slide over on their pew in order to make a subtle but definitive statement about his welcome. He makes no protest. He swallows what is heaped on him, and finds a new seat.

The courage it takes for Melville, each Sunday, to face this, is something which most of us will never have to draw. The kindness of the few, mercifully, outweighs the scorn of most. Melville accepts this as the harvest he reaps. One cannot help but wonder though, if those who feel free to scorn, to shame, to cast out, would have the mettle to continue to show up in the face of their own judgment.

There isn’t a soul alive who knows Melville’s pain. It might be comfortable to sit and look at him, and feel superior, or feel as though he is deserving of scorn- after all, what he did was so easily and tidily labeled as Bad. But there is also not a soul alive who knows the strength Melville found in standing on the bedrock of the bottom and crawling his way back to God. If any person feels that the Lord needs help dispensing pain or shame, they are missing the point of being a Saint and a disciple of the Lord. Life is complicated, and too often is full of pain. Some of it is of our own making, and some foisted on us by others- but what really matters is how we deal with our fellow man. Despite our fervent wishes, there is not a formula that works for everyone. The atonement promises salvation and grace for us all. Even for Melville. Especially for Melville.

Comments

  1. anon today says:

    Addicts are sick people, not bad people. I learned that in a Something-Anon group that taught me how to cope during my spouse’s addiction and recovery. The courage and humility it takes for addicts to face their addiction, surrender their will to God, make amends, and battle their temptations every single day–they should be celebrated, not condemned. Send Melville to my ward, I’ll make room on my bench for him.

  2. Rechabite says:

    Thanks for sharing this, Tracy. I am so happy for Melville. May God bless him and all our Melvilles.

  3. Always love your writing Tracy. Thank you for this.

  4. marginalizedmormon says:

    Thank you. I need time to process this. I know what it is like to be a mother to “a” Melville.

    I am a mother to such a one. I love this child very dearly and suffer most of the time–

    and my hope is in Jesus Christ. The church didn’t work for my child anymore, though he/she loves the church dearly–
    others who believe in Jesus Christ have reached out to him/her; I see these people as mortal angels–

    TMI–

  5. It’s too bad the most judgemental people are the most visual as well. I would hope the majority of us aren’t that way.

  6. This is a good reminder to be kind and refrain from judging not only those who appear to be the “victims” but those who appear to be the “perpetrators”. If you looked at this story from a certain angle, Melville would be the antagonist, but there are clearly so many more sides to that story. You can never tell what hand someone was dealt in life, or what their starting point was. God bless Melville, and thank you for the well-written story.

  7. This is the first time I’ve felt sympathy for Melville. Good news here.

  8. living in zion says:

    I am going to take leap here and assume you know Melville very well. I appreciate your generosity and understanding of him. Today I went to court to help my daughter divorce her Melville. I really needed your words after a day like today. I am going to share this with my daughter, and also print a copy to someday share with their child, my one year old granddaughter. She will need your words, too. Thank you so much for sharing and I respect you very, very much.

  9. Ah Tracy, thank you!

  10. Beautiful and true. Thank you, Tracy.

  11. Oh Tracy – the complicated mess of lives is something you know how to share in such a beautiful way. Thank you for sharing this.

  12. I had a sibling go through this, and I have felt the empty space on the bench many times myself. Often, though, I have had the startling pleasure of someone making space for me to sit with them. I think when the Lord culls the sheep from the goats, that the grace we give each other will be a ranking criteria.

    When I was struggling to help my sibling, I discovered that the Lord loved them so very much; every bit as much as he loves the most dutiful and obedient of any of us. We are all loved equally, I suppose it’s just the level of disappointment that varies, and I think He’s just as disappointed to see his faithful servants turn away from a needy (fellow) sinner as He might be in the sinner’s guilt.

  13. I wish every member and non-member could read this post, Tracy.

    It is relatively easier to see what you are saying in relation to someone with an obvious disability, but the less obvious disabilities that every single one of us carry within us as a result of Adam’s transgression are much harder to see and accept – and so much easier to miss in our tendency to judge.

    I wish we all understood the far-reaching power of our 2nd Article of Faith more fully.

  14. Hope and redemption. Thanks for the good news. I have wondered.

  15. Thank you, Tracy. I always look forward to your posts. They are always so well expressed and poignant.

  16. I’m going to make some guesses based on what you described here. Melville is facing a toxic social environment from other ward members. Since Melville is on the autism spectrum, likely he has more problems influencing how others perceive him than other people would. While he will catch the general tenor of the reaction he is getting, its likely that he might have trouble instinctively feeling out the reactions he is getting in a timely manner and is stuck playing catch up after its too late to change a first impression. So, in other words it will be harder for him to, shall we say, get chummy with some new friends in his old ward and start building new perceptions in an intentional manner.

    Its great to celebrate that repentance and return to faithfulness are available for the sinners who sin differently than we do. But unless Melville is lucky in his ability to create his own allies or simply persistent in his ability to stand going to a ward where he is actively disliked, I am doubting somewhat that this story will ever have a “happy ending” unless someone in the ward actively creates a support and defense network for him. From the way you so empathetically describe the situation I suppose this is somewhat already happening, but I thought I’d put my perspective on this because I think it can be hard for some people to imagine just how hard that combination of a toxic environment and a poor skill set for responding can be.

    This reminded me of two links regarding a somewhat similar story that I think may help give readers a sense of context.

    http://aspergersquare8.blogspot.com/2010/01/curing-autism.html

    http://aspergersquare8.blogspot.com/2010/02/by-book-denial-of-difference-in.html

  17. In December, I hope to celebrate three years clean from drugs and alcohol. Drugs took me to such dark places, and turned me into a person I did not want to be.

    With the advantage of hindsight, however, I can see how God used my infirmity to bring blessings into my life. I have forged deep friendships in my 12-step group, and I am now able to help other people create a drug-free life.

    Unlike other forms of sin, in which consequences can be subtle and even delayed for years, drug usage can bring a person to her knees quickly. Such a person may realize that God is her only hope and open her heart to divine love and aid, where without drugs she might never have done so.

    Strange as it may seem to say, I would not trade my addiction for the world.

  18. “If any person feels that the Lord needs help dispensing pain or shame, they are missing the point of being a Saint and a disciple of the Lord. Life is complicated, and too often is full of pain. ”

    So true Tracy. Beautiful post.

  19. There’s always more to all of our stories, isn’t there. Thank you for that reminder, Tracy.

  20. Thank you. If this opened anyone’s eyes, it was well worth the trouble. I know more than well the weight of responsibility that weighs on an addict, when he knows he cannot do what he should do.

    The pressure to be a Latter-day Saint provider and priesthood holder was a crushing weight to a man without understanding of his own disability, but keenly aware of his own differences.

    To feel different, to be different, is not an easy thing. To see the world differently, is not an easy thing. How often one wishes one could be “just like everyone else”. Perhaps nobody is quite like “everyone else”? Some are just less than others.

    And to run regularly into these people, who only have condemnation to offer if you are different, let alone when you are weak, and addicted, is painful. And there is actually no medication for that pain; because the only way to alleviate it would be to succumb to one’s addiction…

    “One day at a time” can really sometimes feel like wishing too much. But by the Grace of a loving God, who heals all wounds, we can go from moment to moment, and find strength.

    There just needs to be more loving support instead of frowning condemnation. That loving support is Christ’s way, and if we hope to be his disciples, well…

  21. Forgot: This year marked ten years of sobriety. It’s not my record exactly, but I still feel good about it, and make the decision again and again to hold on to it: I don’t want the other one. Too hard to reboot yourself after a relapse.

  22. Meldrum the Less says:

    I know at least two Melvilles in my ward. One has repented, married, new baby and seems to be doing fine. He acts like a normal member in just about every way and few know of his past. He knows that I do care about him because I went to the wall for him once back in the day. He seeks me out occasionally because I think he wants to hear me say things like this: You’re still sober? Big surprize. (He mumbles going on 4 years now.) You know don’t you that if you ever touch a drop of alcohol again your wife will water board you in the toilet until she drowns you. He laughs and agrees. His wife is tall and robust and grew up in an alcoholic family and plausibly capable of doing it. Anyone who over hears us thinks I am just joking around. I am not.

    The other Melville had a good life, wife, kids, job, respect, but lost it all. Similar story as above (first half) but different details. Substitute autism with extreme physical abuse. He has repented for several months at a time but keeps slipping back. I gave him a blessing once probably 15 years ago and felt inspired to promise him that he would overcome this demon if….Seems like I was wrong. He is turning yellow from cirrhosis and doesn’t have any more chances. The first Melville has been assigned to try and help him go to his grave with a few months of sobriety under his belt. Hasn’t really worked. I wonder if it might be dangerous and they could drag each other down?

    What I like as much as Tracy’s account is insight like that offered by Justin #16. What can we do if anything for these our brothers and sisters? Compassion, understanding, yes. But the devil is in the details.

  23. Tracy, you have a way of making me bawl my eyeballs out. I don’t have a Melville in my life right now, but I Am so amazed by your love and compassion and ability to see the child of God inside of someone who has hurt so many. Wait. As I typed that sentence it suddenly occurred to me that I do have a Melville, although I didn’t see it because she’s not a member of the church. My ex SIL who has made a mess of my brother’s and their children’s lives that they’re just now starting to be able to clean up. I’ve been very judgemental and dismissive and condescending and even hateful in my attitude and my words about her. I will probably have little chance to see her in person in the future, but thank you for helping me catch a tiny glimpse of her as someone who is worthy of love and respect even when she is at her most self- destructive.

  24. That was Markie, not Marie (you know it’s bad when you can’t even type your own name – I’ll blame it on the phone).

  25. I was truly hoping that you would end this by revealing that you had been one that had scorned Melville recently and had finally come to a realization of your fault. It would have been so beautiful and truly inspiring. I hope this was the case and you simply chose not to say it. Without this admission I came away from this with two thoughts. 1 God does not need help dispensing shame. 2 your story seemed to shame those who were unkind to Melville. Its almost felt as if you wanted others to feel bad because they made Melville feel bad. Or whoever in their life is “Melville”. It obviously helped many who read this to re-evaluate some of their relationships but I find your method interesting. Very clever if it was by design :). but maybe my interpretation is way off. Any thoughts on what I observed?

  26. #25 -My thoughts? Honestly, my immediate, emotional reaction was:

    “Seriously?! It’s shaming others to point out in a forum like this, without naming anyone but the man who is striving to live a redeemed life, the times when we fail to care for those who are the least among us – and to do it in the manner Tracy (someone who is perfectly qualified to write about it) did in this post?”

    Your point is a valid one, but I think you probably don’t know Tracy’s own background in relation to this post, given your comment. I wouldn’t worry in the slightest about her ability to address this topic from a deeply personal perspective. Those of us who know her, love her and have shared her life over the last few years don’t need any kind of “admission” from her in this post.

    I know of nobody who is better qualified to teach me about this topic. I know there are others equally qualified, since I don’t differentiate degrees in relation to this type of situation, but I know of nobody who is more qualified personally and in her ability to write beautifully and movingly about it. Period.

  27. Yes, BenH, your interpretation is way off.

    Beautiful post, Tracy. Thank you.

  28. Ugly Mahana says:

    Bravo, Ray. I will second your sentiment in its entirety.

    Tracy, this is amazing. Your deep thoughts, and courage in sharing the essence of the lived gospel is amazing. Your ability to see both the hope and the challenges in the lives of others constantly moves me to desire deeper charity. Thank you.

  29. Hey Ray thanks for the info. I honestly have very little knowledge of this great authors past but from what you said it seems she was one of those who came to a realization of her own judgments on others. and it seems like she has been very influential in this community.
    I should emphasize that I love this post. I found it compelling and engaging. Much better than anything i have ever scribbled and honestly I will probably never create a piece of literature even close to this. I agree with Amy, it is a beautiful post.
    I was just wondering if there was anyone out there who might have seen the same thing I did. thanks for the feed back.

  30. You’re welcome, Ben. This sort of forum can lead to interesting communication, and it’s easy for long-timers to forget that not everyone knows each other all that well.

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