Erik Thompson’s life mission is to spread sunshine through love, song, and service. Sharing his story through the Voices of Hope Project is one way Erik has chosen to give back. Erik graduated from the University of Utah with a Bachelor of Science in Public Relations. He grew up and currently resides in Salt Lake City. Erik and his brother, Ryan, are the sons of Guy and Elaine Thompson of Holladay, Utah. Erik served a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in San Antonio, Texas. He is an active member of the Parley’s YSA Ward, a member of the Utah Voices community choir, pianist for the Huntsman Cancer Hospital, and an Assistant Resort Manager for Hilton Worldwide. He is also a facilitator in the LDS Family Services Addiction Recovery Program. Erik’s favorite title, though, is “Son of God.” Erik loves his Heavenly Father and is grateful for the opportunity to bring light and hope to others by sharing his story. The gospel of Jesus Christ has brought joy to him, and Erik believes that if he can do it, so can anyone! Erik lives his dreams and looks forward to the adventures life will hold in the future.
What gives me hope is the knowledge that my Heavenly Father loves me. Growing up, I was taught this principle over and over in church and by my parents. As I grew through adolescence and into early adulthood I knew that God would not forsake me, but I was not sure whether he valued me. I wasn’t sure that I was worth helping. Through very painful yet enlightening experiences I have learned that God cares deeply for me and that he has a plan for my life; he wants me to be happy. I feel his presence most strongly through music and through serving others.
Growing up was easy for me, in a fiscal sense. I had everything I needed and most of what I wanted handed to me. I was raised on the east side of Salt Lake City. I had a close-knit group of friends whom I went to school with for over a decade. I did not ever think of myself as privileged because it seemed that all my friends and their families had larger houses and more money.
I have since learned that I was very fortunate. I had every need met by parents who adopted me. They wanted children more than anything else, and I was their first child. They tried for eight years to have children and spent countless hours and so much money on crazy fertility treatments and court costs, just to have me and my brother. It is because we were adopted that both of us know without a doubt that we are loved by our parents. I can’t think of any better gift for a child to be given than the gift of love and life through adoption into a prosperous, gospel-centered home.
I was raised in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, where I was a faithful member of my local congregation. I wanted nothing more than to please my parents and my Heavenly Father. I was blessed with many gifts and talents and early on. It was easy to please everyone. I quickly learned piano and began performing. I found joy in music, travel, scouting, and social activities with my friends. All of my friends came from “traditional” two-parent families and LDS backgrounds, where their parents had been married for ten years or more. I grew up with every reason to hope that I, too, would one day have a fantastic family of my own. In fact, I hoped to have a wife and children as soon as I was in my mid-twenties.
My family traveled many places, often to a beach. I loved being in the ocean and playing in the sand. I loved spending time with my mom, dad, and brother. Growing up my brother and I fought over little things, but we got along well enough. He was born four years after me. Prior to him joining our family I remember we prayed night after night that Heavenly Father would send a new little brother or sister to us.
I still remember the day when my mom took the call from LDS Family Services saying that they had a new baby for us. I can see the orange wallpaper, the corded phone, the tears running down her cheeks, and the smile on her face. I remember the adoption agency where I felt pure joy as the caseworker handed my new little brother to me. I was the first to see and hold him, even before my parents. I remember going to the Salt Lake Temple where my brother was sealed to our family. I was only four years old, but I knew that I was special and that our family was complete. Since that time I have had an indelible sense of how important my brother and I are to my parents. There has never been any doubt that they love me because I know they fought so hard to have me.
As I grew older and approached my teenage years, things became harder socially. I still had the same great group of friends and we shared some interests, but I wasn’t very good at sports and I felt left out. At that time I chose to stay in and practice piano or play on the computer rather than play football or basketball. I tried tee ball and soccer. I still remember the day I made my first—and last—soccer goal. Everyone cheered because they knew that sports were hard for me. At recess I was the last one picked to join sports teams. I played tetherball with the girls or played on the monkey bars alone instead of joining my male peers in softball or football. I became friends with some girls in my classes and became more distant from the boys. This wasn’t a conscious choice I made, but it was my reality. I went where I felt more comfortable and accepted.
My best friend was a boy I’d known since I was two or three. He was the person I trusted the most. We spent countless hours growing up together. We played with Legos and in the empty fields near our houses. He lived just down the street and we often biked, rollerbladed, played street hockey, and watched movies together.
He was competitive and I was not. He began making comparisons between the two of us and always made me feel that I was less accomplished than he. Since I didn’t have many friends, I accepted that this bullying was part of having a good friendship and didn’t think much of his teasing. As we grew up we shared mutual friends and he became more competitive. He was jealous of the attention I gained through expressing my talents. He tried to excel at in areas where I was talented, and he never missed a chance to let me know how much better he was than me in every respect.
We continued our friendship. He reached puberty before I matured. I was naïve with respect to sexuality; I was only 13 and lived a sheltered childhood. He introduced me to things I was not comfortable with, but I went along with it anyway. One day he wanted to go further. I denied him and said I didn’t feel good about it. He persisted and I finally relented. I didn’t get aroused as I normally would because I was terrified. It’s something I didn’t want to happen, but he was aggressive and I was scared to deny him. There are not many who agree that the experiences I had with this friend are abuse, but I know that I was abused—physically, verbally, emotionally, and sexually.
After this incident I felt I should tell my parents what had happened. Upon telling them I immediately felt extreme guilt and shame, thinking that what had happened was my fault. I know now that none of this was my fault; it was abuse, and as victims of abuse typically do, I blamed myself for years. My bishop, a family friend, visited our home to try to comfort me, as I was crying uncontrollably. He told me I would have to quit taking the sacrament for a time. It seemed like the crying continued for days, and I became clinically depressed over the next several months.
Although the abuse I suffered as a child did not help my situation, I do not believe it was a direct cause of my same-gender attraction. I have since learned that same-gender attraction is not a choice. Why would I choose such a life—a life that goes against the grain of society? It is not a choice to have those feelings, but it is my choice what I do with them. In the case of being abused, I was eventually able to rise above the psychological turmoil, but not for many years.
Prescription for Despair
For over ten years I was medicated for what doctors thought was obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and depression. I was on every type of antidepressant known to man; nothing seemed to work for very long. My doctors did not recognize the true source of my depression, the aching feeling that I had done something so horrible I could never be forgiven. I truly felt disconnected from God’s love. I thought that my goal to please God and my parents had been shattered forever.
I was a good kid; all I wanted was to choose the right, but I felt that I had done something so wrong. I was in despair, a feeling that followed me wherever I went until my mind became clouded with antidepressants. Through all of this I struggled with some bad habits and the accompanying guilt and shame. I constantly felt worthless and unclean—different—and I developed low self-esteem during my junior high and high school years.
Despite these feelings of despair I believed that Heavenly Father loved me. I remained active in the Church and kept practicing the piano. Music has offered a spiritual connection to the Divine throughout my life. This developed early on when, as a young child, I sang with my mom.
I tried to stay positive. I kept my childhood friends close and my family closer. I was surrounded by supportive parents, leaders, neighbors, family, and friends who constantly showered me with praise and love. This is how I processed love: I needed to feel others’ approval, and I received it from the sensitive and caring people I grew up around. I felt appreciated and valued by them.
I was active in Church, school, and many extracurricular activities. I excelled in music and art, I wrote music and performed in recitals—to the delight of my parents. I knew my life was good. In fact, I couldn’t imagine how anyone could live a life different than mine. I grew to believe that everyone was just as privileged since Heavenly Father loves us all the same.
I was right about the second part of that statement. On my mission I learned that some of the most blessed and special souls live in the worst of conditions. Were I to thank God every day for the blessings I had growing up, it would still not be enough. I was so fortunate.
Start of the Slippery Slope
At 16 or 17, I was perusing a graphic design website when I encountered an image of a man wearing underwear translucent enough that I could see what was underneath. The man looked like my childhood friend who had abused me, yet in a strange way I was attracted to the image. I couldn’t get it out of my head.
I began looking at male pornography on my parent’s computer when they weren’t home. I was taught to respect women, and I was disgusted and ashamed at the sight of a naked woman. Somehow seeing naked men didn’t seem all that bad. My viewing habits were casual, and I did not feel that pornography had become an addiction.
Throughout school, I never had a girlfriend but I dated many times and went to every school dance. My close group of friends and I were socially active and frequently hung out together. There seemed to be girls everywhere. These occasions felt somewhat uncomfortable because I was distracted by things going on in my head and dulled by my prescribed medication. My friends seemed to be much smoother with the ladies, and a few of them developed romantic relationships. Though I remained friends with many girls I never really had a girlfriend in high school or college. I was more like a brother to some of my best girlfriends. It didn’t occur to me that I had feelings of same-gender attraction at the time.
College and Mission
Because of my bad habits, I felt despair about going to the temple and serving a mission. I knew it was what I should do, but I worried that Heavenly Father would see me as unclean or unworthy. I worked with priesthood leaders but agonized over my worthiness, even after they told me I was OK to go.
I studied at University of Utah for a year. While there I worked for a Church publication on campus and participated in a choir. I loved it! As planned, next summer (a year “late,” so to speak) I went on my mission. I was excited and scared to go to Texas. I remember being so homesick in the MTC that I wasn’t sure I would make it. I had never been away from friends and family for more than a week or so, and just the thought that I wouldn’t see them for two years was almost more than I could bear.
I tried to serve the best way I could. It seemed like the other missionaries were getting the hang of serving a mission faster than I was. I struggled to feel like I belonged. Right before my mission I was put on a new medication which was supposed to help with my anxiety and OCD, but it gave me horrible side effects. I got tired of the side effects and quit the medication abruptly. This sent me on an emotional rollercoaster, and one night—totally impulsively—I took all of my antidepressants at once. I didn’t know if I would wake up.
I did wake up. Two weeks later I confessed to my leaders that I had tried to take my life. I was immediately sent home on medical release, having served for nine months. The stress associated with deciding to stay home or go back was poignant. I asked my stake president if I could go back. He said it was too soon and I would have to see my doctors a while longer. Then I asked if I could decide to stay home, and he said if that’s what I wanted, I could.
I was honorably released from my mission. I know now that the Lord is pleased with the sacrifices I made and the hearts I touched through the Spirit while in his service. I know that he knows I tried my very best. I wanted to please him so much, and he was and is pleased.
The five years following my mission were the loneliest of my life. I began to feel like a black sheep. I felt, once again, that I had done something irreparably wrong by returning home from my mission early, even though I had an honorable release. Most of my friends were still out on their missions. When they came back, most of them went to other schools, while I was still at the U of U. I loved the U but missed my close group of friends. Bad habits continued to plague me. I endured a cycle of shame and confession and continued to take my medication.
One day I happened upon a flyer for a male dating website. I was curious. I went to the site, signed up, and began looking at the profiles of many men. In time I began chatting with some of them. Then I met up with one of them for the first time. I was totally inexperienced but the man I visited that day was familiar with the gay world, to say the least. I instantly had a friend. I finally felt acceptance. I felt valued, but only for a short time. I became addicted to the site and chatted with guys every chance I got.
Over a period of a few years, despite my involvement in Church activities, I continued to have unhealthy relationships with other men. I concealed these relationships from my family and friends. The pressure inside me continued to build as my secrets grew larger, and I felt that I couldn’t lie anymore. In shame I tried to end my life, thinking it would be better for me to die and for my family not to know of my transgressions than for me to face my shame by telling them the truth. I once again took all of my medication at once, went to bed, and prepared to die.
I woke up as I stumbled sick into the bathroom in the middle of the night. To say that this was a dark time for me is quite an understatement; I felt like my life had spiraled out of control and that I was beyond help. I felt that my family would never forgive me and that I may as well die of shame if they ever found out about my feelings for other men. It was through this experience, though, that I learned that my life has a clear purpose and that I should not attempt to take it. Suicide attempts went against the Lord’s plan for my life.
I was hospitalized at the neuropsychiatric institute at the U of U for two weeks. After one day in the ER, I was conscious enough to answer questions and was brought into a room with a cop, a psychiatrist, a psychologist, and my parents. One of them asked me, “Why did you take all those pills?” I knew I had to tell them the truth. I didn’t have my head together enough to make up a story anymore, so I told them what had been going on in my life up to that time. Shortly after returning home from the hospital, I visited with my priesthood leaders, and consequently my active participation in the church became restricted.
Music and Therapy
For eight years I spent time trying to get to know myself. I struggled with a great internal conflict: on the one hand were my feelings of attraction to men, on the other my strong testimony of the gospel. Through it all, music was an anchor to me. When I was at my lowest points music gave me comfort and helped me feel the love of my Heavenly Father. I frequently attended broadcasts of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and I could feel the power of the music pulling me back toward the truth. It’s almost as if I had a tether to the truth through music, no matter what point in life I was at.
During this time of indecision and struggle I tried everything from helpful reparative therapy and retreat weekends—which strengthened me—to unhealthy encounters with men I didn’t know. This damaged my self-esteem. Fortunately, through therapy and good friends I came in contact with righteous men who also dealt with same-gender attraction.
The Downward Spiral
In spring 2013, one of my friends took his life unexpectedly. I struggled to deal with the fact that he was gone. It was a tragedy. The night before his death he reached out to me, but I had prior obligations and was unable to visit him. It is possible that I am the last person he communicated with before taking his life.
When I received a text telling me my friend was dead, it hit my heart so forcefully that my body convulsed and I let out a scream. This was a pivotal time for me to experience tragedy, as I had used so many good things like work to distract me and prevent me from dealing with the emotional turmoil I often felt. This time, the emotions were too much for me to handle alone.
I reached a point of frustration with life and my trials in general, and the contrast between my intense struggles and my love for Father in Heaven came into such sharp focus that I couldn’t hide from the conflict any longer. I had a wonderful job. I was attractive and intelligent. I felt that I was finally on the right medication for my mental struggles. I had friends—including a girlfriend. I was physically active and even ran a marathon.
But I was still leading a double life. I wasn’t able to process the feelings resulting from this conflict in my soul. It was extremely hard, near impossible, for me to deal with all of the emotional turmoil alone, so I turned to people and places and things I should have avoided in an attempt to escape my reality. I didn’t even realize that I had cheated on my girlfriend, but I had. I was cheating myself.
I approached Memorial Day weekend with reckless abandon. I ended up in a dark place with people I should never have met. I remember thinking as I drove that I should get help with the dangerous things I had brought into my life. I remember thinking I can’t go on like this.
I was with people I barely knew and we were involved with some dangerous things which resulted in a tragic accident. I fell off the balcony of a three-story building, hitting the concrete below and landing on my right side. I’m hesitant, even now, to go into detail because I don’t remember much of what happened that night.
But that doesn’t matter as much as the details of how I am still here. I know who saved me. By revelation I have seen the angels who helped me during the scariest struggle of my life. I had a sort of near-death experience where I was encouraged by a crowd of people dressed in white that I should hold on, and I chose to fight for my life. Through the grace of God I survived. I am sure that those angels are dear members of my eternal family; they are my cheerleaders!
After lying on the ground in agony for at least two hours (nobody I was with called the police), I was discovered by two women on their early morning walk. I wonder if I will ever get to meet those angels; I wish I knew who they are.
I landed in the hospital with multiple broken bones. After seven hours of surgery, I was angrier than I had ever. I was asked, “Do you remember hitting the ground?” I shook my head no, as I couldn’t speak because of the tube down my throat. The doctor told me it was good I didn’t remember. Sometimes I wish I did; it’s hard not knowing everything about an event that changed my life forever, especially when I am used to having a near-photographic memory.
I will always recognize that weekend as the time my life was spared. Following surgery, my dad and uncles came and asked if I wanted a priesthood blessing. I shook my head no. They asked again and I was given a pen and paper. I wrote “No!” over and over. My aunt came and I tried to write “I love you Dwanie” on the paper. I had no idea what to do. Questions swirled through my mind: “What now?” “How could I have done this?” “What the hell happened?” “How am I even alive?” “How am I going to make it?” “Will I ever be the same?” I just wanted to go to sleep and get over the pain.
Most of my close friends were shocked when they heard I was seriously hurt. Over the next two months I had many visitors at the hospital. They were so kind. I don’t remember who all of them were, due to the heavy medication I was on. But I do remember how I felt when they visited. I felt love and hope.
When I got out of the ICU, my pain medication was reduced. I remember wondering, “How can I get through this month or this week?” Once I was confident I wouldn’t make it through the next two hours. I was in such extreme pain. I just had to sit there and hurt. Medicine could not offer me relief, so I prayed and hoped that Heavenly Father would help me even though I had done something so horrible.
Just then, my bishop and elders quorum president walked through the door. They asked if I wanted a blessing. This time I said yes. In the blessing I was promised that I would heal quickly. I would regain my strength so that I could serve people to the end of my life.
That commitment to service is the main reason I’m being vulnerable and sharing my story. I feel it is my duty to serve others by sharing what I have learned from Heavenly Father. I chose to believe what was promised in that blessing. To me it meant I would live a long life. My fear was washed away by the love of my Father. I began to see my body healing every day, and I chose to focus on that rather than my pain. I was becoming whole again from the inside out, emotionally, spiritually, and physically. Gratitude began to change my outlook on life.
Learning to Walk
In time I was transferred to the physical rehabilitation floor. I needed to learn to walk again, and I was scared. One day I was overcome by remorse. I laid in bed and thought, “I haven’t been to Church in months. I’m not wearing my garments. I’ve broken just about every commandment that I can break. How can I be worthy of the Lord’s help?”
Yet even through those feelings, I prayed. I couldn’t kneel so I swung my legs over the side of the bed. I pleaded with the Lord to know how sorry I was. I wanted the Lord to forgive me for being so careless. As I prayed I had the greatest feeling of love come over me, and in that moment I knew that I was worth it!
I realized that I had been wrong about God for years. He loved me no matter what, and he was there to help me no matter what. All that he required was my faith that he could help me. He did help me, and now I will stand and say that he has saved me. I know that I was assisted by angels on my night of greatest need. I know the Lord came to my aid and gave me a second chance at life because I wanted so badly to try again. I am grateful he gave me the chance to choose to stay here.
Through precious spiritual experiences, I know of the reality of God. I have felt his arms encircle me as I have cried uncontrollably. He has quieted my fears and inspired me to make the best choices for my life. I am grateful for my true friends and my wonderful family. I make a choice each day to get up and to fight to get my life back. I learned how to walk, and I can now run.
Back to Normal
Managing my own healthcare takes so much time, energy, and effort. Returning to my normal day-to-day activities has been a team effort, and I have had to ask for help at home and at work I am blessed to be surrounded by many good people who lift me up and encourage me constantly. I recall one particular time when I was struggling with a flashback of the accident. I was so afraid and my mind felt like it was spinning out of control. I cried out, “Heavenly Father, where are you?” And then, in my mind, I saw myself. I was struggling to get free, and I thought I saw myself in at the site of the accident. I stumbled out and went over one of the balconies. As I saw myself falling I became aware of an angel who came to cushion my fall.
As a result of my struggles I have more empathy and compassion than ever before. I know for sure that I am a strong person, possibly the strongest person I know. I gain strength from the Lord by trying to follow what he wants me to do. I have so much hope for my future. I have a desire to do the will of my Heavenly Father and I have a motivation to serve and to be a light to those around me.
I am profoundly grateful for Jesus Christ. I know he lives. I know that his Atonement makes it possible for me to give what I can; he will make up the rest of the debt I can never pay. I am so grateful the Lord provided a special way for me to connect with him and to feel his presence through good music. I use the power of gratitude and hope in my life to lift myself and those around me. In the full light of the gospel I can now see what I had missed for so many years. I know that happiness is possible through choosing the right path.
Spiritual Enlightenment – Sunshine through the Clouds
For years my activity and participation in the Church were limited due to my poor choices. I sought for greater happiness, not knowing exactly where to find it. My romantic relationships with men felt like they were 90% right but 10% wrong. I am someone who wants 100% surety. I knew the only thing I hadn’t fully tried in nearly a decade was full activity in the Church. I struggled to gain the courage to become active in the Church. The most difficult thing I had to do was break up a close relationship with one of my best friends. It was extremely hard but I knew I had to do it.
In an effort to gain more spiritual strength I listened to the Mormon Tabernacle Choir instead of top 40 pop music. I put a reminder in my phone to read the scriptures and I did it nearly every day. I began to pray more often. Somehow I knew this time that I would succeed in allowing the Lord to help me transform my life.
One day, after I had been meeting with my Church leaders for a few months, I was overcome with the weight of my struggles and I started to cry. As I cried I felt a voice inside of me say, “One day you will be free.” I felt as though I arms were encircling me in an embrace. As soon as I could I dropped to my knees to pray. I knew that I needed the Lord to stay with me if I were to stand strong in my efforts to live the gospel. Though I was strong, I was not strong enough on my own to live up to all of the covenants I had made. I needed the Lord’s help.
That day I received an answer. Yes, God would help me and watch over me, and yes, the time had come for me to return to full activity in the Church. I was ready to give up anything to receive the light I was seeking. The magic of the Atonement is that I only have to give what I am able to give. I don’t have to give up everything all at once or make what I think is a “perfect” sacrifice. The Lord makes up for what I can’t give, and his patience with me is sufficient to allow me time to learn at my own pace. I am only required to do all I can each day.
The day I decided to live the gospel fully, my life began to improve exponentially. That improvement continues. I have no desire to look back or live in the past. My life is my own, it has a plan, and I am watched over by a living Father in Heaven who loves me. I belong to him. I have so much support from good family and friends. I have chosen to live a life free from the burden of addiction and abuse.
The Atonement of Jesus Christ is like seeing sunshine burst through the clouds of trial. It is my mission to help others feel the love of the Savior so that they, too, may live lives of freedom and joy, unburdened by abuse and addiction. In sharing my story I do not seek attention; rather, I seek to reach out to those who need hope. To them, I say, “I have done this, and so can you.”
The single most helpful tool in my journey back home is my involvement in the Addiction Recovery Program. I help facilitate a weekly meeting in this inspired program. The Spirit of our Heavenly Father is present in these meetings. I have yet to attend a meeting where I did not feel acceptance and love. I believe that what I was missing for all of those years was the simple assurance that the Lord loves me for who I am. I am strongly reminded of this every time I facilitate a meeting in the ARP program.
Through continued involvement in service opportunities, I feel freer than I ever have. For the first time in what seems like forever, I am excited for what’s to come in my life, thrilled that I have my life and my story to share with others.
20 Nov, 2014
Proud of you!!! What strength of character!!! I'm impressed and blessed by you sharing your story.