Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Forty-Four and Stuck

Most of the emails I receive are from young people, usually in their early teens to late twenties.  The advice they seek ranges from, how do I come out to my parents to, how do I deal with my specific relationship issue.

But, this October, I received a couple of emails from a forty-four-year-old man, who I haven’t been able to stop thinking about.  I’ll call him John.  

In his first email, John said the following (note, all comments have been edited):      

I came across your blog about learning to love and accept yourself as a gay man.  Your writing gave me some hope.  I’m 44 and have been “out” for over ten years.  But loving myself, and accepting being gay, have been difficult, as much as I try to.  An inner anxiety always says there’s something wrong and shameful about who I am.  I want nothing more than to be at peace with myself.

After I responded to John’s email, I heard from him again.  Here, in part, is what he said:

Last night, I read all of the steps to loving yourself on your blog.  It helps to have some practical things to do.  I have been seeing a therapist for a year, and we have talked about some of the things in your blog.  Particularly, being mindful of thoughts, or mindfulness.  Observing thoughts and learning to recognize when my inner critic starts to antagonize myself.  I do feel I’m aware and more conscious of the negative thoughts and inner critic.  I try to use loving kindness mantras, such as “May I be safe.  May I be peaceful.  May I be kind to myself.  May I accept myself as I am.  May I accept my life as it is.”  Some days, I do better than others.  

Some specific thoughts that cause fear/anxiety/depression I feel are from my religious upbringing.  Such as, “Having sex with a man is a sin.  I am living outside God’s plan for my life.  I am abnormal.  I am not a real man if I am unable to love and cherish a woman.  I will never experience the love of a family and children.  My sexual desires and actions are a result of both psychological pathology and spiritual corruptness.”  There are more thoughts I fight, but those seem to be the biggest.

After leaving a Christian church about 10 years ago (because I was tired of fighting being gay and didn’t want to live a double life), I recently started going to an episcopal church.  The priest and I have met a few times for coffee, and he’s shown acceptance of me as being gay and doesn't feel it is wrong or sinful.  He said, ultimately, I have to find acceptance on my own, and believe that God loves and accepts me as a gay man.  I agree with him.  It is something that has to come from inside.  I just don’t know if I will ever be free from the anxiety and fear that is inside me.  It has affected my getting close to others, in relationships especially.  Because, if I cannot accept myself and love myself, how will I love another person the way they deserve to be loved?

I will read more of your posts on self-esteem tonight.  I don’t want to give up.

Whew!  That's a lot to take in.  

I didn’t say this to John, but his email got to me in a way most don’t.  It got to me because of how open and honest he was, laying out the details of his struggle, and, in the process, making me feel his pain.  The fact is, I could have been John, had I not made the decision, way back in January 1986, that I wasn’t going to live like John anymore.  

But I was twenty-six then, and John’s forty-four now.  FORTY-FOUR!  I couldn’t imagine sustaining the soul-crushing anxiety and fear and frustration I’d felt, trying to reconcile the sinful, repulsive person I was told I was, with the scared, innocent, and good person I knew I was, until I was forty-four.  I would have lost my mind, for sure.  

So I read John’s email many more times, and I gave it some thought over several days before I responded to him.  I want to share that with you now, in case, like John, you’re in the same place, and you don’t know how to get out of it.  

Here’s what I said:

You’re doing all the right things:
  1. You’ve seen a therapist to help you deal with some of the stuff in your life;
  2. You’re trying to be mindful, live more in the moment, be more conscious;
  3. You’re practicing “loving, kindness mantras.”  (Although may I suggest that rather than ask permission–“May I…”–that you tell yourself–“I am peaceful,” “I am kind to myself,” etc.  Feel the difference?)
  4. You’ve addressed the religion issue, as it relates to homosexuality, by leaving one church and joining another, where you feel more support; and
  5. You’ve spoken to your pastor, who’s given you meaningful and relevant advice.
In other words, you’re not sitting back, waiting for something magical to happen, so you can become the fully-realized gay man you know you could be.    

But something’s missing, isn’t it?  And while what’s missing maybe not be clear to you, it sure is to me.

You haven’t made the shift yet.  Let me rephrase that.  You haven’t given yourself permission to make the shift yet.  You’re so close–you can feel it–but you just can’t do it. 

The shift I’m talking about, of course, is the one in your head, where, finally, once and for all, you decide you are a wonderful human being, just as you are, and you don’t deserve to feel about yourself the way you do.  That you’re as entitled to love and to be loved, both by yourself and with someone else, as anyone who’s straight is.

John, it’s time.  Hell, it’s long past time.  You’re forty-four years old, for goodness sake.  How much longer do you want to go on like this?

Everything is helping you overcome your fear and anxiety about being gay, but you’re stuck.  Well, only you can unstick yourself.  ONLY YOU!  I can’t do it, although I’m giving it my best shot (in this email and in my blog).  At this point, the only way you’ll ever accept and love yourself is if you decide, from this moment onward, I will accept and love myself. Period.   

All that negativity I felt about myself in the past?  Gone.  I’m done with it.  It controlled my life, and my happiness, for far too long.  Now, today, this moment, I will believe not what people have told me about being gay–not what our culture or my religion has told me–but what I know to be true in my heart and soul:  I am a good person.  I deserve to accept and love myself.  I deserve so much more than what I am now.  

John, you have so much life left to live.  Live it as your authentic self, as the amazing, talented, wonderful man you are.  Live it from a place of inner peace, and acceptance, and love.        

I’m confident the five steps in my blog can at least start you on your journey.  The steps worked for me, and I know they will work for you.  But you need to commit to them, okay?  They are practical, simple, and do-able.  But they only work if you put them in place and keep doing them, day after day.

You owe this to yourself.  You owe this to the people in your life, who are waiting for you to be everything you were meant to be.  And you owe it to your future life partner, who’s waiting for you to embrace yourself fully, so you can embrace him fully too.

Do it, John.  DO IT!  Take the plunge.  It’ll be all right.  It really will.

If you're interested, the "Five Steps to Loving Yourself as a Gay Person" start here.

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