It has been so much easier for me to hide than to reveal myself.
I have hidden my dreams so that I could remain asleep.
I have hidden my wedding ring so that I could cheat.
I have hidden my own deeply known truths behind a complicit intellect so that I might appear to “have my shit together.”
Behind knowing eyes, I have watched years pass, relentlessly clinging to a life of control while yearning for freedom, for authenticity and for the truest expression of me, one that I have ALWAYS been able to feel. I have long heard my voice within the recesses of my heart, and I honor it a little more each day as I practice toward wholeness. Truthfully, I am learning that knowing myself means that I don’t really know myself very well, but I’ve given up needing to have it all figured out. The voice inside me is enough for today. I am giving up an outdated commitment to concealing my truth.
Now, I know that it is more painful to hide than to live in the open, even when my dedication to authenticity busts my balls and holds my feet to a continually unexpected fire.
I am a minister’s son in the Western Christian church, so I mastered lying to myself so that the surface of life was not disturbed and so that I could feel safe in my own home. The rendering of traditional Christian teachings left me feeling apathetic and numb. I wanted to feel something, the sense of devotion to save me, but I could not find continuity within my own self. I learned how to cut myself into pieces, living each piece secretly, rarely integrating long enough to truly trust my own experience, what I was hearing within. I, too, became a minister in early adulthood. It was the only way I had known to address the deep wounds in my psyche and body or to help others that reached for their own salvation. Ultimately, religion could not contain me. I needed more space. A symbolic interpretation of life is still the only way I know how to make sense of the world, and that calls me to see deeply into my own thoughts, choices and desires, how they mirror the agony and bliss of all of us as we figure out what it means to be truly spiritual.
For as long as I can remember, being in my body made me a target–made me the object of physical and emotional cruelty, as I failed to produce an ego built from traditional masculine blueprints. I was terrible at sports. I barely passed my physical fitness challenges in P.E. every year, and my stomach anxiously fluttered before recess, knowing I would be alone on the playground. I began building a fortress around my heart, constructed mostly of self-judgment, projected outwardly onto the world I could see. Being in my body ultimately made me a target of the god that my family worshipped. My queerness, if revealed even to me, would have cost me my family, heaven, everything, so I silently dismembered myself a little more each day, each piece secured behind its own secret division in my psyche. I was called “faggot,” “pussy,” “queer boy,” and many other derisive terms. I was physically attacked, stuffed into trash cans and ostracized simply because the world could see who I was becoming long before I would see it, myself. I have been out of the closet for about five years now, and I admit that parts of me are still coming out. I am becoming whole amidst fragmentation as a largely accepted status quo.
At age nineteen, just as I was getting closer to self-acceptance, I was chased for hours in a car, trapped in a cul-de-sac and told repeatedly that I would die for being a “pussy.” My attackers broke through my windshield with football sized stones to get me out of the car, and I narrowly escaped. The shame I carried before that pivotal night and thereafter made it feel impossible to come to terms with who I was, who I always had known; I became a bigger target to myself. The door to my closet was sealed, for the moment.
For the decade.
In my youth, I married a woman. I loved her as much as I knew how to love. I was as open with her as I knew how to be. We even dated men together, trying to reconcile my authentic self with my need for her external validation of the false model of masculinity that I had constructed. When I lost her because of my own betrayal I learned about deep inconsolable grief. I experienced a death of myself, of who I was to my family, to my career, to my own daily reflection. She was a soulmate in whom I saw myself reflected in self-inspiring ways, in ways I still have not yet been able to find again. It took me two decades to accept the tough truth that choosing “me” can really hurt if I hold on too tightly. Choosing myself can cause pain to other people. It’s still difficult for me to accept this. I hated being “that guy”, coming out after having already established my adult identity, but here I was, a thirty-something-man-child, wizened by heartbreak, but fresh and new, like sunrise.
We carry such POTENTIAL, the kind of energy that if actualized on a mass scale, could transform the world overnight. I refuse to give up hope that the pain I have borne and that the compassion I now feel for myself and us all is not in vain. I trust that my tender heart is uncovering my next steps, so I walk as the missionary I was intended to be but with a message from my own soul, a message that is in every single particle of the Universe. We are all connected in thought and deed. There is no violence done to me or others that I have not, in some way, done to myself in nurturing shame. I believe it is only a matter of degrees that separate the atrocities of war from a flippant snap judgment of another or even myself.
The day I came out to myself was the first embodied day I had ever lived. To my tired, fear-worn heart, a silence more nourishing than I could imagine enveloped me and the chase was over. For years I had outrun a process that finally caught up to me in a coffee shop in San Francisco. Behind me, stainless steel frothing pitchers spun milk into galaxies of foamy bubbles while customers traveled back and forth in front of my blank stare, a nonchalance in their passing that highlighted the irony of my epic moment. What had paralyzed me for as long as I could remember had suddenly become deliverance, even victory. In almost every area of my life, I was struggling to uphold a pretense of maturity, but I just could not surrender to truth until I was humbled beneath the rubble of my carefully constructed life. I realized just how much energy it had taken to carefully construct a web of safeguards against self-acknowledgment. The lifetime exile of my authentic spiritual and erotic identity as a gay man had cost me time, money and vitality, and had caused pain to many others in the denial of my wounds. Indeed, my family polarized into those who supported me magnificently, and others who forgot how to love me. Lessons I believed I had already learned for years astonished me in an instant as they transformed into the anticipated lived experience of authenticity and wisdom. My body had forever known the silent truth of this awareness, even when my mind exhausted itself of excuses. I am still learning to thank my body for how it teaches me to let go.
After an eight year career in the fitness industry, trying on the hats of personal trainer, wellness coach and movement re-educator, I have been realizing that this journey has really been about me healing my relationship with my own body. I am no longer the overweight target of scorn, though the voice of that persecuted little one can still be heard when I least expect it. I have succeeded in manufacturing the desirable body of my youthful longings. Though my physique has certainly earned me the respect from the other boys that I lacked in my youth, it has not succeeded in extinguishing shame. Though my body has attracted all the sex I thought I wanted and should be having, it has not convinced me, on some days, that I am truly deserving of pleasure, that I am good enough and perfect the way that I am. Indeed, being fit has helped me access a significant amount of personal power, though that power is predicated on body chemistry rather than a sense of true worth. Photographic evidence of every visible muscle on my stylishly tattooed body has done little to prove to me my worthiness. I’m finding that taking off my clothes has been the easy part, but that letting love in remains to be the challenge that I rediscover almost daily. It takes more bravery to stand behind the messages from my heart than it does to perpetually perfect my body or to allow the momentary validation of my naked flesh to suffice for the healing of deep shame within my very cells. At the same time, I love so copiously that I don’t know what to do with it all. My eyes tear up as they are gazed into and appreciated for what they see.
We yearn for connection, for touch, for contentment, but we have been conditioned to give away our power to everything circumstantial and everyone, the screens upon which we project and blame. I believe that shame is our fundamental obstacle, the prison we divide into cells, pieces of ourselves contained, often serving lifetime sentences of isolation and rejection. Today, I think I know myself so well, but tomorrow, I may find another prisoner of myself. Getting to wholeness is a practice of first identifying the shame we carry and then accepting who we are, despite what our cultures, families or gods may say of our own truths. To me, this is spirituality—letting go of the illusions that separate us from everything else. The only path I can understand is the path to love, acceptance and forgiveness. I have found that walking this way allows for mighty shifts to occur. I am committed to living and loving in the open—no more hiding. I will do my part to help create a global tribe of hearts.
Who am I?? I’m still finding that out.
I hope that you will join me in the discovery.