Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Voice(s) of Hope, Part 3

So having had some ups and downs this week, here is one of my ups: the Voice(s) of Hope Project.

"You can experience this real love;
it is possible." --Spencer Thompson
The first video I watched was Spencer Thompson’s video. It resonated with me a lot that he wished he could have had any other trial besides SSA. However, like he says, there is a purpose in having SSA. I love that the answer he got to his question of “Why do I have this?” was “Spencer, I have given you this trial to teach you how to love.” I was once talking to a friend of mine about my SSA. She’d had a roommate with SSA and she was able to say that her roommate was one of the most loving people she’d ever met. That’s something that I’ve learned from my SSA (and something I’m still striving to learn), how to love.

I love Spencer’s words about change. The change he talked about was not about changing his sexual orientation. It’s not about becoming totally straight. It’s not about no longer being attracted to men. It’s not about being healed from it. It’s about “finding my real self”, as Spencer put it. How he put it was perfect for me: “It’s about being healed through the process of coming to know yourself. Coming to know the real you.”

I’ve posted before about how coming to love myself and live authentically has made me happier. In fact, as I’ve learned more about myself and come to learn what I enjoy and what I need, I have become a happier man. I have become more confident. Like Spencer, I’ve been learning that as I learn to love myself, I can love others more. Finally, I fully agree with what they both say about the struggle... Because of what you become through it, you come to love it. As I’ve seen how my SSA has shaped me, it makes me more and more grateful for this experience. I’ve said it before, I don’t care if I ever get rid of my SSA; because of my SSA, I have learned to love other men as my brothers in ways that are atypical of what is expected of men in our western culture.

"I see a brighter future than I’ve ever seen and ironically that’s
through accepting [my SSA]." --Pret Dahlgren
Pret’s video (#2 for today, which is nice and long, by the way) resonates with me a lot. The loneliness and fear he felt. The fear to just be oneself is, in my experience, one of the most traumatic things I’ve ever experienced. It’s debilitating. It’s left me not really knowing who I am. Only recently have I really started learning who I am again, because I spent so long unconsciously (not) wanting to be what others wanted me to be or not wanting them to see who I was out of fear of them learning my big secret.

I almost find it kind of funny how Pret brings up in his video the “pray the gay away” mentality, for a couple reasons. First of all, that is (to a large degree) why I came home early from Toronto almost three years ago. Three weeks before I came home, I told Elder Call about my SSA. Over the course of the three weeks that followed, I was convinced, like Pret, that if I put all my energy into missionary work (1) I’d see miracles in my area -- which I did -- but also (2) that my SSA would go away. As a result of #2, I started beating myself up for it whenever I would feel attracted to another man. Whenever I had the desire to look a little longer. I was so paranoid of even just being touched briefly by another man during a game on P-Day that I drove myself crazy. More recently, since my “coming out”, I had someone suggest to me that if I properly applied the Atonement, my SSA would go away. I had to “lovingly” tell her that that isn’t how it works. And I’ve learned a lot since then about why it doesn’t work: We make promises with God, yes. That’s what covenants are. However, we NEVER set the terms of the agreement. With baptism, priesthood, endowment, and sealing covenants, God sets each and every one of the terms. Never us. Because HE knows what we need and we rarely (if ever) do. In the end of Pret’s story about “praying the gay away”, I love that when the Atonement took over for him, he noticed that it didn’t take it away… but the Savior comforted and He understood.

Throughout the whole video, I LOVED Megan’s smile. As she watched Pret tell his story, she had this beaming smile on her face the whole time. Even during the hardest parts. I really respect the wives in the LDS SSA community. Many of them have gone through a lot of hurt, but they are amazing. Her smile in the video, throughout the all the pain of Pret’s story, reminds me that Megan sees his story from how it is NOW. And she can see how all that pain has blessed her husband. Her hope and her faith give me faith in finding a wife. I pray to find a woman like her, who can see me, see my story, and see my pain and see the blessing that has come from it.

"...Hope came from first of all accepting that life
is intended to be a journey." --David Matheson
Third video: David and Peggy Matheson. I remember the feeling that David had growing up, where he felt more comfortable with girls than with boys. I was teased and excluded by the boys in my class, but I was able to find solace with my female friends. The feeling of being different from the “masculine” is not a rule, I suppose, for SSA guys, but it is a trend, for sure. There are many, many men with SSA that I know who do not feel masculine, who do not feel like other men, and who feel thoroughly isolated in their gender.

What I find interesting is that his SSA seemed to flare up after he got married. He felt a large desire to connect with other men. The desire to connect with other men in a non-sexual way can be such a crucial need for men with SSA that, if left unchecked, will come out “sideways”, in the form of pornography or acting out. I’ve felt that way before. The times in my life when I have the strongest desire to throw in the towel, the thing that has helped me the most is feeling connected to men who I see as my brothers. As I’ve said before in past posts, I have never been in love with another man. I have loved men, but never in a romantic or sexual way. Again, I can only speak from my own experience, but for me feeling connected with brothers is sufficient for me and it curbs the lust that increases in me when I do not feel connected.

The essay I have for today that I read is by Stephen Rex Goode. To me his story repeatedly touches at what he had been “taught” to be in order to be a “real man”. I also sense a lot of gender shame from his story. Gender shame is essentially being ashamed, in a man’s case, to be a man. In my experience and with my gender shame, it has come about because I’ve been told that boys are idiots, men are jerks, etc. With those messages about my own gender, why would I want to be anything like them?

One thing I’d really like to touch on with his story is the way he’d tell himself he wasn’t a “real man”. He would tell himself that, even when he had evidence otherwise (he was a scoutmaster, he worked out, etc.). In fact, when he mentioned that to his bishop (“At one point in the meeting, I said that I often did not feel like a man.”) his bishop was in tears, blown away by the absurdity that he’d heard. I loved how his essay ended, realizing that self-esteem is a gift of the Spirit. And like any gift of the Spirit, it takes prayer and true intent to obtain. I would also add that in my experience being a “real man” is about being like the Savior, not about being what society defines as masculine. 

Monday, June 10, 2013

Journey into Manhood

Hugs. Tears. Goodbyes. After two days of intense emotional work and mental processes, I got in the car with the two men I was driving with and, for the first time in two days, I checked my phone for the time. Literally the first time. For the 48 hours previous, we’d had no phones, no watches, nothing electronic (other than perhaps a flashlight). 48 hours of seclusion from the outside world. 48 hours of work. 48 hours of betterment. 48 hours called Journey into Manhood.

I arrived at a camp in the mountains in the Salt Lake City area along with the two other men in my car. The three of us, along with about 30 other “journeyers”, had hit a point in our lives where we felt stuck, complacent, unproductive, etc. As it is advertised as a healing weekend for men who want to deal with unwanted same-sex attraction, most men who attend Journey into Manhood (JiM) have SSA. However, I’ve known men who are completely straight to go as well. It’s because very little of the exercises and processes during the weekend pertain directly to same-sex attraction.

Every person has scars. Every person has wounds. And in my opinion, every person in the world could use therapy to some degree to resolve those wounds (if you disagree and don’t think you have wounds, I’m happy for you, but in my experience most (if not all) people have some weight that they’re carrying).

Because of the confidentiality agreement that I signed when I went to JiM, I can’t divulge any of the specific processes we did, but I do want to share what the weekend did for me:

My "Golden Boy" (first day of first grade)
For months now, I have been aware of my previously unconscious belief that I was unlovable. This belief grew out of years of being teased, excluded, and abandoned by peers. Eventually I became conditioned to believe that each friend, each classmate, each acquaintance would abandon me and/or toss me aside as I’d experienced in the past. At JiM, I had a chance to look very deeply at the shadowy parts of myself and could very easily reaffirm those negative beliefs about myself. However, that was also contrasted with exercises that helped me see my strengths, my good qualities, the golden parts of me that make me a person that people like. More importantly than that, they showed me why I should like myself. For so many of us, it was the first time in years that we had seen a glimpse of the little golden boys we’d been before we began to be scarred, wounded, and disillusioned to the world. I used to be confident, I used to be adventurous, I used to be outgoing, and I used to love myself. Having seen a glimpse of that boy who used to be all those things, I was reminded that he’s still there… and I can be him again: confident, brave, loving, etc.

When I first joined North Star in May 2012 (wow, it’s been over a year!) and started attending my Evergreen group the next month, the thing that blew me away and helped me the most was realizing that I wasn’t alone. That feeling has come and gone over the past year, some days feeling lonelier than others, but being at JiM with 31 other men who were willing to work through issues that were holding them back in life (wounds from abuse, bullying, dysfunctional family life, etc.), I felt connected, blessed, and accepted. And this joyful feeling was common among the men there. Some of them, it was the first time in their lives that they had ever felt like that.

By the end of the weekend, I felt energized. I got in the car at 5:50pm and “officially” re-entered reality, I was on a high. The best thing I can compare it to would be when I went to EFY as a youth… but even more so. I was able to connect to my God that weekend… and I think a lot of it had to do with coming to believe to a greater extent that I was worth His time. Those 48 hours were not the end to my problems. I have a lot more emotional work and processing to do before they’ll be done (and they’ll never be done in this life, I expect).  However, I feel that JiM has given me the tools to do that work and the brothers I need to help me with my work.

Now, here’s my plug for JiM (and this goes to men who deal with SSA and those who do not): If you have scars and issues from your past that hold you back from being the whole man that you want to be, I recommend looking into it. I’m not going to be the guy who insists that every man on North Star should go to JiM or that every man needs to… but if you are considering it, I say go! You won’t regret it! It changed how I look at myself and at others and it’s in that way that life gets better, by changing me, even if “change” never means becoming straight.