142. accouterments

IMAG0774To your reply, I/we (your family) don’t expect you to be static. We are not static either. The reason to spend time is to keep up with those changes. It sounds like you think we don’t change, but in small ways we do, all the time. We just want to know who you are regardless of who that is. Sure, we wish things and you were different, but they’re not. But you’re missing out on your nephews and niece and the rest of us in who we’re becoming.

To me and us it’s not a matter of commonalities. It’s just relationship. For me/us there does not have to be a shared future. We just want a future with you. From my vantage point, it looks like you’re the one who does not want to be part of our lives. If that’s the way you want it, we’ll accept that. But I/we want you to know we want you—always have, always will. We don’t understand why you feel so intense a need to erase the past or put it behind you. We are all made up, like trees, of who we were, who we are and who we’re becoming. Seems to me that gutting the tree leaves you less a tree and a weak one at that.

Our door is always open to you. We love you.

Dad


Dad,

You wrote: “From my vantage point, it looks like you’re the one who does not want to be part of our lives.” Again, it’s not that I don’t want to. Rather, I’m struggling to see how it’s feasible.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this, and I’m curious how you think we can all be together, meaningfully, when there are so many issues we have to avoid and dance around—religion, ethics, politics. Your faith is a significant part of your lives, and it makes sense you’d want to talk about that together as a family. However, you know my views on religion and Christianity, and that I can’t participate in those discussions in a way that is authentic and affirming for everyone.

The fact is that I do recognize you’re not static, and that you are changing. But that’s the central issue here: where you seem to be becoming more conservative, I’m becoming more liberal in the same areas. For example, from our last conversation, it sounds like you’re disturbed and saddened by growing secularism, by what you see as increasing godlessness in society, and by the sense of alienation and displacement you’re experiencing from that as a person of faith. You expressed a sense of there not being a place for you and other evangelical Christians in this brave new world of equality and secularism—at least not in a way that wouldn’t force you to compromise your beliefs. I suspect that the others share your concerns.

I, on the other hand, see all of this as a positive development. And that’s just one example.

But the need to, as you wrote, distance myself from the past is less a desire for erasure as it is a struggle to find context for it. For me, it truly feels as if the person who I was four-and-a-half years ago died the night I became an atheist. It was a life-changing and traumatizing event, on top of growing up gay in a fundamentalist Christian community. Maybe I’m misinterpreting, but from our conversations you and mom don’t seem to think it’s quite as serious. Your experience with Christianity has been a beneficial one, so why would you? There may be elements of your faith you struggle with, but your lifestyle integrates overall with (and is affirmed by) your beliefs.

Why would I want to erase the past and put it behind me? Because it was horrific. My memories and experiences are colored by the intense pain and sadness of believing I was broken, sinful, perverted, and would be a disappointment to everyone if they’d ever learned I was gay. Yes, it manifested in often unhealthy ways, but the risk of sharing the reason I was so angry back then was too high. Living that way for fifteen years created the sense of alienation and isolation that made fear a fundamental part of how I relate to other people. I need to move beyond that because the ghosts of those beliefs are making it near impossible to function as an emotionally healthy human being.

So it’s difficult for me to be with the family when no one has acknowledged that any substantive harm was done, and when I’m in the process of trying to heal from that damage. Again, correct me if I’m wrong, but you likely see the underlying problem as a spiritual and not a psychological one: specifically, rebellion against God and his plan is what caused the distress of my adolescent and young adult years. You even said on numerous occasions that many of my troubles would be eased if only I’d give myself to God, so it’s plain you don’t see the brand of fundamentalist theology I was raised with as being a cause for my suffering.

But frankly, I do feel that a significant, pervasive wrong was done, one that you and the family cannot acknowledge or address because of your religious beliefs. That is, you can’t do that and leave your Christian faith and worldview intact. This is what makes it difficult for me to want to be around the family, or to believe that there’s a safe and welcome place for me at your table.

To be clear, I don’t think anyone intended harm, but this is the roadblock that I can’t see any way around. It wouldn’t be fair to ask you to revise your beliefs unless you were genuinely motivated to do so. But I can’t keep holding out hope that you will someday, nor is it healthy for me to keep going as if nothing happened.

David

241. duffer

Chain_expressing_freedomWhat a month so far.

I finished the month of June in San Francisco at the American Library Association convention, which was my first time in that city, at a professional convention, and marching in a Pride parade other than in the Twin Cities. The latter is less important than the others, but suffice to say that going to ALA was a confirmation that librarianship is truly where I belong.

During the five days I was there, I heard from and met people passionate about keeping information free and accessible for all, and about getting that information into the hands of patrons where it can go out and change the world.

I got to hear the incredible Gloria Steinem speak on the transformative importance of feminism in librarianship.

Heard a (rather cute) guy from the South Carolina Lowcountry Digital History Initiative gloriously nerd out in a session on the technical nuances of making a software program do exactly what they needed it to do.

Was introduced to people in the #critlib movement who are actively taking a critical look at librarianship through the lens of feminism, queer/gender theory, multiculturalism, and so on.

It was truly inspiring.

However…


On Monday I finally got back with my therapist after a nearly three-and-a-half month break. She moved offices, and in the madness of finishing the semester, going on vacation for two weeks, and then going to San Francisco, I hadn’t made an appointment.

And I was also kinda wearing my victim hat. I wasn’t sure if she was going to get in touch with me to set up an appointment, and when I didn’t hear from her, I took it as a conformation that my issues are too fucked up for her to handle, and that she was abandoning me.

Ahh, depression.

As I got her caught up on the latest developments, I shared some of what happened in San Francisco, particularly about feeling alone in a literal sea of humanity. There were over 25,000 attendees at ALA, so for an introvert it was especially overwhelming.

There was the usual sense I have of not knowing how to interact with people, which is especially frustrating at an event where networking and connection-making could happen. Of course, that sort of activity is better suited to a smaller conference organized around a specific discipline or area.

However, that’s how I feel most of the time—trapped in my head with negative thoughts. Why even bother talking to anyone? The minute you open your mouth they’ll figure out what an idiot you are. You’re such a failure as an adult. How old are you? 32. You should be more competent by now.

That’s nothing new, but I shared all of that with my therapist, of having the sense of needing a personality overhaul, because how I’ve been going up until now is not working—for my career, for my personal life, or for my romantic life.

I also shared a major meltdown I had on vacation in Big Bend National Park in Texas last month. In short, the inciting event was having to cross a stream to enter a canyon, something I wasn’t expecting. My friend Matt just went with it and waded through, and I think seeing his seeming carefree attitude set off something in my mind.

Now, granted, I don’t know what’s going on in other people’s minds. Their stories are their own. But it seems to me that most people know how to have a good time. They aren’t caught up in their own thoughts, in insecurities, in a negative self-image from a toxic belief system.

So my meltdown in the canyon was really about my frustration over feeling rigid and stuck and not knowing what to do about that, while most everyone else seems to know how to flow.


Okay, brief diversion.

I’ve discovered a new YouTube channel, The School of Life. Came across it by accident when I saw a link to the video:

My own philosophy education was pretty abysmal. Along with psychology, we were discouraged from thinking too much about philosophy. After all, they were worldly. But I was really struck by some of his ideas here, such as Geworfenheit, or “throwness”—as Heidegger described it, the “attendant frustrations, sufferings, and demands [of life] that one does not choose, such as social conventions or ties of kinship and duty” (Wikipedia).

In Heideggerian terminology, since 2008 I’ve been moving way from a state of Uneigentlichkeit (inauthenticity) towards Eigentlichkeit (authenticity); of becoming more aware recently of the distracting das Gerede (chatter, or idle talk) and how intensely I dislike it; and of wanting to live in a greater state of freedom in keeping with the knowledge of my own mortality—das Nichts.

As Camus would say, I have enough freedom to know that I’m in a cage, but not quite enough freedom to escape it.


A friend observed that it’s not that I think about these things, but that most people don’t.

This is the trouble that comes with thinking too much, and as I watched some of these videos last night, it seems most philosophers are unhappy for that reason. It’s one reason why Camus sticks out. Even in the undeniable face of mortality, he found reasons to live.

And it’s this reason that drove me towards librarianship and grad school, of embracing my sexuality and atheism—my own Eigentlichkeit—and why it’s so troubling that I have difficulty connecting with even people I value most. Life is a brief candle, and even though I know it’s all ephemeral, like how we used to build theater sets only to tear them down, I want to spend mine adding whatever value to my communities.

The realization I’m coming to is that I need to dismantle the old paradigms of fear and self-loathing that keep me rigid and stuck so that I can live free of ideas that no longer serve me.

So that I can actually get down to the business of living.

240. cavort

knightofwandsLooking at the title for this entry (which, by the way, I typically pull from Dictionary.com’s Word of the Day), what immediately came to mind is some advice from my birth chart (that I did on Astrolabe):

Give yourself the freedom to look awkward or silly once in a while. The relief you feel will be quite therapeutic and the embarrassment (whether it is real or imagined) will pass quickly.

For the record, I’m an Aquarius, with both rising sign and moon in Libra. And something about being a triple air sign?

Do I believe the stars and planets align themselves in the heavens to provide little old me here on planet Earth with sage wisdom? Of course not. But I do enjoy the moments when general observations such as those in astrological charts or tarot readings happen to intersect with my personal reality.

And there is a perverse part of me that enjoys activities like tarot or astrology precisely because they were at one time forbidden and demonic. So getting my chart done or doing a tarot spread is a bit like giving the finger to that part of my past.

However, the truth from that reading is that I do tend to take myself too seriously. I think too much, analyze too deeply, and ultimately lock up and consequently look awkward and weird… which is precisely what I was hoping to avoid in the first place.

And it has the tendency to create problems for everyone else, too, in that it can create the impression of my being standoffish or rude, when in reality I’m just feeling insecure and uncertain about how I’m supposed to behave.


A few weeks, ago my friends Erin and Matt got married, and that got me thinking (yet again) about my own prospects for romance and partnership, and whether it’s something that’s even realistic for me. The day of the wedding I also left for a two-week hiking and camping trip to the Wichita Mountains in Oklahoma, and the Davis Mountains and Big Bend National Park in Texas. The trip gave me a lot of time to digest some of what I’ve learned over this past semester, and to deal with some of the issues that I just haven’t had the mental space to process because of grad school.

Something that I heard on Minnesota Public Radio the other day also caught my attention. They were talking about why millennials aren’t getting married, and one of the guests, Ann Meier, an associate professor of sociology at the University of Minnesota, said something that resonated with me. They were talking about marriage as a status marker, and she said this:

“I think it’s marking an achievement that you’re able to achieve a certain level of education and an income where you feel like [marriage is] the culmination, the icing on the cake, instead of, as Brigid [Schulte] said, a step in the transition to adulthood. It’s the thing you do when your life is set. And people are taking longer to get their lives set these days.”

I think this part of the sense that I’ve been trying to articulate the past couple of months, that it’s difficult watching my friends getting married (especially my gay friends) because it feels like I’m getting left behind. Everyone else has their lives together and, as Ann said, “set” and I’m still trying to achieve a basic level of emotional and psychological subsistence. And it makes me feel incredibly old at 32, watching people younger than me who have been together for almost a decade and seemingly much further ahead than me.

So articulating this view of marriage, that it’s a marker of a certain status achievement, is helpful, because it still doesn’t feel like I’m there. I’m working, I’m working toward a graduate degree in a field I’m actually excited about working in, but I’m also aware of how much further there is to go. Especially when I’m surrounded by couples and married people.


 

But there’s something else that I recently became aware of.

I had a conversation with a co-worker yesterday who said that even though she’s been very successful at work, it’s not something that she’s excited about, and that what she really loves, the thing that gives her the most satisfaction in life, is being a mom to her three kids. She’d been asking about my library science degree and what I plan to do with it, and I shared that for the first time in my life it feels like I have a calling, something I was just born to do.

… not that I believe in destiny or anything, but rather that I’ve finally found a field that aligns almost perfectly with my personal values and what I’m naturally good at. I am absolutely in love with librarianship and science, and cannot wait to get into archiving and special collections.

She said (and another friend of mine recently said) that she doesn’t feel about her job the same way that I’m articulating it, that the work I am planning to do gives my life real purpose and (dare I say it) joy. Will there be days when I hate my job? Probably.

But it brought home for me the reality that I do have things going for me right now.

Another astrological birth chart I looked at for myself said that people with their moon in Libra (lunar Librans) “have a strong need for partnership. Without someone to share their lives with, they feel utterly incomplete.”

I do hope (against hope) that one of these days I’ll find someone about whom I feel the same way that I feel about librarianship… that it’ll be a fantastic match. The older I get, of course, the less confident I am that I’ll even find someone.

In the meantime, I’ll continue rebuilding my life post-Christianity and getting to know myself better so someone can also get to know that person.

239. refluent

You’re quite a bit further out from your loss of faith than I am (I lost mine only 3 months ago)… I wonder if you’d consider blogging about how you survived your initial loss of faith, and if you have any advice for those of us who are earlier in the process? You may not have the time or the desire to address such things, but if you do, I’d be interested in what you have to say.

burnt-forestAin’t No Shrinking Violet asked this question in a comment on one of my posts about four months ago, and regrettably I’m just getting around to answering it today. This is partly because of how crazy my schedule has become with grad school and not having much time to write anymore. However, it’s also because until recently I haven’t had a good answer and have been avoiding dealing with that.

A few weeks ago I was on my friend Keith’s podcast, Vita Atheos, and he asked me this question, about how I survived my loss of faith. The short answer is that it took a long time to recover, and I’m still recovering. I was incredibly angry in the year and a half after I decoverted, and not without cause. I’d spent 28 years beating myself up for no reason—over struggles with doubt, my sexuality, and my increasingly secular outlook—and now it felt as if someone had been ransacking my house for most of my life, and I’d just noticed.

My set piece on this subject is that I went from being a Christian to Christopher Hitchens overnight. [Cue laugh track.]

Like many of us, my initial loss of faith was the shockwave of an implosion that happened almost a decade earlier—9 years, 4 months, and 22 days, actually. You can read about that story here if you like, but in hindsight, I wish I could have gone about it in a healthier way. My deconversion was the equivalent of going cold turkey off heroin after a lifetime of dependency on it.

As Julia Sweeney says in Letting Go of God, I had to “change the wallpaper of my mind.” Only I went a step further and burned the enire house to the ground. It wasn’t great, and I burned a number of bridges in the process. I have some regrets about that, about not giving some people a chance to get to know the “real” me, but I probably wasn’t ready, especially considering that the majority of my social circle at the time was evangelical Christians.

I will say that if the Secular Therapist Project had been open for clients in 2011, I would’ve been one of the first to sign up. As it is, it wasn’t until 2012 that I finally started seeing a therapist, and until last year that I finally connected with one who “gets” the deconversion and rebuilding process. It’s rough.

And it’s a different process for everyone. For some, it just made sense to stop believing in God, and for them it was largely a joyful and liberating experience. They don’t necessarily carry around the negative scripts and narratives that dominate the inner lives of former fundamentalist Christians.

I was raised in what in hindsight was an extremely toxic belief system. My parents, pastors, teachers and other authority figures taught me to not trust myself, to not trust others, to find fault in others, but most importantly, to find fault within myself. If I couldn’t find anything wrong within myself, I was to assume that I had allowed myself to become blinded myself to spiritual Truths (with a capital T).

Of course, these weren’t the lessons they were trying to impart, but it’s a natural and unavoidable consequence of the theology we accepted that this is how I’d come to see myself.

The reality I come face to face with today is not so much what they taught me as it is what they didn’t teach me, which is how to love and accept myself, and how to love and accept other people. You can’t truly do either of those things with the fear of eternal damnation continually looming over your head, and the fear that something you or someone else might do could put that in jeopardy.

So this is reality for me right now:

  • I don’t know how to be happy without the impulse kicking in to find something wrong with that happiness and ruin it;
  • I don’t know how to love myself because I can’t look at myself in the mirror without wanting to vomit or smash it, because I can only see the things that aren’t perfect or that don’t meet my impossibly high standards and expectations;
  • I don’t know how to let people in for fear of their actually seeing who I am and possibly rejecting that… or more like my inability to understand their acceptance when I can’t accept me.

That’s a long way of getting around to the question of how I survived my loss of faith four years ago. One answer is that I barely survived—I certainly didn’t grow. I lashed out at and pushed virtually everyone in my life away, especially those who were connected to Seth and his church. I retreated into an angry echo chamber of blogs, books, and online forums which only fueled my hatred of Christianity and Christians.

And a lot of people ran away. They could only see the angry, rage machine David, because that’s I wanted them to see. I didn’t want anyone to see the hurt, grieving, loss-wracked, and confused David who felt cut adrift and isolated from everything and everyone he ever knew.

Going to therapy has helped. Finding the Former Fundamentalists helped. If it had been around in 2011, Sunday Assembly might have helped.

But it was ultimately writing, and this blog, that saved me. Sharing my story and connecting with others with a similar story helped contain that fire.

I’m still recovering, still rebuilding. But it’s still a long road ahead.

238. caustic

cups08I’m now into the twelfth week of classes in my library science master’s program, and between working a full-time job and doing monthly music for Sunday Assembly there hasn’t been much time for writing. With seeing my therapist every two weeks, there’s been plenty of personal reflection, but not much time to actually meditate about it, which has been difficult. Writing is how I process those things, but when one’s life seems to be flying along at 600 miles-per-hour, some things take a back seat for the sake of steering.

So a few weeks ago I was finally on my friend Keith’s podcast, Vita Atheos. It’s terrific, and you should check it out. It’s devoted to “telling the stories of atheists, their journeys towards non-belief, and the struggles that they faced in the past, or still face today because of their lack of belief.”

We’ve been talking about my being on for a while now, partly because of how unique my dual coming out story (gay and then atheist) seems to be in the community. It was an interesting experience being interviewed, and the conversation actually ran about two hours and fifteen minutes. And I didn’t even get to talking about my family!

It had also been a while since I’d told my deconversion story in detail. Most people in my life know the details so we don’t have to rehash them. Although recently, there have been conversations about the weird, fucked up things that I was taught growing up. At times it feels as if I truly came from another culture, or even from another planet entirely.

Because there are few analogues in “normal,” mainstream life—that is, for those who didn’t grow up in a conservative, fundamentalist, religious community. The “real world.”

One of the themes that has come up with therapists over the past few years (including my current therapist) is a sense of being just broken and fucked up from all of the religious programming in my early childhood years, further compounded by internalizing the homophobia that surrounded me at home and in my community. One of the things that’s come up is my inability to truly forgive myself for not knowing better, for not being stronger, for not coming out sooner and standing up for myself.

But as Lalla Ward is quoted as saying to her parents in The God Delusion: “But I didn’t know I could.”

That sort of historical musing is easy to do. It feels good to put ourselves on the moral side of history—standing up to the Nazis in Germany, or standing with Martin Luther King, Jr. against racism. Fifty years from now, children will read with similar horror about homophobia and opposition to gay rights. Of course I wish things could’ve turned out differently, and that I wasn’t trying to rebuild my life and constantly struggling under the weight of depression, anxiety, and inherited self-hatred.

The past few months I’ve been trying to wrap my mind around why I’m currently so obsessed with my age right now and being gay and single at 32. I think I’ve written about this before, that part of it the need to validate myself against the messages I got growing up, that gays don’t have relationships. Part of it is the rampant ageism in the gay community, and the fixation on being young and fit, and I frankly don’t see myself as either of these things anymore. I don’t have time to work out, so I’m still rather scrawny; and now that I’m in my mid-30s my metabolism isn’t what it used to be. I’m not overweight, but I am “gay fat” by the standards of the community (i.e., not having a gym-perfect body, BMI is over 12%).

Maybe it’s just Midwestern gays. I’m starting to wonder if that isn’t what it is.

The reality is that I’m where most of them are when they were in their early twenties, leaving me feeling hopelessly behind and outpaced. It seems so easy for everyone else to find boyfriends and relationships, and I don’t even know how to date. Perhaps it would be easier if my standards weren’t so high, or if I could just have fun; but it’s difficult as it is for me to connect with other humans in general, and I’m really not one for casual dating or sex, which frankly doesn’t leave many options in the Twin Cities since that seems to do it for most guys around here. Everyone here seems to be on Manhunt, Grindr, or Scruff.

#notmyscene

But there’s a much darker reality that I’ve just recently become aware of. It’s so new that I haven’t had time to put it into words, so this may not make much sense, but here goes:

Basically, at this point, I don’t know if I could be with someone when I can’t even accept myself.

Central to Christian fundamentalist teaching and Calvinism is this notion that humans are basically shit because of Adam and Eve. An ongoing theme of my childhood was a virtual obsession with sin and confession, because God is always watching, and Satan is always trying to trip Christians up. Constant vigilance. What could go wrong with teaching a child to believe that they were born flawed, and that even the most minor of unconfessed sins could land them in Hell for eternity?

So even though I know intellectually that I’m likable, even desirable, I don’t feel it. It’s the emotional equivalent of an eating disorder, I guess. What I see in the mirror is not everyone else seems to see. I see trash, failure, ruin, someone whose prime years were stolen by religion.

It’s as if, because I deem myself unworthy, I reject anyone else’s approval of me as a matter of course. Is that arrogant? Probably. But when you grow up fearing the disapproval of everyone around you, it becomes the lens through which you view all relationships.

An examined life may be admirable, but can also be unlivable.

237. emblem

library12Last week was the sixth of my first semester as a graduate library school student, and it feels like I’ve been running a marathon since February. Yes, it’s a trope to gripe about the busyness of academic life, how much reading there always is, and how there’s never enough time to complete project work.

However, for the first time in a long while, I’ve actually felt good. A friend commented recently that it’s been weeks since he’s seen me depressed.

“I haven’t had time!” I said, which is true. Between school and Sunday Assembly, I haven’t had the bandwidth to think about much of anything else.

Another part is that I actually enjoy what I’m doing right now. Both of my classes are delightful, even in their moments of tedium and pell-mell insanity. My cohort is made up of people who are passionate about what they want to do and can’t wait to be librarians themselves. For the first time, I’m on an actual path towards a career that I can see myself in (and loving) long term. Turns out, librarianship is an ideal fit for my seemingly disparate skills and interests.

The downside of all this busyness is that I haven’t had much time to write or blog, as evidenced by the gaps between this and my last post. It’s certainly not for lack of things to write about. I mentioned this a few days ago to my therapist, that this has been frustrating because I process most effectively through writing. My headspace is often a hurricane of thoughts and emotions, too chaotic and busy a place for reflection or making breakthroughs.

In some of our recent sessions, I’ve brought up the fact that right now I hate my body. I’ll write more about this next time, but it’s something I remember feeling from an early age. I’ve always disliked being naked or unclothed in public as a child, even with my family, and even in warm weather. The curious thing is that (particularly in the summer) my dad would go shirtless, as would most of the guys I was around. But even as a child, I already had a sense of Otherness about myself. And when one is acutely aware of that, they are also often hyper aware of the boundaries between themselves and other people.

Some of it was the intense and pervasive fear of being judged, or people noticing imperfections with my body. I was pretty scrawny growing up, and being a late bloomer when other boys were filling out didn’t help matters. I hated everything about my body, because it didn’t meet the exacting standards I assumed were expected of me.

This is something I’ve theorized is at the root of my sense of dissociation, both from myself and from other people, and why I tend to be more of a loner. I’ve written here about my tendency to keep other people at a safe distance from me. Of course, this is in keeping with my upbringing in a religious fundamentalist community, where we were encouraged to “search our souls” and confess any and all sin that might be lurking in our hearts. In hindsight, it’s not that different from Scientology, except that instead of disembodied parasitic Thetans, we believed in sin.


A few months ago, I quoted Lawrence Heller: “When people experience trauma, they feel bad; children, in particular, think they are bad when they feel bad. Chronic bottom-up dysregulation and distress lead to negative identifications, beliefs, and judgments about ourselves.”

Virtually everything about fundamentalist Christianity teaches that, because of the sin of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, all human beings are broken, flawed, and sinful. This is why we need the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross, to metaphysically purify us of those sins. For most people in that community, this belief fills them with a sense of awe and gratefulness. However, for many of us, an unintended consequence of growing up with that worldview was that we came to believe that we are broken, flawed, disgusting, unlovable, undesirable, etc. Many Bible verses even reinforce this notion:

“For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want.” (Galatians 5:17)

This was a real brain teaser when I realized that I’m gay, but even beyond that, the predominant feeling I was left with from my theological upbringing was that anything I felt or wanted was fundamentally wrong—which meant that I was wrong. So I retreated to an inner world of books and writing, and developing characters and personas that I knew were “acceptable,” keeping everyone away lest they figured out what a horrible person I was.

As a teenager, my mom would sometimes say to me, “If people knew how you really are, they wouldn’t like you.” (In context, I was a pretty angry teenager, which makes sense in hindsight considering that Christianity had made me a self-loathing closet case.)

The hardest thing the last couple of years has been learning to be with people as myself. Realizations along the way have helped bring the “real me” into sharper focus, like figuring out that librarianship best describes my orientation to the world. But shaking the sense that I need to run away from people or pretend to be who I think will be accepted is quite difficult.

So it’s always a shock whenever people genuinely seem to like me. Last week, I walked into class and everyone exclaimed, “David’s here!” My housemates Matt and Jason have truly become the family I always wanted. Ditto the people at my yoga studio, and at Sunday Assembly. It’s an unfamiliar feeling, and an uncomfortable once because there’s still that voice in my head warning me that I could fuck up at any time and be cast out.

Not a terribly healthy/helpful voice.

But one fence at a time.

236. alight

6888978424_0fff3d0e1f_kI had something of a breakthrough yesterday and am trying today to hold on to this sense of clarity.

Yesterday, I started listening to an NPR podcast called Invisibilia.

“Launching in January 2015, Invisibilia (Latin for “all the invisible things”) explores the intangible forces that shape human behavior – things like ideas, beliefs, assumptions and emotions.”

The premier episode is titled “The Secret History of Thoughts.” It focused on disturbing thoughts and how we deal with them via the stories of two individuals who’ve had profound experiences in this area.

I was recently told by a friend that he occasionally has thoughts of harming or murdering people, especially those who have behaved ruthlessly or selfishly. He said that most people have these flashes of violent intention, itself an artifact of our evolutionary past that follows us around like cans tied to the rear of a car with a “Just Married” sign in the window.


During adolescence, my sister’s therapist would describe me as a “toxic volcano.” For various reasons, around age 13 or 14, I went from being a quiet and bookish boy to an angry and turbulent young man. In hindsight, my emerging sexuality and how it brought me into direct conflict with my religion was at the root of much of that. In evangelical Christianity, however, we weren’t encouraged to think much about mental health.

In late spring of 2008, I began experiencing suicidal thoughts. I’d just moved from my first apartment and was driving all of my belongings in my SUV to my new place. I was feeling alone and more than a little sorry for myself. As I pulled up to an intersection of a busy highway, I had the thought of just pulling forward into the path of an oncoming truck. The thought came out of nowhere, and it was frightening how calm and rational the thought sounded.

In the years that followed, even up to today, I’d have these random suicidal thoughts pop up. I’ll be working in the kitchen with a knife and think about slitting my wrists. If I turn on the garbage disposal, I’m afraid I’ll somehow lose control and stick my hand in. (Frankly, I blame M. Night Shyamalan’s dreadful 2008 film The Happening for that deep dark fear.) If I’m up high, say in an office building, I’ll think about falling—not so much considering it, but more what if I did.

Thankfully, I don’t dwell on these thoughts much. Perhaps because I spend so much time in my head, and because of my early interest in psychology, I learned to interact with these thoughts and deconstruct them.

In her 2013 Ted Talk, Eleanor Longden describes her journey with schizophrenia, saying that eventually she learned “to separate out a metaphorical meaning from what I’d previously interpreted to be a literal truth.”

“What I would ultimately realize was that each voice was closely related to aspects of myself, and that each of them carried overwhelming emotions that I’d never had an opportunity to process or resolve, memories of sexual trauma and abuse, of anger, shame, guilt, low self-worth. The voices took the place of this pain and gave words to it, and possibly one of the greatest revelations was when I realized that the most hostile and aggressive voices actually represented the parts of me that had been hurt most profoundly, and as such, it was these voices that needed to be shown the greatest compassion and care.”

While I’ve never heard voices, many thoughts I’ve experienced have seemed to have a mind of their own. I’d obsess over wrongs, worry over finding a job, whether or not my music or writing was good enough, personal failures (real or imagined), how I don’t meet the subjective—and arguably fickle—physical standards established by a seemingly monolithic gay community in order to be “desirable.”


Which bring me to the breakthrough I had last night.

Part of the Invisibilia episode on thoughts focused on Martin Pistorius, who contracted Cryptococcal meningitis around age 12 and spent thirteen years literally trapped in his body.

To cope with the sense of isolation and powerlessness, he says he learned to detach from his thoughts, almost engaging with them as another person in his mind. Eventually, he did regain some motor control, and now communicates much like Stephen Hawking.

And, at age 33, he got married.

This led to reflecting on my darkest thought: that I’m going to be single and alone for the rest of my life. I broke up with my last boyfriend in March of 2013, and been on one date since—and not for lack of trying or looking. Frankly, I’ve found gay guys in Minnesota wholly uninteresting. And if they are interesting, they’re taken or uninterested in me.

(My current fantasy is that I’ll somehow land a British guy, leave the United States and find a job as a librarian in England or Ireland somewhere, like the Bodleian or Trinity.)

So being surrounded by people who are dating, married, building lives together, talking about kids and vacations and so on triggers the thoughts and fears of being alone, that I’m unlovable, that I’m incompatible with everyone, that there’s something fundamentally broken about me, that I’m always going to be alone.

Thing is, I know that being in a relationship won’t complete me or solve any problems. The current theory is that, because I was taught growing up that gay people don’t have relationships and that it’s a lonely “lifestyle,” my fixation on finding a boyfriend/husband is based in the fear that they were right.

But hearing Martin’s story and how he managed to detach himself from thoughts that would’ve dragged him down into despair highlighted for me that reality that I can do the same with mine, that I can detach and deconstruct my own.

I had the thought last night that, if Martin found a wife at age 33 while confined to a wheelchair and communicating via computer, maybe it’s not impossible for me.

I don’t really believe it yet, but it’s a step.