It was 1982 and I was at the end of a deeply emotionally wounding relationship. I had nowhere to turn and someone suggested I attend an al-anon meeting for gay men. I heard it was a better place to go than to the local bars to find some solace and healing.
So I went. I found encouragement, safety, and others who could relate to me at the time. I also found personal prayer to a God who really did care about my life. Due to many connections during that season of my life, I was introduced to a living relationship with a God who saved me from my human circumstances. I also discovered new understanding in the Bible and enjoyed reading about the life of Jesus.
I was so excited about my new focus in life that I told everyone about what I had found! It was so freeing to me to learn that I no longer had to worry about where I would go when I died. I continued to engage in dating same sex relationships and often engaged in sex but in the end, I would also often tell them about Jesus!
I was gay. I was out. I was comfortable being gay. And, I now called myself a Christian! I felt released from so many things including healing from a lot of pain from the unhealthy relationships.
That is until I entered a church community. I was hungry to discover others like myself who understood my new faith. I was immature in my knowledge of the church and Christian beliefs. I just knew I needed to find others who could relate to me. I also knew that I needed a time away from places where I had been unhealthy and the association with other “bar flies” that I had grown accustomed to knowing. And, I needed a break from the unhealthy gay relationships and bar life.
I found a singles ministry within a church I was introduced to. It seemed to be a safe place for me to land. So, I began to listen to the teaching, and hear the messages from those in the community. Since I was coming from an identity of being gay, my ears often turned to anything that was said, or taught about my particular persuasion. The singles pastor and those I met were really awesome. They provided me a place where I could be honest with those closest to me. The teaching was helpful and practical and I didn’t hear too much there about homosexuality.
Since I had been in such pain, and was really ignorant, the lessons I began to hear and believe were that my pain was primarily from my being gay. I began to believe that if I could eradicate homosexuality and its entanglements from my life, that life would get better for me. At least that is the message I thought I was hearing.
I learned tools for overcoming what was referred to as life dominating sin and started to put them into practice. Things like, praying more, reading my bible more, and learning a life of self sacrifice. I heard that if I could deny my flesh more, I’d become more like Jesus. Lessons of becoming righteous in Him through changes in my behavior, and living obediently, also promised a positive outcome.
I came to believe that the life dominating sin in my life was homosexuality, I figured that all of these “tools” could be applied to find overcoming power. If I could overcome being gay, then certainly my life would be much better. I also heard that if I confessed my faults to others, then I would be forgiven from them. If I held them inside, I may not find the forgiveness and therefore not find the healing I was searching for.
My goal was to be the best Christian I could be. I took it that if I didn’t get over homosexuality then my goals would be stifled and I would never find the “overcoming power” I so hungered to find.
In my search for answers to overcome homosexuality, I found special ministries that were designed just for someone like myself. They were called “ex-gay” ministries. Well, if I was to become the best at being a Christian, then it may mean that I needed to immerse myself into them. So, through my search, I discovered one that was looking for a staff person. I thought it might behoove me to take advantage of all that was available. I mean, after all, I had been praying for full time ministry and this must be custom designed for me!
I took a buyout from my job, which funded me with $30,000. I sold everything I couldn’t take with me. I left close relationships including my two young daughters, packed up my car and moved across the country to find my pot of gold at the end of the rainbow! I was now going to rid myself of this gay thing, and find a life worthy of the calling of Christ as I was told I should live. The $30,000 was my financial ticket to freedom and I volunteered for the ministry for two years on my own dollar.
I did it all! Became the very best I could become! I climbed all the way to the top. I was the director, the board member, the speaker, the teacher, and leader of the world’s most well known specialized ministry that promised help to rid people of homosexuality.
I also sought marriage! To a woman! This also seemed to be the highest achievement one could accomplish as an official ex-gay. If I was all of these things, and married too, I must find that life I was searching for, a life worthy of the calling. I would have accomplished the required goal of ridding my life of homosexuality.
I learned how to share my story in the way that best told others of what had occurred in me. I had the miracle story of being free from homosexuality. I counted the years of freedom just like Alcoholics Anonymous does. No chips for me, but I could count, “One,” “Five,” “Ten,” and I finally made it to “Twenty” years. I got all emotional every year around Valentine’s Day because it was that week in 1984 that I had my last gay relationship. I didn’t know how else to count the victory other than count from my last sexual act with a man and this marked the beginning of my freedom.
I tried to apply the lessons and thought that if I stuffed, and stuffed, and stuffed attractions, feelings, and anything within me that felt gay, I was doing what was right. Remaining clear of anything homosexual including any conversation that might glorify gay behaviors or mindsets promised that I might find deeper victory from the lure of any return to homosexuality.
I struggled with emotional attractions many years after my last homosexual sex encounter. I was taught that this was called Emotional Dependency and was also an idol to overcome. So, like other things I had learned, I became the expert in teaching on the destruction of emotional dependence upon another person. After learning how to protect myself from any emotional entanglements like that I had a new victory to talk about! I was now not only free from homosexual sex, but I was also free from emotional dependency!
Year by year, I gained pride, and self satisfaction that I had done what many had not, as seemed to be rare, I was experiencing the freedom from homosexuality, and emotional dependency that was sought after by so many. As someone who had a very public image, I had the amazing story and I had now made it over the twenty year mark! Wow! I was heading towards my “Silver Anniversary” of achievement.
However, comma, what was going on inside me was a cauldron of pain, confusion, and fear. I was so high up on the leadership ladder within my circles, I didn’t know who I could talk to? Who could I now “confess my faults” to? Internally, I knew that I hadn’t achieved the goals of being a good Christian. I hadn’t found freedom from my homosexuality. I was still as attracted to the hunky men as I always was! Everywhere I went, I found men that drew my eyes. It wasn’t just because they were handsome, but it touched a very deep part of my sexual soul and I knew the difference. I had also successfully shut down my emotional needs in order to maintain my victory over any desires for another man’s heart. I tried very hard to dismiss the momentary desires as temptation. I grieved, and grieved, thinking I would never again, ever, be close to a man like I had been before. I pushed it aside and just put one foot in front of the other trying to ignore my attractions, and desires.
Where could I go to talk about something that I believed was so strongly forbidden for discussion? We taught, and tried to practice not glorifying anything gay, so to talk about my inner desires, and hunger was not allowed as it seemed to glorify something from my past.
Therefore, as a leader, I certainly couldn’t open up that conversation. “Oh, by the way, I am marking my twentieth year of sobriety from homosexuality,” while I just held my breath as a great looking guy just walked by. I hadn’t changed one wit! Not one wit!
Recently I discovered that underneath my lack of victory over my homosexual desires laid that ”Big Black Box” of shame. I didn’t know I had been carrying this around from room to room, day by day, year by year. It was just a part of my life and I redefined it as being God’s conviction or His discipline and redefined it as protection over my soul. It was painful, scary, and overwhelming much of the time.
I cursed it and yelled at it in my heart, since I couldn’t talk about it. I was angry so many times when I perceived that it was blocking me from the victory I desired and I hadn’t become the best ex-gay I could become since it was still there. I discovered a tremendous practice of stuffing all of the feelings that lay inside my soul.
I learned another thing that I thought I could strive for that would help. If I tried as hard as I could and faced all of the paralyzing fears of the world of “straight men” maybe I could become as though I were one of them! Yes, maybe this would help me find true freedom from homosexuality. So this also was woven into the ongoing plan. The world of ex-gays taught us that hanging around men could familiarize us with our own hidden masculinity.
So, I did that for years with great anxiety most of the time. I tried really hard but always felt distant, and a great challenge to fully relate to many discussions. But like all of the other tools we were given, I used this one with great hope that someday the anxiety would go away.
I never knew where to go for help with all of these inner conflicts. I mean, where would John Smid go to release all of this pent up stuff that had been building for over two decades? I knew all of the counselors in town for the most part. And I figured that certainly a Christian counselor would never want to hear all of this. I thought surely I would be told to continue with the tools I had been given and ongoing stuffing would be the result.
I’ve recently found out that I did have some choices. I could choose to no longer listen to the shame that came from the religious system. I realized that I had not chosen to be gay. I had nothing to do with the deep inner feelings, and needs that have loomed inside me for virtually my entire life. I had nothing to be ashamed about. So I dumped shame.
As I began to learn to live outside the shame I realized how much I had been wounded by a religious system that seemingly had taught me to live in denial and suppression regarding my homosexuality. The wounds created a great need to find some kind of comfort but since I was such a good boy, I didn’t search the world for chemical comforts, and I certainly couldn’t act out my secret sexual desires since that would surely cost me any hope of peace.
So, I got on the treadmill of ministry leadership and received many accolades for my service, and my testimony of freedom from homosexuality. Yes, this became my drug of choice. I was the hero child of the family and gained many invisible trophies for my accomplishments.
Through my recent honesty, I found a counselor that seemed to be a safe place to begin to unload years of stuffing. Upon my second meeting he made a profound observation. He told me that I talked through my feelings, rather than experiencing the feelings that were there. What? I was the guru of feeling oriented teaching for hundreds of people! How could he possibly be correct. I know my feelings well! I have been called emotionally intelligent by a good friend.
But, inside, I knew he was right. I was afraid to feel my feelings. If I truly began to open up, all of those years of stuffing would be released and I would surely die from the explosion. He went on to ask me if I were willing to work on this. Since I went to him for help, I believed I had to move forward with his observation and do some feeling work.
Wow!!! I had no idea all of that was underneath! I attended a group healing session under his guidance and found more anger and rage than I thought I could possibly hold. It was attached to the religious system that I believed had short changed me through the teaching of the tools of denial to help me find freedom. One of the first statements that came out of my mouth in a rage filled “role play” in a small group session was “YOU LIED TO ME!”
The very leaders of this system had not found the freedom for themselves that they promised I could have. As I looked back over the years I was given a duplicitous system. I knew some of them very personally, I knew they were living in the same denial that they taught me to live in and called it self sacrifice. I also released strong rage filled emotions about all of the enabling others who were living falsely. I acknowledged that many of these men I had known were still as gay as they ever were and yet they said they had found freedom.
In the recent years, I have reconnected with several people that I used to serve next to in our organizational ex-gay conferences and small groups. Not surprisingly, these guys have told me the same things I am saying here. We have found deep re-connections in our common life experiences. A discovery of not being alone in all of this is extremely comforting. I have found deeper friendships than I have had in many years. These relationships are often pointing me towards God, only this time with honestly at the foundation. They are encouraging me with a deeper understanding of God’s true character of love and mercy than I have ever had before. They are also allowing me to grow in my own self discovery. I have people who are comforting me in my very personal grief, anger, and yes, they allow me to be enraged too. I have not felt any judgment, or criticism for my struggles in going through all this pain filled transition and have seen great patience from them as I waffle through this crooked path out of denial.
I discovered that I can own my own truth. I realize that it may not be “THE truth”, but it is my truth. My truth involves my life experience, my feelings, my thoughts and opinions. No one else has any place to attempt to deny that in my life. My truth evolves, changes, and can be challenged, but that is why it is “my” truth and not “THE” truth. I acknowledge that there is A TRUTH, that I continue to discover. But along the way I have permission to own my truth.
Today as a result of these profound revelations in my life, I have found a more solid ground to stand on. I feel more confident in myself, and more at peace with life as it is, not necessarily as I would have it. I find myself saying more and more, “it is, what it is.”
God, grant me the serenity to accept the people I cannot change – the courage to change the one I can – and the wisdom to know that it is me.
I fully realize that the things that have caused me such harm, and discouragement were not people but rather it has been a system that has blinded them just as it blinded me for so many years. I am learning that God never consigned us to secrecy and denial. He didn’t ask me to hide my inner person and to live in shame. He never set up a plan to cause me to have to stuff such significant things in order to be a better servant of Him.