Journey to the Center of the Self III: The In-Between
Written By: Sparks
Since the last issue, life has been turbulent - there have been some great highlights and many, many low moments. “The Veil” is a very fitting theme for this time of my life: the in-between. Within a short period of time, I have: quit my job and started another, experienced not unusual but no less welcome major depression, gone through a surprise break-up, and had many, many self-realizations. I’ve felt like I’m trapped in the twilight zone, not feeling completely present.
This edition of "Journey to the Center of the Self" is going to be a little different - a bit more raw. At the end of it all, this series of articles is about getting to the core of my self (and, boy, has life been a journey). I want to live my best life. In order to do any of that, I need to be more honest with myself and release the trauma I have been holding onto so that I can heal.
Time to take a deep breath and let go:
0 - 14 Years Old: This is Fine
Growing up in a Lutheran and conservative family/community, things were not easy for a young gay boy trying to understand his feeling and navigate life. I distinctly remember not being allowed to eat at certain places/wear particular brands because they “support” and “donate to gay people”. My perception of what it meant to be gay was being shaped. I struggled with who I was. My identity was very cloudy and I found it impossible to fully connect with anyone. Even with my friends, I felt isolated. I didn’t understand why I felt so out of place.
14 - 18 Years Old: Is That Scout From To Kill A Mockingbird?
Once I entered high school, it was a hellish whirlwind of torment. By my freshman year, I already hated myself and my prepubescent body. To get the best visual of what I looked like, imagine Scout from the 1962 classic film To Kill a Mockingbird. I didn’t hit puberty until I was seventeen and even then it was slow rolling. It’s shocking how terrible people were to me for something completely out of my control. But, of course, this has been a theme throughout my life. there were several occasions that when teachers were gone students would physically harm me. One time in health class, the person sitting in the desk behind me grabbed my hood and thrust it over my head, then quickly tied the strings around my neck. I was pushed to the ground and hit. At one point, a wooden door stop was thrown at my head. The administration did nothing and it made me feel worthless. They blamed me. These teachers and administrators, these followers of Christ, witnessed these ongoing acts of violence and blamed me.
Being a Lutheran school, we were all required to take four years of theology. This was the absolute highlight of my suffering. One of the many units centered on homosexuality and taught such a distorted, abhorrent, fucked up view of being gay. We were taught that older men seduce little boys and turn them gay and present “the lifestyle”. We also learned that if you engage in the “homosexual lifestyle”, your colon will prolapse and you will lose control of your bowels, that all gay men engage in fisting (even as far as inserting tubes, hamsters, light bulbs, and various other objects), that there is no such thing as a gay monogamous relationship (it's nothing but sex, promiscuity, pediophilia, and beastiality). We were shown videos of men who went through conversion therapy and were now “straight” and were told this was the only way to be saved and to not burn in hell. My perception of what it meant to be gay continued to be shaped by these hateful, bigoted, ignorant ideals and my self-love and self-respect plummeted to the depths.
My dating life in high school was non-existent. It's not exactly easy to date when you are in the closet, completely hate yourself and are terrified of your feelings and what they mean. I developed several crushes on fellow students, but nothing ever happened. Then, one summer I found out from a friend that someone who I had been sleeping with had committed suicide. He was the first person I had any sort of “relationship” with, the first person I had sex with and he was gone and I couldn't talk to anyone about it. I never went to the funeral because I was full of shame. I suppressed all of it and pushed forward, still hating myself, still trying to figure out where I belonged still pretending everything was fine.
19 - 20 Years Old: Who Am I?
Out of high school, I went to Eastern Michigan University. Living on campus and on my own for the first time would have been an ideal time to finally start discovering who I am, but by this point (thanks, Lutheran schools), I banished the mere thought that I could be gay. My feelings were either just a phase or I was a freak and one day I would even out and be normal. I had developed severe undiagnosed depression and had terrible anxiety, which was worsened by suppressing my identity, only handing out bits of myself to people, making sure to never reveal too much. I longed for love and wondered what it was like to be in a real relationship, what it was like to be in love. I dreamed of being with a man. I developed a huge crush on my neighbor and we quickly became best friends. We were inseparable, even taking multiple classes together. One night after a party, I made a move. Trying to be flirty, I grabbed his leg. He instantly freaked out and started screaming at me. We ended our friendship and I was so ashamed of what happened. I dropped out of most of classes and spent my days drunk and high, playing video games. I slipped into an even deeper depression. I was so lost and had no one to guide me. I had no idea how to “be gay” and didn’t even know if I was even gay or what that even meant. The only thoughts that echoed through my head were what I grew up learning: being gay is evil and I am going to hell.
21 - 25 Years Old: Land of New Opportunity
August of 2011, I moved to Chicago to start school at Roosevelt University. I was ready for my whole world to change. For seven months, I dated a guy who lived in Boston. It was a fine relationship, but long distance was hard for me, especially in the aspect of being new to relationships. But the good that came from it was that I finally came out to my friends. Next, I came out to my mom and dad, who did not receive it well at all. My mom cried and my dad wouldn't speak to me. He told me he was disappointed in my “choice” to be gay. I have a good relationship with them now, but at times it was not easy at all. After this short-lived long distance relationship, I dove headfirst into the gay world. I was able, at last, to accept that I was gay and that it wasn’t going to change. Through the magical portal of dating apps and Chicago’s Boystown neighborhood, I was able to meet so many different people and share my experiences with them. But the damage from growing up in a conservative Christian community had been done and the self-hatred was still constantly simmering beneath the surface.
Despite having one relationship under my belt, I had no idea how to talk to men (and still don’t, really) or how to navigate the dating world in any capacity. I turned to hookups because they were easy and briefly satisfied my desires. Deep down, I still longed for a real, loving relationship.
And that's when he showed up... My ex, Mr. Hotel Management. I have never experienced seeing through such rose-tinted glasses and as Wanda from Bojack Horseman, said, “You know it's funny, when you look at someone through rose-colored glasses all the red flags just look like flags”. And that couldn’t have been more true. Any warning signs I did notice, I quickly took down and stashed under the rug.
The first six months were fine at best, but that mediocre monotony quickly took a turn. He was mentally and physically abusive and as the relationship continued, his control over me worsened. I became isolated from my friends. He was homophobic and racist, an all-around piece of shit. Throughout the two years we were together, he slowly stripped away my self-confidence (the little I had built up) and constantly degraded me. He was so quick to point out all my flaws on a daily basis. I became hyper self-conscious of little mundane things I did, like how I drank water, how I yawned, how I talked, how I dressed, how I carried the hand basket at the store. He would tell me that he wished I was a girl and that I had a vagina. He would rarely have sex with me and when I tried to be sexual, he would put me down and say it’s only hot when it’s “spontaneous”. He said he doesn’t like “planned sex” (...what?). When we did have sex, he would cover his face and refuse to kiss me. He never did anything to make me feel good, it was always all about him getting off. He claimed to be “too tired”, but would go out to clubs almost every night. He was always cheating on me. There were even times he told me that he made out with other people, but it was “less than five seconds”, so it “didn’t matter”. He starved me, his boyfriend, of sex, while he flirted with and kissed complete strangers. When he went out, I was not invited, because it was “guy’s night” - when I did get to join him, he would parade around and show me off to keep up the illusion that we were in a happy relationship. Most nights, I would get a call between 2 and 5 in the morning to order him a pizza (with my money) and come over. These nights rarely ended in us having sex or having any sort of normal interaction/intimacy, instead it was often me babysitting him because he was wasted. I longed for any sort of intimacy or decency, so I obliged him in turn for brief moments of the affection that I craved. He was often aggressive and belligerent. He shoved me many times, hit me, grabbed me, screamed in my face and told me he would kill me. One night when we were out and our way home he grabbed my keys and locked me out of the apartment. He stood in front of the glass entryway, taunting me until he finally dropped my keys on the ground. After finally getting inside, all I wanted was to go to bed and get him to sleep, because once again he was completely belligerent. He was screaming in my face. I told him to lay down and touched his arm, at which point he grabbed me by neck and threw me down on the bed, choking me. I finally broke free by punching him in the face and ran to the living room couch, where I sat crying and scared. I was shaking, I didn’t know what to do. He got on top of me and was shaking me, saying, “if the police get called here, you’ll regret it. You better stop crying. If you wake the neighbors, I’ll hurt you!” After this back and forth, I was finally able to throw him off me onto the coffee table. Thankfully, the effects of the booze had worn him out and he went to bed. I sat on the couch and sobbed, shaking and terrified. For two weeks I had a handprint bruise around my neck. He was controlling, manipulative, and demanding - I tried to end it several times and each time somehow it was turned back on me. To this day, I can still hear his voice putting me down.
25-27 Years Old - Rebuilding Myself and Failing
We broke up shortly before I turned 25 and I spiraled. I tried everything to reclaim myself, everything but actually talking about what happened to me. I continued to bury my shame and hide the truth, I sugar coated my trauma and blamed myself. Throughout this time I went on a few dates and had lots of hookups. I believed I was only attractive enough for casual sex, that I was not worth the time and energy it took to get to know someone and build a relationship. I believed the abuse I had endured was okay, but it wasn’t. During this time I was also sexually assaulted multiple times. The most traumatizing time was when someone I was dating showed up at my apartment coked out of his mind and wasted. He became aggressive immediately and forced me to have sex with him. I didn’t kick him out because I was too scared, I didn’t kick him out because I thought I did not deserve any better than these violent, abusive, degrading situations.
After a series of failed attempts at dating, a slew of hookups, a nervous breakdown from being prescribed the wrong medication, and the old standards - deep depression and anxiety - I packed my bags and moved back home to Michigan. Toward the end of my time in Chicago, I began speaking with a man (coincidentally, he lived in Michigan) who made my heart glow brighter than it ever had. We continued to date after I moved back and the new energy I felt from it was exuberant. I thought that I had finally found someone worth the love I had to give, someone I maybe wanted to spend the rest of my life with. But just as quickly as this man popped into my life, he was gone. I knew that something was wrong. He wasn’t acting like himself, he became distant. But still, despite this intuition, when he told me that his feelings had changed, he was no longer attracted to me and had started to view me as “just a friend”, I was shocked and deeply hurt. We decided to part ways. Within a month, as so many other things were beginning to change in my life, I went from having a boyfriend whom I loved dearly, whom I thought we had a future together and he was gone, and the rose-tinted glasses fell away.
I’ve liked the song “For Good” from Wicked for a solid eight years, and as Glinda the Good Witch sings: “I've heard it said, that people come into our lives for a reason, bringing something we must learn”.
He did help me so through a difficult time and I am grateful for that, but it doesn’t change the hurt I felt and I am still feeling. I haven’t fully processed the feelings from our break up. I know that it will take some time.
28 Years Old - ¯\(ツ)/¯
These experiences have been detrimental to my self-worth and my self-confidence, but I am done letting them hold power over and define me. These events have shaped my life and despite the brutality, I would be doing myself and others an injustice by pretending they didn't happen. I will rebuild myself and claim my self-worth, and not holding onto this tension inside is a great way to start.
Now, around this time I was supposed to be shifting over from breathing/positive thinking to exercise. Things have not really gone completely to plan and I have not done well with drinking water or taking care of myself. I would not consider eating whole bags of salt and vinegar kettle chips is best for health (no matter how tasty). But I must say I have been better with my breathing and staying more calm in overwhelming situations. In the coming issues, I want to focus on fitness and physical care, as was the plan from the start, but I also want to take the time to focus on rebuilding my relationship with myself and healing. I have dwindled down into a shell of myself and who I could be.
I need to get back on board with a regular workout plan. Cardio is a great mental health aide, even just ten minutes a day can do wonders for your mind. I will be implementing cardio into my daily routine. For three days of the week, I will be doing chest/upper body weights, glutes and legs for two days, and have two days of rest (while still doing some light cardio).
Releasing these experiences into the world is at once terrifying and exhilarating. I am glad to be letting them go, but the vulnerability that comes with it makes me nervous. We are all on this journey of life together and it will be so much easier if we learned to approach everything with love instead of hate, to be kind and supportive.
I recently I watched Hannah Gadsby’s Nanette on Netflix and, honestly, it's changed my life. My perspective on my own life and trauma has been altered and a few of my self-realizations are the result of watching Hannah’s special. I encourage everyone to watch it. Thank you, Hannah, for telling your story and for inspiring so many others to do the same.
If you have been in, are currently in, or know someone who is in an abusive relationship and need support, please call the Domestic Violence Hotline - 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or visit http://www.thehotline.org/