Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Finding Self-Acceptance

I regularly get questions/comments via e-mail about my own experiences in moving to self-acceptance after so many years of self-hate due to my religious upbringing, the perfection I demand of myself, and the frequent past irritability from being in the closet. In fact, I remarked in recent weeks that I probably could have been a better parent if I had not been so plagued by my own demons and that I hope my children see that being out has made such a difference in my former moodiness. Other times, I receive questions as to what made me decide that I could no longer stay in the closet, etc. In any event, I received such a question recently and wanted to share my thoughts, with the caveat that each one of us is different and we each have our own baggage to overcome. Thus, anything I say may or may not work for someone else. That being said, here’s the question:
I was wondering if sometime you might write more of your own experience of coming to better self-acceptance especially if/when those times happen when you still lash out (as most of us do, from time to time). Have you found a way to recover and try to work again with someone after a blow up?
Coming to better self-acceptance has been a gradual process for me and literally has taken years since I first came out to my former wife in late 2001. I do not think there was anyone person, event or thing that magically got me to the much better place I am in now compared to most of my prior life. Rather, it was a combination of things. However, my therapist surely played a major role, so I will start with my relationship with him.
My therapist's practice focuses principally on men in mid-life transition due to divorce, death of a spouse, loss of a child or like in my case coming out and divorce combined. I would be lying if I said I was always receptive to his advice and counsel. There were times that I lashed out at him and threatened to never go back, but I always ultimately did so since sooner or later I realized that what he was telling me was correct even if I did not want to hear it. He also was very good at trying to get me to live in the now and to have some faith that the future would sort itself out without me unduly obsessing about it in the present. The other thing that he counseled me on was patience (definitely not one of my strong suits), both in terms of reconciling with my two older children during the height of the divorce war and in arriving at a point where I was truly comfortable in just being me and living authentically. Yes, it was humbling to have to go crawling back to him and apologize, but it was worth it in the long run. Also, I think he knew that when I lashed out at him it was often really more a case of lashing out due to anger with myself and not so much him.
Changing religious denominations combined with doing a great deal of reading on the Bible, its history, and the political and cultural bias in the Bible, etc., also was of great help. Catholic guilt can be so destructive. While I still consider myself as a Christian, I dismiss much of the Bible for being tainted by the limited knowledge of the writers and/or the political and cultural environment in which it was written (this applies to the Old Testament and the writings of Paul- who I see as a Pharisee who could not completely let go of the legalism he was raised with - in particular). Moreover, belonging to a less strident and judgmental church helped complete the process. That is not to say, however, that I have not had a confrontation or two with the pastors at First Lutheran on occasion or that there have not been times that I did not go to church because I was in a huff over something I was not happy with (e.g., the ELCA’s slow pace of arriving at full acceptance of LGBT members). But, the pastors, like my therapist, never closed the door and ultimately reconciliation would come to pass. By nature, I can blow up and not always be very diplomatic in my comments, but then I cool off and need to repair the damage of my own volatility. The lesson is to burn no bridges and, if you damage them, go back and re-establish communications.
The other factor that I believe has helped me a great deal too is becoming involved in LGBT activism, be it HRBOR, Equality Virginia projects, or the new HROC effort to set up a local LGBT community center. Making more LGBT friends and seeing the diversity and goodness of members of the LGBT community goes a long way to dispel some of the negatives one can feel about being gay at times, especially living in a less than progressive area such as Hampton Roads.


In the NY woods said...

Good morning Michael,

This post catapulted my mind back to my own struggle to gain self awareness and respect. More importantly, it reminded me of how far I've come in being a more loving, accepting person. All through my life until I came out, I was an angry, self-pitying, unhappy man whose negativity and anger was directed not only towards myself but also towards those I loved. It wasn't until I finally understood that not being who I was was creating most of the unhappiness I felt and caused. I personally can attest that the closet is an insidious, negative place to be. I thank God that my family and good friends never gave up on seeing the good in me. While I can never take away the pain and angst I caused, I have over the past few years been able to "re-make" myself into a more loving person. Without a doubt, it was my family, ex-wife, and daughters who through their acceptance and love, gave me the fortitude to become a more loving person. For all your readers who are struggling with their own acceptance, I encourage them to come out of the closet no matter how difficult. Being true to yourself is important not only for one's self worth, but also to create true and loving relationships.

Michael-in-Norfolk said...

Uncle Logo,

What you say is so very true. Only in retrospect do I believe I can full appreciate what being in the closet does to one. It certainly made me a far less loving and pleasant person to be around.

I agree with you that those in the closet need to summon the courage to make a change even though it may be difficult. Finally finding a sense of self-worth is beyond price.

Moreover, if everyone in the closet came out, I believe it would revolutionize the way gays are viewed and speed us all towards full acceptance.