Ex-ex-gay: A Journey Toward Healing

A Journey Towards HealingSomeone recently wrote me about his experience in ex-gay ministry:

I guess I feel a bit like I’m in a blender. On the surface I feel like I’ve got this all under control but my insides are so scrambled and shredded I can’t tell up from down or left from right.

He went on to tell about how he was treated by those who were once his friends, so loving and kind, as long as he followed the path they said would make him whole. When it didn’t work, he was cast aside to make room for the next person.

It’s a story I’ve heard over and over again. Men and women feel conflicted over their sexuality and their faith, both of which share equal parts of their thoughts and biology. Desperate for help, they contact organizations that may not overtly promise changing their sexual orientations from gay to straight, but make it clear that any faithful commitment to God – in the way they prescribe – will bring about change. When change fails to come, the individuals are blamed for a lack of results. They didn’t believe the right way, believe long enough or hard enough; they weren’t committed enough. They didn’t understand God correctly, didn’t read the Bible correctly, or simply failed to have some kind of divine interaction that would have erased the wrong programming. Thus, as the writer so eloquently put it, they feel a bit like they are in a blender.

♦◊♦

Now what? What are you supposed to do when the promise of change didn’t work? Feeling like a failure, and when you need people the most, you are abandoned. What you thought was wrong feels right and what you thought was right feels wrong. On top of the confusion are feelings of betrayal. You find yourself angry at something you can’t quite put a face to and furious at a system without a leader.

The foundation on which you based everything you’ve ever thought, or done, voted on, stood for, rallied against and felt passion about suddenly disappears. People who said they would love you forever, friend you for life, or die to save you, left you stranded in a sea of confusion. Instead of throwing a lifeline, they cast a net of hateful words, ominous warnings, and final goodbyes.

The journey out of the ex-gay web is a long one. It will never be without scars, but there is a way to begin processing the pain.

Embrace your pain
I spent years running from my pain, which resulted in physical and mental health problems. I used humor to cover it, food to ignore it, and isolation to numb it. Just like physical pain tells you there is something wrong in your body, emotional pain tells you there is something wrong in your soul. Ignoring it won’t make it better.
Acknowledge what you feel. Let it be present. Cry, yell, keep a journal and come to terms with it. Pain and suffering is part of what makes us who we are. No one is immune from it, but it can either create empathy for others, or cause us to become cynical and critical. By recognizing our pain, acknowledging and embracing it, we allow ourselves to feel and love more deeply.

Share your story
The last thing I wanted to do when I began to come to grips with my sexuality was tell others. I wasn’t a proud gay man; I was a confused failure as a Christian, husband and minister. That kind of shame kept me in hiding. Shame is consuming. It tells you that you don’t belong anywhere. You’re not like anyone else and you don’t deserve to be happy. But sharing your story, whether it is with one friend at a time, blogging, or standing in front of an audience connects you with other people who understand your pain. More often than not, they identify with your feelings, even if they can’t share in your exact experiences.

People are hungry for authenticity. Our Hollywood culture of perfection is a mirage of emptiness. No amount of money, good looks, or fame can erase the shame of imperfection. If it could, we wouldn’t hear of so many famous people committing suicide, botched plastic surgeries, divorces and drug abuse. Find a place where you feel a level comfortableness and begin to tell your story.

Choose to forgive
Anger is a secondary emotion. If you feel angry at ex-gay and church leaders, it is most likely based in the hurt and pain they caused you. Their actions may have very well changed the course of your life, and this pain is deeply rooted. Your anger is not only understandable, but justifiable. The depth of damage caused by the ex-gay industry, and evangelical church by extension, has caused some to commit suicide, others to swirl into the depths of depression, and countless broken marriages and families. There is no excuse and there are no words to repair the damage.

The only thing you can do to move forward is choose to forgive. Forgiving doesn’t let people off the hook. It doesn’t erase the pain or the memories; it only releases us from the grip of those that did the damage. Most likely, many of us are long forgotten by those ex-gay ministries. We are another number to them, and considered deceived by the enemy. Our anger isn’t going to bring about an apology, it’s only going to encapsulate us in a relentless cycle of self-destruction, preventing us from moving forward. Choose to forgive those who hurt you and choose to live your life on your terms.

Find a community and stay in it
Whether it’s online, offline, or a combination of both, find people with whom you can relate on some level. Share your thoughts and feelings. Don’t run away and don’t isolate yourself, even though that’s what you feel like doing.

We all need community and there are always people who share our interests. It’s just a matter of finding them. Keep reaching out and keep staying connected.

Remember that YOU MATTER
The pain you have experienced and the feelings of worthlessness are not you. Those are the results of what you have believed about you, probably based on what others have told you about you. You have a right to grieve. You have a right to feel. You have a right to get angry. You have a right to express yourself. You have a right to be human. You matter. You are as valuable as any other human being. Don’t give into the depression of what was. That is not the sum of who you are and there are many better days on the other side of the pain.

If God is God…
The confusion caused by religious zeal and hurtful theology condemns people into shame and fear. It is a religious system of circular thinking that many don’t even realize they are in. They use Scriptures that tell them they are sinful and then go back to the same Scriptures for healing from their sinfulness. They never find grace, healing, or change.

However, if God is God, He is not threatened by theology (which, by the way, is only the “study of” God, not the ultimate truth about God). If God is God, He is not threatened by doubt, questions, anger, or disappointment. He is not held to religious interpretation (34,000 views of God in Christianity alone). He is bigger than churches, politics, religion and sexuality. He is not bound by culture. He is not a Christian, a Jew, or a Muslim. He cannot be bound to a single book, or explanation. If God is God, He is greater than any human understanding, interpretation, and reasoning. His grace is beyond grasp and His compassion beyond comprehension. If God is God, He loves you for who you were created to be, exactly the way you were created to be.

For help, see Beyond Ex-Gay.

Photo – Flickr/BK

Tim

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