Interior Wounds and Exterior Smiles

I hurt.

I have just come from a psychotherapy appointment where I laid bare my latest problems. I’m hyper-sexual, and I’m spending money.

I can’t remember whether I’ve written about this or whether that even matters, but bipolar disorder has many seasonal symptoms. I have first-hand knowledge that when the seasons change, my illness demonstrates its hold on me. I often don’t realize it, until it’s almost over or completely over. I’m in one of those periods now, or perhaps I’m coming out of it.

Hyper-sexuality and spending money are symptoms of mania, and I’m manic. My decisions are sometimes flawed now.

However, I have a resolve not to feel shame or guilt. I spoke openly about my recent sexual forays to my therapist, and I will continue to do so. Next, I have to gain the courage to call my nurse and report my mania to her. Sometimes her bedside manner is lacking, and I’m reluctant to talk openly. I am thankful to have friends, old and new. The healing began after my last post here when a correspondent wrote me offering to listen. I wrote back about my troubles. That opening allowed me to chat with my best friend without fear, and then today, I spoke at depth to my therapist.

My money situation is not a problem to my mind. I budgeted some large purchases very recently. All my bills are covered. I will not accept negative looks and judgement about my actions there.

Outside, I’m all smiles.

It’s a mask, and I’m not ready to write about it.

Capable Incapacities

Sailing off into the sunset on a placid sea is not for me as yet.  I remain on the path to employment as a Certified Peer Specialist. My internship was successful, and now, I wait. The man in charge of such things at the state level called me himself to congratulate me on a job well done, and he said he would like to hire me on a contract basis to lead groups in WRAP and Seeking Safety. That was 3 weeks ago. I’m still waiting.

It’s the government, and they are not known for working at high speed. To be fair, they are currently reorganizing their workforce, and adding a new employee, even just a contracted one, is not high on their priority list. Thankfully, I’m dealing with state government and not the federal one, which is shut down at the moment. I also have to state that the man in charge works alone. He has no secretary to help him at his job. He has no staff. What’s more, I’m patient. I am not worried. It will come.

In the meantime, I am involved with theatre, co-directing a play at the local university here where I live. It’s thrilling, and it brings a smile to my face and a flutter to my heart thinking about the theatrical process.

I am very organized. I have the rehearsal times all intertwined with the many actors’ individual schedules, no easy feat. I studied the script diligently to learn the proper motivations and their actions for the various pieces I’m responsible for directing. I wrote solid notes about salient points. I subtly questioned each actor, eliciting their own ideas about why certain words are uttered by certain characters. I offered my thoughts as well and let the actors choose how best to proceed with the growth of their work.

I’m maintaining an excellent work ethic with my group. They really are coming along fine, and the other director, a much more experienced one, complimented my actors, which I passed along to them.

All is well?

No.

I am haunted by my own incapacity to protect my most vulnerable core. In the quiet of my being, people come and use me. I allow it. I participate in it. I want it.

I tell no one. Revelation brings judgement, and I’m sick of it.

After waiting more than two months, I was finally paid for the hours I worked during my internship. It was a large sum for me, but small compared to my past earnings before my illness began. I used a good chunk to pay past medical bills, and then I spent the remainder on toys. I bought a computer tablet and a new TV and Blu-Ray DVD player.

I have the Kindle app on the tablet, and I downloaded a vast number of free Kindle books, all classics. I bought a few select new books as well. I have spent long hours reading, and that is a positive accomplishment. For many years, my illness robbed me of reading. I couldn’t concentrate, and it was beyond frustrating. It was debilitating. Getting the right medicine helped remedy that, and I can report that I enjoy a good book now. Reading on the tablet is very easy. The screen size is perfect, and my eyes flit over the lines rapidly. A finger flick turns the page. It’s brilliant.

The new TV and Blu-Ray player was a frivolous purchase. I don’t watch TV. I can’t. My daughters watch it, and I do occasionally watch movies. I like serious drama and period pieces. Some comedies are good, too.

But the machine bothers me. It throws a switch in my brain that hurts. If I really want to sit and enjoy watching a show or movie, I generally have to take a very low dose of the anti-anxiety medicine prescribe for me. Isn’t that ridiculous? I have to sedate myself to enjoy TV.

Finally, and this pains me to write, a man is using me in the worst possible way. I can’t think about it. I haven’t told anyone. I haven’t told my therapist or my nurse or my doctor or my best friend. I can write no more about it. It’s too upsetting. All is moving so well in my life, yet I allow a man to abuse me. My sleep has been disturbed. It sickens me.

A Book Recommendation

I want to make a short post to recommend a book. It’s short, because I’m busy getting ready to leave for my third week of job training to be a Certified Peer Specialist in mental health.

The book is The Velvet Rage: Overcoming the Pain of Growing Up Gay in a Straight Man’s World. (More information here.) It’s worth a read for almost all the gay men I know.

Alan Downs, PhD, the author, writes well about the struggles gay men face growing up and maturing into fully realized adults. The first point he asserts is that gay men are assaulted with shame at their homosexuality. He writes, “There was something about us that was disgusting, aberrant, and essentially unlovable.” (Emphasis by the author.) That thing had to be hidden, and by hiding it, we learned shame. We spend a lifetime overcoming this feeling.

He names three phases we pass through on our journeys. They are similar to the phases faced after being diagnosed with a mental illness. The beginning phase is being overwhelmed by that shame. Where have we read that before? Here Dr. Downs talks about denial and drowning. I know those well. I denied my sexuality until I was 35 years old. He also describes the lengths gay men go to in order to escape the shame of their sexuality. I went far. I married a woman, fathered three children, and became an alcoholic.

Phase two is given to compensating for the shame. The book relates stories of the heights gay men strive for in all areas of life. We look for the perfect job, for more money, for eternal youth through time spent at the gym, and for validation from our peers by having perfect homes, exotic vacations, etc. All is done searching for a way out of the shame.

Finally, the third phase is cultivating authenticity. All the compensation and probing for validation reach nowhere, and a gay man must look inward to find peace and satisfaction with himself and life. A good deal of the search for authenticity in the book is about healing trauma, which I am studying in my job training. Dr. Downs says that we are essentially looking for contentment, and I don’t disagree with him. He puts forth three ways we look for it: passion, love, and integrity.

Integrity really cuts to the core of the struggle of the gay man, meaning integrate all parts of oneself, or more formally, the state of being undivided. (Emphasis by the author.)

Importantly, the final chapter speaks exclusively to skills for attaining an authentic life. He even gives a chart for tracking progress on a daily basis. The list is long and thorough, so I won’t go into it here. Each skill is written carefully, and background information is given to flesh it out. The skills encourage us to look long term in our actions and search for authenticity.

I like the first one: “The man I would become.” The skill is to ask at each important decision, “What would the man I wish to become do in this situation?” I am experiencing a great upheaval these days, and I need to remember that question. It’s something to add to my Wellness Toolbox, I think.

There was much in the book I could relate to, and the writer relates many stories from his patients that were familiar to my own experience. What I found encouraging was that I honestly feel like much of the shame and pain surrounding it are in my past. It’s been a long road, but I’ve turned an important corner. I’m not going back.

I am cultivating authenticity.

Healing the Unmentionables

I saw my psychotherapist today, and we had one topic to cover: sexual healing. I recently had a short affair with a man. It was short, because I ended it. Honestly, I should have never started it. The red flags jumped into plain sight right at the very beginning.

  • He disliked kissing. What? But how can a hunk dislike something so sensual?
  • He was often unavailable. We had to meet on his schedule, and I had to be ready at a moment’s notice to jump in the car and race to him or receive him at my place.
  • He was emotionally needy. Our interaction revolved around meeting his emotional needs.
  • He smoked a lot of weed, and he asked me to join. I declined.

In the end, it became apparent through discussing it with a very close friend that he was using me. He was self-medicating negative emotions with weed and sex. I was tolerating the former and providing the latter. He has some serious problems with self-loathing, and I was part of his stress release.

I broke up with him quickly, when he lied about me to another person, and because he needed help with emotional issues that I felt unable to give, and because he needed to make up his mind about his sexuality. He tried to get in touch with me a few times afterward and told me he’d come clean with the other person about the lie.

Today with my therapist, I jumped right to the heart of the matter: with this short relationship and with a longer one many years ago, I let myself be used. In fact, I allow myself to be used in most of my sexual relationships.

In A.A., it’s said that a person stops growing emotionally when they start drinking, and the growth restarts with sobriety. Using that analogy with my sexuality, I can say that I never grew as a sexual being at all, until I got sober. I grew up in a house devoid of sex and intimacy. I have mentioned elsewhere in this blog that to this day, I have only ever seen my parents hold hands once. They never showed affection for each other. Sex was an evil subject.

So, I’m thirteen years old. I’m just starting adolescence. Great. Oh boy. Crap.

My therapist had me do an exercise we’ve done in the past. I imagined my younger self, the thirteen-year-old adolescent, sitting next to me, and I got to talk to him. I don’t hold back in therapy sessions. I learned a long time ago that talk therapy works for me, so I dove in head first. I told my adolescent self, first, that everything was going to be okay. I was going to survive the homophobic bullying in junior high and high school. I told my younger self that my lust for boys was okay and healthy and good. I told this boy it was okay to fantasize about other boys.

I told my thirteen-year-old self many things today, all positive things. I showed my younger self caring. I explained some of the facts of my gay life. I gave love and understanding in a way that I did not receive at the time.

I grew a few years today in my one-hour therapy session. My psychologist encouraged me to keep talking to the young me. I’ve done a bit of that. It feels right.

I don’t have to open my heart and my body to every man who asks. I can be particular in sharing intimacy.

It’s okay to be me.

Talking about Unmentionables

I’ve been in therapy for 25 years. On and off. I’ve had periods without a therapist, but most of the time has been spent keeping appointments with one. I started when I was 23, and now I’m 48. My how time flies when you’re having fun.

I’ve been seeing my present therapist for almost ten years all together. I say “all together,” because I moved away for a time and then moved back again. When you put the two times together it’s just shy of ten years. We have an excellent relationship. I can tell her anything. Well, almost anything. There are certain things I’ve kept from her.

I’m talking about sexual things. I’m completely open about my sexuality with her and have been for a long time, but after all these years — years of different therapists in different countries actually — we’re just getting to the good stuff. At my last session, I said I wanted to start talking about sex in a meaningful and thoughtful way. I want to get down to the nitty-gritty of the matter. I want to delve deep into the past and dig up long-buried skeletons.

I have unhealthy views about sex, and I want to change that. My sexual practices are less than uplifting, and I definitely want to change that.

To be blunt, it involves a lot of self-loathing and shame from years of being raised in a home devoid of sexual expression. In all my years of knowing them, I’ve seen my parents hold hands once. Only once. I’ve never seen them express any affection for one another at all. Never.

Being dragged to a soul-eating church three times each week only made matters worse. It was there I first heard the words that defined my self-hatred. I heard words like “abomination” in relation to homosexuality. I heard directly from the pulpit that homosexuals were irredeemable in the eyes of God. I also heard that homosexuals were unlovable. I learned to feel myself as subhuman.

Needless to say, all this hate directed at homosexuals was reinforced by my parents. Parents whom I still love, but with whom I cannot talk about many things. Some things are unmentionable.

In my first counselling session talking about sex, I had to admit learning to masturbate at what I imagined was a very young age only to be told that it wasn’t unusual at all. Decades of shame surrounding it have all been for naught. Decades of shame built up within me revolted at my therapist’s words, and mine came rushing out.

“How could it be right for a boy to learn that so young?”

“How could such a young boy know himself to be gay or at least to know he was different?”

“How could that young boy protect himself from the fiery words of preachers damning his soul to an eternal hell?”

“How could that young gay boy do anything but hate his very soul?”

My therapist said a simple thing. “You didn’t cause your self-loathing.” I was dumbstruck. I’ve been trying to wrap my mind around that notion ever since she said it. I have built a fortress out of words like abomination, irredeemable, unlovable, and subhuman. I erected walls in my soul to keep out the pain. Instead, they nourished it. Like a seething cauldron, the walls have retained decades of poison.

I’ve been so accustomed to the poison it has seeped into all areas of my life. It stunted my voice. When I wanted to speak out as an adolescent, I didn’t for fear that my high, effeminate voice would bring ridicule as it so often did.

The poison kept me from pursuing my passion for acting. I have never taken an acting class in my entire life, yet I act in plays every chance I get now. I act, direct, and produce plays fervently. I work hard at acting in any role I’m given.

The poison even led my to believe I’d brought on my own bipolar disorder. For the longest time, I convinced myself my illness was my own fault.

I’m learning to say “I didn’t cause it.”

Lessons that come later in life have one advantage for me. I can learn them with more speed than may have been required had I confronted them at the normal ages others do. The floodgates of my sexual health have been opened, and the poison will gush forth. I hope it will never return. I pray it will be replaced by love and acceptance.

Great News

No, I’m not cured of bipolar disorder. That’s not the great news. I’m happy to report that I got my annual HIV test results today, and I remain negative. That’s no small accomplishment for a gay man. You never know when something might have gone wrong. I am grateful that my higher power continues to grace me with such good health. I’m very lucky.

I know many who aren’t lucky. I have a very dear friend who needs a hip replacement due to arthritic deterioration, and I have another very, very close friend with breast cancer that spread from his breast to his spine and has now metastasized in his brain. The former friend is only 46, and the latter is only 66. One is battling a debilitating disease, and the other death.

While I was visiting with my doctor today, he paid me an unexpected compliment. He said, “You’re honest, and that’s very rare for me to see.” He described how most of the time he has to deal with murky disclosures or outright lies, and he’s constantly having to read between the lines of what his patients are saying. With me, he said he feels relaxed. He doesn’t have to second guess what I’m saying.

Being honest did not come naturally to me. I’ve been in therapy for 24 years, and I’ve worked the 12 steps of A.A. on a daily basis for 11 years, 11 months, and 4 days as of today. I would say that it’s a combination of those two things that has taught me honesty.

I hold nothing back from my doctor. When I went in to request the HIV test, I was honest with my worries. I hold nothing back from my psychiatric prescribing nurse either, nor the psychiatrist before her. They can only deal with the information that I give them, and if I lie, then I’m only hurting myself. I don’t lie to my therapist, caseworker, or my A.A. sponsor. Even in depression, I stay honest and report my suicidal thoughts.

Perhaps that’s the most important time for me to be honest, during depression. That is the time when I am least equipped to deal with my own issues, and I need the professionals in my life to guide me. I talk to so many people suffering from depression or bipolar disorder who innately distrust their physicians. I’m glad I have doctors and professionals that I feel are looking out for my best interests.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not a pushover. I have declined changes in the doses of my medications in the past when I felt it was wrong. I have pushed to get other medications when I thought it was needed. Sometimes I’m right, and sometimes I’m not.

The important point is that I have built up a rapport based on honest interaction with my healthcare providers, and we complement each other.

Today, I’m breathing sweet air. I’m eating good food. I have a roof over my head, and so much more. All of that is great news.

Hitting the Wall of Depression

At the edge

To jump or not to jump

I am not ashamed to say that I spent today in bed. I’m depressed.

I tried my little releasing ritual, but there was no magic bullet there. Still, if there’s one thing I’ve learned over the years of having this disease, it is that this too shall pass. I will feel better. Who knows maybe tomorrow I’ll wake up right as rain.

I feel alone. I feel worthless. I feel ashamed of my sexuality, and this after 11 years out of the closet. I feel ashamed of how I use my sexuality.

I’m tired. I’m sick of fighting. I’ve got layers of internalized self-loathing that are only beginning to surface.

I’ve stopped walking. I’ve stopped meditating. I say only the most rudimentary prayers.

Ugh. I can feel myself sliding into the pit, and I refuse to go easily. If I’m going to be depressed, then people are going to know about it.

I can tell you exactly when this started. It began with the comments of a friend on a social web site. I’m gay, and this friend posted a link to an ex-gay therapy group. The whole idea of ex-gay therapy has been widely discredited, but the post sent me into a tailspin of old tapes playing from my childhood about abhorrent homosexuals. The problem is that I can’t shake them. This time, they’re playing repeatedly. They make me feel worthless and actually sub-human.

I’m so sick of homophobia I could vomit. I’m sick of hating myself.

So, do I jump in the lake and revel, or do I jump and drown?