As a child, I remember embarking on wonderful adventures, often played out in my head, traveling distant worlds, battling evil sorcerers, and casting out demons. I related to the hero in the timeless comic strip Calvin & Hobbes. Although I wasn’t nearly as mischievous as him, I related to his longing for freedom, his innocent love of adventure, and the promise of a better world.
In my family, the casting out of demons wasn’t a setup for make-believe. It was a somewhat normal affair. We believed in miracles and in a beautiful, loving god who wanted to perform them through us. The mystical world in which I grew up surrounded me with possibility and promise, magic and wonder, but it also filled me with dread. In order to have access to such magic, I would have to be different than what I was, somehow purer, somehow less imperfect. My family, devout Pentecostal Christians, demanded this sacrifice of my authentic, flawed person in order to gain access to god’s favor and, subsequently, his power.
I look back now with a better understanding of the complexity and impact this sacrifice had on me. But back then, I couldn’t fathom the fear and pain it caused let alone the reasons for it – the injustice, the twisted sense of self-entitlement, the profound and fundamental disordering of the hierarchy of values – god, family, then works and service to others. The only thing that really mattered, at least enough to sacrifice my authentic self, was service.
For those from families that are not like mine, you may understand this feeling of being sacrificed. Sacrificed to an image that we project to the world, sacrificed to Dad’s job, to Mom’s alcoholism, to Sister’s mental illness, sacrificed to an America, a culture, or a system that is not built for your benefit. In fact, you’re just a cog in the wheel, maybe even a fundamental one that makes it all work, but your needs are left unknown, unacknowledged, misunderstood, and unmet.
If family is supposed to help us grow, why does it so often hurt? It’s a large problem that I’ve dedicated my life to better understand. And, so far, in my work, I’ve found that the answer to this problem, as with so many problems, lies in my ability to connect with others. I have spent the last decade trying to heal myself from the pain my family unwittingly caused me. And I am not finished, but I have learned that the only way to heal is to be met by others who see you, in real time, with hearts and souls exposed. And not just see your outside, but see your needs, hear your heart, and listen to its beat in an effort to join in its song. In this dance of rhythm that is set by the truth of who you are, you begin to feel like you belong, like you matter, like the people dancing with you are there in spite of your flaws and with the understanding that you are imperfect. The imperfection only adds to the nuance of the dance and the uniqueness of your soul.
In 2018, it is my hope, my spiritual intention, that we are going to heal. As a nation, we stand divided, like a family broken and hurting. The notes of reconciliation have already been struck. The fundamental awareness of our brokenness has risen to the surface, and, so many of us see, perhaps for the first time, that our families need to love each other better in spite and because of our differences.
“The fundamental awareness of our brokenness has risen to the surface, and, so many of us see, perhaps for the first time, that our families need to love each other better in spite and because of our differences.”
And so, I want to begin 2018 with this goal in mind. I want to help all families heal, but first I must help heal my own. Below you will find details for a gay therapy group for men. It will be an exploration of a type of family trauma, but it will also offer me, and those who attend, an opportunity to connect to each other in a dance that celebrates our differences.
And this is just the beginning. I hope you will join the TMG family and let us help you start a journey of healing that will challenge the most intractable of your family’s problems. If I can heal from the damage growing up gay caused me and find a way to connect to those who love me, so can you, so can your family, so can all of us.
Happy New Year.