There are a few defining moments in our lives in which we have such clarity that everything comes into focus. We can see the past and understand it. We see our future and its potential. Often the moment also reveals what we can take with us, and what we have to leave behind to make that future a reality.
In 2011 my 9-year relationship with “S” ended. As with all relationships, we had many good times and bad times. But health issues, different priorities, and big career changes caused an enormous amount of stress in our relationship; the ground was shifting underneath us, and we found ourselves not able to weather the storm. When I finally came to terms with the breakup, I made a series of very solemn promises to myself, and to my future mate, whomever he may be.
I promised that I would try to always be open – in my communication, in my heart, and in my mind. I made a conscious effort to not fall back into my old habits of withdrawing and being passive/agressive. I would put myself first so that I could love more authentically and freely. I would set clear boundaries defining who I was, how I deserved to be treated, and how I would treat my partner in return.
These promises meant more to me than just self-preservation in the context of my relationship to others. Throughout my life, when things got to be too much to handle – as it often does for a closeted teenager who was condemned and bullied for a reality I had not even come to grips with myself – my go-to solution was to disappear into a drug and alcohol-fueled haze. When I found myself feeling overwhelmed or hurt, my appetite for numbing the pain, fear and uncertainty grew. Many times I pulled myself out of these holes, and many times I found myself falling back in.
In the aftermath of my relationship with “S”, it became Priority One to take care of me, so that I would not slip back into my habits. By making these promises to uphold my sense of self, to move forward with clarity, self-love and dignity, I was literally saving my own life.
Then I met “R”.
In the intense months of this new love, I resolved that things would be different. I vowed that I would never fall back into my old patterns, that I owed it to myself to finally live up to who I wanted to be. I reinforced my boundaries and promised to always live within them. There was so much love between us and in my heart, I thought this would last the rest of my life. We got married in August of 2013 and it was the happiest day of my life. I thought our relationship was so strong that we could handle whatever came our way.
But the patterns that I have fallen into over and over again were difficult to break when things got tough. I tried my best to stay true to myself and honour the promises I had made to myself. And I found myself falling back into my old habits – withdrawing, escapism, passive-aggressive behaviours, unhealthy communication, and loss of personal boundaries.
I had to reach out for help, and in doing so I found Jeff, who became my counsellor and who has been instrumental in helping me understand who I am. When I ended up in Jeff’s office, I was ready to unpack it all and get to the truth. It was really no holds barred. I didn’t have it in me to skirt around the issues anymore or not be totally honest with where I was or how I was feeling. Jeff guided me through a complete deconstruction of my life.
Why do I keep going back to my old patterns?
What the hell am I scared of???
What does it take for someone to be able to live a life of authenticity, to stop the hiding and lose the disguises?
Those are the questions I asked myself over and over and over again. What it really came down to was that throughout my entire life I was scared of being me, of living truthfully and embracing who I really am. I had been so damaged by the bullying I had experienced in my childhood and through my teen years, I came to internalize what others projected as my truth. The bullies used the word “gay” as a slur, as an insult, as something to be embarrassed by. The adults who had a great deal of influence on me when I was younger reinforced religious and cultural beliefs that being gay was a poor “choice”, that if I was gay I would not be deserving of love. I was forced to equate being gay with being something to be ashamed of. This triggered me to hide who I really was under layers of addiction and self-destructive behaviours, trying to shield myself from facing the truth.
And the truth was I was, and am, gay. Period.
So where do I go from there? How do I get to a place where I believe I am worthy of love and the deeper connections I wanted so badly?
The first thing I found was honesty. With Jeff’s help I learned how to be really honest with myself about who I am and how I had gotten here. I admitted that the basis of the disguises I took on lay in shame. I came to understand that the shame I felt was projected onto me by kids who were cruel and ignorant (and most likely dealing with their own issues of shame), and that I wasn’t responsible for it. It was a disguise they forced me to wear, but I had the right to take it off at any time.
I hadn’t done anything wrong, and I was not worse than anyone else or deserved love less than anyone else. When I realized that I no longer needed to live this shame, I could be vulnerable without feeling that my words or who I was could be used against me. I didn’t need to run and hide or disguise my feelings anymore. My self-worth was not longer predicated upon how other people saw me. My self-worth was only predicated upon how I saw myself.
Sadly, my marriage to “R” ended in 2016. Although our love was still intense, we couldn’t salvage it without losing something of ourselves. I knew that I had to focus on my own healing and understanding of myself before I could truly be capable of loving someone else as they deserved, as I deserved.
The realization of these things, and developing a better understanding of vulnerability had put me on the path to where I am today. I realized that vulnerability is not weakness. Embracing vulnerability is a courageous act that has prompted me to make change for myself, and for the people in my community. I owe it to myself to be courageous day by day, and the journey will continue until the day I am gone.
I was inspired to start Living Without Disguises so that I could give others a platform to talk about journeys they have endured to become their true selves. So many of us in the LGBTQ+ community share similar experiences of bullying, violence, living with shame, hiding behind addictions of all sorts, wearing disguises that don’t quite fit, struggling to live authentically. It was a complete revelation for me to be able to embrace my own vulnerability and to tell my story. I was inspired to create this project so that we could connect and understand that we are not alone.