On No Longer Being a Victim

For half of 2014 and all of 2015, I made a complete retreat from writing publicly and social media. The primary topic of my writing – the gay Christian debate – simply became too toxic for me. I was, as the kids these days say, too “triggered” by people who did not affirm my orientation. I could no longer have a reasonable conversation with someone who did not support my orientation without anguish rising up within me like a demonic freight train.

As the conversation devolved for me, I would have mental breakdowns when other bloggers expressed differing views. I would act in reckless, self destructive ways after having a conversation with someone who was non-affirming, like sleeping around, or cutting myself. I realized that, for the sake of this important conversation, and most importantly for my own sake, I had to beat a retreat.  I had to go up the mountain and deal with my pain out of the eye of the public. I now read my articles from before my sabbatical, and I can hear the shrill notes of hysteria;  I was becoming unhinged, frayed at the edges,  in eminent danger of unraveling completely.

I started therapy, I got on medication, I started working the 12 Steps with a gently and brutally honest country lesbian as a sponsor, and my life started to heal. As the stabilizing barges started to take effect, I saw a few things more clearly:

That being traumatized over being a gay person in the conservative church and going through ex-gay therapy is completely reasonable. Those wounds are real, and they have been holding me hostage.

That the conversations about gay people felt so traumatizing because I was codependent on those who disagreed with me.  I needed them to affirm my choices, my theology, my view of the world. I needed them to see me as worthwhile because I had no sense of worth within myself.

That I was very ill, and had been for years. My dangerous moods and self destructive patterns and periods of excruciating fire in my brain were signs of an uncorrected imbalance within me – an imbalance that I took for granted and felt unable to heal.

And finally, that the most important thing I could do was to live my own life fully, and stop asking for permission from those who do not affirm my life. In short – to stop being a victim. Screaming at them until I was hoarse would solve nothing – it would only hurt me, and possibly entrench them in their views even more. My fury was not a refining fire, but a ravaging one. It was, perhaps,  an understandable fire, a forgivable fire, but it was destructive nonetheless.

I now see that living my own story and owning it, and letting other people be who they are even when I find their ideas toxic, is the most powerful way forward. It is also the posture from which the most productive conversations, if and when they happen, take place.

This does not mean diminishing the harm I’ve experienced or blunting the genuine anger and pain I’ve felt (and still feel) because of that harm. I have, at times, truly been a victim.  I was the victim of a horrific shooting that occurred in 2007. I have been the victim of my own unbalanced mind.  I have been the victim of ex-gay therapy and degrading theologies of contempt towards gay people.

But I’ve been another kind of victim, too: a codependent victim. I was enslaved to other people – their theology, their attitudes, my perception of how they excluded me or thought less of me. Everything done out of codependent victimhood is destined to make us victims – to others, to ideologies, perhaps most of all to ourselves. I was holding myself hostage to those who disagreed with me,  to other people I could not control.

Getting out of codependent victimhood was hard, and is still taking a lot of work. But, as I do so, it makes me happier, freer, and more whole. I no longer have to go through the day in anguish over what others think or whether they approve of me. I no longer need to have a hair-trigger response to the subtle disapproval and “micro aggressions,” real or imagined, from others around me. This is perhaps the greatest victory of all, for it has saved my life.

An important note: sometimes, our lives are legitimately held hostage to the beliefs of others. For example, it wasn’t until 2014 I could legally marry in my home state of North Carolina. This was a source of great pain for me, and prior to the legalization of gay marriage I was planning on moving to a more progressive state. This highlights the fine line between true victimhood and codependent victimhood. Sometimes we feel trapped by others because we truly are, and that oppression must be fought. Other times, we are victims to the approval of others – people who ultimately have no power over how we live our lives. It is the latter that I am discussing.

We live in a culture that romanticizes victimhood. We worship at the alter of the righteous victim. We conflate true victimhood and codependency into an unholy marriage, and as long as this unholy marriage stands, our wounds will never heal, nor will we ever live full lives.

I now reject being a victim. I am not the victim of trauma, homophobia or whatever demon lurks under the bed of our civilization. I am someone who was victimized but is no longer.  I am someone who is learning that I can simply live my life fully, and that a life fully lived is a force of such brightness and authority that no polemic can stand against it. If or when I am to be victimized again – by violence, by homophobia, or my own mind – I pray that I will have the courage to once again heal and reach for life. Such courage is a strength I never knew I had, and can only be described as an act of God’s grace.

6 Comments

  1. “That the conversations about gay people felt so traumatizing because I was codependent on those who disagreed with me. I needed them to affirm my choices, my theology, my view of the world. I needed them to see me as worthwhile because I had no sense of worth within myself.”

    One of the most powerful paragraphs I have ever read. And it applies to so much. Beautiful.

  2. Great post! I have struggled with the same challenge of living to gain others approval. It is so freeing to learn to live for ourselves rather than for the approval of others.

  3. Hello.

    I came from a non affirming home myself. And that led to disastrous addiction and pitiful incomprehensible demoralization. Still to this day, I seek the affirmation from family that will never affirm or validate me. I will be 50 next year, yet I hold on to my own will, until recently. Years ago, I made self preservation decisions that led me to Montreal, and sobriety a second time, to start a life of affirmation and serenity.

    I’ve come to the point, with spiritual direction and love, to realize that not everyone is going to affirm me or love me or respect me, in the way I desire. But we are human, and we have certain needs that are basic human values like love, affirmation and dignity.

    My family will never get there, and instead of having faith in God’s wisdom, I held on, until recently, when I realized that I was plum tired of “waiting” to be affirmed and loved by people that are incapable of those things. I was asked to turn my need for validation and affirmation over to God, because I know God has been there all along. And sometimes I don’t know better or are unwilling to see it as it is.

    When we rely on others for validation, love, respect and tolerance, that becomes disastrous. I had to learn to love myself, warts and all. And to this day, that takes work. A long time ago, I learned a lesson about approval. At some point in our lives we will meet, work and be in community with some, who will neither love us, respect us, or dignify us, because of who THEY are and not because of who WE are. Not everybody is going to love us in the way we need, and we have to grow past that and rely on loving ourselves deeply. That also took a long time, because back then I was fighting AIDS to stay alive and survive, so my need for affirmation and love was paramount to me then, so I thought, until I was taught this lesson by someone who did love me.

    I am tired of waiting, hoping and living in my deluded self will. Don’t make that same mistake. Take your life back, turn it over, and love yourself and those who love you today. You’ve come a long way. Know I am here.

  4. Love this! I think its hard to disengage with non-affirming pasts, but doing so is a step to healing and our flourishing as human beings! I stopped listening to non-affirming pastors, unsubscribed to non-affirming blogs, and refuse to attend my parents’ church when I’m home. I will not give non-affirming voices authority and I won’t play their mind games (like ‘choosing’ a gay lifestyle). I think too many gay Christians are seeking the approval of their non-affirming family and friends and its not going to happen.

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