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.