Monthly Archives: June 2012

I’m grateful for the recent influx of traffic, from Matt Fradd’s site and others. At the same time I’m a little concerned that people seeing my blog for the first time are not seeing me at my best: folks, I swear, three months ago I was not a complete neurotic mess. Neither I nor even Father T. know exactly what is going on here, or why this present darkness is so extreme and so long-lived. But stet. Seems like people who are complete neurotic messes themselves like reading about other people who are complete neurotic messes.

I comfort myself by thinking that, since the Lord has been letting this all rise to the surface in a way it hasn’t for a decade, maybe He wants to deal with it in a deeper way than ever before. So, forward!

You can see by the (in)frequency of my posts lately that this “sorting out my life” business is not without its difficulties. I can’t seem to pull my jumble of thoughts together for a coherent post, so here are some things that are going on, and maybe you will see why I am a little jumbled.

Due to The Roommate Situation, I’m still in a state of rootlessness. I bounce around between my sister’s house (an hour from work), my brother’s house (45 minutes from work), and the old place, where I stay a couple of nights a week. I still think that seeing those guys is good for me, or at least that cutting them out of my life isn’t good for me (or them); it’s just tricky to balance that fact with the anxiety it usually causes me to be there. The situation may resolve itself by the end of July, so please pray that I will get some peace in that department. I know y’all do anyway. Thank you.

I had a particularly nice visit with the roommates last Wednesday. I came back from Kung Fu expecting a quiet night and found out there were going to be three people coming over. I managed to avoid freaking out about that (“Just keep me under your protection,” I prayed, and He did) and had a nice time. The part of the night I keep coming back to — this will tell you something about my current state of mind — is the moment when we were hunched over someone’s phone to watch a video, and my roommate S. rested his arm on my shoulder while he watched. Such a tiny gesture, and for him it was casual, but to me its very casualness meant acceptance — that my place in the group was taken for granted. I’m embarrassed that this was such a big deal for me, but there it is.

The meds are still working, but towards the end of vacation I had a freakout/breakdown that I’m still bouncing back from. I’m still sorting out in my own mind what the meds mean. Taking pills for being sad necessarily puts sadness in a different light. Previously, I had always been in the habit of spiritualizing my depression, anxiety, social issues, and the rest of it: these things must mean I’m not a holy enough person yet. Now my tendency is the opposite: seeing the whole thing as a purely psychological and even physical issue. I think the reality lies somewhere inbetween; in some sense, these things are a real part of my personality and a real part of my cross. My paradigms are still reassembling themselves.

Monday I meet with my new therapist. I’ve seen her once before, just an introductory interview, but that hour gave me a lot of hope for what we might be able to do together. I can’t wait.

I’ve been reading Images of Hope, by Fr. William Lynch, SJ, on the recommendation of a reader/commenter whose name escapes me — but thank you, dear
commenter, because oh my gawrsh, this book is just really good.

So much of the reading that I’ve done on psychological and spiritual issues seems to be a constant rehashing of the same old things. That’s fine, because I need to be reminded of the same truths over and over again. But this book has some very helpful ideas that are completely new to me, and he describes things so lucidly that I just feel understood.

Let’s see if I can find a couple of excerpts…should be as easy as hunting down the marginalia that look like this: “★!!!” Oh, here’s one that I’ve been thinking about a lot:

We can be so preoccupied with the past that we break down the edges and identities of each thing in contemporary reality and make it all look like the past…The present is not the past. That sentence could not be clearer on the surface or more obscure in its depths. If it were truly grasped, and grasped affectively, there would be no mental illness among adults. But the past keeps running in upon us, obscuring and even obliterating the freshness and newness of everything we do.

Ever since reading that, I’ve been saying to myself at odd moments: “This is now. This is not then.” It helps me see that, on the outside, my life is pretty much anything anybody could want: the loneliness, the self-judgment, are all products of the past. The present, taken on its own terms, is pretty awesome.

Welp, I am off to see Brave with a friend from my support group — I lurve Pixar, and I think this is going to be great. Then I am spending the evening with The Roommates. Fighting my way through my groundless fears that they don’t actually want me there. How many times and in how many ways do people have to tell me that they like me before I believe it?

Anyway. It has been gorgeous motorcycle weather. So there’s that.

Back from vacation! Trying to sort out my life in time for the *sigh* coming work week. I am working on a blog post and also a post for another, slightly more public forum. So, good times ahead.

Meanwhile, though, I want to share with you something that gives me a great deal of pleasure. Doubtless it is a perverse and disturbed kind of pleasure, but I takes it where I can gets it. I think my favorite part is “It’s all over!” at 1:20.

Come to think of it, he even kind of looks like Tom Waits.

I’m annoyed with the Lord. The situation reminds me of a joke about the Holy Family: poor Joseph, whenever anything was wrong in that household, it was GUARANTEED to be his fault. Same deal here: when I’m having a fight with God, He’s not going to be the one who has to apologize when it’s over.

I’m annoyed because of this verse in Psalm 26:

In the day of my distress I will call upon you,
and surely you will hear me.

The verse comes to me often, because it’s part of Compline, which is the one part of the Office that I say regularly. That was me, for two or three months, feeling the same deep sadness every day, saying: Okay, God, this is the day of my distress. I’m calling on you. Where you at?

Only this time he didn’t show; or not in the way I expected. What would have happened if I didn’t take the pills?

I’m sure you’ve heard this story: there’s a flood, and the local pastor is trapped on the roof of his house, watching the water slowly rise. But he’s a man of faith, he knows the Lord will save him. So a canoe comes by, and then a powerboat, and then a helicopter, and each time the pastor says, “No thanks — the Lord will save me.” So finally he drowns, and gets to Heaven, and says “Lord! I had faith in you, but you never showed up!” And the Lord goes “Moron! Who do you think sent the canoe, and the powerboat, and the helicopter?”

So my helicopter was antidepressants. I didn’t expect that. When I made the decision to take them, I had a very clear confirmation that the Lord was, at the very least, okay with that: a friend sent me a text message on the way to the doctor’s that was so well-timed that to call it anything but Providence would be sheer stubbornness. And the things worked. No more gut-gnawing sadness, no more fits of weeping. Sure, I got some low-grade melancholy, but nothing that makes me not me.

So why isn’t that enough? What had I been hoping for?

Here’s a piece by Czeslaw Milosz that says something like what I mean — thanks to Jordan at gaysubtlety for drawing my attention to it:

Veni Creator

Come, Holy Spirit,
bending or not bending the grasses,
appearing or not above our heads in a tongue of flame,
at hay harvest or when they plough in the orchards or when snow
covers crippled firs in the Sierra Nevada.
I am only a man: I need visible signs.
I tire easily, building the stairway of abstraction.
Many a time I asked, you know it well, that the statue in church
lift its hand, only once, just once, for me.
But I understand that signs must be human,
therefore call one man, anywhere on earth,
not me — after all I have some decency –
and allow me, when I look at him, to marvel at you.

I’m on vacation at Sal’s place. Sal tells a story of a friend of a friend who, like the man in the flood, is a pastor, a faith-filled Christian all his life. When he’s 75, he sees his cat prowling around the yard, and watches in horror as a hawk swoops down and carries the poor beast off, never to be heard from again.

And the pastor, who can’t believe that a just God would allow such things, loses his faith. Sal and I, who have both been through some pretty tough sh★t, wonder: was this really the first time in all his 75 years that the pastor experienced unrelieved awfulness? How do you get to 75 without feeling, at least once or twice, like the universe is a horrible place where horrible things happen?

In all that time, how do you never notice that whatever the mercy of God means, it doesn’t mean that cats are safe from hawks, or people from agony?

So I know there’s a reason for it, for why I was allowed to slip back into the old darkness, for why it’s not quite over. I know there’s Mercy behind it, something new to understand, some better knowledge of who I am and who God is. I just can’t see it yet.

I’m at my friend C.’s lakeside cabin in Maine. We have done nothing the past three days besides eat, sleep, talk, and swim a little. He is here on a sort of retreat from his life, and my situation is similar. Good place for it. Sitting on the deck, we hear the sounds of water, birdsong, insects, the occasional powerboat, the cry of a loon.

I am here on my motorcycle, breaking in the beautiful new machine — my old bike died two weeks ago, and in a burst of extravagance I bought a 2010 model. Unheard of, to have a vehicle so new! (My last one was as old as I am.) She doesn’t have a name yet, but she is already covered in dust from the dirt road between here and civilization. Tomorrow I continue on to Vermont, a ride of at least four hours, to spend the rest of my week off with Sal. It will be ninety degrees, a beautiful day for riding through a beautiful part of the country.

Things are nearly as quiet inside my head as they are outside of it. I credit the pills. They have given me relief from the old vicious cycles. Is it my imagination, or have they also created a kind of shallowness of mind, a distance from contemplation as well as from pain? During prayer time I have been disinterested, distracted; the rest of the day my mind is content to bounce around on the surfaces of things. Is this unusual, or is it just part of my normal cycle? I won’t worry about it yet. The doc and the priest and the shrink and I will sort it all out later, after vacation.

I am still adjusting to the idea of depression as a chemical problem, something solveable, something exterior and undeserved. Last weekend, staying at my parents’ house before the trip, I admitted to my mother that I had always thought of my depression as a moral failing, a character flaw, something that I had more or less brought on myself. She was surprised to hear it, and I was almost surprised at her surprise. I suppose these things are more obvious from the outside: from the inside, depression always feels like a judgment.

I’ve never wholly believed that, but maybe I’d let the idea get more purchase than I should. To friends and family, it is obvious that my depression is something inflicted, something suffered — not, as they say, a part of Who I Am.

Enough. I’m out of cigarettes. Time to take the bike into town.

I told you I wasn’t going to do this. I also told myself and a whole bunch of other people that I wasn’t going to do this. But I did it: I got myself a prescription for some happiness pills. They are small and white and oval and I take one every morning at nine o’clock. And I’m glad.

They aren’t supposed to work right away. Doc said three weeks (and silently I said, THREE WEEKS!?) but I felt better that same day, five days ago, only an hour or two after popping my first one in the parking lot. I’ve got a fast metabolism, I said to myself, swallowing, so I bet this’ll work fast. I pictured the clean white pill dissolving in me, spreading light through my dark veins.

I know about the placebo effect, and if that’s what is happening, I’ll take it.1 I doubt it’d work so well if I hadn’t always told myself: Yes, that would probably work, if things ever got that bad, but they never will.

I took them because none of the usual tricks were working, and holy crap, 2.5 months is a long time to feel like crying. Prayer, Kung Fu, talking with friends, doing things for others, riding my motorcycle, distracting myself with work or projects, journaling — everything helped as long as I was doing it, and stopped helping the second I stopped: I’d finish class feeling healthy and energetic and loved and hopeful, but step out the door of the dojo and BAM, it was like stepping outside of a force field.

It was enough.

Now, when the pills are working — the first few hours after I take them seem best, but it’s only been five days — it’s like someone turned the volume down on the poisonous thoughts, or took the hooks out of them. When a sad thought occurs to me, I can decide not to think about it, although it might grumble in the background a little; it doesn’t tackle me, eat me alive; it doesn’t grow another head for every one I chop off. Is this how most people are, most of the time? Is this how I was, three months ago? I think so.

Doc says, Get past the stigma: you are sick, and sick people need medicine. So when do I stop taking them? Well, he says, we’ll see you again in a month. Then in three months. Then in six. Then in twelve. Does my brain just not make enough serotonin, like a diabetic person’s body doesn’t make enough insulin? Did it used to, but it got crippled by too much thinking? Or did it never? Doc says some people take these things forever, like insulin. Not me, boy.

Calling it a sickness gets me thinking. A sickness is something that happens to you, not something you do. You don’t get sick because you’re weak, you get sick because — why? Maybe you stayed up too late, or went walking in the rain, or your immune system isn’t that great, or you ate some bad egg salad, or you haven’t been eating your vegetables.

Non-depressed people aren’t non-depressed because they’ve faced the dragon and slain him; it’s that, for them, the dragon never showed up at all. Strange. I know there are people like that, even though it’s hard to believe, people who have never been to the pit; I know because I’ve described it for them, and their faces show sorrow and compassion but no understanding.

Enough of that. I wanted to tell you what’s going on, but there’s no point in thinking about it too much. I can do that: think about something else, sing a song, watch a movie, do something ordinary. Call a friend. Watch the leaves move, say hello to the sparrows, watch the rain.

1 I hear they did a study where they gave people fake pills and told them, “These are fake pills, but the placebo effect might make you better” and it worked. Go figure.

Happy Corpus Christi! I’m at my parents’ house for the weekend, bracing myself to go back to the nomadic existence that I’m just gonna have to deal with for a while — bouncing around between my sister’s house, my brother’s house, and my [old] roommates’ house, when I can handle the latter. So conditions are not ideal for posting.

In the mean time here’s an excellent and surprising post from a Mormon man who is gay and is married to a woman. Couple of excerpts:

One of the sad truths about being homosexual is that no matter what you decide for your future, you have to sacrifice something. It’s very sad, but it is true. I think this is true of life in general as well. If you decide to be a doctor, you give up any of the myriad of other things you could have chosen. But with homosexuality, the choices seem to be a little bit more mutually exclusive. If you are Mormon and you choose to live your religion, you are sacrificing the ability to have a romantic relationship with a same-sex partner. If you choose a same-sex partner, you are sacrificing the ability to have a biological family with the one you love. And so on. No matter what path you choose, if you are gay you are giving up something basic, and sometimes various things that are very basic. I chose not to “live the gay lifestyle,” as it were, because I found that what I would have to give up to do so wasn’t worth the sacrifice for me.

And a bit further down:

During our conversation, [my psychologist at the time, who is a lesbian] told me about her life with her partner. She spoke of a girl, whom she considered her daughter, who is the biological child of her ex-lover, with whom she lived for only three years. She told me of how much she loved her daughter, but how infrequently she got to see her. And eventually, when talking about my sex life, she said “well, that’s good you enjoy sex with your wife, but I think it’s sad that you have to settle for something that is counterfeit.”

I was a little taken aback by this idea — I don’t consider my sex-life to be counterfeit. In response, I jokingly said “and I’m sorry that you have to settle for a counterfeit family.” She immediately saw my point and apologized for that comment.

Whole post is here. I like the lack of self-pity, and the way the author considers his homosexuality to be “a critical part of [his] person”, without considering it an overwhelming, all-encompassing part.

More from me as soon as things settle down a little (O when?). Oremus pro invicem.

On Sundays, I usually replace normal prayer time with spiritual reading. It’s a bit more relaxed (as befits a Sunday), I can have coffee and cigarettes while I do it (I don’t think Jesus minds), and it’s always wonderfully worthwhile. Lately I have been reading Frank Sheed’s Theology and Sanity, and keeping a Bible and my journal nearby.

Last Sunday’s session yielded this journal entry, which I tried to expand into a post, but it ballooned out to a bazillion words and lost all coherence. So here’s the entry itself, with minimal editing so that it has some chance of making sense to somebody besides me. If this works out, maybe I’ll make a habit of it.

In the struggle of the human mind for more light, infallibility, whether of Church or Pope, saves the mind no trouble, does for the mind nothing that the mind could do for itself.1

This principle is true not only with respect to the way the Holy Spirit guides the Church as a whole, but also with respect to the way He guides individual people.

In, for example, my quest for healing and wholeness, it is utterly required that I expend every effort that a human being can expend — bring all of my natural powers to bear on the matter.

What is not required is that I worry about whether I will be successful. This is what it means to have the help of God, and to trust God: not that He will do anything for me that I could do for myself, but that He will see to the results.

And that takes a great deal of the sting out of it. It is hard to work when you are unsure as to whether your work will be in vain. It is easier, much easier, when you don’t have to worry about that part.

This has very much to do with something Anthony Bloom says about prayer:

It is absolutely pointless to ask God for something which we ourselves are not prepared to do. If we say ‘O God, make me free from this or that temptation’ while at at the same time seeking every possible way of falling to just such a temptation, hoping now that God is in control, that He will get us out of it, then we do not stand much chance.2

At first one is tempted to ask: “Then what difference does it make whether I pray for the thing or not?” But we are not praying that the task be done for us — only that our efforts be guided and brought to their proper fruition.

1 Frank Sheed, Theology and Sanity, p. 252.
2 Anthony Bloom, Beginning to Pray, p. 64.

Br. Gabriel, OP asks in the comments:

I want to ask a really, really, controversial question. Your post made me think about it because you didn’t say anything about it explicitly but I felt it might be lurking in the background. The question is about the inner fear of not doing everything to “fix this” issue. What if part of the fear of and ostracism of reparative therapy is that it partially restores the notion that SSA is a mental disorder even though the clinical community has formally dropped SSA from the official list of mental disorders and diseases?

You’re right, Br. Gabriel, that’s a whole can of worms!

I’d like to write a cohesive, coherent, exhaustive post on the topic, but I’m not ready to do that yet. So I’ll just reply, more or less off the cuff; let’s see where that gets me.1

To begin with, I don’t see how it is possible for anybody to simultaneously hold these two positions:
(1) Homosexual sex is an intrinsically disordered action.
(2) The desire for homosexual sex is not a disordered desire.

Those two positions couldn’t be more contradictory. If gay sex is okay, then desiring it is okay. If gay sex is disordered, then desiring it is disordered.

Or maybe someone would argue that gay sex isn’t intrinsically disordered, but that God has somehow forbidden it anyhow? That seems even more absurd than the first set of propositions. God doesn’t forbid things arbitrarily.

Notice that I’m talking only about the act of homosexual sex. I’m not saying that SSA is solely and simply the desire for gay sex. Far from it (see below)! And I do think there are many aspects of SSA which are good in themselves. Exactly what those aspects are, and how they are to be integrated into the rest of the personality — well, I’m still working that out.

Melinda Selmys has a really excellent post on the topic here. I still don’t know how much of it I agree with, but there’s a lot to think about. Here’s an excerpt:

Gayness is not reduceable to homosexual sex, or the desire to have homosexual sex. It is a way of relating to other people, a way of appreciating human beauty, and a way of relating to one’s own gender. Most people who identify as chaste, gay Christians, are referring to involuntary currents of homoeroticism and gender-queerness that run through the personality.

I love that last sentence. SSA isn’t the final word or the whole word about who I am, but I don’t think it can be thought of as a discrete part of my personality, either. Whatever it is, there are threads of it running through most of what I call myself. Some of ‘em are good are some of ‘em are decidedly bad.

Some of the bad ones: envy, insecurity, a sense of irreconcileable difference, a sense of shame. Maybe those things are intrinsically connected with SSA and maybe they aren’t, but they are absolutely central to my experience of the phenomenon. During periods of my life when I’ve felt secure in my own identity, happy with who I am, and grateful for the thing in my life, my sexual attraction to men has all but disappeared. That can’t be an accident.

Some of the good ones: a certain appreciation of masculinity as masculinity; a certain openness to same-gender emotional intimacy. Neither of those things are necessarily present in people with SSA or absent in those without it, but again, those things are very closely tied to the way I’ve always experienced SSA. And, unlike my sexual attraction to men, these things don’t disappear during the good times.

Oh boy, that was longer than I meant it to be. I don’t have any answers, but I’m interested in what y’all have to say about it.

1 Probably in trouble.

It’s not the despair…I can take the despair. It’s the hope I can’t stand.1

Seems like nearly everybody knows about my SSA these days. My landlord knows, for goodness’ sake. My landlord, H., also happens to be a coworker and an old friend, and someone who’s been through a lot himself — even before I knew some of the details, I always thought he had the look. I asked to use his office once so I could use the landline for a radio interview, and when he got inquisitive, I ended up telling him about the blog.

H. met my revelation with compassion and understanding, which is the reaction I’ve come to expect from Catholics. But a few days later, he had advice, too: “You need to take care of this,” he told me. “You need to make your life about taking care of this. There are guys who are experts. There are studies.” He had googled around, and wanted to know: had I ever heard of NARTH? Had I ever heard of Joe Nicolosi?

The thing about talking to men about your problems is that they, we, like to fix things, and sometimes that’s not what you need to hear. I knew he said what he said because he hated to see me suffer — I was in the thick of the roommate situation at the time — but the conversation upset me so much that, when I went back to my desk, I couldn’t see my code through the tears, and had to retreat to the bathroom till I could calm down.

Because I used to think that way. Then I stopped thinking that way. Then I didn’t know what to think, so I tried to quit thinking. There was a space of about two years, after attending Journey Into Manhood in ’08, when I did just what H. suggested. I read books, went to groups, forced myself to play basketball, made a habit of hanging out with Da Boys every chance I got.

Did that work? Was that good? I have no idea. I do think it’s largely responsible for the fact that I’m now comfortable with men, more or less — anyway it doesn’t usually make me feel all strung out and artificial and terrified to be in a group of guys, the way it used to, and I have a better sense of the rhythm of conversation.2 I’m glad about that.

But I wonder what else it did to me. It’s good to do things that scare you, if they’re good things; but doing things because they scare you looks an awful lot like masochism. It also looks like a lack of self-acceptance. How good did I have to get at socialization, or at basketball, before I decided I was good enough to just live my life?

I understand why ex-gays get vilified. If they’re wrong, if change is impossible, then they’re holding out false hope, and encouraging self-torture in men who are already prone to it. But if they’re right — and if you don’t follow that avenue, if you don’t do everything you can to get healed, get changed, get “fixed” — then you feel like a slacker, a slug. You feel like the double amputee who decided to just quit, just be a victim, instead of becoming a sprinter.

I wish somebody could tell me that it’s possible for me to get married one day, have kids, share a bed with somebody. Or, maybe even better, I wish somebody could tell me that that will never ever happen. It would be easier to hope if I knew there was something real to hope for. And if I could stop hoping — what a relief.

1 From the very excellent and exceedingly tragical comedy Clockwise, with John Cleese.
2 Several years ago, I mentioned in passing to Fr. T. that, when I was growing up, my family didn’t chat around the dinner table. Everybody got a book and we ate in silence, everybody reading. The way his eyes bugged out made me notice for the first time that there was maybe something a little weird about that, and that maybe possibly not all of my social difficulties were entirely my fault.