I asked one of my brothers to read a draft of the book I'm working on, tentatively titled Trial of Faith, and recently he's begun to give me some long awaited feedback on the manuscript I sent him.
The second chapter of the book deals with my relationship with the Church and also with members of my family. It describes a time -- shortly after my near suicide and then after my departure from the Church -- when my relationship with my family, and particularly with this brother, hit a low point. So I have to admit, I was just a tad nervous about revisiting some of these painful moments with my brother, with someone who experienced them as intimately as I did. I also wondered how his memory of these events might be different from my own, and I was anxious to confirm my own recollection of certain events through comparison with his memories.
What is interesting to me is how my own memory of this time in my life has changed in recent years. After the spiritual experience I had in August 2005 prompting me to return to the Church, I struggled for a time. Eventually, I had a kind of conversion moment in January 2006 in which I began to pray again. And at that moment I realized that there was a huge obstacle that had been blocking me from praying to God with sincerity. It was my anger. There was no way I could progress spiritually without acknowledging and seeking forgiveness for my anger.
Now this is the interesting thing. Until that moment, I probably would have denied that I harbored any anger, bitterness or resentment toward the Church, my family, or God. Had someone asked me 5 years ago whether I was angry, I almost certainly would have denied it. But after that moment of spiritual truth in early 2006, I realized that anger -- acknowledged or unacknowledged anger -- was possibly the predominant emotion of those years. It was my greatest sin, the source of so many of my other problems, and what I most desperately needed to come to terms with if I was going to progress.
What is interesting to me is that acknowledging my anger has since allowed me to access and understand what was going on with me during those years far better than I understood at the time. What is even more interesting is that acknowledging -- and seeking forgiveness for -- my anger allowed my memory of those years to converge with the memories of my brother. Because that is his predominant memory of me during those years -- that I was very angry.
He reminded me of the ways in which I was "very angry, hostile, and as a result often deliberately provocative to those of us in the family who remained in the church." He gave me a few specific examples. He reminded me of a family reunion where I insisted on ordering Irish coffee at a restaurant in the morning. At one family event, in a conversation with a sister, I was vocally criticizing the Church in very harsh terms -- loud enough so that other members of the family could overhear and be hurt by some of the things I said. He also reminded me of a conversation in which I made a kind of ultimatum, telling him that if he really loved me, he had to leave the Church.
I honestly have no specific recollection of those events, though when he described them, they definitely sounded like things that I would have done. My blotting out of those memories tells me as much about those years as what I have remembered. I suspect I didn't remember these behaviors because so much of my behavior in relation to the Church in those years was impulsive, thoughtless and reactionary. It came from the lower, "reptile brain," at its root a reaction of fear or self-defense. Furthermore, I was expressing my anger in indirect, passive-aggressive ways because I didn't fully understand it myself. I was angry, but I was also in denial about my anger.
Discussing this with my brother has brought back this period of my life with vividness. Even now, remembering that time has aroused feelings of shame, pain and anxiety. I've found myself wrestling with those feelings a good part of the day. I've found myself reaching out to God in prayer about it, sometimes with just a sense of profound sadness and desperation. And in answer to my prayer, I've received quiet comfort.
I understand now that at the root of the anger was something even more basic: a failure to trust. At that time in my life, I had numerous remarkable, very powerful spiritual experiences in which God communicated very clearly to me his love for me, reassuring me of my fundamental goodness and wholeness, and telling me that I had nothing to fear in regard to my gayness.
I think that part of my problem was, given what I had been taught to believe about homosexuality, it was difficult for me to accept those moments of clarity as genuine revelation. I was also pretty certain that none of my family or friends in the Church would believe me. I was still tormented by doubt. And ultimately, that was what fueled a lot of my fear and anger in relation to the Church.
I'm trying to be gentle with myself now, as I work through these memories. I'm trying to forgive myself. (That's so much harder than one thinks it ought to be!) It's not that I was a terrible person -- though I behaved terribly.
It took time for me to grow and mature sufficiently, I think, to actually be able to accept the reassurances God gave me at the time (and has given me since). Perhaps that is why I experienced a new revelation when I did, only as late as 2005. God knew I was finally ready to try breaking through to me again.