Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The Healing of Memories

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.


Anonymous said...

I would be really interested in reading your book when it is published. Youll have to post a link onto here about where we can get it because ill totally run out to Powells and get a copy.

I think that its good that you are writing about this and discussing it with your brother. Although its painful to remember how you acted and to look back on the anger that you felt, the acknowlegement that it happened and reevaluation of the feelings is healthy and can help you to heal.

Im wondering how your brother responded to the manuscript. Was his reality of the events the same as yours? Thats always been an interesting concept for me that people can experience a single event in totally different ways. And when there is a timeline of events, the perceptions and realities of those two (or more) people can be totally contrary. Im hoping that in reading your manuscript he can understand where you were coming from with everything that happened between you two.

I enjoy your writing - let me know when your release date for the book is. ;)


J G-W said...

Well, as a matter of fact, my brother and I do have a fairly significant disagreement. We both remember (and agree) that I planned a trip out East to come out to my parents. And we both agree that my brother ended up telling my parents that I was gay before my visit.

But we disagree on my brother's reasons for telling my parents. He insists that I called him and asked him to tell them for me. I on the other hand distinctly remember that he was the one who asked me to let him tell them.

In our conversations over this point, I think we're gradually sorting out the truth of it. I've come to suspect that it was a misunderstanding. He mistook some of my anxiety about coming out to my parents as desire on my part that he tell them for me. I mistook the reservations he expressed about my coming out to them as desire on his part to soften the blow by telling them himself.

As it turned out -- as my dad has subsequently told his part of the story -- it was a good thing that my brother told my parents first. My dad said that he reacted in a way and said some things when he found out that he would have regretted saying to my face. Having my brother tell him first gave him some time to think about it and cool off, so that by the time I arrived in Boston, he was prepared to talk with me in a more sensitive and rational way.

So if there was a misunderstanding, it was apparently a providential one...!

M said...

A bit off topic, but how did you resolve your anger? I'm finding myself filled more and more with anger and no way to disperse it. I'm not sure how to positively deal with this emotion.