Introducing Watershed Stories
Watershed Stories is a series that will highlight people who represent some of the many clients I have worked with over the years. The stories written have been written with those individuals in mind, but they do not represent only one individual. Perhaps reading this will let you know that you are not alone, and that I and the other talented therapists at Watershed are equipped and want to help.
The Story of Gary
I want to introduce you to Gary. Gary is married to his lovely wife. They have several incredible children. He is a successful professional and influential person in his community. He also attends church with his family regularly, gives his time and resources liberally, and by all accounts is someone who is appreciated and thought of fondly by others.
Despite all appearances, Gary secretly struggles to believe anyone could really love him, even his wife and children. When people tell Gary how much they appreciate him, he smiles and says “you’re welcome” but quickly dismisses any praise internally. Gary has never been able to escape the thought, “they wouldn’t feel that way about me if they really knew me.”
Ever since Gary was a child, he’s tried his hardest to do life the right way. He’s tried to be a good person, treat other with respect, and follow the Golden Rule. Problem is, despite all of his outward behaviors, Gary finds himself feeling attraction towards other men.
It happens on a routine trip to the grocery store to pick up some bananas for his son’s baseball game. It happens when he is out at dinner with his family. It happens while driving by the running trails near his house. And it even happens while he is sitting in church singing worship songs.
He has learned to ignore these unwanted desires pretty well. However, Gary has ultimately given up on the possibility of feeling genuinely happy.
When it Started
It all started when he noticed these occurrences as a teenager. At first he was able to just redirect his thoughts somewhere else, but they grew more frequent and more bothersome as time went on. He often thought that something was really wrong with him. He felt confused and worried but hoped that it would all just go away.
Praying for a Solution
He recalled having heard the preacher talk about praying to God. That if he obeyed His commandments, God will bless him with the desires of Gary’s heart. Gary wasted no time. His heart desired for these thoughts and impulses to be gone.
He prayed, he gave some of his allowance to the church, and he did everything he was told to do. He even confessed to his youth pastor. At first he started to feel liberated and free, but it didn’t last long. Gary was devastated and even more confused when he started noticing these feelings re-emerge towards his youth pastor. This was the last time he tried complete honesty with anyone about what was really going on inside.
Gary managed to maintain hopefulness about the potential to be “normal” throughout high school. But college introduced him to a whole new challenge. He was caught off guard by the freedom and opportunities that surrounded him. He stumbled upon a gay porn website one night his freshman year. This was was like pouring gasoline on his arousal and confusion.
He could no longer talk himself out of or redirect his thoughts to something else. The hope for feeling “normal” was all but gone. He often felt like he was being torn apart inside. It was torture. He would often feel rage so intense that he worried of having Hulk-like outbursts in public.
So, this rage was trapped inside doing damage internally like a bowling ball in the back of a pickup truck. Still, no one knew because he had become so able at masking it all.
Keeping Busy and Emotional Numbness
For months he cycled through trying to counter balance the ever increasing arousal he was experiencing. He volunteered his time more, signed up for a mission trip with a campus ministry for the summer, and started leading a Bible sturdy. He even tried watching heterosexual porn in order to prove to himself that he had heterosexual arousal. These helped to manage some of the shame and guilt and rage, but he mostly learned that feeling numb was most effective.
Gary went on his mission trip for the summer after his freshman year. By this time he had almost half a school year’s experience of perfecting numbness in order to regain a sense of something he could live with.
Then, Gary met Karen. Just being around her was like a feeling of discovering the buried treasure that had been eluding him. They could laugh together. She was genuinely interested in him and seemed strong and secure. She was so generous and gracious. It was like all of the nagging desires that had plagued him had disappeared. He felt overwhelmed by the excitement and passion that erupted towards being with Karen. He believed he finally solved the Rubix cube that was his life.
Feeling Normal Again
That summer was amazing. He had never felt so close to who he wanted to be before. Never so hopeful and optimistic. He finally felt “normal.” He even let go of the vow he made after his youth pastor and told Karen everything. She was incredible. He wanted to marry her on the spot and told her as much. He felt like a man for the first time.
Then, just as quickly as the ascent of that summer, the following fall semester on campus brought a new level of feeling despair, betrayal, and self hatred. He and Karen were still laughing and serving, but the same sex attraction slowly began to return.
Slipping Back Into Old Patterns
It all felt so similar to his experience as a young teenager. He fought desperately to maintain hope that it was all just his mind playing tricks on him. But after a night of weakness online in his dorm room, it felt like death had finally settled on the doorstep of his heart for good. His shame was too great, and he began telling himself, “not even Karen could handle this. No one could ever love me if they really knew me.”
Marriage and Children
He loved Karen and still longed to be with her, so he asked, and they got married. For all Karen knew, they had started their happily ever after together. They graduated college, started their careers, bought a house, had children, went to the beach every summer, and served together at church and their kid’s school events.
All the while, Gary secretly struggled through seasons of online binging and after several years found himself in an online chat room. Soon after he arranged a business trip to meet a man he had been chatting with.
Gary returned home from his trip more ashamed than ever. He fell into a deep depression for several months. Karen was worried because Gary stopped talking to her and barely interacted with anyone. She begged him to see a doctor but Gary felt so broken and undeserving of feeling better he ignored her suggestion.
Karen’s Discovery and Getting Help
Gary finally landed in my office after Karen noticed Gary’s iPad at home one random day in September. Her concern for Gary lead her to investigate for any clues to help him, so she clicked his email icon. To her absolute horror, she found an email account she didn’t know Gary had. The account contained countless email exchanges with other men the prior year. It had knocked the breath out of her.
Gary’s secrets had been discovered, and he arrived to meet me feeling terrified, completely lost, and relieved. He began the process of trying to find out who he really is and regaining a feeling of hope for his life again.
Find Help for Yourself
If you identify with Gary’s story, know that you are not alone. I’ve sat with many others with experiences like yours. Give hope one more chance and come and let me sit with you. Let me journey with you in your story.