Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Breaking My Silence

After my wife found out about and read my blog more than two years ago I decided to box up my baggage and postpone dealing with it again. This failure of a coping mechanism continues to be my default. Most of that time has been spent not reading other MoHo blogs, discontinuing my counseling (from a counselor with whom I did not connect very well), pushing back against my wife who wants me to make some major life decisions, continuing my education down another dead end track (a master's degree), etc. It is my goal to be deliberate, slow, and steady in taking steps to actually unpack my baggage this time. However, during the other two times that I have started this process, people and events in my life have pushed me to accelerate the unfolding in ways that lead to self-destructive behaviors from which I break free by boxing it all up again.

Over the past 6 months I have noticed a continued increase in depression, unhappiness, stress, anxiety, etc. For a couple of weeks leading up to Thanksgiving I could feel myself approaching a level to which I had promised to never let myself sink again. As I have still not found a counselor with whom I can connect and who is able to offer long-term services, I decided to give it another try at campus health (this is where I had initially sought counseling as an undergrad several years ago, leading up to my realization that I am not attracted to women). Since it had been years since I was last seen there all they could offer me was a 'triage' session during which they would decide which counselor would be best for providing any actual counselling. The triage counselor said that "Cori" (name changed) was most definitely the person who would most be able to help me. The counselor's name was gender-ambiguous, but the spelling led me to think it was probably a female. The only available appointments in the foreseeable future were still weeks away and reserved for emergency appointments that could only be scheduled 48-hours in advance. The triage counselor ended up breaking a few rules to get me one of those spots, sensing that my situation was a bit more substantial than most of their clientele at this time of year who had skipped classes all semester and for some inexplicable reason were now experiencing high levels of anxiety about finals.

Just this simple act of verbalizing things that had been bumbling around in my head for months during the triage session significantly increased the magnitude of my spiraling emotions. My extended Thanksgiving weekend was not the relaxing reprieve I was hoping for. It was exhausting to have old wounds coming open again. During the week after the break I found myself crying a lot (a tell-tale sign that things were getting out of hand since I sometimes go years without crying), but I tried to keep it to myself as much as possible. I emailed a couple of professors, with whom I had a bit of a personal relationship, simply requesting a time to meet, but it was a very busy week for everyone so making schedules align was much more difficult than I anticipated.

I think that meeting with "Roxanne" might have been a mistake. Roxanne is a lawyer by education, now a professor, approaching retirement. She is very smart, not shy about her opinions, and makes more of an effort to be involved in her students' lives than any teacher I have ever met. She is also the professor to whom I was assigned as a Graduate Assistant this semester. Since I meet with her, one-on-one, at least once a week and she is very open about many aspects of her own life it was easier to feel more of a connection than I have felt with other professors. During my very first meeting with her at the beginning of the semester she showed me her electric tea kettle and said that she almost always has water ready and a wide variety of teas to which I should help myself whenever I want. I decided it best to unveil the Mormon elephant right away and said that I probably would not be drinking much tea. To my surprise she had no questions about why Mormons don't drink tea and showed me that she also had a stash of hot chocolate and herbals.

Over the subsequent weeks she was very open about her Jewish heritage and it became clear that she had a much better understanding of the inner workings of my religion than that most non-Mormons, and certainly knew more about my faith tradition than I did about Judaism. She has personally known many Mormon Bishops and Stake Presidents and understands that the congregations are called "wards" and are geographically divided and often have their own "personalities." She said that if she ever quit being Jewish that Mormonism would probably be a good option for her because she really appreciates that family and community aspects despite how bizarre she finds Mormon Temples.

Tevye from Fiddler on the Roof

Roxanne frequently talks about an ongoing "pissing match" that she has with God as she tries to make sense of life and faith and tradition. In many ways she really is a modern, female version of Tevye from Fiddler on the Roof as she jokes with and questions God and throws her hands up in the air to simply ask "why?!" Although her observance of Judaism is admittedly not very strict to the letter of the law, she still celebrates most, if not all of the holidays and goes to great lengths to provide the trappings of those days for her friends and family. An oft-cited quip about why she continues as she does goes something like this: "I don't know how to live my life if I'm not Jewish. I have no idea what non-Jews do on Rosh Hashanah," she says, half in jest. Through these conversations I not only came to feel close to her but learned a lot about myself. I am having a hard time of making heads or tales of whether or not the Mormon church is true, but either way, the Church has provided a lens from which to observe the world for my entire life. I really do have a difficult time knowing how to see or live in the world without my faith tradition and she understands this so well.

For myriad reasons I do not have any friends or confidants left after getting married, so she seemed like one of my few options for opening up in a time of need. But as I mentioned, this may have been a mistake. It has been a while since I have really opened up to anyone in my personal life about anything so it was really difficult to get the words out. After a few sentences of beating around the bush I finally got myself to say "I am attracted to men." I had scarcely said more than that when she started to dominate the conversation. While I am grateful that she was quick to state her acceptance of and concern for me, my head was spinning by the time she finished an hour and a half of questioning and advice-giving. It was all well intended but her timing and delivery left much to be desired. I do not remember everything that was said nor the order so I will simply list some of the things she said and asked instead of trying to make an intelligible paragraph out of them:

  • "Does your wife know?"
  • "You have to get divorced. It's not fair to her and it's not fair for you to stay in your marriage."
  • "You don't have any kids, right? You're sure she's not pregnant? Do you have sex with your wife? You've been married this long and she's not pregnant so it's possible she will have trouble having kids."
  • "I know you said she really wants to have kids and is getting worried that she is getting too old to have kids. You could tell her that you are willing to create a child with her as long as you are very clear that you will not be staying in the marriage."
  • "You need to be creative and think outside the box to find solutions that will help both of you make the most of the situation."
  • "You could always adopt or if having children that are biologically your own is important you could get a surrogate, but that is much more expensive."
  • She told me about gay men she has known and their escapades . . .
  • "The one thing that's absolutely certain is that you have to get a divorce. . ."
  • She told me that the other professor with whom I was trying to schedule a meeting has a gay son who went through a slutty stage . . .
  • "You need to make lots of lists and think of all the possible options . . . list the order of people to whom you will come out . . . think of all the different ways they might react and how you will respond to them . . . tell them this is not their fault or about them . . . if they get angry let them know that you understand and will give them time to process the new information . . ."
  • She told me about two lesbians (one a Jew by birth, the other a convert) who were married by a Rabbi she knows and that there was really little reason for them to be married or little concern about them getting married or something because a Jewish wedding is all about creating children and continuing the blood line or something like that . . .
  • "Is sex positive, negative, or neutral in your relationship with your wife?"
  • "You will need to get divorced but divorces take a while so you could still have some tuition benefits for a while since your wife works for the school . . ."
  • She asked me if I was currently involved with or interested in someone in particular (I am not) or if I ever had been (I told her briefly about my former roommate) . . . after a few more questions about him she concluded that I was never in love but in lust with him and that I should be careful to only fall in love with gay men and that there was something wrong with him psychologically based on the way he told me to stay out of his life . . .
  • "You will have to have sex with a man before he will ever agree to marry you . . ."
  • Even if her son told her something that was really difficult . . . like he had bathed in the blood of Jesus and wanted her and their whole family to be saved with him as well . . . she would eventually choose him over her faith and that my family would eventually do the same
While the actual conversation had a bit more finesse than this disjointed list of nearly unrelated comments, the effect it had on me was as if she was spouting out directions about how I needed to live my life. She kept harping on the divorce aspect as if it was already a done deal when all I really wanted was someone to listen. Some of things she said may have been true or wise, but I was not looking for nor did I need any of this information right now. I left with my head ready to explode while in the middle of trying to prepare for final exams and finish final group projects and group presentations (of which there would soon be more than I would like to recount). I was a mess and now had even more to stew about than I did when I went in to meet with Roxanne.

This post has become way too long and I had intended to finish it two weeks ago. I plan to post a lot more very soon and to those in the MoHo blogging community I wish to say that I am back and I hope to be a more consistent member of the community.

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