We all want to be strong. Right? Am I right for thinking this way? It seems that we all have a desire to be physically, mentally, emotionally, and/or spiritually strong. Most of us anyway. For me, it has always been important to "have a good head on my shoulders". I have modeled my life around being as diplomatic to situations as I can possibly be...sharing multiple points of views and relating to many sides of the story. I grew up this way. I was the first born child in my household and had a very strongly opinionated and hard working mother. It became necessary to understand that there were more sides than just 2 to any given story at any given time. I had to take on the task of being "momma" while Momma was at work and also act as liaison and advocate for my siblings once Momma came home because ultimately she was the final authority in all things.
Momma taught us that we were leaders. Momma taught us that we were strong.
What happens when it all backfires?
I've shared before that we were exceptionally poor. Growing up in a house that had only one room...just a box that we played in, slept in, and ate in. No electricity or running water. I know that all we wanted was to escape. For a couple of my siblings, their escape was writing. For me, my escape was physical and the moment that I met someone who told me I could do it...I did it. I left.
I was ushered into a life of travel and I LOVED it. I also loved the idea of helping people. I had already "roughed it" most of my life so to travel to 3rd world countries to help build sewer systems or water towers to help others seemed like a dream. I was introduced to an organization that honed in on my eagerness to lead and my desire for traveling. At this point, I knew what it was that I wanted to do for the rest of my life. What I didn't know was the power that had tapped into me.
It was January of 1993. I had been groomed to attend what was called a Discipleship Training School. To most Christians, the title of the school seems harmless enough and looking back on most of my training, it was really an amazing school. We learned about diplomacy, public speaking, travel, working and living communally. We learned about humility and patience...it was a very hippy-esque school but I liked it and this lifestyle liked me too.
Here's the rub. See, in all of this, we were getting ingrained to learn a school of thought about chain of command. I had already gotten a good grasp of this while living at home but here at the school, I was one of the younger and newest recruits. I had MANY people to answer to and many voices to obey.
It's so weird to type this out. My memories of this time in my life carry a desperation and it's hard to know that I was so easily paralyzed.
We lived a very strict life. We couldn't do much without the consent of our leaders. We couldn't go home to visit family, we couldn't choose the jobs we wanted, we couldn't date, we really couldn't do much of anything...unless we had the approval of our leadership. To this day, it's still hard for me to see that this WASN'T ok.
I was considered one of the "rebellious" ones. Not so much because I rebelled but because I followed questionable orders with a grimace on my face. Trust me, I get protocol. I get the need for a chain of command. However, I didn't understand why I needed to be told what to wear, how to wear my hair, who I could date, what I could do with my leisure time, who I could and couldn't be friends with, when or if I could leave the base to visit my family...and on and on and on.
We weren't a military base. We were a Christian organization of missionaries and our leadership had overstepped it's boundaries from leading to controlling and I had been brainwashed.
I had been brainwashed. I had been brainwashed. I had been brainwashed.
Here's the deal. Before I left for missionary school, I had been treated for homosexuality. That's right, I was gay and had been put through a gay to straight program. I was told that in order to fulfill my "life calling" I could never act on my homosexual tendencies and in order to learn to be straight, I had to listen to and do everything I was told or I WOULD FAIL. I would fail at life, fail my family, fail my God, fail at being a leader, fail at being strong. So... I did what I was told. I obeyed.
After living in this cult type atmosphere I started to test the waters. I had climbed the ranks in the organization, so to speak, and decided to act on an attraction I had towards another girl in the organization. After a few weeks, our relationship was exposed to the leadership and after 2 years of blindly following their every dictation, including a humiliating "outing" to the entire organization, we were sent home packing.
Have you ever witnessed someone experiencing drug withdrawals or someone grieving? Writhing in pain, unable to think, unable to breathe, unable to sleep, unable to bear being alive. This is what it was like for me. Everything that I had built my life around and for was taken away. And it was easy for them to do so. I thought at this moment that I had forever ended the life I was meant to live. I was back to square one.
The very thing that I had strived to leave behind...the very thing I had desired to escape became me, once again. I was an outcast.
And still I longed for the escape. I longed to travel and to help people and I longed for the only way that I had learned to do so.
After being relieved of my position, I agreed to complete another gay to straight program in fear that I would never fulfill the purpose God had for my life. And really, when you're in that situation, your only thought is do what you're told or give up living all together.
So...I did it again. I obeyed.
It's been over 20 years since that journey began. And since then, I have battled the resentment, the failures, the damage, the brokeness. Sadly, it wasn't until today that I realized how much of my life has been affected by what happened during that time in my life. I still struggle with confidence and standing up for myself. How do I recover when the desire to be strong backfires? How do you trust yourself to have the ability to make good decisions? How do you trust yourself to trust the right people?
I have recently stepped back into my career of public speaking. It has been nearly 10 years since I stood in front of a crowd and shared my heart. I was all but banished from the arena of public speaking in the way that I have always known it. But today, I refuse to count myself out. I refuse to give up my dreams. I refuse to be told that I am broken. I refuse to believe that I have nothing to offer. My story may not line up with yours. You may not give two cents about anyone who is gay or their journey. You may have never been so low in your life that you allowed someone from the outside to paralyze you. I don't know. But what I do know is that there is someone out there who needs to hear that someone else knows what they are going through.
I will be your someone else.
I have decided that I will be vulnerable by my own volition. I will share my heart again and I will help people again.
I speak on these very topics of Shame, Guilt, Vulnerability, Poverty, and Overcoming Gay Reparative Therapy. If you have an event that would benefit from these talks or an event that would welcome these discussions, please contact me at Angel Adams Media Services. And please share this with others...My heart is that no one be paralyzed by someone else's doing. We are supposed to be free. We are supposed to be different. We are supposed to be strong.
Be strong, my friends.