There are stories I need to tell
In April 2014, I came out as gay to everyone I knew via social media. My heart was beating a million beats a minute, and with my best friend on the phone supporting me, I pressed post. My goal at the time was to begin freeing a part of myself that had been repressed for so long. I also believed my story could help bridge gaps and change the world.
In the days and weeks following the big reveal, I was on the receiving end of copious amounts of love from people who cared about me. Well-wishers who wanted to help shoulder my burdens and send compassion my way. I am forever grateful that the overarching response to my expression of vulnerability was positive, reaffirming, and kind. I will not forget that kindness.
However, rereading that post is extremely uncomfortable for me. Some parts actually make me cringe.
I find it stunning how much I have changed in the last three years. I almost can’t comprehend it.
At the time, I was genuinely trying to be unapologetic and honest, while also maintaining a level of diplomacy. I didn’t want to rock the boat. I was afraid that people would reject me if I was too opinionated. I also didn’t want to hurt certain people by laying out truths they couldn’t face. I was in the throes of a devastating breakup that left me lost and broken.
To add insult to injury, I was also chest-deep in the waters of religion (a topic I’ll write more about later) and my opinions, while shared with good intentions, were also veiled and skewed. I wanted to be seen as a docile, faithful person, one who never felt too much doubt or harbored any harsh emotions. I avoided displaying anything that looked like anger, hatred, or fear. I wanted to distance myself from the perfectionist I had been in my youth, but unknowingly, I perpetuated it.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m proud of the girl who wrote that post. I’m proud of her for being brave, for believing she could change the world, for asking people to choose love over hate. I love that girl. She’s part of me.
But I guess the reason why I’m so uncomfortable reading my post now is that I’m not that person anymore.
And honestly, I don’t want to be.
I don’t want to be docile and submissive. I want to share my anger and frustrations with others. I want my opinion to be heard, and then I want it to be respected. I want people to know that I’m not perfect and I make mistakes. I refuse to be quiet about things that I once avoided, especially when those things need to be heard.
I am learning that sharing those “undesirable” emotions with others doesn’t make you angry or hateful or overbearing. They don’t make you ugly. They make you vulnerable.
No wonder I didn’t want to touch them with a forty-foot pole.
I’m learning that feeling vulnerable and uncomfortable and raw are the only ways I want to feel. Because so far, every time I’ve done so, the payoff has always been greater than the risk. When it counts most, I’ve been rewarded. Every time. Vulnerability is scary as hell, but it’s also the only way I know how to grow.
When I wrote that blog post almost three years ago, I left out many parts of my story that are critical and important. They are stories I want others to hear. I need them to be heard.
So, here’s the truth. As real and honest and transparent as I can be.
This is me. Just me.
Junior high is kind of the worst
I have never been attracted to men, but dammit, for a long time, I tried to be.
Hell, I wanted to be. It would have made everything so much easier. At least, in my mind that’s how I saw it. Easier within my church, easier within society. Easier to get married. Easier to have kids. The list goes on and on. In my mind, being straight meant getting to walk along the easy road.
I dated a good number of guys in junior high. I don’t really love breaking down the details of this time in my life, because I feel like I spent a huge portion of that time internally miserable. (Although, my mom called me “Lydia the Bear” for a year because I was so grumpy, so in retrospect, maybe I didn’t internalize that misery as well as I thought I did.) Junior high is a hard time for everyone, and for me that was no exception. But anyway, I don’t really want to talk details, so I’m not going to.
Suffice it to say that I honestly liked the guys I dated–they were nice people, often funny and smart and kind–but I just wasn’t attracted to them. In school and at church, all my teachers would be like don’t have sex with boys (…because you’ll get pregnant, and die. #meangirls) and I would just think well there’s no temptation there. I think I’m good, thanks!
Then I fell for a girl, and everything made sense. I fell hard and fast and the world seemed to right itself. I remember thinking, so this is how it’s supposed to feel.
The first time we kissed, I think I might have actually died I was so nervous.
None of my other kisses had felt like that. They hadn’t even come close. (No offense, guys.)
It might be the most innocent and pure memory I have. It all was sonnets and sunshine and sonatas. Butterflies might have flown out of my nose. I think starlight shone from my face. It was pretty perfect.
I’m not sure I’ll ever forget it.
The weekend before we kissed, there was a moment when I’d almost done it. We had been laughing about something and I just leaned in, driven by some instinct I couldn’t name or recognize. Like it was the most natural thing in the world. Everything was still and reverent. We both felt it. I know we did.
I stopped myself, though. It was like my mind caught up with my heart. Brakes screeched and I pulled away.
High school and college are rough, too
Following our first kiss in the locker room, she and I dated for nearly five years. By the time I was twenty, I had spent a quarter of my life dating one person. In those five years, I felt many moments of joy. I felt needed. I felt beautiful. I felt less alone in the world. She was the first person to make me feel those things. I faced many obstacles, and overcame them, simply because she believed I could.
I understand why romances like Romeo & Juliet are written. Young love is a beautiful thing, especially when it’s also your first. And I feel very lucky to have experienced that.
But even though Romeo and Juliet were madly in love, they also killed themselves for it. Love can light up your life, but it can also make you crazy.
Unfortunately, I can relate.
Along with many happy moments, those five years also brought an abundance of pain and heartbreak. We couldn’t talk to anyone else about our relationship problems because most of our relationship was spent in the closet. Neither of us had past relationship experience to guide us. I lost who I was and stopped doing many things I loved. She faced battles of her own and didn’t know how to fit me into them. I sacrificed friendships and opportunities. She sacrificed some of her dreams.
Sometimes it feels like I sold my soul to her. I wonder if maybe she feels the same about me.
The further she pulled away, the tighter I latched on. I couldn’t think or speak or breathe on my own, not unless she reminded me how. I needed her to put thoughts in my head and noise to my words and air in my lungs.
It stopped being happy. It stopped being healthy. This source of light and joy and peace in our lives just… broke.
We broke it.
So those five years gave me joy and confidence and pain and grief, but they also ended up giving me something else: five long years chock-full of lessons.
Sometimes losing yourself in someone else is the only way to find who you are
The demise of the relationship I thought would last a lifetime became the catalyst for the multi-year identity crisis I spiraled into. I woke up one day and realized I had no idea who I was anymore. I didn’t know my own likes or dislikes, couldn’t identify anything that made me feel happy. I lost every ounce of self confidence. I fell into a deep depression that would last for years. I experienced frequent panic attacks and was chased by relentless anxiety. I cried every single day for months and months and months. (Yep, that’s right. The masochist in me kept track.) I doubted everything and believed in nothing. There was no optimism, no hope, no reprieve.
Honestly, I look back now and am stunned I survived. I am still not quite sure how I did it.
About three days after I started my first semester at the University of Utah, I had a panic attack while I was driving home from campus. My relationship had been officially over for months, but, like many first loves often do, we had both been holding onto a false hope that we could work it out, despite everything that was stacked against us. Despite her infidelity and my co-dependence and our explosive history, I hadn’t given up hope until that day.
That day, the city was dark and rainy and unfamiliar. And my world–like a Jenga puzzle with the last stable brick pulled free–went tumbling down. After hours spent pretending nothing was wrong, like water poured into a glass already full to the brim, everything I felt spilled over and out.
I drove home, playing the same soothing Sara Bareilles song on repeat, trying to calm myself down. When my vision became too blurry to see, I pulled over on some side street off of State and wept. Not silent sobbing or even ugly crying (both of which can be so cathartic for me), but straight up wailing. This was misery incarnate, undiluted and overwhelming. The pain I felt was so visceral. It consumed my whole soul and I felt like I was dying. I might have been. I thought my heart would give out.
I think I hoped it would.
I can still feel the pain, panic, and grief from that moment like it was yesterday. And even though the darkest moments of my life were still yet to come–one a few weeks after that, and a few more in the years that followed–this particular experience is important to my story. I keep a running tally of the hardest moments of my life. Times when the world slipped out from under me and grief swallowed me whole.
Many of those moments of absolute grief were a bi-product of that failed relationship. Others in my life were different in nature, but just as devastating. Like the day my dad announced he was leaving us, or the night I found out my cousin had been killed.
The reason why I remember these memories is two-fold: first, I feel like it is important to remember the hard times in my life so I can appreciate the good things I have. It helps me practice gratitude. It also helps me keep newfound grievances in perspective.
Second, and more importantly, I use them as chapter breaks in my own story. I imagine the reader gasping at each heart-wrenching turn, wondering how on earth the heroine is going to pull her way out of this one.
(Spoiler alert: the heroine always pulls herself out. She’s kind of badass like that.)
After I got my heart broken and started to put the pieces back together again, I honestly thought the worst parts of life were behind me. I remember thinking, I’ve survived this horrible loss, which means I can survive anything.
I remember thinking that things couldn’t get any worse.
True to form, like so many other times in my life, I was wrong.
“I found myself when I lost my faith“ -Tyler Glenn
I am learning that I have a tendency to hold on tightly to the things that give me comfort, even after they stop comforting me. That’s why my relationship lasted as long as it did. And that’s also why it took me so long to walk away from religion.
When the Mormon Church announced their most recent policy change that further excluded its LGBTQ members, I knew that my relationship with religion as a whole had come to an end. My heart had been broken and bruised by the teachings, leaders, and actions of this Church more times than I could count. The lowest points in my life were caused by this religion and I had had enough.
I have been cheated on and insulted and abandoned by those I loved, but those things hurt less than the pain the Church inflicted. Nothing else made me contemplate suicide or wish I never existed. I have loved people who made me feel small, but Mormonism made me feel smaller.
For me, that ridiculous policy was the last straw. Walking away after that was not as hard as I thought it would be. I guess at some point during my struggle, I discovered I no longer had tolerance for senseless choices that impact the lives of vulnerable people. Especially when those choices have a foundation heavily steeped in bigotry, misogyny, and prejudice.
If you are struggling to balance religion with the other aspects of your life–whether they be sexuality or gender identity, or something else entirely–let me just tell you something. Not one single human being on this earth has the power or the knowledge to determine how much you are worth. Not one.
No omnipotent higher power is going to trust a fallible human being to speak for them. That higher power knows humankind gets shit wrong all the time. (Just look at who they voted in as President of the United States.)
And if you want to talk to God, talk to him. You don’t need any middle men.
I have more to say on the topic of religion and sexuality, but I’ll save that for another post. For now, I’m just going to say this:
I have suffered a great deal by the hands of something that was supposed to bring me peace.
And now, I am done suffering.
If, when I die, I find that the gates of Heaven will not open for me, I’ll either knock them down and enter anyway, or I’ll make my way down to Hell and start building. Just like I plan to do in this life, I’ll find a way to leave the afterlife better than it was when I got there.
(If I have anything to say about it, it’ll have a bouncy house and chocolate croissants. And everyone will be invited.)
No matter what happens in this life or where we end up going in the next, you’ll be welcome to join me there.
With enough rainbows, we can make any form of hell into paradise.
I look in the mirror and love the person staring back
I always find it challenging to tell my story from the present tense. It’s easier to craft a narrative in retrospect, because you can look at it from a vantage point separate from the story itself.
It’s harder to be objective when you’re standing in the middle of it. Especially since you don’t really know whether what you’re currently doing has any merit until you’re out the other side.
That being said, I’d like to think that the person telling the story this time around is very different from who she was three years ago. And, just like I am doing now, I think future-Lydia will be able to look at herself at age 23 and love her, no matter what she did or said or wrote.
And if she really hates what I said so much, she can always just rewrite the story again.
But I don’t think she will hate it.
I am now a person who knows who she is.
Oh, you have no idea how good it feels to write that sentence and mean it.
I can’t fully articulate how I’ve changed or grown because there aren’t enough words or numbers or graphs to quantify it.
I was broken and put myself back together again.
I know how to be alone. I know how to stand up for myself. I know how to set boundaries and ask for what I need. I know that I don’t ever have to look, dress, weigh, or act the way someone else thinks I should. I know I can spend my time doing whatever I want. I know that my sexuality and my identity can change as I do. I know that my preferences, beliefs, and needs will change, too. I know that no one’s love for me should ever be conditional.
I am irreverent. I am independent. I am introspective. I am often messy and sometimes brave and even a little crazy. I don’t have all the answers, but I know how to ask questions. I might not always know what to say, but I know how to listen.
The person I am now is the person I have always been. She just got lost for a little while. I’m sorry she got buried by all that other stuff.
Despite villains and obstacles and chapter breaks, this heroine always comes out on top.
When no one came to save her, she found a way to save herself.