On pain

I think I have to write this post before I can write anything else. I imagine this lingering cloud over my head (not my heart) has contributed in some way to my recent disinclination to write.


At some point this summer, I prepared a Facebook post that I never published. Here it is:

Earlier this year, I shared what I thought was a revelation about my sexuality. I now stand at the point where I don’t know what my truth is. I also don’t think I owe a further understanding of it to anyone but myself. That said, I want to apologize for expressing a reckless hope in having figured something out, only to settle into deeper uncertainty and ambiguity. Or, perhaps, to return to an old truth with a clearer sense of where my pain actually exists and how I was hiding from it. In any case, it now seems unfair for me to have reached out publicly in what may have been a petty attempt to receive love in a moment of darkness and disconnection. At the time, it felt sincere. I forgive myself, and I’m moving on, but I’m also responsible for how other people receive my words and actions. I’m happy to discuss it in private should anyone need to.

Why did I decide not to publish it then? Why am I now deciding to share it in this form? I don’t know. And that might be the prevailing message here: an evolving comfort with not knowing, and more specifically, with not knowing myself. This is a strange, disorienting move for someone who has been bent on teaching students to explore and, as a result of dedicated exploration into personal unknowns, experience self-discovery. At the same time, perhaps this is my moment of striking the bottom of my self-discovery, reaching the threshold beyond which the self doesn’t exist: the pivot of nothingness.* Perhaps to truly “know thyself” is to know that there is no self to know. There is only being.

 

In January, after an ayahuasca retreat in Ecuador, which followed a plunge into the NYC comedy scene, I thought I had reached a deeper sense of being, which led me to declare that I was gay. What’s more likely is that rather than deal with unprocessed pain**; rather than look into the abyss; rather than accept that there was no great revelation to come out of this psychedelic journey (except the simple truth of already always being universal love, which…who wants to just accept that?***); rather than understand that I just felt alone and scared and totally disconnected from everyone around me (because now they were no one or something?); rather than acknowledge the incredible depths of my ignorance and smallness; rather than revel in the awesome beauty of my simultaneous infinite interconnectedness; rather than realize there was no point to the trip, no story, no answer; rather than entertain that I might (as an empath, which who knows if that’s even true) be channeling someone else’s energy again; rather than forgive myself; rather than just let go of all this spiraling intellectualizing, I constructed a poetic ending to my prodigality.

What I fear I ended up doing in going public with it is co-opting a traumatic experience that wasn’t and isn’t mine. If I was gay for anyone, it was myself. Which, in its own way, is a beautiful lesson. Less flippantly articulated, I mean to say that I learned self-love. Perhaps that wasn’t a good enough story for me, and so I recklessly adopted an alternative account.

In the months after sharing what I thought was my truth on Facebook, my lived experience proved otherwise. Never once in my life, and this held true after my “revelation,” was I physically moved (i.e., aroused) by a man. My body continued to express its own understanding, one that conflicted with my head’s desperate effort to retain control and authority over my identity. In the possible wake of no labels, I latched onto something. Anything. As long as I could rationalize it, it would work. And boy did my mind slip into a good one. I mean, what a story: a 31 year old man zips through the cosmos and comes back gay. The problem is that it isn’t true. (Then again, I don’t know what “true” actually means.)

So, I lied. Most of all to myself. I (my mind) needed an answer. I needed a reason to leave my old life behind, to take this trip that no version of myself that I knew before would’ve ever done. I didn’t know who I was, and I pretended like I figured it out. I pretended like there was something to figure out.

As self-flagellating as I’m sort of being here, I don’t regret the way it all played out. In fact, it opened me up to more authentic love with my friends and family. At first, I used the story to bond with them, but very quickly, that story didn’t matter, and I became increasingly vulnerable and honest. I suddenly believed, without realizing that I didn’t believe it before, that I deserved love. That I was okay no matter who I was. That I was loved no matter who I was. That I love no matter who I am.

In August, I fell in love. I wasn’t looking for it. I didn’t expect it. Perhaps it was there all along. After all, it has nowhere to go. It might not be a matter of falling into it so much as waking up to it. Of opening your eyes and seeing what’s always there to greet you.

The Beatles (among other souls) were right: “love is all you need.” Unlike David Foster Wallace,**** I’m happy to surrender to such a cosmic cliche. And I hope I never do anything again to blind anyone – myself included – from this truth.

 


*I’m borrowing and transforming this term from Each Moment is the Universe.

**When I say I wasn’t ready to deal with unprocessed pain, I mean that I never let myself sit with the heartbreak of past romantic relationships. If I only learned to associate heterosexual relationships with inevitable heartbreak and pain, then perhaps a homosexual relationship would only lead to love and joy. I don’t know if this was part of it, and given the relationship I’m now in with a woman, I don’t care. Even if heartbreak and pain are inevitable, and even though they totally suck, it’s worth it.

***I’m pretty sure this is precisely what David Foster Wallace couldn’t bring himself to surrender to. Infinite Jest is his epic attempt to reconcile that as the basic point of existence.

***This allusion will only make sense within the framework of this piece if you read the above footnote. Hopefully now you have. If you haven’t, that’s cool too. You don’t need my approval anyway. Love thyself. I think I now prefer that to know thyself…

1 Comment

  1. Rosella LaFevre

    To choose thyself. That, I think, is the “point” of life. To choose yourself over and over. The self is, of course, a construct, but a fundamental one to our experience and the good news is we get to choose who we are at any and every moment. That’s been my experience and learning!

    Well done on being open and allowing love to find you after choosing a narrative to make sense of your past. There’s so much more I could offer on this subject of justifying our past and present with lies… You’re certainly not alone in doing so.

    Reply

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