Slow Burn, Part 1: Sacrifice
What do you think is worse, physical pain or emotional pain? Usually, in my experience, the only solace to be found in physical pain is knowing exactly where the problem is coming from. For example, I recently spent the last two weeks recovering from a second-degree sunburn on the back side of my (thunder) thighs. Sure, I could barely sit for five days and my legs started to throb with pain after about ten consecutive minutes of standing, but I still knew exactly why I was going through this suffering and (approximately) how long it would take for me to recover. However, in 2016, I found out the hard way that emotional pain is on a whole other, enigmatic playing field.
If you’ve read my witness, you know a little bit about my stance on homosexuality in our culture and my personal experiences with the subject. When I first began to uncover the truth about myself, with the masterful guidance of a couple of my bomb pastors, I thought I had it all figured out. I thought I had the answer to being “gay” and Catholic, that the only way to live this way was to steadfastly commit to a life of chastity and faithfulness – I mean, how hard could it be when God is on your side? Well, clearly that didn’t last, otherwise I wouldn’t be writing this post. Slowly, I began to wonder what exactly I was missing out on in the dating scene of Los Angeles. It couldn’t hurt to just look around, right? Maybe I’d just treat it like a networking venture, meeting new people and making new friends. So, on my 25th birthday, I took the plunge and changed my “interests” on OKCupid from female to male.
Truthfully, if you didn’t already know, I am about the least risqué person you’ll ever read about. Suffice it to say that my first few outings into this strange new world all earned a solid PG rating. That does not mean, however, that some of the heartbreak experienced was any less valid. After a year of learning firsthand about the rampant sociopathic and self-serving behavior of the LA dating scene, I decided to give it one more shot in January of 2016. Enter Clyde*.
[*No, I did not actually date someone named Clyde. However, as someone who worked in entertainment law for 3+ years, I do understand the potential legal ramifications of using their real name here, so for all intents and purposes, I DID indeed date someone named…Clyde.]
Fade into view. Remember that second-degree burn I recently suffered from? If my dating life were a sunburn, this would be the part where I first decided to lay out on the beach at pique UV time with no sunscreen. Read: I went in defenseless. It was only about a week after we had first met that I felt Clyde was able to bring out the best in me. That following weekend I attended a church retreat at St. Monica’s called Cornerstone. It is an annual, all-male retreat that is known for digging up some deep sh*t in its retreatant’s lives. Needless to say, my focus was on Clyde and the complications of coalescing this potential relationship with my faith life. I tried and tried to convince myself that, if only I could find a happy medium between this relationship and an altruistic relationship with God, that I could strike a seamless balance between the two. It’s a weird thing to look back on now, but it was clear where my intentions truly lied at that point in my life.
The high that I felt with Clyde, whom I truly believed “completed me” (and not in the Austin Powers/Mini-Me kinda way), could only be described as mind-numbing, in the sense that my mind truly lost its’ ability to function properly. The feeling was intoxicating, and I felt that I found someone who naturally picked up for the things that I lacked in character. Clyde’s strengths were my weaknesses. My strengths were Clyde’s weaknesses. We fulfilled each other’s personal voids so seemingly purposefully that I let my defenses down with him in ways that I’d never done with anyone.
About 24 hours after the sunburn set in is when I realized how severe it was, but again, that’s the difference between physical pain and the emotional kind. The trouble with letting my defenses down with someone I loved with my whole entire being is that I gave that person a whole lot of power over me. When you entrust your heart to someone whose strengths directly embody your insecurities, they gain an intimate understanding of how to hurt you in the deepest, most damaging ways. You see, opposites do attract, but ultimately those opposites represent an intrinsic gap in who you are as individuals. The ways in which you communicate, how you resolve your anger and how you view the entire world…is all diametrically opposed.
Within that opposition is where my insecurities thrived and suffocated me until I would literally do anything just to be able to breathe again. Naturally, that resulted in the total sacrifice of all values that I thought I believed in. By August of 2016, a mere 8 months after making things “official” (as the kids say), we had experienced our biggest fallout to date. It was a knockdown, drag out kind of fight – the kind that changes the dynamic between two people. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t at fault in any of this (after all, I did make the choice to go out into that burning sun without my SPF 100+ protection). One of my best friends of all time told me shortly after my second-degree burn set in that “your skin is your first defense.” If I knew then what I know now…my skin would have been much thicker. That August night would be the time when my burn first started to peel, when I first started to see the emergence of a new layer beneath the one that had begun to burn away.
Clyde was (is?) a proud man. While I could sit here and tell you about all of the things Clyde did wrong, that would grant me an enormously convenient opportunity to escape all culpability. What I believe this experience actually presented me with was the chance to examine who I am in a totally different perspective than the one that I’d been living with for 26 years – a perspective in which I am far more responsible for my own choices than I ever cared to admit before. Sometimes we find ourselves so deeply lost in the trees that it becomes not only impossible, but irrelevant to see the forest, because in that moment, the trees are literally all that matter. Every excuse that I could think of was infinitely more valuable to me than the unfortunate and inescapable truth.
The truth of the matter was that this sunburn was poisonous, I just never knew it. Despite our differences, I was certain that this relationship was serving a particular reason in my life that I hadn’t yet uncovered. And even though it was “wrong” in a strict, religious sense, how could something so seemingly loving and good be anything but Christlike? How foolish I was to believe such a desperate lie. After a year of toxic fights, thoughts of guilt and regret and damaging self-talk, I realized that I had sacrificed every ounce of my personal integrity, my career goals, my ambitions, my faith life…everything, until that ostensibly Clyde-shaped void was left insatiable. So, although I ignored my instincts and convinced myself that this love still held something worth redeeming, it would be Easter of 2017 before I realized that quite the opposite was true.
What is it about human nature that makes us cling so desperately to the things that hurt us the most? Is it because we truly desire to seek the best in people? Or is it because we are gluttons for punishment, the little child who can’t help but touch the boiling pot on the stove, even when all of our spidey senses tell us that that boiling pot is going to burn the sh*t out of our naïve little finger? Legitimately, nothing sucks more than admitting that the love we believe is meant to pull us through, is actually the very thing that is holding us back.
By April of 2017, I realized once and for all that this person whom I trusted and loved would never change. This person whom, in my head, I had built up to be the one who could do it all – the one who could get me through any circumstance, the one who knew the right thing to say at the right time. That Easter, I was hit like a frail little nail with a big ass mallet, that I was so completely and dead wrong in all the things that I wanted to believe. I was lied to, I was manipulated, and I was purposefully led to believe that we were working on a new path together. All this, only to be dropkicked by the reality that Clyde had a different plan all along.
The fault was my own. And while I crumbled over the next few weeks, I came to a breaking point. This point was where I realized the fine line between suffering and sacrifice. Throughout this whole time of suffering, I believed that it was worth it. I worked tirelessly to believe that this choice I had made, regardless of how it went against my morals, was going to bring me happiness if I just pushed hard enough. What I ultimately found out was that, the more I forced this happiness, the less happy I actually became. It was not until I severed ties with Clyde on that Easter Sunday night that I began to take matters back into my own hands. This sacrifice, this huge, insufferable loss that I thought I’d never be able to endure, actually kickstarted the long-awaited liberation that I had been waiting for. All it took was for me to lose everything.
So, it’s a slow burn, this path that we put ourselves through. We insist on learning things the hard way, only to discover a much more painful lesson than what we expected to learn in the first place. Well, I don't believe that God lets bad things happen to us so much as he calls on us to endure these personal hardships and then challenges us to respond. The choice we make in resolving those hardships ultimately makes us who we are. In a fortuitous sense, were it not for my suffering through this severance, I may never have come to realize that there was a far greater purpose awaiting me on the other side.