The following is Part Two in this series of posts; click here for Part One.
In an attempt to comfort myself as I prepared to share my story of same-sex attraction and addiction with my new friend and fraternity brother, I focused on one of my favorite verses from Isaiah:
So don’t worry, because I am with you. Don’t be afraid, because I am your God. I will make you strong and will help you; I will support you with my right hand that saves you.
Ok, I thought. God’s with me. He’s got me. Just tell your friend.
“So,” I told my fraternity brother, “I guess . . . well, sometimes . . . umm . . . So, you know how some people deal with, like — well, especially guys — like, Internet stuff?” I nervously blathered.
Without pause, he responded, “You mean, like, porn?”
I hesitantly continued, “Y-yeah . . . well, for me, it’s . . . Well, for me, I . . .”
As I desperately searched for the perfect words to explain my combined struggle with same-sex attraction and addiction to pornography, I was flooded with anxiety, shame, and fear.
What if he thinks I’m disgusting? What if I lose this new friendship?
But then what if he never truly knows me?
If I had been able to look at my fraternity brother directly, his face might have reflected understanding in that moment. But on that particular day, my eyes were fixated on the crumpled plastic in my lap that once encased my fast food meal, now decorated with crumbs and streaks of taco sauce.
Whether he was actually confident in his own intuition or simply impatient, he filled the awkward silence with a confession of his own. “I deal with it, too. It sucks.” He sighed before continuing, “Pornography is hard to get rid of. I know a lot of guys who deal with it. At least you’re not alone.”
I think I might have been satisfied — even comforted — by my fraternity brother’s response if we had only discussed our addictions. But, of course, I had to have a more complex issue. I could’ve chosen to stop at that point and accept the small step toward vulnerability as my little triumph of the day.
But much like a kid with the string already tied around his loose tooth, I was screaming inside from the anxiety and just wanted to get it all over with at once.
“Yeah. But for me, it’s . . . different,” I said.
“Different? What do you mean?” he asked.
My chest felt tense, and my lungs ached from a failure to breathe. I couldn’t give him direct eye contact. I heard the sound of my throat contracting every time I swallowed. I was hyper-aware of my physiological symptoms of fear.
I summoned every ounce of courage I could and said, “The kind of stuff I’m watching is different than yours. It’s not the same. To me, it’s worse. The worst. I feel awful about it. I am awful.”
Back then, I was still incredibly afraid to be me with all of my unsorted mess. I was a newborn to the concept of vulnerability and brave authenticity. Since I wanted to appear put-together but viewed my story of same-sex attraction and addiction as uniquely horrible, I was soaked in toxic shame.
This was the first time I opened up to a heterosexual male about my life-long wrestling match with addiction and same-sex attraction. I hadn’t any previous sharing experiences to reference yet.
I glanced over at my fraternity brother still sitting in the driver’s seat. With a confused facial expression, he inquired further. “Different . . . like, you’re into some really dark stuff? Like, what do you mean?”
I remained silent.
He continued, “Just say it. I won’t think of you any differently.”
“Yeah, you will,” I assured him.
“Everyone deals with deep stuff. What is it?”
I sighed. “It’s . . . When I’m doing, like, Internet stuff like that . . . It’s not . . . girls.”
After a short pause, he replied, “So . . . you watch stuff about other guys?”
I quickly responded, “I feel like Paul in the Bible. I do what I don’t want to do. I can’t explain it. When I was younger, I was bullied for being small and for having a high voice. So, I starting researching online to find out how I could change that and ended up finding porn. But it wasn’t the normal kind. Before I knew it, I had kept clicking and clicking. I messed up. I felt cold all over, and I was shaking, and I started crying and praying. I’ve been trying to stop ever since.”
“So, do you like other guys?” he asked.
I silently stared out of the window into the parking lot. After some time, I looked back at my fraternity brother and caught a glimpse of his eyes shifting to the side as he sat in deep thought and said:
“Well, I don’t look at you differently. In fact, have you ever heard of having an accountability partner? I hate that term, because I’ve had horrible accountability partners in the past. But we are going to do it right. I will hold you accountable, and you can hold me accountable. I know it’s going to be more difficult since we both struggle with an addiction to pornography, but I think we can make it work. And I really think you need a good male presence in your life. Maybe that’s what I’m supposed to be for you. Maybe that’s why God led you to share this with me. I think you’re looking for male intimacy, and maybe I can help you with that in a platonic way.”
I nodded, trying to hold back my tears. I looked out the passenger window of his car to hide my face. Part of me felt encouraged by his response, but a new type of anxiety awakened within another part of me, warning me about my struggle with codependency in the past. The last thing I wanted was a repeat of the relational trauma I had experienced from previous codependent friendships.
We transitioned into other topics and finally decided to get out of the car and head back toward our dorms. I had an overwhelming cocktail of emotions walking back to my room alone. For the first time, I felt some hope that I could be authentic with and still accepted by a male who didn’t share my struggle. At the same time, I felt confused by his supportive response and started to doubt his own authenticity.
Looking back, I had no idea that a single vulnerable conversation could lead me on an incredible journey toward healing shame, finding my tribe, and living authentically.
Neither also did I realize it would lead me into the darkest season of my entire life. Like shapeless steel, I had to enter into a forging and tempering process to become what the Creator intended.
And as I would eventually discover, that process wouldn’t be comfortable or easy.
Talk about the first time you came out to a heterosexual guy. What was hard about it, and what was freeing about it? If you’ve never been vulnerable with another guy, what’s held you back?
* Photo courtesy karina yeznaian, Creative Commons.