Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Me, Myself, and Repairative Therapy

Disclaimer: Now I know this post could easily stir up some lively controversy. This is not my intent. I am merely writing this to share more of me, where I have been, and what my experience with Reparative Therapy has been. I also recognize readily that this could easily be a display of my own ignorance and so I am also completely open to comments that disagree or share a differing point of view. But please, we are all trying to figure this out and we are all at different places with different histories, paradigms, personalities, and consequently different opinions. So please discussion and even friendly debate are welcome, but hostilities are not. Thanks, I love you all! :-)

When I first hit adolescence at age 12, I like most of us, began to notice that my attraction was to guys. I, also like many of you, was the most upright, faithful, sweet, obedient, righteous kid ever. I began keeping a dedicated journal in the 4th grade because that's what Mormons do. In the 5th grade I began to read my scriptures daily and in the 6th grade I was the first person in my whole family (extended and immediate) to ever read the Book of Mormon from beginning to end. I fulfilled callings in my quorums through adolescence and was active in my dysfunctional scout troop. I worked hard through high school and involved myself in everything. Choir, YMCA Mock Trial, student government, international club, German club, community service club, I was senior class VP, an active member of the State Association of Student Councils, and so much more. I really was a star student. But I was so insecure. A lot of it had to do with my big dirty secret.

I had attended a small private school through junior high. My 8th grade class had 6 students. When my parents couldn't afford to push me on into a private academy I went to the local public high school where I knew no one except my older sister. It was big, overwhelming, and I was socially intimidated. My parents became concerned with my struggles. I would come home and cry because of how alone I was and when I got picked on I always took it to heart. Children can be so cruel. A few months into my freshman year my parents approached me and asked if I would like to see a counselor. I eventually consented. Counseling was okay, but I wouldn't open up to the counselor... I wouldn't open up to anyone. I had read what the church had to say about homosexuality in The Miracle of Forgiveness. I had practically memorized that section. I was ashamed of me, I hated me. I wondered if I had made myself gay by masturbating and if I did, I knew I could never forgive myself for doing it. In fact, my seminary teacher had given a very inappropriate lesson on masturbation and homosexuality and how they were linked.

At 14 or 15 I went into see my bishop. He was a kind old man, a grandfatherly type. He was fairly uneducated having only completed the 3rd grade, but he was no stranger to life experience and loved everyone unconditionally. I went in and after a little bit of uncomfortable small talk I said, "Bishop, have you ever felt like you were cursed?" I couldn't look him in the eye and I broke down crying, sobbing with my head buried in my hands. My bishop didn't know what to do so he just sat there and waited for me to regain my composure. "Why do you think you have been cursed?"
"Bishop, I think I am..." I could hardly get the words out of my mouth. "...I think I'm gay." I had such a hard time saying that word. Just saying it made me sick to my stomach.
I don't remember what kind of kind counsel he offered me after that, but there was little that he could offer me. I firmly believed that God would provide an answer for me and that someday I would be married, live a normal life, and that someday these unwanted feelings would be gone.

Within a few months of talking to my bishop I told my counselor as well that I thought I was gay. My counselor in an overly casual manner said, "Oh that? It's no big deal. Have you ever acted out on your same-sex attraction?" Same-sex attraction was a phrase that I had not heard of before. But it became the word that I used instead of gay and the diagnoses of the disease I was fighting. "No, never." I said. "Good then, it will make it easier to change you since you aren't addicted to sex with men."

"This sort of thing happens all the time." My counselor said casually, "Completely curable. We can do a number of things in here and I'll give you a variety of assignments and we'll solve this one for you." He sent me home with a number of books to read. All of them were about homosexuality and repairative therapy. I buried them between my mattresses and only pulled them out to read when I was sure everyone in the house had gone to bed. I didn't want my parents to walk in and catch me reading and then know that I was *gulp* same-sex attracted.

I asked my counselor what the best and worse case scenario would be for me in therapy. "Worst case scenario: You stop coming into therapy and neglect the assignments I give you. If you decide to remain worthy, you'll go on your mission and come back and find a wife, but at some point in time you will devastate your wife with the news that you are same-sex attracted. If you act on these feelings you could not only do serious damage to your marriage, but you could end up in an a sexual addiction. The world of homosexuality is very promiscuous. And well, best case scenario, you and I work on a number of things, you go on your mission, and when you get back and find a wife, come and see me and I'll give you guys some fun bedroom activities to do. Your attraction for men will be very minimal as you practice these activities and since it is sex, it will be fun."

Now that I look back at everything, I see that I could have quite possibly had the worse reparative therapist ever. He was such an ass. He would fall asleep sometimes while I was talking. I was too young and insecure to know what to do though.

As I went to counseling off and on over the next few years I found certain aspects of it helpful but some parts of it were worthless and made me feel bad. One assignment specifically called "smell aversion" was the most repulsive and insulting of all the assignments. I went home and started on my assignment as directed. I gathered a variety of perishable foods including raw meat, eggs, milk, cheese, and anything else I could think of. I put it all in the blender along with a couple of bones until it was an even fleshy pink shake. I poured it into one of my mom's small jam jars and tightly sealed it with the lid. I then put it out in the furthest corner of the yard to bake in the sun. I left it there for a week visiting it daily to let the gas build up escape. I then went upstairs to my room and wrote a vignette, a short erotic story about whatever fantasy I could imagine. Two weeks later I was in my therapist's office with both my jar of wonders and my fantasy on paper. My counselor instructed me to read my story to myself and put myself there in the fantasy and then at the moment I felt any kind of stirring arousal I was to open my jar and breathe the deepest breath of foul smell I could through my nose. I nearly vomited. He had me repeat this 3 times. I was also then told to do this on my own at home every day both morning and night. I was faithful. Every morning and night prayer was also the time that I would put myself through my routine of smell aversion. I would pray that it would work.

After three months of this torture my erotic story had lost it's zeal for certain, but I still felt just as aroused by the thought of men as I ever did. My counselor suggested that I get some feces and add it to my jar. It was more than I could handle. I was also instructed to get a consecrated oil vial and put some of this mixture in it and keep it with me on my key chain. Whenever I had an erotic thought I was to sniff it up. I did this for a long time but eventually I stopped.

I graduated from high school and began preparing for my mission. My counselor wrote a letter to the stake president indicating that I was worthy and completely prepared to serve a mission. In the end my mission offered me more help and growth than anything I could ever think of. It was truly the best two years for me at the time. It helped me grow as a person and develop my own personality and character. It was my salvation.

To say that coming back from my mission was difficult would be a gross understatement. I felt very torn inside and as if I had lost my purpose and meaning in life. I began seeing the same counselor I had seen before and I decided that I needed to tell my parents. I set up a session and invited my parents to come. I sat there in front of them and struggled to say it. I was slow, terrified, and lost my train of thought so much that I must have looked and sounded crazed. So traumatic was the experience of telling my parents that I can literally cannot remember what was said or the events surrounding the remainder of the day. I stared at the floor and mumbled and eventually somehow, the words came out, "I suffer from a disease called same-sex attraction." Later my mom asked me if it was me or the therapist that had used the word "disease" to describe my homosexuality. If I remember, it was me who used it, but the therapist used the word cure. Cures are for diseases. What was I supposed to think?

I actively participated in Evergreen for a year. It was really helpful and I was able to see a lot of guys who were in all sorts of different phases in their progression and it opened up my ignorant eyes. It was a good place for me at the time and I will forever be grateful for my time with Evergreen.

I moved on to school at BYU-Idaho. I made it very clear to my parents that they were not to talk to me about my SSA and that it was a closed subject. My parents respected my wishes and we basically never opened dialogue about it again until this last Thanksgiving, over three and a half years later. While at BYU-Idaho I sought out the counseling center to further my progress towards a cure. While there I visited with a couple different counselors. Neither of them were proclaimed experts in repairative therapy but as I understood, repairative therapy is not simply conditioning me out of liking dudes by smelling rotten food and poop. Repairative therapy is about fixing the damage and deficit caused by strained parental relationships and social struggles. This can be complicated by abuse and other problems such as clinical depression. Essentially, SSA is merely a symptom caused by a much deeper rooted problem. If you can fix the deeper problems, and pay little heed to the SSA itself, eventually it fades away or atleast becomes something manageable and little more than a nusance.

In many ways I fit the cliche of a candidate for such therapy. My father was passive and distant and was unable to nurture his children. My mother wore the pants in the family and struggled with perfectionism. I realized that these basic missing needs in my life could be worked through by any good counselor. I worked on my self esteem, my relationships with my parents, friendships, God... it was some of the best counseling work I ever accomplished. I grew to love myself, I made peace with my parents, peace with God... For the first time, I was truly living my life and I was happy in so many ways that I had never felt before. I had never felt happy like that. How strange to spend so much of your life unhappy with who you are.

So I repaired and worked through the struggles and pain and sorrow. My relationship with my parents couldn't be better. I couldn't imagine a more trusting, loving relationship with my parents than the one I have now. It's wonderful. I see how all of the repairative therapy I have gone through and all of the work in the target areas surrounding my homosexuality has been of tremendous value and worth in the end. It really helped me learn, grow, to let go, and develop as a person. And I really like who I am. I like me. I've made peace with so many of the sorrowful things in my life. I feel like I can deal with nearly any challenge that comes my way -that nothing can disrupt my progression as a person. It is liberating.

So what's missing? I am still just as attracted to men as I ever was. Repairative therapy has turned me from being a neurotic, self abusing, sad, homosexual into a happy, optimistic, well rounded homosexual. I feel like I can make good choices for me now. Repairative therapy did more for me than I thought it ever could. But it didn't necessarily do what it was supposed to and I have no regrets about that.

I spoke with my mother about my experiences with therapy. We discussed the age old Nature vs. Nurture battle. And really, in the end, I don't care which it was that made me this way, though the school of reparitive therapy thought says that it is primarily caused by environment and complicated by nature. My mom, said, "After you told me that it was because of the environment (etc.) that caused this. For two years I stewed and stewed about how essentially we made you struggle with this. When you were 5 we knew you were different. In those short 5 years did we really cause this to happen? How could we have messed you up so badly in those fist few short years?"

Well, I don't feel messed up now.


Elbow said...

you my friend, are anything but messed up. Thanks for sharing. I'm proud of you.

pinetree said...

I've felt the same way. A lot of reparative therapy stuff is just generally good stuff for anyone, but none of it ever made me straight. Thanks for sharing. Hope you're not stuck in Wyoming anymore.

MoHoHawaii said...

That was a nice account. Thanks for posting it.

Best of luck to you.

drex said...

Thank you for sharing! I must admit that I was quite taken aback when I read about the smell aversion therapy. Who would think that that would 'cure' deeply rooted feelings and responses? Mind boggling.

And I also hope you aren't stuck in Wyoming anymore. I'd be so antsy by this point.

Scot said...

"I must admit that I was quite taken aback when I read about the smell aversion therapy."

I'll second that. I thought those days were over.

isaac said...

You're right - your first therapist is an ass. I hope that he isn't practicing anymore.

-L- said...

Stories like this make me even more grateful for the good luck I've had in finding therapists.

Pretty much everyone on the blogs who has had the therapy seems to report something similar--better off for the therapy, but gay as ever. I'm the same [with the caveat that I manage to have sex with my wife now which I couldn't really manage at first--but even that seemed to be unrelated to the therapy.]

Stephalumpagus said...

I want to give you a hug! Thanks so much for sharing! *ehug*