Friday, January 3, 2014

The Beginning of Something Different

I've been thinking over the past little while what I would like to say regarding the beginning of a new year.  I could go into great detail about my marriage, honeymoon, subsequent legal marriage when discrimination in my state was struck down (woo!), or just talk about my life.  But some things that have stuck out to me recently have made me focus on one thing: me.

Ha!  I'm sure some of you got a smile out of that one.  I act fairly conceited at times.  Honestly, it's something that I used to do to help my self-confidence, and I've sort of adapted it into my personality!  I love to joke about how awesome I am, or things of that nature.  Well, I don't have to joke...I am awesome.

I've recently began my internship as a therapist and there's one thing that I notice in myself, as well as my clients almost on a daily basis.  We care about those around us.  I'm almost certain that anyone who is actually a complete narcissist has no cares whatsoever about the people around them!  And some of the reasons people get hurt the most is because of the actions/reactions of others.

I know that for me, if there's a situation where a friendship is at stake, I do almost everything in my power to fix the issue.  Now this can sometimes come at a cost to my own feelings and well-being.  This happened again recently, and instead of doing my regular thing where I would grovel, or apologize incessantly for things that were out of my control, I stopped.  I don't need to do that.  I don't need to take responsibility for the actions of others, and I ESPECIALLY don't have to take responsibility for how others react to me.

Now, I do have to add a little caveat to that last part of that last paragraph.  I'll try to explain it to make it a little clearer.  Obviously, if I'm acting inappropriately or being a complete wretch, I do have to take some responsibility for how those around me react.  But for an example, let's say that I'm having a really rough day.  I could go about dropping hints (more about this later) to my bad mood and hope that someone comes and rescues me.  Or I could simply tell a friend that I'm having a rough day and ask them if they wouldn't mind coming over and keeping me company.  

How they choose to react to that request is their business.  Whenever you pose a question, the other person ALWAYS has the choice to say no.  So if you really don't want someone to have that choice, don't turn what you're saying into a question... 

Now if I was having a rough day because of something that friend said or did, and I chose to express that to them, I still have no control over their reaction.  I would hope that in order to preserve our friendship, we could work together to clear up any misunderstanding that may have occurred from either of us.  But that friend still has the choice of getting upset and refusing to listen to anything further I have to say, or getting defensive and turning it into a fight.

I've seen conversations go both ways.  And this is where myself and a lot of my clients come in.  We keep things to ourselves.  We hold hurt feelings deep inside, and we don't let them go.  They fester, they grow, and pretty soon, our emotions are completely blown out of proportion to the incident.  It's difficult to take that first step in discussing emotions with someone you trust, because you know there's a chance it could get out of hand!  Not to mention that we live in a culture that glorifies fixing things (and not talking about them), getting things done alone, and not seeming emotionally vulnerable.  It all leads to a boiling mess!

So sometimes we try and drop hints.  I hate to break it to everyone, and this includes myself, but human beings are just awful when it comes to getting hints.  We don't get them.  As much as I wish I could, I'm still not a mind-reader.  Even with studying human behavior, there is no way you can sit and go through all the possibilities that someone is trying to get at with their dropped hints.  Plus we just don't have the time.  So stop trying to drop hints!  It doesn't work.  No, for real.  There are studies.

People like my clients and myself can go through life not wanting to ruffle feathers.  We don't want anyone to think we're a burden, or to see us weak, or to drag someone's mood down.  We come up with plenty of excuses to not talk to people when we're hurting.  And I don't much care for that.

That's why I'm beginning to focus on me.  I like to give this analogy to clients who choose to put their own needs aside: imagine you're viewing a cliff.  Someone you care about is at the bottom of the cliff.  There is no way for them to get up that rock face by themselves.  Would you rather be at the top of that cliff, or the bottom to help them?

I would rather be at the top, and here's why: there's so much more I can do for them at the top of the cliff!  I can throw down a rope, I can coach them up, I can tell them about another path, I can encourage them to keep trying, or so many other things.  If I'm at the bottom, I could try and lift them on my shoulders but if that cliff is more than 12 feet high, that's not going to work.  I couldn't give them advice because I'm stuck there too.  In order for me to help others, I have to be taking care of myself first.

Oh man, did you feel that guilt just creep in?  Our culture places so many demands on us.  I know that here, it is pretty much expected that you drop what you're doing to help others.  If not, you may be seen quite negatively.  But here's where my resolution kicks in.  I don't have to take responsibility for how I am seen by others.  How they view me is really none of my business!  If I've been doing things to put myself in a centered place, and I stumble upon someone who could use a helping hand, of course I'll help.  But if someone's in a deep hole, and I have no reserves left to give out, I may not be any help to them.  I may end up getting pulled in, and then we're both just stuck together.  That isn't to say that I don't want to give company to those who are feeling lost or stuck.  That's part of empathy: sitting in those crappy feelings together!  But if I have no reserves left, we'll both end up trapped.  And rather than me being up at the top, I'm lost at the bottom.

Do you see where I'm going with this?  It's not selfish to take care of yourself.  I've seen people time and time again suffer because they put the needs of others in front of their own.  Just to be clear, I'm not implying that we should all take on a view of hedonism.  We are much better prepared to help those around us, if we are in a good place.

So I summarized my New Year's resolution into one phrase: I'm going to be more active and less reactive.

If I need to, I will make my needs known, I will take better care of myself (in whatever form that may be in the moment), I will fill my life with what I know makes me happy, and I will cut out what is toxic.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Four Years!

Wow, I can't believe how long it's been since I wrote in my blog!  There have definitely been times where I thought, "oh man these thoughts need to go into my blog," but they never did.  Shame on me for not sharing my infinite wisdom with my adoring fans.  I shall have to do better than that.

I also can't believe that four years ago from Sunday, I came out.  Well, that's when I came out publicly.  And what better way to do it, than to broadcast it on Facebook for all the world to see!  I still stand by how I came out publicly.  I had previously come out to family and close friends, so I wasn't being a horrible person by using technology...maybe...but anyway!  I never would've expected my life to turn out how it is right now.

Let's have an update: I'm engaged to a MAN, I work at the Utah Pride Center, I've started my own group in Provo supporting the LGBTQ community, and that's just things surrounding my outward place in the community!  There have been so many other things that have gone in my life.

I think the biggest thing for me over the last four years is my sense of self.  No longer am I totally controlled by outside forces.  Notice that I said "totally controlled".  I still accept influence from others.  But that's the giant difference!  I accept influence, rather than being acted upon.  What a novel concept!  I honestly don't think I would've understood that concept four years ago.  Back then, my world was the perceptions of others.

I was just about to say, "who I am has vastly changed" but I don't think that would be an accurate statement.  I think to many people around me, who I am may seem different, but looking at it myself, who I am is who I've always wanted to be.  I am slowly discovering my true self and embracing it!

I don't think it's possible to ever understand absolutely everything about yourself.  I think it's a never-ending journey.  There are always little nuances and intricacies that wiggle their way to the surface.  It's a fun and fascinating journey!  At least it has been for me.

For those that new me four years ago, and look at me now, I think I know what the biggest change they've seen is: happiness.  My happiness has increased exponentially since coming out!

I was fortunate enough to talk with a friend on the train today.  I knew her back in...2008 to 2009 I believe.  So pretty close to when I first came out publicly.  As we were getting off the train, she asked me, "So really, how are you?".

I haven't given that question much thought as of late.  For those of you who don't know this, I have a big pet peeve around the question, "How are you?" as people are passing.  It's basically being used today as, "hi" or "sup".  I've taken my own personal challenge to actually say how I'm feeling when asked this question.  I dare say it's been a pretty fun experience!  Ha!  People don't really expect you to answer honestly.

Ok, off my rant.  I really thought about that question tonight.  I am really doing well!  I am doing far better than I ever was when I was back in the closet.  I am happier, healthier, friendlier, more kind, sensitive, and more willing to risk new friendships than ever before.  This has lead to a huge increase in my love for others, and the love for myself.  I've started to see what I have to offer the world, and how grateful I am for what the world has given to me.

I think there is some explaining in order.  When I first came out, I said that I was going to stay in the church.  I'm sure there are some other things that I said in there that some people might now accuse me of not doing.  I'm sure friends have whispered quietly (or perhaps they have better things to whisper about than my personal life), wondering what's going on in my brain.  Well, let's take a peek shall we?

First on the agenda, my relationship with the LDS church.  I grew up in it.  It is a part of who I am, and I will never forget or forsake or even regret where I came from.  I have been taught so many wonderful life lessons about love, sacrifice, kindness, endurance, and peace from the church.  I would not give those up for any reason.

And lemme tell you, I still have a spiritual side.  I can feel those same wonderful feelings I felt while in church as I do listening to a beautiful piece of music, or seeing the earth in its natural beauty, or even while sharing my love and care for a friend.  These are the same feelings!  I've just found them in different places.

Also, how I've chosen to follow what I was taught has changed.  Let me tell you something friends, and especially my friends who can be overbearing with their sensibilities...the church teaches you to ask questions.  Believe it or not, it really does!  Unfortunately, some of that has been turned around.  There are times when people might say, "oh, don't question that.  Just keep doing such and such and you will know it's right in the future..."

Well that might be all well and good but it's not the true teachings of the church!  The church has taught through its leaders and its scriptures to seek KNOWLEDGE (that means stuff outside the religion too), and also to look through holy books, as well as to ASK if it is right.  That means, you look up stuff, you do research, you look up scientific journals, you ponder what feels right in your heart, you think of what Jesus would do, you read through religious texts of many sorts, and then you ask.

I did that.  I did it with a few things.  The first thing that I did it with was how I was living as a closeted gay man.  I fought harder than I ever have before to receive an answer.  I researched, I prayed, I fasted, I did all those things I had been told to do in my church.  And do you know what happened?  I received an answer, just like I was told I would.  My answer wasn't a loud voice proclaiming truth.  It was a feeling of peace, and a direction for my life.  The direction I was told was to live authentically and that it would all work out in the end.

I followed what I was told.  Any of you who dare think or say that I'm just doing this out of the blue, or even that it is a choice, are fools!  I followed your doctrine, I received an answer, and I followed my feelings.  And I've never been happier.

Now, how I've chosen to live my spiritual life is a little different, but the principles are very much the same.  The church teaches to follow that which makes you happy, right?  It teaches that anything lovely, or of good report, and so on and on, you should go after.  I have taken this to mean that anything that makes my life happier, more wondrous, more fun, and doesn't hurt anyone else, is a good thing.

So I've changed my behavior.  I date boys!  Shocking, I know...actually, I'm engaged to a wonderful man as I type this!  Well, that's because, like I said earlier, I received my answer, and also, I'm happier, my life is more wondrous and fun, and I'm not hurting anyone else.  I'm sorry, but if my relationship with a man somehow destroys your religious foundation, you must've had a pretty weak foundation to begin with.

I also drink.  Gasp!  I know!  The most horrible evil of all evils!  Alcohol is of the devil!  Well, not in my experience.  I've always been a firm believer in the idea that too much of a good thing, is probably too much.  Moderation is a fantastic idea, and is taught by the church as well.  Hey hey, look at that!  So I decided to try alcohol.

Actually, funny story, the first time I tried alcohol was an accident.  It was an extremely minty drink, so I didn't even know it had alcohol because it was covered by the mint taste.  After I realized what I was drinking, I did the sensible thing.  I let my boyfriend know at the time that I was drinking, and that I wanted him to drive home afterwards.  I drank another cup of the drink, until I started feeling a little fuzzy in my thinking.  I'm smart enough to know that that's what being drunk feels like, even prior to drinking.  And I stopped!

Imagine my surprise when the world didn't come to an end!  I had an absolute blast!  I wasn't crude, I didn't fall over, pass out, or throw up.  I was a more exuberant, fun, and wondrous me!  And it felt great!  So I've continued to drink occasionally.  Guess what? I've still never been drunk enough to pass out, to get a DUI, to throw up, or to make a total ass of myself.  So I plan on continuing to drink occasionally.

I know that might come as a shock to some, but that's me people.  Oh, I suppose because I did that, I probably smoke now, and do drugs, and all that other good stuff.  Surprise coming...NOPE!  I don't do any of that actually!  Do you know why?  It's because for me, it is not lovely, or of good report, and I've seen what it could do to me and those I care about.  So, following my own prescription of asking questions, I came to the conclusion that those things weren't right for me.  And here I am not doing them and still being happy.

I never would've imagined that me being happy, was actually about ME.  Just follow me for a second.  What I thought was happiness, was actually a prescription BY other people FOR other people.  It wasn't for me.  It was a general recipe for what makes a certain group of people feel happy.  And, just so you know my Mormon friends, you are a MINORITY, in the big wide world.  It just so happens that I live in Utah where the church seems like an all-encompassing entity.

I fight for the rights of my LDS friends.  Do you know why?  It's because I hope, and pray that as I fight for what they believe in, and what makes them happy, that they in turn will fight for what I believe in and what makes me happy.

Sadly, some of my best friends have chosen not to support me in my marriage.  I'm not entirely sure why they have done so.  I don't know what they are trying to prove.  I don't know if their religious identity will shatter if they attend a gay wedding.  I honestly don't know because they haven't chosen to tell me.

I say to them, if you have HONESTLY done everything that I talked about earlier (prayer, research, listening to feelings, thinking of what Jesus would do, searching your soul, etc.), and you come to the conclusion that you shouldn't attend my wedding, or be supportive of me, then you shouldn't.  Because if all of those things tell you that you shouldn't, it's probably not the right thing for you.  And I accept that, and I accept you as you are.  Just as I hope you do of me.

I love you guys, and am so grateful for the support that I have received.  I am surrounded by wonderful people.  I have a wonderful life.  I know who I am.  I know that I am happy, and I know that I am in love.  No one can take those feelings away from me or tell me that they are less of the "real" things.  Nope!  I'm authentic, and I'm living as I've been taught.  I've received the answers I have, and I know they're the right ones for me.

May everyone find authenticity, and true happiness.

Monday, December 17, 2012


There are times when people tease me about what I'm choosing to do for a living.  I even tease myself!  The more I study and dedicate myself to my craft, the more I realize there is no such thing as sanity, that many issues seen as black and white are hardly so, and that listening is a lost art.  That's right, simply hearing what someone has to say is somewhat gone with the times!

Have you looked at how we communicate with each other?  A large chunk of it is cyber communication in the form of emails, messages, texting, Facebook, and I'm sure there are plenty of others that I'm leaving out.  These forms of communication all leave out a critical detail: subtext.  We as humans communicate the majority of what we have to say through HOW we say something, not what we have to say.

So as we read an email, or a text message, we're missing a huge chunk of what is actually being said.  A simple one-word phrase like, "Right," could be interpreted many different ways!  If you're like me, it sounds like, "riiiiiight," but it could also be affirming, positive, negative, neutral, sarcastic, or a multitude of other things!

And if you're also like me, sometimes it's easier to communicate via cyber communication.  There are times when I've crossed my fingers that someone would not answer their phone so that I could just leave a message.  Or times when I would rather carry out a conversation over text than in person.  How sad for myself to choose to miss out on the beautiful intricacies of verbal communication for something trite.

Glancing over Internet message boards, Facebook posts, and listening to what people come into therapy for, there is a general theme amongst them.  All they want is to be heard.  At least that's what I'm getting from everything.  Sure there are those "trolls" who just go around trying to stir up trouble, and there are individuals who will stop at nothing but try and convince others of their stupid way of dealing with issues.  But for the most part, all I see is a genuine desire to be heard.

In the voice of Scrooge, "Well poppycock, surely people can still hear.  Their ears are still attached, words are still inscribed, other men are still responding!"

Yes this is all very true.  But when was the last time you really heard someone.  This isn't something passive like listening to music (although when I listen to music it's anything but passive).  Listening is so much more active!  Why do you think there's a business surrounding active listening.  It's called therapy :)

Would you like to know what one of the biggest secrets of therapy is?  I think one of the biggest secrets is that all therapeutic approaches (humanistic, cognitive behavioral, psychodynamic, rogerian, feminist multicultural, adlerian, existential, gestalt) are all the same!  Well, let me rephrase that a little...  When studies are done comparing the effectiveness of one therapy against another, little difference is found.  All therapeutic approaches have the same effectiveness.

Right now I have a mental image of a lightbulb over your head exploding into a million pieces.

Studies have shown that all of these different kind of therapies have a lot in common.  While they approach what treatment looks like, how change occurs, how one becomes ill and what specific techniques to use as treatment differently, there are many similarities.  I think one of the biggest amongst them is empathic listening.

Something that we frequently bring up in class is the phrase, "When all else fails, just listen."  Like I mentioned previously, this is active listening.  This is paying close attention to body language, vocal inflections, connotation, themes, emotions, and many other things.  From all of that information, our job as therapists is just to pick out what's relevant.  While this may be challenging at first given the torrent of information we are presented with at times, soon it becomes easier.

As I really engage with my clients, and begin pulling out what they're really trying to communicate, something magical happens!  The whole mood in the room changes.  Even with someone who is feeling very depressed (I know from my own experience being a client in therapy), the energy in the room picks up, even if it's just slightly.  The emphatic nodding of a client who feels understood, the huge flood of tears that opens up when you pick out what they're really saying, or the way their body just looks lighter when they leave your office.  It's all just beautiful.

Now I'm not saying that I am always an active listener.  That is definitely NOT the case.  Being an active listener is a skill that must be put to use and trained before it becomes habit.  I think our natural state is to multitask and to pay as little attention as is required, but still get enough to get the job done.

It's no wonder people get frustrated with other people.  When communicating, there isn't enough time taken to really process the information.  Only key phrases or words are picked out.  And especially with cyber communication, our hunches as to what those key words or phrases are can be way off.

Want to show people how good of a listener you are?  Seriously, you should try this!  You'll notice a huge difference.  Just summarize!  Sounds easy right?  Probably not as easy as you might first believe.

When actively listening, you gotta turn off that little voice inside your head that's thinking of what to say next, or pointing out flaws in their argument.  You have to LISTEN.  It seems like you have to think of what to say next in order to keep the conversation flowing, but that's really not the case.  After you hear what they have to say, summarize what they said.  Or maybe even not what they said, but what they were trying to communicate.  Once after listening to a client speak of her frustrations with friends of hers, all I said was, "It sounds like people just aren't getting it," to which she instantly began to cry.  So I didn't even summarize exactly what she said, I pulled out what she was actually trying to communicate.

Wow, a whole blog post about communication.  Now that's an interesting concept!

So the next time you read something, or hear something, and your brain starts going a mile a minute ready to take on their challenge, just stop for a moment.  Before you blast them, or tell them that you completely understand, make sure you actually know what they're trying to talk about.  I think you'll be surprised by how your conversations will change for the better.

And for those of you who like to pretend that everyone can read your mind, they can't!  In order for communication to be effective, you actually have to TELL people what's going on inside that delightful brain of yours!  I know I can be especially guilty of this.  People have enough going on inside their own heads to really concern themselves about what's going on in yours, unless you tell them what's going on.

Open up.  Listen.