Saturday, February 26, 2011

Staring Down Divorce

For years, the concept of divorce was one that I simply could not face. 

My parents separated when I was 12 and divorced two years later.  Those years were extremely dark and painful, and it took several more years before anything approaching “normalcy” was reached in our family.  But the scars remained for many, many years afterward, and some were and still are visible if one knows where to look.

My mother’s parents had also divorced, when she was a little girl.  She experienced an extremely painful childhood, one which she never talked about and the secrets of which she carried to her grave.  She became estranged from her father – my grandfather – and I never even met him until I was 16 years old, and that was because I initiated the contact and was old enough to drive myself to see him.

Thus, I was no stranger to divorce and its lasting effects on families back in a time when it was still seen as taboo.  Even more divorce was added to the family mix as I watched each one of my older siblings marry, only to divorce within 5-8 years. 

When I was introduced to the LDS Church shortly after graduating from college, I came to it with the above-described background, as well as a history of childhood abuse and family dysfunctions and, of course, my well-hidden homosexuality.  When I looked at what I had come out of and compared it to what the LDS Church seemed to offer/promise in terms of happy, loving families that could last forever, I saw what appeared to be an opportunity to leave my painful past behind and start building a healthy future.

It was therefore with high hopes, but a great deal of “gun-shy” trepidation that I approached the marriage altar.  I desperately wanted my marriage to last forever.  I didn’t want me, my wife or my children to EVER have to go through what I went through as an adolescent.  The desperation with which I desired this was one of the main reasons why I was willing to try my very, very best to turn my back on my true gay nature and embrace, heart and soul, my heterosexual marriage.

I have written elsewhere of the differences between my wife and me.  We struggled from day one.  After ten years, we almost called it quits.  This had nothing to do with me being gay – at least not anywhere close to the surface (I have only recently come to realize the extent to which my inner conflicts caused deep-seated unhappiness); just incompatibility and “irreconcilable differences.”  But because of our commitment to our children and to the Church and our faith that we were meant to be together, we pulled our marriage out of the ditch and traveled down the road another 11-12 years or so, trying very, very hard to make things work.

About three years ago, however, the wheels started to come off.  We were having very serious problems.  We talked to our bishop. We went to counseling.  Things would be better for a short time, then revert to “normal.” 

During this time, the thought of divorce scared me to death.  By now, I had invested over 20 years of my adult life in my marriage.  I had given it my all, such as it was.  My faith in my marriage was inextricably intertwined with my faith in God, my faith in the Church and my faith in myself.  If my marriage failed, I told myself, then my entire life was a failure.  Everything I had worked toward, devoted myself to, and believed in would be washed down the drain; and the eventuality that I had feared since adolescence would become reality.

Thus, though the prospect of divorce seemed perfectly palatable to my wife during this period, it provoked a deep existential crisis in me.  I was willing to go to great lengths to preserve our marriage.  But all of this changed one day last summer while I was out for a run.  In what I have since described as an epiphany of sorts, I suddenly realized that there could and would be life after a divorce; that perhaps life would even be better than it then was.

I wrote about this experience, shortly after it happened, in a letter to my wife:  “The conclusion I have come to - somewhat surprisingly - is that I believe you are right: our marriage is likely not going to survive.  I have concluded that we will likely at some point separate, and I came to accept this after realizing that it would probably be a lot healthier for me emotionally and psychologically if we did this.  I also realized it would probably result in me having healthier relationships with my children, as much as a paradox as that sounds. This realization filled with me with tremendous sadness, because I well know what lies in the future, particularly for our children.  I know what this - if it proceeds all the way to divorce - will mean to them and the tremendous upheaval it will bring to our family … However, I have realized that - like you - I cannot go on the way things have been for quite some time.”

But for this experience, and a couple of other “enlightening” experiences I had around the same time, I would not have been able to face what was coming down the pike.  Having finally “stared down divorce,” however, I was psychologically and emotionally prepared when I was forced out of the closet by Boyd K. Packer’s conference address.  I was prepared to accept a vision of an “alternative” future – not one that I had anticipated or even wanted, but one that nevertheless offered prospects of a degree of happiness and personal fulfillment.

I was also finally able to let go of the fear of failure, a fear which had compelled me to all sorts of unhealthy behaviors and beliefs, each of which, paradoxically, contributed to that which I feared the most – divorce.  Having let go of this fear, I was then able to accept the alternative that life was offering me; and, having abandoned this fear, find courage to accept not only what life is offering me, but also the challenges that accompany or result from that acceptance.

Fear is a question: What are you afraid of, and why?
Just as the seed of health is in illness,
because illness contains information,
your fears are a treasure house of self-knowledge
if you explore them.”

~ Marilyn Ferguson


  1. Pilgrim, I am so thankful that we have met and are becoming friends. I'm thankful too for your transparency and for sharing your journey. I remember when I was going through the similar circumstance. I was feeling like a miserable failure as a Christian. Still gay...and facing divorce. I might as well have been a leper with rotting limbs that I was leaving behind...for the way I was treated by "friends" from church.

    The fear thing was also very real for me. Fear of what people were thinking. Fear of losing friends. Fear of losing my ministry. But then one day, I came across this verse. And it one that I have heard many times...but I had never really HEARD what it was saying:

    "There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love." I John 4:18 (New King James)

    The interesting thing here is that word translated as torment, in other places in the NT, it is translated as hell or the devil. That is where fear comes from! It is not of God! When I grasped that truth, my life changed for the better.

    It's not going to be easy. It's not going to be without pain. But it can be faced without fear when we rest in the Perfect Love that casts out fear...Jesus. Of course I have a song! It's not really a video, but you can hear these amazing words sung by Twila Paris...."I AM NOT AFRAID ANYMORE!"

  2. While reading your post and thinking about the effect fear has had and still has in my own life, faded images from a Stars Wars movie passed through my mind. I checked the reference to recall and relive the emotional experience I felt at the time.

    Luke travels to Dagobah to train with Yoda. They have this brief exchange:

    "Brought you here, the galaxy has. Your path, clearly, this is."
    "You know what I'm looking for."
    "Something lost. A part of yourself, perhaps. That which you seek, inside, you will find."

    The Elder Master then directs Luke to enter the Dark Side Cave where he will confront his fears.

    Truly the road we travel is fearful; but it is my personal insight that to go not is far more threatening and compromising.

    Best wishes,

  3. @Kevin - Thanks for your friendship and your insights. And the song!

    @Trey - What can I say? I always look forward to your comments. Thank you.