I used to have an art poster in my office that depicted a path through some woods with an inscription below that said, “Success is a journey, not a destination.” There was something about that thought that appealed intuitively to me. However, though I tried to live by the message of that saying, I’m afraid that, for most of my adult life, I failed to live up to the ideal represented by it.
At some point during my journey through adulthood, I came to realize that I had learned certain survival patterns during my childhood that were attributable to the abuse and dysfunction I experienced within my family. One of those behavior patterns was to “get through” whatever life was throwing at me. The object was not to enjoy the journey, but simply to bear down and force my way through the difficulties I was experiencing at the time.
This survival pattern worked the way it was supposed to when I was a child and adolescent, i.e., it helped me to survive. Of course, this pattern wasn’t something I ever consciously thought about. Thus, when I carried it, parasite-like, into my adulthood, I wasn’t aware its presence and didn’t really discern the pattern until I was well into my marriage.
It was only when, in the process of dealing for the first time in any meaningful way with the legacy of my abusive childhood, that I came to recognize this survival pattern and to dimly begin to understand the effect that this pattern had had on my adult life. What had worked for me as a child had turned on me as an adult; what had once been useful had turned into a cancer that had eaten away at my Self and, in consequence, my marriage and my family.
This “survival technique” was especially damaging when paired with the perfectionistic goals and behavior patterns I adopted after I joined the LDS Church. One of the main reasons I decided to be baptized was that I saw the Church as being able to provide me with everything I had not had as a child and adolescent, i.e., a perfect, happy, idyllic family, a life filled with purpose, a knowledge of absolute truth paired with the comfort of knowing that one’s life is in harmony with God’s will.
Thus, after joining the church, after getting married, I pursued these goals (in addition to my goal of ruthlessly smothering my gay nature) with relentless determination. Applying the same techniques I had learned as a child, I single-mindedly and doggedly did everything I was “supposed” to do in order to achieve these goals that I had adopted. Naturally, the LDS mindset of tending to view this life as merely a step toward the afterlife served to constantly feed oxygen to the fire of my zeal.
In the terms I have previously described, I “bore down” to get through whatever situation presented itself to me: getting married, going through graduate school, working in my profession, serving in the Church, having children and dealing with the endless financial pressures that presented themselves along the way.
In so doing, I didn’t “stop to smell the roses”; in fact, I didn’t even notice the roses, let alone stop to smell them. I didn’t focus on enjoying life; I didn’t know how. I didn’t focus on relationships. I didn’t savor life. I didn’t enjoy the journey. I had been focused on the “destination”, rather than the journey; and because I expected success to be the destination, I failed. Unfortunately, tragically, it wasn’t until years later that I realized that I had failed, because of my own inadequacies, weaknesses, and learned behavior patterns, to find the true path to “success” – which led not to some distant destination, but to the heart of the NOW.
It has only since starting the process of coming out that I have truly come to recognize this pattern in my life which was initially a survival mechanism but then turned into a poison that was administered in small doses day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year. I now see – although not in totality, I’m sure – the effects of this poison. And it has only been since coming out that I have begun a process of purification to rid myself of these poisons and a process of preventative care whereby I reject old behavior patterns and instead embrace newer, healthier ones.
I have begun this process in my relationships with my children, particularly my older ones – of treating the journey as important as the destination, if not more so. I have already written on this topic as pertaining to my older children and will yet write more, I’m sure. As to my younger children, I’m enjoying spending time with them (such as I did this past Saturday) on my terms (i.e., not my wife’s terms), and it is amazing to me how different I feel when I’m with them at my place or out in the community, as opposed to when I’m back at the family home with them. I can’t put new wine in those old skins, so to speak; for when I’m back at the house, I feel old expectations, old behavior patterns, old responses. Places I do not want to go.
I have also begun this process in embracing those things which give my life texture and meaning, that feed my sense of Self. Things such as attending cultural events, like the community theatre production I saw on Friday night with a group of friends; or the organ recital I attended on Sunday afternoon; or such as – at long last – a concert at the Cathedral of the Madeleine, which I attended on Sunday night, drinking in Mozart and Bach in the darkened splendor of that edifice. What an experience!
Life is indeed a journey, one which is intended to be lived, not endured.
“All journeys have secret destinations
of which the traveler is unaware.”
of which the traveler is unaware.”
- Martin Buber
“A person cannot approach the divine
by reaching beyond the human.
To become human is what this individual person
has been created for.”
- Martin Buber