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Labels Bite: Feeding Your Recovery, Relationships, and Others' Education

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Since my "coming out" piece in February, I have received, for the most part, positive feedback. However, the topic of how my sexuality and my recovery from an eating disorder might tie together continues to be a troublesome one to bring up without eliciting anger and frustration from one party or another. Well, sometimes a person needs to make waves in order for change to begin.

I've known from my earliest memories that I want to please those around me. With family and friends I tried desperately to fit in through sports, academics, etc., and it eventually led to self-destruction through my eating disorder. I'm now finding that even after being true about my sexual orientation, this same perfectionism is still affecting my relationships, just in a different way: I now want to prove that I'm successful in life through stability and emotional and relationship maturity. Am I forgetting the tools that recovery has taught me in regard to finding a healthy balance between relying on myself and others?

Recovery, therapy, and starting my life all over again has caused a 180-degree turnaround in my ability to understand others and have compassion and empathy for them. It's a miracle that I'm actually alive. Over the course of six months of residential treatment, I never spoke about my sexual orientation, which, for me, was at the core of all the misinterpretation, self-hatred, and poor relationship rapport in my life.

Over time, my eating disorder symptoms were destructive to myself and to my body. That unhealthy set of coping skills and behaviors, in some ways, led to self-brainwashing, allowing me to feel that I deserved punishment because of my failures to tackle the world alone, deal with my emotions, and change my sexuality. I didn't deserve anything better, to be happy, or to feel good about myself.

One aspect of recovery deals with assessing how one's interactions with family and friends might need to be approached differently. Unresolved issues are almost always evident in any addiction, and such is the case with eating disorders: typically, individuals just haven't dealt with a certain issue (or issues) when they are struggling with the disorder.

I want to dedicate part of this entry to emotional relationships, whether platonic or not, and how certain myths regarding relationships are based merely on a lack of maturity, or on a general understanding of what it means to seek out a healthy connection. At 25, I sense that instead of wanting to be perfect in every way possible, I now want to prove that I can be successful in my "chosen lifestyle," or in a relationship that society falsely claims will never work or ever have meaning (sigh... calling it a "chosen lifestyle" or a "relationship that will never last" is a meaningless, pointless, and stupid generalization).

I believe that each person's story, despite their similarities, makes him or her unique, and I don't endorse labels or generalizations in any sense, whether it's being called a "faggot," "homo," or "pussy," or being called a "bigot," "racist," "liberal," or "Bible thumper." To be honest, we've all been at the receiving end of each, in one way or another, and all without reason or cause. It's interesting how we throw these terms around without a thought as to who that person may be at his or her core. Those labels shouldn't force a person to justify an opinion they hold, either. Everyone on this Earth, including me, is entitled to their opinion, within the bounds of good sense, without having to explain themselves.

Here's an example: I could easily defend Rick Santorum for the recent engagement with "extremist" Pastor Dennis Terry. Why? Pastor Terry merely introduced him and, to my knowledge, nothing else. Alternatively, I could label him and say, "Well, he is being endorsed by an individual who believes the LGBT community is wrong." The same goes for President Obama and Rev. Wright, who also has had conflicting messages concerning LGBT issues in his years as a church leader. Is the president a bigot or hateful to other races? And Senator John McCain and his supposed connection with John Hagee? Each is an example of how generalizations and labels go too far before we truly know the full story.

Now, let's talk Kirk Cameron. His views have infuriated many; however, I cannot fathom a less confrontational way of expressing an opinion or belief than he did during his interview. Unlike many vocal anti-LGBT pundits out there, he's never said he'd abandon his child or publicly scorn an individual. I may not agree with everything the guy has on his mind, but it doesn't make him a bigot. Lists and examples like these go on and on.

Some may say these comparisons are apples and oranges, but you get where my point lies. By projecting one-dimensional definitions onto those we either fear or don't understand, we harm ourselves and others. Issues such as dissociation, sadness, anxiety, and anger can manifest if a productive approach isn't administered. The fact is, no pair listed above "approves" of me or the LGBT "lifestyle," but that's where we can end the "blame game" and begin educating. We must find balance in our own beliefs. We must stand up, be a voice, not a martyr, and be educational, not confrontational. After all, if we throw generalizations around, aren't we merely engaging in one thing: demonizing other human beings for beliefs that differ from our own? Aren't differences what foster the change and growth we seek?

Despite the significant strides in making life better for youth who identify as LGBT or those who have emotional struggles, that group still grows up believing that what they want or are is disgusting and not "normal." When someone represses feelings over time, perhaps for a period of years, and are then finally able to have a relationship later in life, might they experience a need to seek emotional strain to fill places that were empty for so long? I've learned from personal experience, education, and therapy that those who grow up in troubled environments often seek unrest in different areas in their life, relationships, and behaviors (through alcoholism, drugs, addictions, etc).

I've never been in love, but I've definitely come close. During that relationship, I actually believed I "lost" the focus on my eating disorder for a time and thought I'd never felt better. That individual cared about me for me and understood where I came from, and the superficial didn't matter anymore. Looking back on that time is actually is a bit humorous. I fell hard, fast, and flat on my face, and it left an incredible scar, one that will remain for life, continuing to make me ponder "what if," but it makes me smile despite the outcome. I know this experience will teach me things for years to come. For example, I know that although I believed I "lost" my focus on my illness, the disorder wasn't gone, and someone else wasn't going to be my cure; if anything, that person was my crutch. It taught me that I had a long way to go in finding balance on my own.

In my opinion, much of society erroneously equates the LGBT community with being promiscuous, moving too quickly, and not knowing what the borders are between "exclusive" and "non-exclusive." Heck, it's only a matter of time before I read that we grow tails, too!

For the media, the "shock-and-awe" effect of negative headlines regarding the LGBT community is what turns heads and garners attention. Stories of breakups, disasters, and doom are highlighted, but rarely stories of hope, survival, and positive relationships.

Well, whether you acknowledge the existence of those of us in the LGBT community who seek fulfilling relationships just as anyone else does, we are around (and we are the majority). I've been laughed at before, either because I don't move fast enough in relationships, or because being Christian and gay supposedly doesn't make sense, or because I'm not "good enough" for someone. Well, I keep my personal life private and don't seek out anything other than what I believe to be a relationship that's meaningful. I seek what's right for me. That's not a generalization or a popular myth; that's a solid commitment to someone else, exclusively, because that's what I know in my heart fits. If that notion means being single (a word that describes a person strong enough to live and enjoy life without depending on others) for a very long time, sign me up!

If you've spent years telling yourself you're a bad person or have taken on the burden of life's challenges and others' generalizations on your own, I know it can be a very difficult shift to give up something that has "helped" you hold things together (e.g., silence, illness, addiction, anger). I know, because I've had to rely on asking others (e.g., Jack, Quinn, Jace) for help in the areas of faith, self-acceptance, and friendship throughout the past two and a half years.

Perhaps your own self-punishment started with bullying and teasing, traumatic experiences, faith struggles, divorce, ostracism, or something else that has added layers of guilt to your conscience. But you must realize that you cannot punish yourself for something you had no control over. You have to love you for you. It's easier said than done, but if you choose to care less about "needing" someone or something, or needing approval, things will slowly turn in your favor.