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Today I had my last appointment with my DBT therapist, Lisa. It’s almost exactly three years from the day I first met her, the day I first received the diagnosis of Borderline Personality Disorder, and first began treatment in the Dialectical Behaviour Therapy program.

The need to reflect on this milestone is weighing heavy on my mind, and yet, I find I can’t put the words to page. How do I summarize what these three years of struggling to accept and overcome my emotions has meant for me?

Am I the same person I was when I began treatment? Of course, no. It feels hard to connect to that girl, with her restlessness and fear, the intensity of her need. It feels hard to own the despair I spent so many nights finding comfort in.

And yet, I am still that girl. I still have these moments that rush in to overwhelm, at times I still feel pulled by the undertow, away from my safe harbour and into the crashing sea. My emotions still lead me to harsh criticisms of myself, to rejection of the ones who love me dearly, to restlessness nights fraught with the idea of suicide as hope. For so long, suicide had seemed like a lifeline, because it was the only escape I could find from the torment I felt.

What have I learned? The greatest gift DBT has given me is this knowledge: suicidal ideation rushes forward when I feel hopeless or worthless. Suicide is a mask these emotions wear, it is not an emotion itself. And when I can offer myself a new way of feeling these two emotions, when I can welcome them as familiar acquaintances in need of compassion and comfort, and not enemies to fear, I no longer need suicidal escape fantasies to cope.

And no matter how difficult things have been, I have always, without fail, found a way through to the other side. When thoughts of suicide spin me in circles, I feel haunted because it seems no matter what I do, these horrors return. And yet, they have also, ALWAYS, passed. Sometimes I have made it worse for myself, yes. I have sometimes chosen coping patterns that have led to greater struggle. But I’ve also sometimes chosen life and love and hope over that darkness. And the darkness has not consumed me.

My life is different than it was three years ago. I am still healing, yes, but I am alive. Death cannot heal, but Life sustains me. Life breathes, and moves, and brings yet more life. And in each small moment, I can choose to be alive.

Sometimes, there are these small, yet powerful, moments that rush in unexpectedly and catch me by surprise.  Moments when someone finds their way behind this carefully crafted shield that I carry.  Most of the time I don’t even realize I carry this shield, but in these moments, I stand dumbfounded, wondering why I ever thought I needed this extra weight.

The hardest part about coming out was first allowing myself to accept being gay.  Saying “I am gay” to myself was by far harder than it has ever been telling someone else.  I am not alone in this.  I’ve heard these same words from so many other gay people.  For a lot of us, the internal struggle against homophobia surpasses any negative reaction one might endure in coming out.

Oh yes, I couldn’t be happier now.  I love Kathryn, and I am learning everyday to leave the ‘fear of difference’ behind as we journey further together in our love.  And we couldn’t be more grateful for the love and acceptance of our friends and family.  But the days of struggle that it took to arrive at this place have left their scars.

And so I find myself carrying this shield.  Most of the time, I don’t even realize it’s there.  But I notice it when I feel the need to glance around the room before taking my wife’s hand, for fear of who we might offend.  I notice it when a conversation with a new coworker presents the opportunity to either hide or reveal this part of myself.  Do I choose to say “wife” or “partner”? It might seem insignificant to some, and it’s often a split-second decision, but it filters through this shield, afraid that someone may point to the question that fuels my inner fear: is gay less?

Recently, a former theology professor of mine named Peter Fitch published a book, Learning to Interpret Toward Love.  In it, he discusses his own journey in trying to reconcile his desire to be faithful to scripture while treating people of different orientations with love.  I am honoured to be part of his journey, along with other students and friends.  When Pete asked for permission to share a small part of my story in his book, I was thrilled.  His book is a testament to the real struggle and grace that can come from building relationships with those who think differently than us.

After sharing part of my story, and how my coming out impacted him and the church he pastors, Peter shares thoughts from a few other theologians on sexuality and faith, and then says this, “[They both] seem to favour celibacy but allow for union as the best moral option “if celibacy is not possible”… I don’t see it this way… I endorse gay marriage because I believe that it is the only safe way to lift and protect the rights of people with different sexuality” (103, 105).

I was surprised and honestly a little teary-eyed to hear Peter come out and say that he feels that no less than equality in marriage is important for same gender couples.  I knew Pete was happy for me and Kathryn, I knew he loved us and accepted us, but I didn’t know he felt that marriage was God’s best for us.  I didn’t know that he didn’t quietly think, “yes, its good for them that they are married, but it would be better if they weren’t gay.”

I say I was surprised, not because of who Peter is, or what I have come to expect from him, but because I am so used to feeling the need to defend myself and protect myself from those who might think my relationship with Kathryn is in some way less.  Even recognizing and celebrating the legality of our marriage is different than feeling it is God’s best for us.  There is a huge difference between tolerance, such as legislating gay marriage; and acceptance, or believing same gender relationships are equal in love, and for gay Christians – equal in faithfulness, to heterosexual relationships.

My sister-in-law, Anna, summed this up in the best way.  One day, when we happened to be wearing matching bracelets, I took mine off and joked that I wouldn’t want people to assume she is gay.  Her response resonated in my chest, such clear acceptance and equality were in her words, “I wouldn’t care if someone thought I was gay.”  To her, gay is no less than straight.

These small moments have taught me something.  It’s true, there will likely always be one or two people in our lives who quietly or loudly proclaim the ‘less’ of our relationship.  But for each one of them, there are dozens more who love and accept us, and truly believe that our love is equal.  And by sharing our love with others, even those who disagree with it, we open the door a little wider for those who have yet to find places free from fear.

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