Finding A Safe Harbor
By Jill S.*
As I sit here in the early morning hours watching the waves of
the ocean as they bring in the tide, I am sure they are trying to tell me something. I am not quite sure of the message but it's right there in the waves as they crash against the rocks and throw particles of water high into the sky. The waves rolling up onto the shore gently soaking the sandy beach pull my thoughts back into the past. My life, my whole history, lies in the sea. As I look far out into the ocean it seems so calm. The surface is calm, yet there are so many things going on under the sea. The world is changing under the ocean; erupting volcanoes are constantly altering the ocean floor, creating valleys and mountains, molding the future of the earth. My early years, like the distant ocean view, seemed calm and peaceful. Calm on the surface, but inside me the volcanoes of inner truth were erupting, shaping my future.
Growing up Mormon my life seemed very calm and simple. Wrong was
wrong and right was right. My world was very black and white.
I knew what to expect and I knew what was expected of me. The
answers to all life's questions were at my fingertips. The one
thing I always knew was if I did God's will (which was defined
by others), then all would work out. So I did what was "right."
I went to church. I did not smoke, drink, or have sex before I
was married. I served a mission for the Mormon church and attended
Brigham Young University, the Mormon affiliated university. I
later married a very wonderful man in the Salt Lake City temple
and we had three beautiful children.
But all through my life something was erupting inside me that
did not make any sense to me. I was different and I knew it, but
I did not understand it.
When I was eight years old I loved playing army and Mission Impossible.
I was always a tough guy, nothing sissy existed in my life. When
I was 12 I suddenly loved being with the girls, not because I
enjoyed playing Barbies or chasing the boys, but because of the
excitement I felt inside me when I was around certain girls.
As I grew older, there were certain relationships that became
obsessive and passionate. I was very confused-how can I feel this
way about girls when I am a girl? I felt this was not a "good"
thing. Somehow I thought if I ignored the eruptions going on under
the surface everything would be as it "should" be. On
occasion huge waves would surface as feelings for a girlfriend.
I did not know what to do with this huge wall of emotion and love,
so I did nothing. I waited for the feelings to crash in on top
of me, knowing eventually I would surface and somehow stay afloat.
I managed to get through high school experiencing all the typical
dating rituals including the first kiss. Yet I never knew the
thrill of passion; I never felt the rush of adrenaline you feel
when kissed by someone you love. I channeled all my energy into
sports and school activities. I was the pride and joy of my parents
and my church community.
Just as the waves of the ocean get bigger and stronger as they
approach the coastline, so did my feelings and longings for women.
I went to Brigham Young University and was in coed heaven. I was
on a fishing boat without a pole or a net. I continued to ignore
my feelings and ride them out. One thing I knew for sure was God
had surely blessed me with an abundance of "kindred spirits."
These soul mates held such a deep part of my heart, I could not
explain how I felt about them.
I will never forget Beverly*, the first true love of my life.
Beverly moved into our apartment shortly after returning from
a mission for the Mormon church. We became automatic best friends.
As far as I could see, she was the only person in my life who
could hold such a place in my heart. I loved her as I had never
loved anyone before. And, I was so very excited, because she let
me love her. I treated her as if she were the queen of all creation.
I honored and cherished her. I lived and breathed Beverly.
She loved me too; I knew she did. We talked about our feelings
all the time with neither of us quite understanding how we could
be so bonded. We became inseparable. If Beverly went on a date,
then her date had better plan on me coming along. Where one was,
there was the other. Beverly was very beautiful, bright and straight.
She loved me, but she loved the men in her life more. She wanted
nothing more than to be with the right man for time and all eternity.
We often shared our mutual desire to be with each other forever
by wishing I was a man. How nice it would be if only I were male.
We slept in the same bed, something I looked forward to with all
my heart. We were as affectionate as we could be without bringing
on criticism from other roommates or friends-more specifically
not wanting to admit, to even ourselves, there was anything more
than a good friendship going on here.
Beverly and I both became engaged around the same time. I became
engaged to Dave* and we began planning our wedding and our life
together. As Dave and my engagement went on, I found myself caught
in whirlpools of emotion, never knowing what to do. I was being
thrown into the very rugged coastline. My heart was torn open
time and time again on the sharp rocks. My feelings and understanding
being thrown into the air, like particles of water as the waves
hit the rocks. More than once I tried to get out of this engagement,
but I always found myself back on the marriage track.
I became very depressed. I could not stand to have Dave touch
me, or kiss me. Any time he tried to be the least bit affectionate
I found myself screaming inside and longing to be back in my bed
snuggled up next to Beverly. My body and my soul felt bruised,
battered and torn from being thrown against the huge rocks. But
I was always soothed when I went home to be with Beverly. Like
a ship trying to find a safe place to land, I kept going back
out to sea to try another spot along the shore. Dave and I were
married and through all the turmoil we had become very good friends.
Dave and I both knew there were things to work through. We were
both willing to do whatever was needed to do to get through all
of this together. It took me months to get over Beverly. My heart
was broken as I left Beverly and went into wedded life.
For awhile I became content floating around on an ocean of fairly
calm water. Dave was good to me. We had a very good relationship.
And through ten years together we had three beautiful children.
What more could anyone ask for? Yet, there was one current of
discontent flowing through our years together. I went to counseling
throughout our marriage. I knew what was going on, yet I was not
able to admit the truth.
For me life was very much tied up in my children. Sex was a chore,
something to keep Dave from going crazy and something to keep
me from feeling guilty. It became increasingly difficult for me
to have sex with Dave. Over time it did not seem to get easier,
or to make much sense. I would be absent during sex. I basically
shut down my sex drive. This started to interfere with other areas
of our lives. I finally got to a point in my life where I could
not take it anymore. I escaped time and time again, by going to
the beach by myself, or anywhere else where I did not have to
deal with my life. I remember the day when I came "out"
to myself. I was reading a book sent to me by a good friend, entitled
Peculiar People. This book told of many individuals in
the Mormon church who had come out as gay men or lesbians and
survived. It told of their spouses' experiences, their parents'
experiences, and their own experiences. I found myself highlighting
nearly every sentence in the lesbian accounts. "Wow,"
could I relate. That day I took a pen and paper and I wrote the
words "I am a Lesbian." I was never before able to write
these words. Never before was I so sure of myself. I cried and
continued to cry all day. When Dave came home from work I left
for the beach. I had to think. I had to write-there was so much
on my mind. The freedom I felt is difficult to explain. I felt
so liberated and free. I felt so scared and confused. But, for
the first time my whole life made sense.
A few days later I came out to Dave. I told him and he held me.
He held me all night as I cried. We decided we would stay together.
I felt it was the only option. We would stay together and deal
with the situation the best we could. For the next nine months
we went on, me with my new knowledge and understanding and Dave
as though nothing were different. Dave, though supportive, did
not have to deal with my feelings every minute of the day. I would
cope and cope until unable to do so anymore. I would find ways
to escape by writing, or going to the beach or other out of the
way places. One day I broke. I was unable to be honest with myself,
honor who I was and stay in the same life I had built for myself.
I left for Portland where I attended a support group for lesbians.
For the first time in my entire life I was surrounded by women
who understood what I was saying and how I was feeling. Their
nods of understanding and their songs of love and support flooded
my heart and soul with acceptance, love and understanding. I had
in a sense come home. This was the first "lighthouse"
leading me into a greater exploration of the rest of my life-a
life on sure ground, not on the unpredictable surface of the ocean.
I wanted to remain on shore. For the first time I saw there were
options for me and these options did not limit me to the mediocre
existence I had previously chosen for myself.
I went home to my husband and children, but could not stop thinking
of the feeling of love and support I had experienced with these
women. I continued with therapy and my efforts at my Mormon, heterosexual
existence. It was not working. As hard as I tried, I still kept
looking to the shore and seeing the lighthouse. The lighthouse
was calling me to a greater more honest existence. Still in my
mind I felt it was wrong to think of anything but staying married
and Mormon. I no longer fully believed in the Mormon theology.
Through many years, it had faded in my heart as truth. Although,
there were still a few Mormon beliefs I held tightly to and it
was those beliefs that kept me attending the Mormon church.
A month later I went up to Portland to attend the lesbian support
group for a second time. There I met women who would play a integral
role in my courageous trip home-home to myself, to honor and love
the person I truly was. I decided I had to know if there was another
option for me. When it came right down to it I needed to find
out if I could physically love another woman, or if my core center
would revolt and throw me back into my marriage and mediocre existence.
I flirted with the idea of getting together with one woman in
particular. She was interested and I was definitely interested.
This was my chance to test myself. I knew my values were such
that I could not cheat on Dave. I would never be able to have
a physical affair. But I did launch into an affair of the heart.
I gave my heart to this woman and found all the flood gates opened
wide. The emotions and hormones of a lot of years surged forward.
I was literally drowning in the reality of my sexuality. I had
never before been so honest with myself, so ready to give myself
sexually to another human being. I did allow myself to kiss this
woman, to hold her and be at home in her arms. One kiss and I
was never going back out to the sea of tranquillity. I knew without
a shadow of a doubt this was where I belonged-not necessarily
in this woman's arms, but in a woman's arms.
Not long after this I talked with Dave and told him how I felt.
I told him I was sure of my sexual orientation and I felt there
was another option other than staying together. By this time sex
was void in our marriage and celibacy was not an option for either
of us. I could not even kiss Dave without feeling sick. He was
somehow caught off guard. In his fear and need to protect himself
and our children, he packed some clothes and took the children
to his parent's home in Idaho. He was giving me time to decide
what it was I wanted, because he felt he could no longer stay
on this roller coaster. Little did I know this was the beginning
of the biggest storm of my life. At this point I had headed my
ship into the shoreline and I was going to do whatever I could
to get to shore. I had never been on shore. I had only caught
a glimpse of the lighthouse calling me home.
I made my choice. I wanted a divorce. I was determined I was not
going to leave my children, but I was going to leave my marriage
with Dave. At this point I did not know if I would ever have the
relationship I dreamed of, but I knew I would rather be alone
in this world than in a marriage of lies. Dave was deeply hurt
by my decision. He saw nothing he could do other than proceed
with the divorce. We did what we had to do to take care of things.
The painful process began. For myself it was a process of ending
a life I no longer wanted: Mormonism, my marriage, my role as
a housewife. I stopped attending the Mormon church, and took off
the sacred temple garments I had worn for 15 years. I got the
paperwork started for the divorce and I began looking for a place
to live, a job and a way to keep my children. There was never
a question of custody of the children at this point. We knew it
would be a 50/50 shared custody. Although, I had to find a way
to be independent and support the children. I talked to friends
and family and told them as much as I could about what was going
on. At this point I was unable to tell my family about my homosexuality,
but I did tell a lot of my friends who to my surprise, were not
surprised at all. They were all very supportive and seemed to
have known I was a lesbian for quite some time.
I kept going and going, each day taking on a new task. I was pushing
toward the shore at a very rapid pace, keeping my eye on the light
and ignoring anything trying to deter me from my voyage. All at
once I hit the biggest, most treacherous rock I had come upon.
This rock tore a huge hole in my vessel. My heart broke open and
I was thrown back out into sea. This time the hole was so huge
I knew I was going to sink. My whole system shut down. I had what
is termed as a "complete emotional breakdown." I was
unable to function. I could not watch the children. I could not
see anyone. All efforts toward going to the land of promise were
halted. I had daily panic attacks. I may have had five minutes
of peace a day if that. I did not know what was happening. I called
friends. I could not breathe. I would pace the floor screaming
and moaning. Such moans came from my body that I did not recognize
them as human. Two friends came from Portland, packed my bags,
and took me to their home for a few days. While I was there my
body was under complete attack. I did not have control-something
else did. Looking back I recognize this as my "spiritual
breakthrough." At the time, it was incredibly painful.
I returned home a few days later. I told Dave I was sick and could
not proceed with the divorce at this time. I was totally unable
to do anything. Dave, who by this time had shut himself down emotionally
to protect himself, managed to reach out to me. He supported me
through this incredibly difficult time. We were both very unsure
of what was happening and very scared. The children were not able
to understand what was happening, but we talked with them all
along, trying to be as open and honest with them as we could.
At this point I was being kept afloat by Dave's strength. His
ship alone was keeping me from drowning. I had never before come
so close to dying. I put all decisions on hold, and concentrated
only on getting well. I got myself to the doctor and was put on
two anxiety medications full dose; I was also taking homeopathic
medicine, which was boosting my immune system. I was in therapy
two or three times a week. I was heavily involved in self-healing
through meditation, visualization and prayer. Friends were reaching
out to me in every direction. I learned a great deal during this
intense time of healing.
During this period of time I returned to a church called the Living
Enrichment Center I attended a couple of times with friends. This
was a New Thought church that called to me. I had been deeply
touched while attending Sunday services there. I had never before
been to a church like it. It was very different from the Mormon
spiritual path I had been on all my life. The Reverend Mary Manin
Morrissey spoke to me. Her energy reached into my heart and struck
cords never struck in me before. LEC became the brightest of all
lighthouses on the shore. When I attended LEC I was filled with
love, acceptance and forgiveness for myself. The guilt and shame
of generations were released. I learned there was a spirituality
to me that went beyond Mormonism. When I left the Mormon church,
I had somehow lost my spirituality. LEC helped me reconnect. I
found God within. In this spiritual community I was not endured,
but celebrated and supported.
A major turning point in my recovery was a workshop I attended
at LEC about neuro-linguistic programming. I had never heard of
it before, but after three hours I felt empowered again. A day
after the workshop I practiced NLP for myself and almost immediately
my doctor was able to cut one of my anxiety medications in half.
Everyday I hit another medication wall and within a two week period
I was completely off both medications. I had been on these medications
a total of six weeks. Doctors had told me I would be on them for
a minimum of a year. This was the first of so many miracles in
Once off the medications, I began the decision process again.
Dave and I went to three or four counseling sessions together
and came to the conclusion that a divorce was the best for all
of us. We turned in the direction of the shore once again. When
I released myself from Dave's secure boat, I found it was difficult.
I was still somewhat damaged, but the hole had been repaired enough
to keep me afloat. I looked to the LEC lighthouse, which represented
my spirituality and my personal connection with God. I had experienced
God in a very personal and up-close way during my breakdown. I
would never forget God was within me. I would never again wonder
if I was doing the right thing or if God loved me. I had cleared
out the inner vessel and there was room for nothing but pure light
from this point forward. Now, I thank God daily for these experiences.
I was finally able to leave the home of my husband and get a job.
I did what I had to do to keep in touch with my children. With
my feet on dry land I was happy, and ready to do what ever had
to be done. I held two jobs and traveled 45 miles (sometimes at
1:00 am after working a 13 hour shift) only to spend a few hours
with my children and then head back to work again. It was physically
exhausting, but it was better than where I had been. In my spare
time I kept very busy with my new life, which consisted of new
friends and new understandings of life and love. I soon gave up
my two jobs and started working at LEC where there was such a
warm, supportive and caring environment. I felt so blessed.
A short time before I started my new job at LEC, I attended a
conference held in Seattle for Mormon gay and lesbians. Here I
was surrounded by over a hundred brothers and sisters who had
been through similar experiences: some still active, some believing
but cast out, and others, like myself, on new spiritual paths.
I did not intend on meeting anyone special there, but as it was
there was one person who reached out to my spirit and whom I connected
with. She was sitting at a table surrounded by men, with one chair
vacant. Something about her drew me to her. I sat down and was
immediately interrogated by these men. It was as though I had
walked into a family consisting of Suzie and her several brothers.
Suzie and I hit it off immediately. It was a heart connection
from the beginning. I do not recall an awkward moment when we
had nothing to say to each other, or where we felt strange. It
was a meeting of two old friends from some other time, some other
Suzie and I were involved from then on. My trip to Seattle became
my initiation into a new, wonderful world where I finally belonged.
During the time I shared with Suzie in Seattle, we connected on
all levels. After the conference, Suzie went back to New York
City and I to Portland. I thought I would continue my quest to
find someone. All of these efforts fell short of what I had with
Suzie even with 3000 miles between us. We continued to correspond
through e-mail and the telephone-connecting and getting to know
each other in a very safe environment. We went back and forth
from New York to Oregon, each trip bonding us closer and closer.
Our relationship was filled with everything I had only dared to
dream of a few months earlier. We had tenderness, love, compassion,
and understanding (everything Dave and I had experienced). But,
we also had passion, romance and a physical and spiritual love
that I had always hoped for and never experienced.
Several months later Suzie moved to Portland and we began our
life together. We traveled through some ups and downs and became
closer and more in love than ever before.On October 19, 1996,
a very important ceremony took place in my life. Suzie and I celebrated
our love in the midst of our loved ones by committing our lives
and exchanging vows of love and dedication to one another. The
ceremony was so powerful. Reverend Sally Rutis officiated and
those in attendance brought their energy, their support and their
love into this sacred space. The children took part in the ceremony
as Suzie committed to support and love them as they grow and prosper.
Buckets of tears were shed. Tears that just a year before were
filled with anguish, anxiety and grief were now full of unconditional
love and celebration.
Life is so much more meaningful, so much more alive. I have a
committed life partner to travel and explore with. Suzie is with
me and I with her, as we travel through this life. We share custody
of the children with Dave and they love and cherish Suzie. All
three of them on their own terms. I am not without fears of what
challenges my children will encounter, but I do keep turning it
over to God again and again knowing their paths are their own
and they are loved deeply by their dad, their mom and their Suzie
Together, Suzie and I now have the opportunity to shine our lights,
and be the lighthouse to help guide others past the deadly rocks
of inner darkness and turmoil. Whatever their challenge is, it
can be overcome. Happiness and love are available for everyone.
I am blessed to be surrounded by people who love me unconditionally,
who support and celebrate who I am. My home, my job, and my spiritual
community are full of love. And although there are those in my
life who do not have understanding or tolerance for my new life,
I know in my heart they are on their own journey and they are
exactly where they need to be.
I look forward to each day. I am no longer looking for an escape,
a way out. I am no longer a victim of my past. The voyage I took
was difficult, but it has brought me to this place in me where
I am now-powerful and strong and free to love with all my heart,
mind and soul. I learned from my time at sea, and I am free now
to travel by land or by sea and know I am safe and loved.
*name has been changed