This blog is from the heart, as I'm finally able to talk about having been married to a closeted gay man and how that experience changed the trajectory of my life, both as a woman and as a psychotherapist. Please add to the conversation and "Follow" if you're so inclined; all voices are welcome!

Sunday, April 26, 2015

The Venn of Bruce

Friday night's interview with Bruce Jenner by Diane Sawyer was a turning point in our collective understanding of the struggle of transgender people. To know that this All-American hero, the perfect specimen of handsome masculinity and fitness, has been tormented by gender identity confusion since childhood, was painful to hear. Reading Twitter and Facebook posts during and after the interview revealed expressions of compassion and encouragement. His first two wives and the majority of his children offered their unconditional love and support, with sincere wishes for his happiness. 
He's out. The burden of the secret has been lifted. He can finally move forward with his transition into Her. Pictures taken of him yesterday morning revealed the smile of a man who was free at last. And the morning after, we celebrated his courage and feel empathy for the years of pain. I, for one, am genuinely happy for him. Everyone deserves to live an authentic life.
But Jenner's somewhat tidy ending misses a huge chunk of the story, because his life overlaps so many others'. Although life can't really be neatly depicted in a drawing, I think my Venn diagram (below) pretty clearly lays out important relationships that are now being or have been affected by Jenner's gender identity struggle. And it's not just in his case, of course, but is true for every LGBT person who comes out during a marriage. Every circle has an equally important story to tell. 

First, let's look at the kids. It's not unusual for a child to sense that something is "off" in the family. They may find evidence that Mom or Dad is LGBT; it might be a photo, a text accidentally read, or maybe one parent has a new same-sex friend that they're spending more time with. Or in Jenner's case, being "caught" wearing women's clothing. And for the child(ren), the internal dialogue might sound like this: "Who do I tell? Can I ask my parent(s) about it? I have this secret and it's too much for me. I'm so mad at my mom for marrying him! I'm so mad at my dad for being gay! I'm so embarrassed! What are my friends going to think? Does this mean I'm gay, too?"

The second circle represents the "straight spouse." Or, as one attorney I worked with so indelicately put it, the "left-behind spouse." That spouse just had his/her world turned upside down. Sometimes it happens abruptly, and sometimes there is a growing suspicion that reveals itself over time. There are often years of a sexless marriage. We wonder, "Am I not attractive enough? Sexy enough? Manly enough?" We buy satin sheets, sexy lingerie, her favorite flowers. We make his favorite meal. Sometimes we even directly ask, and get a defensive denial in response. It is crazy-making and self-esteem shattering. 

The strongest punch to the gut for the straight spouse is finding evidence of infidelity. The genitalia close-ups on Craigslist's M4M page. The sex toys discovered in a suitcase after a business trip. Love letters left out in the open. For your LGBT spouse, it's a new life. For you, it's the death of everything you thought you knew or thought you had. 

As you can see, there is a lot of overlap between the kids' and the spouses' internal experience. The description I hear most frequently is feeling like Alice in Wonderland after falling down the Rabbit Hole. Things you thought were real aren't, and beliefs you had about life are blown to smithereens in an instant. And if no one is talking about it, it's all that much more discombobulating.

The final circle is the person who is coming out as LGBT. Bruce Jenner's description of his years of internal conflict was heartbreaking. Although times are changing, the truth is that historically being gay or transgendered has been more than just "not OK"; people are rejected by their families, kicked out of churches, denied jobs. Even killed. I know one person whose mother threatened to kill herself if he was gay. So he's married instead. And miserable. As Bruce Jenner has shown us, it can take decades to come to terms with one's gender identity and/or sexual orientation, and the process for some is agonizing. And lots people get hurt in the process, even if that was never the intent. Some LGBT folks truly believe that if they can just find that right person, they can create a "traditional" life and tamp down those authentic-but-unacceptable feelings. Too many of us know, of course, that it simply doesn't work that way.

Every person in that Venn diagram has a story to tell. Some experiences and feelings are the same. Some are different. And all of the stories are valid and true.

Let me say that again: All of the stories are valid and true. My truth doesn't negate yours. And the LGBT person's truth doesn't negate the straight spouse's.

Which brings us to the heart in the middle of the circles, that place where all of the lives overlap. It's the place of communicating and understanding one another's experience, one another's feelings. Understanding does not mean forgiving; it may not even mean you're less hurt. Less angry. But seeking to dwell in that heart space MUST be the goal if we're ever going to heal as family members, as individuals, as a society. That heart is the place where four things must happen:
  1.  You must allow your partner/child to tell his/her story
  2.  You must listen and hear without interruption. (It should be no surprise that this is the hardest  one.)
  3.  You must validate. Or, to borrow from Harville Hendrix, you say something like, "It makes sense that you feel that way." And mean it!  (Note: This is different from agreeing.  Remember, "all of  the stories are true and valid.")
  4.  You must express genuine remorse. "Dad, I'm sorry I ignored your calls and texts. I just didn't know what to say to you."   "Honey, I'm so sorry I didn't tell you before we got married. You deserved to have known."   "Dave, I'm sorry I called you those terrible names."
What does your Venn diagram look like? Are you firmly planted in your circle, certain that yours is the only story that counts?

Or are you moving towards your heart?



Sunday, January 4, 2015

Question: What's funny about this picture?


So I attended a wedding yesterday. The son of a lifelong friend and his girlfriend of 6 years, both in their mid-20s. After the priest asked if anyone in the congregation knew of any reason why the couple shouldn't marry, he then asked the couple the same thing. "Do either of you know of a reason why you shouldn't marry? If so, please confess it now." In the silence that followed the question, I felt like I'd been stabbed in the heart.

I've felt an unshakable sadness for the rest of the weekend, and even now as I write this. Would my ex really have come clean? Would anyone? I asked my ex-husband directly before we ever became engaged, and he said no. Not gay. Nope. Nada.  Would it have been harder to lie to God, in front of witnesses? Or is the lie the most important thing?"

("Hey, ha ha, if I can't marry my boyfriend, then I'll marry your daughter!")

You know what, laughing guy? You SHOULD be able to marry your boyfriend. Absolutely. Let's all work towards that. It's only fair and it's just. Everyone should have equal rights under the law. In fact, many of us would (and have) marched right next to you.

But to take such a cavalier attitude about all of the broken hearts of those unsuspecting daughters who you gleefully suggest gay men marry? So you ask for respect -- but think it's funny to shatter other people's lives? 

Here are some of the responses to my Facebook post, edited for anonymity and privacy. They are from both men and women who have been on the receiving end of your taunt. Put your sign down and have a listen. Pretend it's your mom, your sister, your best friend speaking:

"My sorrow is that the priest who married us knew my ex had same-sex attractions, but told him to marry me and they'd go away. All these years later, I've lost my faith. And I'm still not healed from all the levels of betrayal."

"That's the moment I've run through my head so so many times. I always fantasize someone from the back shouting out 'He's gay and gonna dump you when you're [in your fifties]!'"

"It appears the lie was the most important thing."

"His father, brothers, his ex, and probably many others knew."

"Exactly. There were people in the crowd that knew. The guy from [another state] who showed up unannounced, for one."

"This hit too close to home. My husband admitted when confronted last year that he knew the truth even as we were meeting with the priest prior to our marriage. So no, he would have kept quiet if that had been asked at our wedding. Instead, I have lived an entire marriage based on a lie. Even found out he had been having sex with men in my home. I told him he had the chance to call off our wedding. I had already been divorced once and lived through it. I certainly could have done it a second time. Instead, I have to start my life over at [this age]."



"After months of lies and manipulation after he came out, he finally admitted that he knew since ever he could remember. I stumbled onto the fact that he'd had sex with men in high school and college, and all throughout our marriage. I clearly remember my wedding day knowing this was the best and right thing, and that we loved each other. I had known him and his family for years."

"My ex hit on one of our groomsmen, [who] told me only after I filed for divorce 30 years later. I'm not sure I will ever get over [those betrayals]." 

"When we were at the altar the priest's first words [to me] were, 'This is your last chance,' with a grin on his face. My ex looked me right in the eyes and said 'Go for it.'"

"I am not a religious [person]. I find the universe, creation, almighty in its own rights, and dogmatic storytelling a distraction that gets in the way. So when I stand before and give my word to my concept of God and before my fellow Man, it means a lot to me. It did.

And then it all washed away."


********************************************************************************


So, Laughing Guys, here's the answer to the question, "What's funny about this picture?"


Nothing. Absolutely nothing.



To schedule a face-to-face or FaceTime session with Kimberly Brooks Mazella, LPC, please go to my website at www.straightforwardcounseling.com.  For information on our developing program of personal empowerment weekends for straight spouses and adult children who have had a parent come out, visit my Facebook page, Kintsukuroi.                                                                             







Tuesday, March 11, 2014

A Straight Spouse Goes to a Dinner Party

This is a wonderful blog post from the Straight Spouse Network's website (www.straightspouse.org). It very eloquently describes the uniquely awkward position of the straight spouse. I hope anyone reading this, LGBT and straight alike, will come away with a better understanding that 1) it is possible to hold these two seemingly opposing points of view simultaneously; 2) the damage done to straight spouses is very real and can take years to recover from; and 3) that ultimately this is a societal issue, and we all need to work together to ensure that no LGBT person ever feels/he has to enter into a traditional marriage to be "socially acceptable" AND that no unwitting person ever again marries someone whose heart and desires lay outside the marriage. If we can come together in understanding, then we can help make sure that this never has to happen to anyone again.



‪                                        A Straight Spouse Goes to a Dinner Party
                                                         by Kelly Wilkins

“Well, isn’t it better this way?” the lady across from me asks brightly, a dinner companion at a party for a mutual friend. “Aren’t you happy for him that he’s living an authentic life now?” She’s overheard me talking about my ex-husband to my friends seated beside me.

I keep a pleasant smile on my face and my body language as neutral as I can. Inside I’m wary, tensing up for the conversation that’s to come, wondering how it’s going to go and playing out the ways other, similar conversations have gone before. I’ve stepped into a conversational minefield, and I’ve got no way to tell yet if we’re going to make it out of this conversation in one piece. I can only move forward and hope.



“Yes,” I reply, keeping my tone level and pleasant, “It’s great that my ex-husband is living his authentic life now. “ The lady beams at me. I’ve clearly said what she wants to hear.  Taking a breath, I continue. “But it took him 20 years of MY life to get to that point.” She frowns at me, a look of disapproval pulling her eyebrows together and her eyes taking on a harder look than before. I’ve just gone off-script, and she doesn’t like it one bit. I’ve messed up the narrative that a gay person’s coming out after a long time of denial or hiding is always a wonderful thing to be celebrated by everyone, all the time, when in fact, there can be real damage and real casualties left behind when it happens.


“Well,” she says a bit sharply, “You can’t blame him for that. Not everyone has the courage to come out right away, and sometimes people are confused about their sexuality for a long time. You’re both free to move on to new relationships, so it’s all worked out in the end, right?”

 It all sounds so reasonable, doesn’t it?  But I’m hard pressed to not see red and want – just for a moment – to verbally behead this woman, who is now looking at me like I’m waving a “God Hates Fags” sign at a Pride Parade.

What do I say? Do I say what I’m really thinking? And more to the point, do I even know what I’m really thinking as the words all line up on my tongue and batter at my vocal chords in their need to be spoken? Do I say that people who are homophobic make me want to alternately scream at them or crawl into a ball, weeping that there are people in the world who can hate someone else because of who they love and seek to destroy others in the process either directly or indirectly by their policies, actions, and just plain pig-headed hate? That their hate helped to create me and others like me?  Because that’s true.

Or do I say that hell yes, I CAN blame my ex-husband for stealing 20 years of my life and putting me through a hell of emotional and psychological abuse by throwing me into his closet. That he didn’t have to have the courage to come out, he just needed to have the figurative balls to not use someone else as his beard or to destroy what had been a loving friendship. Because that’s true too. Or do I say the thing that’s hammering the hardest to be said in this momentary lapse of politeness – that LGBT activists and allies like her are just as blind and as callous as the homophobes on the other side – by refusing to believe that a straight spouse has been harmed by being a gay person’s beard, or by minimizing the damage such relationships do to the straight people in them and only focusing on the gay person’s feelings.

I’ve got split seconds to decide what to say. I really want to keep the peace here, if only for the sake of my friend and his party, and the friends sitting close to me, who are currently keeping silent on the exchange. Deep breath. Once more unto the breach, dear friends, and all that. I’m hoping what I’m about to say will exhaust most of the words trying to get out. Here goes everything.

“From where I sit, my ex-husband does bear responsibility for his actions. We were both adults when we married, and he had plenty of time and opportunity to state his misgivings to me, even if he could not disclose his sexuality. He didn’t. His actions in leaving our marriage were cruel and destructive, and he bears responsibility for that, too. I’m thankful that I have such loyal, loving friends, a really fantastic therapist, and loved ones who have supported me in a very difficult time and helped me rebuild my life to the point where I am now.

Did you know that the suicide rate for straight spouses is significantly higher than that of two straight divorcing partners? Did you know that there are so many of us in the US and elsewhere that we have our own term for ourselves? Did you know that this is still happening to millions of men, women, and their children if they have them?
Now, I don’t know about you, but I want to do everything in my power to make sure this tragedy never happens again to another person, gay or straight, because I wouldn’t want anyone, anywhere to have to live a minute in my shoes if I can help it.”

At least, that’s what I thought I’d said. It’s what I was trying to say, anyway. In reality, I probably got through the first quarter of it and then everything started coming out in a flood of words and tears, because talking about this topic for too long still makes me cry, and crying doesn’t exactly help your public speaking skills. Still, I was hoping she’d get the gist of it.

 The lady’s mouth, open to make some kind of rebuttal, snaps shut. Her face doesn’t lose that disapproving look, but her eyes soften a bit.

Maybe, just maybe, she sees me – the young, madly in love girl who married her sweetie, truly believing the relationship was an honest, reciprocal love that would last forever and the older, wiser, much more emotionally battered straight spouse who has dealt with the kind of cruelties and betrayals that no person ever wants to face and who still refuses to let those who would hate another human being for loving who they love win by becoming like them, while realizing both sides of the argument would be happier if I and others like me simply didn’t exist

We screw up the way the story is supposed to go for both of them.

And in that moment, I want to say one more thing to her, but I don’t. The thing I want to say is this – we don’t want to be celebrated for being straight spouses. We don’t want a parade, or a special day, or some kind of party. We want you to see us, and to take a moment, in the admirable rush to accept others being their authentic selves, to accept us too.

**Please visit our GoFundMe page at www.gofundme/kintsukuroi.com to see how you can help support personal growth and empowerment weekends for straight spouses. Thank you!

To schedule a face-to-face or FaceTime session with Kimberly Brooks Mazella, LPC, please go to my website at www.straightforwardcounseling.com.  For information on our developing program of personal empowerment weekends for straight spouses, visit my Facebook page, Kintsukuroi. I can also be reached at kim@straightforwardcounseling.com.

Monday, October 7, 2013

A gay husband's story

Larry is someone whose friendship and counsel I have come to treasure over the past year. He is also a gay man. A formerly married gay man. The enemy, right?

Not at all. As Larry and I have gotten to know one another, I have spoken with him often about the straight spouse issue, and even dragged him along to a showing of the documentary "I Thought It Was Forever." While I think much of it has been eye-opening for him, I have also experienced his willingness to understand "the other side." He truly had no idea of the damage done to so many people.

Our Str8 experiences have been the same AND different. As one person very eloquently described it, "It's a death. Some are car crashes and some died in their sleep." Some of us have experienced absolute emotional and financial torture, and others, like Larry's ex, have experienced caring and genuine remorse.

So, fellow Str8s, I am asking you to read Larry's guest blog post with as much objectivity as you can muster. He is not the enemy. And his experience might help inform ours.






“The truth of the matter is that you always know the right thing to do.
The hard part is doing it.”    -- H. Norman Schwarzkopf

I met my wife at work.  We had a pretty instant connection.  By the time I proposed all of our co-workers knew we would be married, they were just waiting on us to figure it out.  Our wedding ROCKED!  Our friends and family still talk about how much fun that day was, and how much joy was shared.  I still count it as one of the two best days ever in my life.  We waited 5 years to start our family; taking the time to build our relationship, and enjoy life as a couple.  The birth of our daughter is the other best day ever in my life.

Yes. I loved her.  Genuinely.  Affectionately.  Deeply.  And honestly.  There was absolutely no deception.

So…what happened?  

In the fall of 2003, I met Mark.  He was engaging, smart, sophisticated, educated, and he made me laugh.  I loved making him laugh because he had this amazing smile that would also light up his eyes.  We talked about religion, politics, social issues, pop culture, the works.  I wanted to be around him as much as possible.  In short, Mark is the first man I fell in love with.  And I fell HARD. 

How did I fall in love with another man?  Why?  Why at 38 years old?  Why did I not feel that kind of attraction before?  What do I do now?  I could only answer the last question:  Therapy. 

I started seeing a counselor very quickly.   Couples therapy?  No.  I knew the problem wasn't with our relationship, it was with me. I’m practical that way. My wife didn't know what the problem was at all, just that something was wrong with her marriage and her husband.  But a couple months after I started therapy, she asked me, “Would it be OK if I saw a counselor on my own?”

Yes.  A thousand times yes.  Of course she should be able to speak with someone.  Why should anyone be forced to suffer alone?  I immediately gave her the insurance information so she could call for a referral to a therapist. 

Married men make a lot of different choices when they get to this point.  Some try bury the experience as a ‘one-time thing’.  Some will continue to explore their same-sex attraction on the side while still trying to uphold the façade as a married man.  For me, both of those options would be deceitful.  That’s something that my wife didn’t deserve, and I couldn’t live with. 

We were in the family room one night sitting on opposite ends of the sofa; dinner was over, the dishes cleaned, and our daughter had been tucked in for the night.  I picked up the remote control and turned off the television.  I turned my body so I was sitting cross-legged sideways to face her.  “I know you’ve been wanting to know what’s going on with me,” I said.  I was ready for disclosure.  But before I could get the next word out, she spoke up and said, “Yes.  But I’m not ready to hear it yet.”

It would be another two months before we had the conversation we both knew was coming.  What I would discover later is that her counselor had her running through scenarios.  “What if your husband _______?”  Then they would discuss what possible outcomes might be.  One of those scenarios was in fact, “What if your husband says he’s gay?” 

Our separation and divorce were not unlike many others in the same situation.  I will say, however, that the journey we both went through, although painful, may have been mitigated because of the help my wife received BEFORE I made my announcement.  My pronunciation was not the utter shock experienced by many wives.  Oh yes, there was hurt, there was grief, there was stress, there was shame, there was a sense of loss, and there was anger that would manifest and surface years after our separation.  But the road we traveled was much less rocky because we BOTH were prepared for the journey ahead.

Every married couple who faces this situation will face circumstances that are unique to them.  No two people are the same, and no two married couples are alike.  Your journey through this pain is real, and unique to you.  But if I may offer experience as guidance, I would say these two things to any gay spouse considering coming out:

First, it’s not all about you.  You’re about to make a significant change in your life, but if you think it only affects you, you’re delusional.  You had better be considering his or her feelings and the emotional toll of your actions.  While it’s easy to get lost in your own issues, the fact remains that you are also only ½ of a partnership.  One is not any more important to consider than the other. 

Second, be as supportive of your straight wife/husband as you want them to be of you.  Do not walk away from his/her hurt in order to focus solely on yours.  You are only hurting yourself more in the long run when you withdraw and isolate yourself from your spouse.  You may not yet be able to come out, but you CAN, and should, converse with your spouse.  Tell him/her that you’re unhappy.  Tell him/her that you’re discussing it with your counselor.  Tell him/her that you’re not ready to reveal the issue, but promise you will.  And encourage him/her to reach out for support if they feel it would be beneficial.

You still have a responsibility to fulfill.  Recognizing that fact and facilitating support for the other half of your relationship is simply the right thing to do.

To you, the straight spouse, I offer the reassurance that you are not alone.  I did love my wife very much.  I tried to do the “right thing” as much as was humanly possible.  I did not always succeed.  It was not easy.  But seeking out help and support was absolutely the key. 


Whatever comes your way, whatever your outcomes, I hope all of you in a mixed-orientation marriage will find genuine peace and happiness.  

**Please visit our GoFundMe page at www.gofundme/kintsukuroi.com to see how you can help support personal growth and empowerment weekends for straight spouses. Thank you!

To schedule a face-to-face or FaceTime session with Kimberly Brooks Mazella, LPC, please go to my website at www.straightforwardcounseling.com.  For information on our developing program of personal empowerment weekends for straight spouses, visit my Facebook page, Kintsukuroi. I can also be reached at kim@straightforwardcounseling.com.




Friday, May 10, 2013

Straight Spouse radio -- May 12, 2013 at 10 pm EST

I will be Bonnie Kaye's guest on her internet radio talk show Sunday evening, May 12th at 10 pm EST. We will be talking about the healing journey of straight spouses. Please call in and join the conversation; all voices are welcome!

http://www.blogtalkradio.com/bonnielkaye/2013/05/13/straight-wives-talk-show


Wednesday, April 24, 2013

A picture is worth a thousand hurts

We have a little members-only virtual clubhouse where fellow str8s meet to swap stories; vent frustrations; share the devastating pain of an unwanted, unplanned divorce; tell the occasional off-color joke; give and receive virtual hugs; commiserate about learning to date again; and generally just hang out and talk about the shared experience of having unknowingly married a closeted LGBT person. With a membership of over 450 people, it's certain that most of us will never meet face to face. But the bond isn't any less strong simply because of the electronic venue; in fact, our common str8 experience makes for an immediate sense of "knowing", like running into another American in Greece and suddenly that person is your new best friend. No backstory needed; I know you.

Today people posted pictures of themselves and their spouses, pre-divorce. I'm not sure who started it, but by the end of the evening there were over fifty pictures posted, including one of my favorite photos from my own wedding day. Lots of happy, smiling faces. Wedding photos, recommitment ceremonies, vacations, new babies, father-daughter dances...they could be pictures of any family, anywhere. Except for the accompanying captions:

"This was taken one week before she left me for another woman."

"At a friend's wedding. Found out later he hooked up with one of the waiters at the reception."                       

"He liked to take pictures with everyone; I was just another casual person to take a picture with."

"This was on our honeymoon. I thought I was the luckiest guy in the world."

"With our daughter before a dance. He had been dating his boyfriend for three months at that point, unbeknownst to me."

"Holding our baby. I found out right before I gave birth that he had been soliciting sex from men online."

"This was during a short-lived happy period. He lost a damn good woman."

"This was on my graduation day. He came out less than a month later."

"This is the picture he used to meet men online."

"I took this picture on a romantic lunch date. He used it on a gay dating site less than three weeks later."


And my own description of that favorite photo: "It's interesting...I'm kissing HIM, while his hands are not touching me at all."


I couldn't quite put my finger on what it was exactly about the photo-sharing that got to me. It's not about TGT (that's "the gay thing" in str8 shorthand). I understand the closet, I feel deep compassion for the struggle, I appreciate the desire to live the "acceptable" life and have the husband/wife, the 2.3 kids and the golden retriever. I really do get that, and work hard in both my personal and professional lives to promote equality. No one should have to pretend to be someone or something that they aren't.

That said, I found myself feeling emotionally triggered as I scrolled through the pictures again and again. As I sat here struggling to find just the right words to describe what I was feeling, another club member beat me to it with her very honest and to-the-point post:

"It is really interesting to see all the photos, but it is also sad because not one of you in those pics thought that the person you fell in love with would one day end up gay. Right now I am angry at him and all of them for the hurt and the pain that they have put us through. I am angry that so many of us are struggling financially because of their [behavior]. I am angry because so many of us are on meds because of the sh*t we have gone through. I am angry because many of us were made to feel sexually inadequate because of their inability to be honest with themselves. Lastly, I am angry because so many children have been hurt by this. We also deserve happiness and peace in our lives."

And that, for far too many members of our not-so-little club, is a pretty clear snapshot of the other side of this unhappy closet.

**Please visit our GoFundMe page at www.gofundme/kintsukuroi.com to see how you can help support personal growth and empowerment weekends for straight spouses. Thank you!

To schedule a face-to-face or FaceTime session with Kimberly Brooks Mazella, LPC, please go to my website at www.straightforwardcounseling.com.  For information on our developing program of personal empowerment weekends for straight spouses, visit my Facebook page, Kintsukuroi. I can also be reached at kim@straightforwardcounseling.com.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Piece by peace

by guest blogger Ken Rinehart
Last weekend I bought a mandolin. For about two months I have been coveting this beautiful work of art. Saturday the guy in the combo department at the local music store decided he wanted to deal.
The significance it represents in my life is daunting. This August it will be two years since my wife walked out of my life and started her new life with another woman. At one point I had $15 to my name, so I sold my prized possession    my mandolin    for $75.
Since August of 2011 I have experienced the death of my father and the death of my sheepdog. I lost faith in my church and beliefs I held strongly about my purpose on this earth. I lost some of my dear friends, lost close contact with much of my extended family. The world and my understanding of it was squarely upside-down. I sold most of my possessions, or at least the ones I could get some quick cash for.

I had no choice but to just look up. Looking down took me to an even more crippling place. In some strange way it was learning to totally reconstruct my life in ways I had never imagined or even knew existed or knew how to start.
Ironic as it may seem, I am grateful for that experience. Truly grateful.
The trial of forgiveness is something that has never been challenged in my life. No one has ever taken everything I have given and piled it up in my room and said "no thanks" so briskly and rapidly as they exited my life without explanation or seeming concern about my well-being. I would like to say I understand. I would like to say "all is forgiven."
Phrases have come with this journey:
   Everything happens for a reason.
   You got a lot on your plate.
   God doesn't give us anything we can't handle.
Those are from people that don't know or understand what this felt like. Just as I will never know the grief of losing a child. What it's like to suffer some traumatic loss. To truly know you have to experience it, heart and mind.
I asked someone early on how is it possible to be a victim in this without adopting a victim mentality. She said, "Being a victim is a state of mind you put yourself in." "Being a victim of circumstance is just a fact in this scenario."
Many things have happened. Numerous things have unfolded. Unconditional love from strangers that I never had experienced before nor thought was possible. Development of inner strength that to this day is surprising and disarming. Falling in love again, only this time feeling more like an adolescent with higher stakes.
All of these things and more only started to unfold when I lost the story of "someone did something to me." Life changed. I am not entitled to know the story that someone doesn't want to honestly and openly tell me. It's silly to expect someone to act the same toward you who is preoccupied with their new truths unfolding, truths that go deep into the recesses of denying their sexuality. I have found it is true of only a few of extraordinary people. The honesty, the openness of moving through and out of a marriage with kindness and compassion toward one another. It's hard enough with two people without the twist of same sex attraction.
Weeks ago my new love was having a heart procedure. Side by side her gay husband and I stood  in the hospital waiting room, waiting to get an update. Our mutual love for her and our deep friendship is something that is hard to not share with those that don't understand anything outside of a "traditional family." What was and is true is that we don’t need to. We know what this is.
I bought the mandolin. I walked out of the hospital with my new family. I am surrounded by so much love from friends I can hug daily, and those I have never met.
For this, too, I am grateful. Truly grateful. 
To those that reflected back to me who I really am. To those who have graced the path with their stories, their experiences, guidance, and wisdom. To those who allowed me into their lives when they were at their weakest points. To my true love who appeared and blindsided me when I wasn't looking, and embraced me in that parking lot in Chicago where life changed on its axis. To the god within and without that never abandoned me even when I thought I lost faith in the ever-present light and goodness.
Although I never thought I would say or write these words, I am grateful to my ex-wife for loving me the best way she knew how, and starting me on this journey as she started hers. I hope and pray that one day we will be able to talk about both of our journeys with each other, in peace.

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To schedule a face-to-face or FaceTime session with Kimberly Brooks Mazella, LPC, please go to my website at www.straightforwardcounseling.com. For a support group, either in person or online, contact the Straight Spouse Network at www.straightspouse.org.