I’m writing this from my kitchen table at my new house. Not the new house I moved into August of 2017, the brand new house, the dream home, the one for which I chose every material and surface—the beachy wood-look tile, the espresso shaker cabinets, the granite countertops, the extra tall beveled-glass front door, the cavernous master bath walk-in rain shower, the high baseboards and elegant window moldings.
Not that new house.
I’m at my new house, built in and not redecorated since 1989, that I closed on four weeks ago.
Last October, I came out to my husband as gay. My life has changed a lot since then. I cut way back on posting to public social media because there wasn’t a whole lot to say with the truth left out of it. Unraveling a marriage is a private affair. But that’s where I’ve been, in case you were wondering. And that’s why I’m sitting at my retro kitchen table in my new old house that isn’t my “dream” house.
Except, in so many ways, it is a dream house. Because, up until a year ago, that’s all living as my authentic self really was: a dream. I had convinced myself it would never happen. I was trying to accept my life as it was (it was, after all, a beautiful, enviable life) and find peace.
A couple of years ago, I scribbled this thing that is shaped like a poem but isn’t a poem. It was one of many moments when the only way I could find my breath again was to write down my hatred for myself:
I am nothing special.
I am lazy.
I am fat.
I am weak.
There is no reason for anyone to like me.
I am ineffectual.
I am unnoticeable.
I am not worthy of notice.
I am forgettable.
I am not funny.
I am not smart.
I have not lived up to my potential.
My brain is slow.
I should try harder.
I hate myself.
I want to crawl out of my body.
I want my heart to stop hurting.
I want to be unconscious.
I don’t even recognize this person anymore. I’ve come out enough in my personal life that I no longer feel this way. But it’s interesting to me what this not-poem shows. It shows what hiding and being kept from your identity does to a person. A denial of identity doesn’t just affect the part being denied. It wears down the entire system. Denial of identity is a blood toxin, a sickness. It infects every cell.
I have an intimate understanding of why suicide rates are so much higher in the LGBTQ community. The statistics tell us it’s because of lack of acceptance and support, but there’s this other thing, too. How many LGBTQ people killed themselves without ever telling anyone who they were? There’s an unreported segment, I think, for whom denial of self got to be too much. It wasn’t that they weren’t accepted; it was that they believed they wouldn’t be. Or they couldn’t see a way out. And so no one ever even knew.
I tried to trick myself by telling myself that in my “next life” I would be gay. That was the dream: my next life. In this life, I told myself, I would live vicariously through fictional characters. My gayness would exist in the novels I would write as a kind of Easter egg. A secret. Some would see it and some wouldn’t. In my next life though, I told myself, when I get my do-over, I’ll know myself sooner, won’t wait till my thirties to finally figure out who I am. In my next life, I’ll get this all sorted out.
But I was jealous of my book characters. I hated Elizabeth Gilbert and Glennon Doyle. I watched Kristen Stewart go on SNL and mumble with beautiful, shy conviction, “I’m… so gay” and wanted to slam my computer into the hard tile floor until it was nothing but shards.
I pictured myself unzipping my body, from neck to pubic bone, and climbing out of it. For years I pictured this. Hunks of bloody meat spilling from my seams, and I’d step out of my skin and walk away, raw and overexposed but relieved.
There is no “next life.” There is only this one.
I have pulled apart my family. “Hard” doesn’t begin to describe the last eight months. Imagine Christmas morning, your kids opening presents and you know it’s the last Christmas before you turn their world inside out. Imagine every moment like that, every moment viewed through the lens of “this is the last one.” I know it will keep being hard for a while. Transition has been and will continue to be stressful.
My kids still have a lot of processing to do. It was their dream home too, their dream life. I’m asking them to envision a different future than the one they have trusted in their entire lives. They support and love me in a way only children can. I have done my very best for them all this time, and they see that. They are hurt, but they are not angry with me. And I still have the magical comforting love-powers of a mother. My words and love give them confidence they will be okay.
Our new little house is half the size of the one I moved out of and has laminate countertops, popcorn ceilings, and a “lived in” smell. But it’s a solid house, in a well-kept neighborhood close to everything, close to my kids’ father. When I walked into it, the first thing I thought was, “This is my house.” In the front yard stands a gorgeous old magnolia tree with huge white flowers, and out back is a canal with turtles. It might not be a dream home, but it’s my dream home. It’s my dream, a dream that for years I thought must be subverted for everyone else’s sake.
With each step I take out of the closet, I feel relief. I am still terrified and still suffer moments of crippling guilt, but every day I breathe a little easier. I don’t feel strangled anymore. I don’t wish to be unconscious. I don’t spend every day hating myself for being unable to find happiness in a life that by anyone else’s standards is beautiful.
I am settling into a new normal, doing everything I can to ensure my kids feel safe and protected and loved, writing my ass off, and figuring this “next life” thing out. It’s going pretty well. This morning as I pushed scrambled eggs around my Goodwill-purchased frying pan, my daughter came into the kitchen and threaded her arms around my hips. “This house feels homey, Mommy.”
She’s right. It does feel homey. It feels like hope.
Beyond the Break was more than a story. It was also me trying to live vicariously through fictional characters and find a way to be okay with myself.
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This post is so very important. It’s brave and beautiful and real and full of hope. YOU are brave and beautiful and real and full of hope. And I love you, friend. Always in your corner…and closet. xo
I’m glad you’re here. I’m glad you are being who you are. I hope you’ll stay.
I am in awe of you and your breathtaking honesty. Thank you for fighting to stay in this life. I’m so glad you are finally starting to live your true life and be your true self. You are inspiring.
You, are so wonderful.
Every word I have read over and over, my heart ached for your struggles but you’ve done it. You’ve been true to you and that is a beautiful moment to share. I feel quite honoured to have shared this with you.
As a mother myself I know how hard it can be to “rock the boat” but children are resilient, more than we give them credit for.
Well done for being true to you,
Well done for standing for what you feel/want,
Well done for now being the happy mother you are for your children.
In the end, your children want a happy mother, you’ve now gotten rid of a huge darkness over yourself, not only will you benefit but so will they.
Stay beautiful xx
I am so happy for you. And dang if your writing doesn’t rip my heart apart every time. So beautifully stated. Welcome to your true self, beautiful lady.
As I have been following you on IG (as @livehappygirl), I have been wondering when, or if, a moment like this might come for you! I went through my own ripping-apart the seams by walking away from a 20 year marriage for the “trivial” reason that I was suffocating and had lost my ability to see any future – no colors, no music, no life…just a blank, gray wall of nothingness. Leaving meant losing financial security, friends, family, even what should have been the comfort of church as people judged and turned away…but it ultimately led to so much more.
While I can’t say that I know exactly what you have risked and experienced by coming out, I can tell you that every woman who walks away from a seemingly “safe” marriage into an unknown future to find, and SAVE, herself is joined with you in a small way on the journey ❤
Thank you for sharing! I came out to my husband of 7 years, together for 17, last June and moved out in September. I too had what every one else deemed a perfect life. Big house, big vacations, nice cars, and a very good friendship, but that was no longer enough. I still feel waves of terrible guilt and sadness, but I also am finding so much happiness in being true to myself! Good luck on your journey!
Good luck to you too. xo
Oh Kristen. I’m proud of you. And envious. You have done what many of us want to do… stepped out of the false past and stepped into the reality that is truly YOU. I wish I was brave enough to do that. Live it fully.
Congratulations on abandoning pretense, my love. <3
Welcome home! So glad you are trusting yourself. Let the passions, the anger, the trust, and the hope lead you to new discoveries. That will be your strength because it comes from an inner core you’ve built up over the years. The years of denial, not wanting to hurt anybody, the hope of protecting a happiness and it’s status quo. The list is endless. Find your support team and lean in. They love you, they’ll be there. It’s wonderful to always live in “choice” mode.
Kristen, you have given yourself the greatest gift; the gift of honesty, acceptance, freedom, and self-respect.
I am in awe of you and your strength. It is taking me a bit longer than usual to find the words and to get my fingers to respond because I think my soul is just a bit envious of your bravery. I attempted to come out a little over 20 years ago. Sadly, I caved to the response of my only parent telling me I would be forgotten and/or erased from my family. How can you do this to me? You weren’t raised ‘like one of those people’. Advised to wed my fiancé at the time and I would find that in time I would be glad I hadn’t made such a foolish decision.
Fortunately, I did not marry my intended for a plethora of reasons other than my confusion; as it has since been referred to. It just wasn’t the right time. Since then, I’ve struggled for years with my feelings and wishes and I fear I will be an octogenarian when I find the confidence and the strength to live my true life, my dream life.
Congratulations on taking your future in hand.
This comment is heartbreaking. I’m passing some big love and courage on to you. Take the reins of your life. It’s never too late. xo
Kudos for finding yourself.
I wish I could hug you <3
Wow! I’ve been out since I was 21, and am now 54. I was engaged to a man at 19, and have felt so lucky that we broke up before we got married and had children. I do not know if (or when) I would have the guts to be out if we had gotten married and had kids.
Ya done good, despite the pain. You are brave. And so freakin ‘ awesome. Thank you for sharing your story with us.
IT IS NEVER TOO LATE!!!!!
Wow. I know this is a difficult and long process(believe me, I know). But I’m just so happy for you and your new popcorn ceiling house. 🙂
Good for you! As a lesbian who had to climb out of a lot of indoctrination over decades to find a place in the sun, I salute you! It’s so difficult but it will get better and you’ve really blown it all open now! I have to say – your books were very well written but I just could not understand the staying with the men thing, my friends and I had long heated conversations about this idea but never really could figure it out. But now that you have written this post, it all falls into place. Everybody is exactly where they are because that’s where they need to be to grow to the next level. I’m going to see Hazel and Claire together from this day forward because that is what people who fall in love do – they live, openly in the sun. On the road ahead know that you are meant to live in peace, always head that way!
I mean, I am working on book 3…
I’m so proud of you.