Damn … I hate being gay! What is Internalized Homophobia?

6233e49004a06b4ad578cd8842a03dffPeople often preach their own sins…. Find a recovering alcoholic or addict and you’ll find a person dedicated to preach against drugs and alcohol. The same goes for abortion, smoking or anything else a person is unable to accept about themselves.

Internalized homophobia not only destroys the person battling self-hatred, in the case of the 49 people violently murdered in Orlando, it destroys everything seen as a threat or temptation. Homosexuality cannot be prayed away or should be… it cannot be unlearned or hidden, nor should it be. The following explains what homophobia is and why it is so destructive. These are the views of Revel & Riot, an online source, and need to be understood by everyone.

You were just recently told by a friend to “deal with your internalized homophobia.”

You force your partner to stay in the closet with you.

You feel contempt or disgust towards LGBTQ people who don’t “blend in.”

You can’t come out, even in safe communities and settings.

You’ve tried to change your sexual orientation through conversion therapy, prayer, or medical treatment.

You cannot have emotionally intimate or romantic relationships, even though you desire it.

You think about committing suicide because of your sexuality.

These are just a few of the many signs of internalized homophobia, an issue that affects the vast majority of LGBQ individuals and belongs at the forefront of the fight for justice and equality. Working to overcome it can lead to immensely positive results such as emotional and physical well-being, a stronger more active political movement, and a more compassionate world.

THE DEFINITION

Simply put, internalized homophobia happens when LGBQ individuals are subjected to society’s negative perceptions, intolerance, and stigmas towards LGBQ people, and as a result, turn those ideas inward believing they are true.

It has been defined as ‘the gay person’s direction of negative social attitudes toward the self, leading to a devaluation of the self and resultant internal conflicts and poor self-regard.’ (Meyer and Dean, 1998).

Or as “the self-hatred that occurs as a result of being a socially stigmatized person.” (Locke, 1998).

PROBLEMS WITH THE TERM

Many LGBQ people do not relate to the expression “internalized homophobia” and as a result, end up rejecting the idea before thoroughly examining its meaning. The word “internalized” presents the first barrier. “The concept suggests weakness rather than the resilience demonstrated by lesbians and gay men and keeps the focus away from the structures of inequality and oppression.” (Williamson, I., 2000) The word “homophobia” is the next complication – a confusing and seemingly illogical possibility. How can someone who identifies as LGBQ also have feelings of dislike, fear, and disgust towards themselves? So what can we do about the fact that the combination of words “internalized” and “homophobia” feel unrelatable for so many LGBQs?

Researchers have suggested that using ‘heterosexism, ‘self-prejudice,’ and ‘homonegativity,’ in addition to the widely accepted term “internalized homophobia,” can help to add depth to our comprehension of the true meaning of the issue.

WHY DOES IT HAPPEN?

Internalized homophobia is a concept much more nuanced than it’s simple definition would suggest. It is clear that the word “homophobia” in this context, is misleading – the over clear idea that it is individual acts of fear and ignorance diverts our attention from the much more pervasive systemic oppression that is at the root of the problem. The hateful and intolerant behavior of those closest to us often has the most profound impact (parents, church community, peers, partners). While they should be held responsible as individuals, the real culprit is an aggressively heterosexist society that is defining what is “normal,” and therefore what is “right” and “wrong,” through laws, policy, culture, education, health care, religion and family life. This systemic oppression is meant to enforce the gender binary, marginalize LGBTQ people, and keep heterosexual people and their relationships in a position of dominance and privilege.

When we see that homophobia is a result of this larger system, we see that it is institutional; that it is impossible to exist outside of it; that the real definition of it is so much more than the dictionary simplicity of “irrational fear of, aversion to, or discrimination against homosexuality or homosexuals;” that the root structure is vast, affecting every aspect of life and culture. All of these factors make dismantling heterosexism extremely complicated, and uprooting internalized homophobia even more so.

 WHAT DOES INTERNALIZED HOMOPHOBIA LOOK LIKE?

HOW DO I KNOW IF I SUFFER FROM IT?

A few scales have been developed by psychiatrists and researchers to measure internalized homophobia so Ross and Rosser’s “Four Dimensions.” This includes the examination of four key areas of a person’s LGBQ identity: public identification as being gay, the perception of stigma associated with being gay, the degree of social comfort with other gay men and beliefs regarding the religious or moral acceptability of homosexuality. Another example is the IHP scale, developed by psychiatrists Meyer and Dean, which includes an extensive list of questions designed to be self-administered. While these levels might be useful on a preliminary level, we must also consider the issue well beyond the categories set forth by the psychological establishment and remember that the question of whether or not you suffer from internalized homophobia is one that is best answered by yourself. The manifestation of internalized homophobia, as well as the extent to which LGBQ people suffer from it, is as varied and layered as our identities, which makes recognizing it a complicated process. Below we do our best to explore many possible expressions and outcomes of internalized homophobia.

Secrecy / Dishonesty

‘The awareness of stigma that surrounds homosexuality leads the experience to become an extremely negative one; shame and secrecy, silence and self-awareness, a strong sense of differentness – and of peculiarity – pervades the consciousness.’ (Plumer,1996). The role of secrecy and dishonesty in cases of internalized homophobia, is significant. Some examples include:

  • Denial – ranging from aggressive and hateful behavior to denying yourself the life and love you desire;

  • Lying to yourself about attraction and sexuality;

  • The inability to “come out” if you want to, and if you can safely. (see more about “coming out below);

  • Being selectively “out” (see “coming out” below);

  • Secret relationships;

  • Forcing others to keep secrets or remain in the closet;

  • Lying by omission

The emotional havoc that secrecy and dishonesty can create for an individual varies. While burdened with the symptoms of internalized homophobia it is difficult to have a clear perspective of the harm we do to ourselves. This is why it’s often due to an accusation of a loved one that we are compelled to explore the concept in the first place.

Horizontal Oppression

Also known as horizontal hostility or lateral violence, horizontal oppression is one of the most damaging results of internalized homophobia. It functions as a cycle of abuse and happens when an LGBQ person, subjected to homophobia / biphobia / heteronormativity, begins to discriminate against other LGBQ people, thereby colluding with and perpetuation heterosexism. Horizontal oppression can be found amongst women (horizontal misogyny) and people of the same racial group (horizontal racism) and in just about every type of oppressed minority group. It destabilizes movements for justice and equality and keeps us fighting amongst ourselves rather than focusing on the big picture issue of institutionalized oppression.

 Horizontal oppression can manifest as anything from:

  • Deeply closeted politicians, religious leaders and “powerful” people who advocate and lobby against the LGBTQ community

  • Feeling disgusted towards other LGBTQ people who don’t express themselves in a heteronormative way

  • Excessive judgment of other LGBTQ people

  • Anger and resentment toward other LGBQ people for being out, or proud of their identity

  • Transphobia, gender policing, shaming or harming LGBTQ individuals who do not fit into the gender binary

  • Anger or embarrassment that other LGBTQ people “represent” you

  • Believing that the movement for justice is a single-issue endeavor (usually marriage equality), and failing to remember that LGBQ people come from every type of background, often facing multiple, interconnected forms of oppression such as racism, cisgenderism, ableism, classism, sexism, etc.

 To combat horizontal oppression, we must:

  • Respect the diversity of the LGBTQ community

  • Remember that outspoken, visible LGBTQ people have been at the forefront of the LGBTQ rights movement from the very beginning, and continue to face the most violence and discrimination

  • Credit visibility as one of the key factors in the progress of the LGBTQ equality movement

  • See that policing the gender expression of LGBTQ individuals is a form of transphobia and heteronormative violence.

  • Be aware of the ways that we collude with heterosexism and therefore harm LGBQ people

Problems with Coming Out

In Beyond the Closet; The Transformation of Gay and Lesbian Life, being in the closet is described as a “life-shaping pattern of concealment.” Being closeted is linked with high anxiety, low self-esteem, increased risk for suicide and general lack of fulfillment. Much of the LGBQ discussion about honesty centers on coming out. While it’s not an internalized homophobia cure-all, it is more often than not, a step forward, and can be an incredibly empowering act for most LGBQ people. It relieves the pressure of having to live a life of secrecy; it is an act of self-love and recognition.

But coming out can also be dangerous. Being honest about your LGBQ identity can result in violence, rejection, loss of home, loss of employment. We unequivocally advocate for an approach that minimizes harm to the person coming out. The key is to recognize the truth of what kind of harm you’re facing and weigh the balance of your emotional and physical safety with your emotional and physical needs. What is more damaging – to face the disapproval of a parent, or to lose your partner? To lose your home or manage the stress of leading a double life?

When a person expresses fear or reluctance about coming out, many “out” LGBQ people have strong reactions, judgments, and painful memories. George Chauncey, professor of history and author of Gay New York: Gender, Urban Culture and the making of the Gay Male World, discusses ‘the image of the closet’ and the judgment heaped on those who would not, or could not come out of it.

“Before Stonewall (let alone World War II), it is often said, gay people lived in a closet that kept them isolated, invisible, and vulnerable to anti-gay ideology. While it was difficult to imagine the closet as anything other than a prison, we often blame people in the past for not having had the courage to break out of it . . . , or we condescendingly assume they had internalized the common hatred of homosexuality and thought they deserved to be there. Even at our most charitable, we often imagine that people in the closet kept their gayness hidden not only from hostile straight people, but from other gay people as well, and, possibly, from themselves.”

Many critics of the you-must-come-out-of-the-closet doctrine argue that not only does it diminish the worth of the LGBQ lives from the past when it was not safe to be out, but over time it has homogenized the LGBQ timeline into a 3 step process (in the closet, preparation to come out, out), and, as philosopher and gender theorist Judith Butler argues in Imitation and Gender Insubordination, the in/out metaphor creates an over-simplified binary: in = dark, regressive, marginal, false; out = illuminating, freeing, true.

We know that things are never as simple as that, and shaming those who remain in the closet is a mutation of heterosexist oppression. Also, as many studies have shown, internalized homophobia may never be completely overcome, and therefore may continue to affect LGBQ individuals long after “coming out.” It is true that coming out to important people in your life may indicate that you’ve overcome personal shame and self-devaluation associated with being LGBQ. But, a lack of outness should not be taken to indicate the opposite and therefore, should not be seen as the primary symptom of internalized homophobia (Eliason & Schope, 2007).

Mental and Physical Health Issues

Depression / Anxiety / Self Esteem Issues / Self-harm / Suicide / Substance Abuse / Eating Disorders

Chronic stress has extremely negative consequences for the human body, such as, but certainly not limited to, sleeplessness, depression, anxiety disorders, increased susceptibility to illness, heart disease, and high blood pressure. LGBQ people, and in general, any minority or oppressed group, are likely to suffer additionally from what’s known as “minority stress,” a direct cause of internalized homophobia. “Minority stress,” arises from specific, negative events in a person’s life, as well as the whole of the minority person’s experience in the dominant, oppressive society. So, everything from fearing a family member’s judgment, to hearing homophobic slurs at school, to being the victim of a hate crime, to pressure to come out of the closet, to not being able to get married (and therefore claim access to the over 1,000 legal protections and benefits that come with marriage licenses) can contribute to “minority stress.”

As a result of this immense and insidious stress, many LGBQ people develop more severe health problems, and often (due to internalized homophobia) do not seek (or, due to homophobia, are not provided with) the medical attention they need. And so the self-perpetuating cycle of suffering continues.

Many academic and medical studies have linked the existence of internalized homophobia to other health issues and behaviors meant to punish or control the physical body, such as suicide, excessively risky sexual behavior, substance abuse and eating disorders, particularly in those who are lacking the proper support structures, community, and coping mechanisms. It is more difficult still to quantify the unconscious effects of internalized homophobia, especially within those who reject the possibility of it. But while we wait for more studies and analysis from the medical communities, it is imperative that we shine a light on this issue, which is harming so many LGBQ people, and injuring even more around us.

Inability to have intimacy, emotionally or physically

Internalized homophobia is directly connected to many adverse outcomes in both romantic and non-romantic relationships. Examples can include, but are in no way limited to:

  • Low self-esteem / negative self-view that can lead to avoiding substantial relationships or others avoiding you

  • Dishonesty, which can prevent or destroy trust between friends and family

  • Secrecy, which contributes to anxiety and a lack of self-worth, which can then be internalized by partners and friends

  • Horizontal oppression (see section above on this topic)

  • Perpetual lack of satisfaction from emotional and/or physical intimacy

  • Verbal or physical abuse within friendships and romantic relationships

  • Deep shame about sexual experiences

  • Ambivalence, loneliness, isolation

  • Inability to have emotionally intimate sexual encounters

  • Preventing yourself from having sex even if you desire it

At the core of the prevailing stigma surrounding being LGBQ are false notions that LGBQ people are not capable of intimacy and maintaining lasting and healthy relationships (Meyer & Dean, 1998). The anxiety, shame, and devaluation of LGBQ people that is inherent to internalized homophobia are likely to be most overtly manifested in interpersonal relationships with other LGBQ individuals, creating intimacy-related problems in many forms. Empirical evidence supports these theoretical claims. Concerning romantic relationships, psychiatrists Meyer and Dean showed in a study that gay men with higher levels of internalized homophobia were less likely to be in intimate relationships, and when they were in relationships, they were more liable to report problems with their partners than gay men with lower levels of internalized homophobia. Similarly, in Ross and Rosser (1996) conducted a study showing that among gay and bisexual men, internalized homophobia was negatively associated with relationship quality and the length of individuals’ longest relationships. There are endless stories about love lost and relationships of all forms destroyed over the issue of internalized homophobia. For more reading on the topic, check out the references section of this article.

 THE NEGATIVE IMPACTS OF INTERNALIZED HOMOPHOBIA

On the self

Internalized homophobia can prevent us from leading fulfilling lives. It can keep us in a place of perpetual shame, stress, and anxiety. It can keep us from having close relationships with people, or ruin the relationships we do have. It can lead us down a path of bitterness, anger, and loneliness. It can prevent us from coming out of the closet and allowing ourselves the opportunity to be seen and loved for who we are. It can prevent us from ever experiencing love with another person. It can contribute to long-term illness, mental health problems, substance abuse, and self-harm.

On others

Internalized homophobia, when left unchecked or unexamined can harm people around the suffering individual. It can lead to judgmental and hurtful outbursts. It can break trust between friends and family. It can cause years of heartbreak and struggle within romantic relationships, and it can lead people in positions of power to make decisions that harm other LGBTQ people on a large scale. It can provoke shame, anxiety and stress, and impact the health of others.

On the movement

When left to dominate a person’s psyche unconsciously, internalized homophobia can perpetuate violence, intolerance, and discrimination. Most significantly, it takes the focus away from the true culprit, the main source of pain and struggle – which is heterosexism, enforced heteronormativity, homophobia, biphobia, and transphobia – by keeping us shortsighted and fighting amongst ourselves.

 WHY ARE WE ALL IMPACTED SO DIFFERENTLY?

Despite the few shared experiences that LGBQ people share, we are a group that reflects the diversity of all human beings on this earth. And every detail of a life, large or small can affect the way that internalized homophobia takes hold. For example, studies have shown that those who realize early in life that they are LGBQ are often more prone to severe internalized homophobia; they do not typically have the support of a community or access to information about their identities to adequately shield themselves from parental ignorance or a homophobic society. By contrast, it is common for people living in regions with LGBQ equality to experience very little internalized homophobia if, unaware of their sexuality in youth, they realize they are LGBQ in adulthood.

Internalized homophobia is impacted by every aspect of identity, such as religion, race, class, geography, gender identity, family, friends, partners, as well all of the prejudices we carry. Additionally, many LGBQ people experience intersecting oppression, such as racism, transphobia, misogyny, and ablism, and thus are also vulnerable to multiple forms of internalized oppression.

While it would be impossible to describe everyone’s experience, recognizing commonalities, asking questions, and considering the feedback from our peers is a major step in getting a clearer picture of ourselves. An inevitable problem of people so long repressed into invisibility is lack of representation, and due to this, internalize homophobia has an even greater ability to take hold in a person’s psyche.

 HOW CAN IT BE OVERCOME?

Think critically about how internalized homophobia could be impacting your life, rather than rejecting the notion outright.

Read more about internalized homophobia. While this topic has less written about it than say, coming out, there is still a lot of information out there, especially moving personal accounts.

Community –  building a support network is essential. The compassion of other LGBQ people and straight allies can be tremendously healing. Others who are at a different stage in the process can often offer valuable insight and solidarity.

Learn about the history of the LGBTQ rights movement.  Find role models in the struggle. See all of the different identities and human beings it took to effect progress towards equality and justice.

Find an LGBTQ active therapist, counselor or psychologist who can guide you through the reparative process.

Get away from toxic influences. This one can often be the most difficult. Typically, toxic influences include major players in our lives, such as family, religion, and friends.

If your religion is not accepting, consider leaving the church even for a time, or find a new church. If you refuse to leave, educate yourself. Refine your arguments. Learn about whether or not your religion truly teaches the immorality of gays, or if it is the interpretation of your religious leader. However, if your religious doctrine is perpetually in conflict with your identity, you may find the commitment more damaging than rewarding.

Clarify your perspectives by talking to friends and allies. Heterosexism and fear can skew our idea of the threats we honestly face. For example, a person with an open-minded family, LGBTQ friends, and enlightened teachers might still be overcome by crippling fear and internalized homophobia. Work to determine where you stand.

Practice self-awareness. Be aware of your negative reactions, critical self-talk, and judgment of other. Each time you do it examines the source.

If you can do it safely, come out of the closet. While it has the potential to be painful, and most certainly will be repetitive and exhausting, this step can be immensely rewarding.

Try to overcome your fear of rejection.

Remember that internalized homophobia is not coming from inside of you. You are not sick, and you don’t need to be cured. It was forced upon you, in a suffocating and violent way by a homophobic society. If you have been accused of having it, or if you wonder about yourself, don’t feel guilty or shameful, just take the steps, one by one, to free yourself of this weight that keeps us all down.

This is my journey… this is my life!

You’ll never get sober until you understand what’s causing you to relapse

f50340a391e8dd40e141dcccbf31830bIt is estimated that for every 100 people who enter a treatment program for alcohol and drug abuse, only three will be clean and sober one year after treatment. That means 97 out of 100 people fail at living life without drugs and alcohol and return to active addiction. Many never make it back to treatment and die from their addictions. Many people have turned to 12 Step programs such as AA or NA or become active in churches, temples or mosques only to find themselves failing at a life free from addiction.

Why do so many people fail at living a life free from the bondage of drugs and alcohol? Maybe drugs and alcohol aren’t the only problems. Maybe the true culprit is something overlooked and until it is addressed the problem with addiction never goes away. 79% of people battling addictions face what is medically termed, a “dual diagnosis”. It is real and must be dealt with at the same time as substance abuse treatment for any true success in recovery….

What is a dual diagnosis?

Here are 10 things you need to know about addiction and dual diagnosis…

Dual diagnosis is not a rare phenomenon – Some studies indicate that as many as 79% of those with a drug or alcohol addiction also have some form of mental illness

Dual diagnosis comes in many forms – Any combination of mental illness (including anxiety disorder, depression, etc.) and addiction (alcohol, drugs, gambling, sex, etc.) can qualify an individual as a dual diagnosis patient. As one can imagine, the possibilities are almost endless.

Dual diagnoses are difficult to treat – One of the things that make dual diagnoses so difficult to treat is that it is hard to know where certain symptoms are coming from. For example, if a dual diagnosis patient is suffering from depression, there’s no way to know initially whether the drug addiction or the individual’s mental illness is causing the problem. Depression is a symptom of many things, so the challenge is on the medical professional to find the cause and treat it.

Those with dual diagnoses are high-risk patients – Coping with mental illness is difficult enough, but when you factor in complications from addiction, it’s easy to understand the high suicide rate and violent tendencies of those with dual diagnosis.

Those with mental illness are more susceptible to addiction – Again, those coping with mental illness are at risk for addiction. Those who suffer from bipolar disorder, depression, anxiety and other conditions are likely to see their casual drug use or drinking quickly escalate to an addiction.

Many drug rehab facilities are not equipped to handle dual diagnosis patients – As you’ve already learned, dual diagnosis is a complicated issue. Only those facilities with a psychiatric staff and an emphasis on dual diagnosis are actually equipped to help these individuals with their recovery.

The best dual diagnosis programs provide integrated treatment – Treating both the mental illness at the same time, all under “one roof”, has been a very successful method of therapy for the dual diagnosis patient.

Dual diagnosis treatment may take longer to complete – There is no “quick fix” for drug or alcohol rehab, but when you factor in the care and patience required to treat mental illness, you have a situation that may have to be extended by months and perhaps even years.

Good dual diagnosis programs move at a pace that’s comfortable for the individual – Because of the mental illness component; you must move dual diagnosis rehab along at a pace that the individual feels comfortable with.

If you or someone you know has a dual diagnosis, contact www.dualdiagnosis.org, www.recovery.com, or ask your family doctor for a referral to an addiction specialist for help.

There is no “one size fits all” method in recovery. Find what works for you.

This is my journey; this is my life.

Rob Cantrell

A substance abusing parent has got to go… handle it!

My greatest regret in life was being present in my children’s lives while I was actively using drugs and alcohol. No child deserves to live in a home where a parent is under the influence, and although my kids have seen the changes in my life, nothing vanishes the past. Children are born white canvas’ and every experience changes them. The psychological damage caused by substance abuse in a child’s life does not simply go away. The scars remain with them the rest of their lives.f50340a391e8dd40e141dcccbf31830b

A person abusing substances will never leave his home even though he is destroying everything within it.  Understanding this is critical for anyone dealing with a substance-abusing family member. Children deserve protection and exposing them to life with an active alcoholic/addict is abuse. If you fail at being a parent… nothing else you do will really ever matter.

“Dad’s an addict.” “Mom’s going to rehab.” These are not easy conversations to have with a child, even one that has long been aware that there’s a problem.

As children learn to fend for themselves to survive, unpredictability and chaos become the norm in addicted homes. Lack of consistent discipline can produce deficits in self-control and personal responsibility, or conversely, over-control or hyper-vigilance. Children may even feel that their parent’s drug problem — and the subsequent breakup of the family or removal of the child from the home that sometimes ensues — is their fault.

Their emotions run a confusing gamut. At once resentful of and loyal to their addicted parent, children are reluctant to open up and share long-held family secrets, even if they desperately want the support. They may have a strong self-preservation instinct, but at the same time, they’re not sure if they deserve to take care of their own needs when their parent is spiraling out of control. The conflicting feelings continue as children get a glimmer of hope when their parent promises to quit even though they’ve repeatedly been disappointed.

In this impossible situation, what can parents, caretakers or other adults say to their children? How do they explain the wreckage of addiction to someone who, at a young age, has already been overexposed to some of the darkest potentialities of life?

Time the Conversation. A conversation about a parent’s addiction is best had when there are no distractions, and the situation is relatively calm. If possible, bring it up when there is a plan in place to get help for the addicted parent. Explain that there’s a problem, and you’re taking steps to improve the situation. Talk about what will change (e.g., Mom or Dad will go to rehab, or one parent may move out if separating or divorcing). Repeat the conversation as often as needed so that the child feels comfortable having an ongoing dialogue.

Keep It Age-Appropriate. The language you use and the level of detail you provide depend on the age and maturity of the child. Break the issues down as simply and directly as possible, and finish with a message of hope.

Get Educated. Educate yourself about the disease of addiction so you are in a position to answer any questions the child may have. If you don’t know the answer, work on finding one together.

Acknowledge the Impact. Rather than skirt around the impact a parent’s addiction has had, validate the child’s experience. Apologize for the pain inflicted on the child and asked open-ended questions about how they’ve been feeling.

Put Things Into Perspective. Children from addicted homes tend to idealize other families without realizing they have struggles of their own. Help them understand that they are not alone; in fact, millions of children are in the same situation. They are normal kids thrust into an unhealthy home environment who are doing their best to cope with an extremely stressful situation.

Teach the Seven Cs. According to the National Association for Children of Alcoholics, children need to know the “Seven Cs of Addiction”:

I didn’t Cause it.

I can’t Cure it.

I can’t Control it.

I can Care for myself

By Communicating my feelings,

Making healthy Choices, and

By Celebrating myself.

Find Additional Sources of Support. Just as the addicted parent needs treatment and support to get well, children need to know there are resources available to help them process their emotions. If they don’t feel comfortable talking with a parent or relative, they can reach out to a teacher, counselor, child or family therapist, religious leader or support group such as Alateen.

The toughest topics are often the most important to broach with children. For each day that a child lives with an addict, the damage is being done. And while not every child will fall prey to addiction or other emotional or behavioral disorders, they need honest discussion and support to beat the odds.

You can’t save an addict or alcoholic unwilling to accept help. You can only save yourself… and you are obligated to save the child in your care….

This is my journey… This is my life.

Rob Cantrell

Passover is for those who won’t be held down anymore…

I’d like to explain what Passover means to me.

The eight-day festival of Passover is celebrated in the early spring, from the 15th through the 22nd of the Hebrew month of Nissan. It commemorates the emancipation of the Israelites from slavery in ancient Egypt. And, by following the rituals of Passover, we have the ability to relive and experience the true freedom that our ancestors gained. It is a time of remembering the past and celebrating the present. Okay, that’s the textbook definition…. Now let me tell you what it really means…

Passover is not only for Jewish people… it is for anyone who has made a change in their life. Passover was for me the day I decided not to commit suicide and reached out for help. It was for me the day I got off the couch in a drunken stupor and realized I wasn’t living… I was barely surviving. Passover was for me the day I walked onto a plane for California and walked away from the misery of the past. Passover is my holiday, and I am celebrating it with the people I love in a place I love. Passover brought me home… a place I never thought I’d find.

Letting go of the past is easier said than done. So many of us are hung up on our past — in the love we felt we had but lost, on past behaviour that has created a particular pattern in our life that is unhealthy or the opportunity that we missed out on. But, we also know it’s an unproductive space to dwell in… not only because it leads nowhere, but because it might hold you back from a better future. Maybe even from your destiny.

The thing is, it takes courage to admit something’s not working. It takes, even more, courage to admit that you sometimes can’t force it to work. In our society, quitting is seen as such a negative. We say things like “never give up,” or “try, try again.” But sometimes it is a matter of being honest with yourself, acknowledging the truth of the situation (and being honest about what you want) and giving yourself permission to try something different; to rewrite your script!

This isn’t just about our relationships with others; this is about the relationship with ourselves. Our past can be like a full suitcase that’s packed too tight — full of past issues and hurt. It gets so heavy, we find it hard to lug around. It weighs us down, so we no longer travel and experience beautiful destinations. What we need to do is unpack, discard some things, pack others away in their proper place in our closet and then set out on new adventures with a lighter load.

But why is this so hard?! Maybe it’s not just the fear of quitting. Doing the same thing is also the safe and easy choice. It’s easier to stay in a job you hate than look for a new one. Or to keep going in the relationship, you’re in than face the daunting prospect of dating, heartbreak, and unrequited love! Even when your present misery is debilitating, there can be a strange comfort and familiarity to it. But, while that kind of suffering is slowly eroding, the fear of doing something new, fixing the old behavior, and of actually trying is a more dramatic concern that can be paralyzing.

The thing is, what you’re most afraid of is rarely the thing that happens to you. For me, embracing The Fear and moving on from the past is one of the bravest, most vital things we can do as humans. When I look back at my life to date, those are the moments I’m most proud. And, you know what? They also far outweigh the failures or key learnings, as I like to call them. If I have a regret, it’s that I sometimes didn’t move on sooner, once I recognized something wasn’t working. But you have to allow your heart to catch up to your head sometimes, too.

The courage to take that leap of faith into a different future, even when you’re feeling vulnerable and insecure, has not only shaped my character but my life too. It isn’t always easy, and there are times when we all latch on to the status quo and decide to coast for a bit. The thing is, the great moments in life, the ones that transform and empower, are the ones when we break free and move on.

For every woman ever called a whore or paid less money than the man at the desk next to you… Passover is for you. For every black child called a “nigger” and openly hated by people, you don’t even know… Passover is for you. For the person in an abusive relationship afraid to leave… Passover is for you. For the child sexually violated in the middle of the night… Passover is for you. For every gay man called a “faggot” or refused civil rights enjoyed by heterosexuals across America… Passover is for you. For the homeless, the prostitutes and the drug addicted… Passover is for you.

Passover is for anyone who stands up and says, “No more! I will not allow this to continue in my life… Today is the day I walk towards freedom!”

Happy Passover from my heart to yours…

This is my journey… this is my life!

Rob Cantrell

A Public Apology To Anyone Hurt By An Alcoholic Like Me

If there is one thing, I’ve perfected it would have to be my ability to single handily destroy every holiday memory with my alcoholism and drug addiction. My kids didn’t deserve that or my parents or anyone I ever loved… but to say I’m sorry seems so inadequate… so dismissive of someone else’s life.

John McMahon is a man in recovery who posted his apology to the people he’s harmed as a sort of amends and by doing so, put actions to two meaningless words… “I’m sorry”.

I want to do the same using his wisdom as a guide…. So to my kids, parents, friends, lovers and casual acquaintances.

I’m sorry to those I’ve hurt the most

… for the things I did, for the hurt I caused, for the love I killed and for the hope I crushed.

It would be easy to say that I didn’t mean to hurt anyone—I didn’t. It would be easy to say that I wasn’t a bad man, or a violent man or a wicked man or so many other things. The problem is that I did all of this stuff when I was drunk or when I needed a drink.

Maybe I wasn’t a violent man, but that didn’t stop me from shouting, threatening and terrifying my family. For that, I am deeply ashamed, and I make no excuses. Maybe I wasn’t an unfaithful man, but that didn’t stop me from choosing drugs and alcohol over anyone or anything else. Again I have to say that I am deeply ashamed.

 I’m sorry to those I’ve betrayed, every day…

There are the big betrayals that damage a relationship to its core, but the things that crush the life out of the relationship are the smaller things, the everyday deceptions; the continual lies that destroy any sense of trust — that essential commodity for a successful relationship. Looking back now I lied, often, very often. I considered myself an honest man but I lied to protect my drinking, I lied to avoid arguments, I lied to get out the house to go for a drink, I lied about whether I had been drinking, about how much I had been drinking.

And I lied to protect my lies. I didn’t lie about everything, but I did lie about drinking, and I’m ashamed.

I would promise to be home at a particular time, but I wouldn’t arrive till much later, sometimes days later. I pledged to clean up the house, that I had messed up in my drunkenness, but I found some money in my pocket and went off drinking.

I promised to go to the store and come straight back but didn’t return until the following day. I promised to get home without drinking and staggered in drunk.

And during all these betrayals I would ask my wife, “Don’t you trust me?” Looking back on these incidents now, I find it hard to believe that I was the one who did all these things — but I was, and I did.

I’m sorry to those I burdened financially…

I stole money from our household budget. In my need for alcohol, I used the checkbook as a license to print money. I bounced checks all over town and in many bars to get booze.

In the middle of a bender I had no regard for anyone but myself and how I felt at that moment. The inevitable result was that we were always short of money and ultimately deeply in debt. I wish that I could return to that time and change it all but obviously, I can’t. However, I do offer my unreserved apologies to everyone who was hurt by my drinking and for all that I did during that time.

I’m sorry on behalf of all alcoholics …

… to all the people out there who are being and have been hurt by the behavior of an alcoholic. I am so sorry that we hurt you — no buts, no excuses!

I hope that some part of this helps to heal some of the hurts that we have caused, or contributes to repair some of the trust and love that we have destroyed.

It would be easy for you to dismiss this article as “just words.” After all, who could blame you, you have probably heard all the promises and apologies that I indeed made, plenty of times.

However, it doesn’t just end with words. This is part of me trying to make amends. Another part of my amends is helping alcoholics to change, and they can and do. There is hope.

This is my journey… this is my life.

Rob Cantrell

God… I wish I was beautiful or at least good enough…

c3d72fd973c23a7018df5610f19eab09I’ve never been “that guy”… the one with the striking face or gorgeous butt or any other physical attribute I feel will make me Hollywood sexy. I have great legs and amazing teeth… but I bought the teeth in Beverly Hills so they might not count. Too often, I glance in a mirror, and nothing good comes from it. I’m too fat… I’m too old… I’m too short… I’m too ethnic… I’m just “too”…

The truth is I’m a blessed man. I’m recovering from a lifetime of drug and alcohol abuse; I have someone who loves me as much as I do him and a couple of dogs that adore us both. My family, especially my parents have never turned their backs on me, even in the darkest of days. I’ve traveled around the world and have more education than nearly everyone I’ve ever known. But with all the things I’ve overcome and accomplished and enjoyed…. I’m still Rob. The guy who never felt good enough or smart enough or validated.

Look… I know all the happy crap that is supposed to make me feel better about me. I’ve read, written, preached and sometimes believed the messages about being “good enough”, but when the room goes dark, and it’s just me at the end of the day… Rob is still the insecure guy he’s always been facing life on life’s terms…

Sometimes, I get stuck in my head and allow my inner critic to tear completely apart my self-esteem until I hate myself too much to do anything except play Joni Mitchell songs and seek the next educational degree that’s gonna fix me. The other day, while I was beating myself up over something I can’t even recall at the moment, I read a comment from someone on Facebook who mentioned my honesty about addiction was helpful to them…. those few words from a stranger helped me more than they will ever know. For a fleeting moment, I felt validated.

Lately, I’ve been trying harder to catch myself when I feel a non-serving, self-depreciating thought coming on… While my self-acceptance journey is on-going, I spend a lot of time attempting to learn from others on how not to be so mean to myself… Madison Sonnier is a writer who seems to look at life clearly, so I want to share what I’ve learned from something she wrote:

The people you compare yourself to compare themselves to other people too.

We all compare ourselves to other people, and I can assure you that the people who seem to have it all do not. When you look at other people through a lens of compassion and understanding rather than judgment and jealousy, you are better able to see them for what they are—human beings. They are beautifully imperfect human beings going through the same universal challenges that we all go through.

Your mind can be a very convincing liar.

I saw a quote once that said, “Don’t believe everything you think.” That quote completely altered the way I react when a painful or discouraging thought goes through my mind. Thoughts are just thoughts, and it’s unhealthy and exhausting to give so much power to the negative ones.

There is more right with you than wrong with you.

Until you stop breathing, there’s more right with you than wrong with you.

As someone who sometimes tends to zoom in on all my perceived flaws, it helps to remember that there are lots of things I like about myself too—like the fact that I’m alive and breathing and able to pave new paths whenever I choose.

You need to love the most when you feel you deserve it the least.

This was a recent epiphany of mine, although I’m sure it’s been said many times before. I find that it is most difficult to accept love and understanding from others when I’m in a state of anger, shame, anxiety, or depression.

You have to accept fully and make peace with the “now” before you can reach and feel satisfied with the “later.”

One thing I’ve learned about making changes and reaching for the next rung on the ladder is that you cannot fully feel satisfied with where you’re going until you can accept, acknowledge, and appreciate where you are. Embrace and make peace with where you are, and your journey toward something new will feel much more peaceful, rewarding, and satisfying.

Focus on progress rather than perfection and on how far you’ve come rather than on how far you have left to go.

One of the biggest causes of self-loathing is the hell-bent need to “get it right.” We strive for perfection and success, and when we fall short, we feel less than and worthless. What we don’t seem to realize is that striving for success and being willing to put ourselves out there is an accomplishment in itself, regardless of how many times we fail. Instead of berating yourself for messing up and stumbling backward, give yourself a pat on the back for trying, making progress, and coming as far as you have.

You can’t hate your way into loving yourself.

Telling yourself what a failure you are won’t make you any more successful. Telling yourself, you’re not living up to your full potential won’t help you reach a higher potential. Telling yourself, you’re worthless and unlovable won’t make you feel any more worthy or lovable. I know it sounds almost annoyingly simple, but the only way to achieve self-love is to love yourself—regardless of who you are and where you stand and even if you know you want to change.

Look, I have five decades of experience in self-loathing and imperfections. It’s time to let things go I can’t change and change what I can… this is me… this is now, and this is all I have to work with today. I’m going to make this work.

This is my journey… this is my life.

Rob Cantrell5ee1406998cf1da789f5f8595c51df49