Ideas for Recovery from Ex-Gay Harm
During the Beyond Ex-Gay Mid-South Regional Gathering, a group of ex-gay survivors, allies and mental health professionals met to brainstorm strategies for recovering from the ex-gay harm that many of us experienced.
Below is a list of some of the ideas we discussed. It is by no means an exhaustive list or in any special order, but in reading it, you can see some approaches that have helped individuals move beyond the ex-gay experience and harm into a fuller life.
The willingness to label and name the harm
Acknowledging that we experienced harm can be difficult and painful, but once we identify the harm, we can then start to address it. Peterson wrote an article about ex-gay harm that has helped many people label for themselves the sort of harm they experienced.
Accepting the stages of grief and mourning for what was lost
The Kübler-Ross model outlines five stages of grief—denial, anger, bargaining, depression and finally acceptance. Some ex-gay survivors find themselves walking through these stages as we consider the lost dreams we once pursued, the subsequent damage to our relationships, finances, development and careers. Moving through the stages can help us come to a place of recovery.
Taking proper responsibility for our ex-gay pasts and our recovery
Some people feel stuck with anger, bitterness and unforgiveness considering "what they did to me!" But part of the recovery is also acknowledging what we let others do to us. Unless we were youth forced to attend these programs, many of us elected to attend and actively pursued ex-gay experiences. By facing that, we can begin to forgive ourselves. Then we can take an active part in our recovery knowing that if we got ourselves into a mess, we can get ourselves out of it.
Finding a place to cry in safety and physicially releasing emotions
We need places where we can express our feelings over our ex-gay pasts and people with whom we can let our feelings out without being corrected or coddled. Sometimes you just need to scream into a pillow or express your emotions in other physical ways. We kept things locked up for a long time and we may need to put some effort into getting them out. Some people who have not been through an ex-gay process can be insensitive to the complexity of our experiences and the many friends we lost in the process. Finding a safe place can be such solace.
Learning how to take care of ourselves, and especially when to say no
For many of us, we submitted our will to other people and went along with a treatment plan that ultimately caused us more harm than good. In part, we felt insecure about trusting our own hearts and minds and went along with what leaders and "experts" had to say. As we recover, we can learn how to take care of ourselves, discern what we need and discover how to say no, even to well meaning LGBT-affirming folks who may want us to share our stories with others when we are not ready. Sometimes "no" is the best answer.
Art of all kinds
As Kurt Vonnegut often said before his death, "Everyone should practice art because art enlarges the soul." By processing our stories and experiences through art, we bypass some of the filters and dead ends we often encounter and come to new discoveries and openings.
Some of us have found therapy helpful after we have come out and began to integrate the various parts of our lives. Many of us have felt fear of entering into another therapeutic relationship after negative experiences with ex-gay counselors. Seeing a professional with proper training, though, can make all the difference for some people in their recovery. Not every LGBT-affirming therapist has been trained to address issues around the ex-gay movement. Feel free to have a specific conversation about this with a prospective therapist to ensure they feel equipped to help you with your needs.
12-step type group
Some people find the work in 12-Step groups liberating. There are now 12-step groups to help people overcome Bible abuse and for recovering fundamentalists. Also, some people who entered the ex-gay world in hopes of finding help with sexual addiction issues may still need to address those issues once they come out. For some, a 12-step community provides the support and guidance needed to face and address these issues.However, for some people who had been in ex-gay programs that used the 12-Steps, you may want to stay far away from even gay-affirming 12-step programs because of the negative feelings they bring up. That's part of knowing what you need and knowing when to say no.
Weekend intensives, weekend therapy groups, or Beyond Ex-Gay gatherings
Spending a day or even a few hours with other ex-gay survivors can help tremendously with the recovery process. Knowing that you are not alone, hearing others articulate what you have felt inside for years can make all the difference. Beyond Ex-Gay will continue to hold national and regional events. Contact us if you want to be put on our mailing list about upcoming events.
Many of us learned negative messages about sexuality and our bodies during our time in the ex-gay movement. Through healthy touch and sex, we can undo some of that damage. The Body Electric School offers safe spaces for people to reconnect with bodies through healthy touch. Some ex-gay survivors have found massage helpful in their recovery process.
Exploring previously taboo activities or groups
In order to recover from our ex-gay pasts, an important part is the need to discover who we are—what makes us tick. We may have shunnned certain groups or activities because they seemed taboo when we felt they might hinder our ex-gay life. By exploring some of these, we can address the assumptions we once held as we discover new parts of ourselves and the world.
Being around pro-gay people
It feels good to be around people who love and accept you for who you are, including the LGBT part of you. Being part of an affirming faith community, community groups, and other gathering places where we find pro-gay people helps us to feel good about ourselves. While in the ex-gay movement, one of the many myths we may have learned about the gay community was that it is only found in the bars and nightlife. This is not always true. Get in touch with your local LGBT community center and find out about groups and programs in your area.
Finding positive gay media
Replacing the negative, anti-gay messages we heard for years with honest, positive ones helps a lot. Christine Bakke points to the PBS In the Life program as one that helped her to see the LGBT experience in a new light. Now there are many films, books, TV programs and art available that points to positive and fullfulling LGBT experiences.
Talk and process via two-way conversations or monologue
When someone hears us — really deeply hears us and what we have experienced — and when we listen to another's experience, this helps us move past some of the confusion, hurt and grief we have carried. Sharing our stories and listening to others' can be such gifts. In addition, you may wish to share your story in a more public way through a speakers' bureau, in the press or even here at bXg. Public sharing is not for everyone and requires a structure in place with caring friends to support you through the process.
Good/helpful reading materials
Reading helpful books and articles about the many issues that plagued us and confused us can clarify our thinking as well as drive away some of the fears and doubts we carry over from the time when we fought against being gay. Here at Beyond Ex-Gay we provide an extensive list of resources of web sites, books, articles and more.
Healthy Relationships (friendships, romantic, dating)
So many of our fears and doubts can be addressed through healthy relationships. Be it with a friend or on a date, we can rebuild trust, find our voices and dare to love again. After denying ourselves romance (and in many cases, even close friendships) for a long time, we can feel desperate to meet that special someone. Love and romance are complicated, and in pursuing it, we must not overlook the tremendous benefit of friendship.
Many of us heard the message that we can't be both a person of faith and LGBT. That's not true. Some of us are wired for a spiritual journey and after our ex-gay experiences we may long to be reconnected with a faith community. Perhaps the old style of worship and faith cannot sustain us anymore, but branching out on a spiritual quest may be a big part in someone's recovery from spiritual abuse and ex-gay experiences.
The Internet has opened up a whole new world of self-expression and social networking. Maintaining a blog may give you a safe space to explore your ex-gay past as you unpack your experiences. The nature of a blog gives you the chance to share your thoughts with others anonymously if you wish, and you get to receive feedback from others who visit your blog. In addition to writing, you can include photography, video, and art.
Accepting that family/friends go through a process too
Many of us had months and even years to sort through our feelings before coming to a place where we were able to accept ourselves as gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender. For our family and friends, they too need time to work through their own feelings when we come out or inform them that we are no longer ex-gay. We may feel vulnerable and fear rejection from these important people in our lives, but we need to give them their space to work through their own process and not hold everything they say against them. Many times they come around once they have had a chance to work through their questions and strong feelings.
Finding mentors/positive role models
We have many brothers, sisters and others who have been down this road before and some who never went ex-gay and have always felt comfortable in their skin. Finding positive role models and mentors gives us an excellent source of information and comfort as we walk out of one world and into another. Peterson often mentions his "Aunt Doyle" in Memphis, a positive and powerful gay man who has endured many hardships and has much wisdom to share.
Coming out and living out; being authentic
We lived in shadows for a long time, even when we were ex-gay. One of the most powerful forms of recovery is the coming out process. We counter the shame and the fear when we face it head on. By living as our true selves we are empowered to live to our full potential and in so doing inspire those around us to do the same.
Disclaimer: We're not therapists, nor have we even played ones on TV. Even though many survivors have found these suggestions to be helpful, please be sure and use your own good judgment in when and how and if you use or apply anything suggested or presented here. These suggestions should not be used as a substitute for therapy or adequate mental health care if needed. If you are in crisis, consult a GLBT-affirmative therapist, hospital emergency room, or call 911 or the (U.S.) GLBT National Help Center at 1-888-THE-GLNH (1-888-843-4564). If you are a GLBT youth in crisis or suicidal, you can call the Trevor Helpline at 1-866-4-U-Trevor (1-866-488-7386).
Return to our page of resources to find articles, art, poetry, and more!