“You will find that it is necessary to let things go; simply for the reason that they are heavy. So let them go, let go of them." — C. Joybell C.
In 2011, I was learning to make my way in a whole new, semi-closeted world.
I had quietly come out to some of my family and closest friends, and they were all still there. They hadn't freaked out. They still loved me. The world just kept on spinning like it had always done. I could breathe again.
For the first time in my life, I had people to talk to, to listen, to ask questions. I had people to call when I felt lonely or needed a shoulder to cry on. I learned back then that everything changes when we invite people into our secrets. It's the most powerful single step to begin taking back our lives.
Semi-closeted life is quite different. And quite wonderful, I discovered.
To be fully known—even only by a few—released so much joy in me. For the first time in my life, I felt understood.
Being misunderstood is a dull pain a lot of people experience.
It's a slight toothache that isn't quite bad enough to send you to a dentist. It's the rattle coming from your car engine. This is the pain of being misunderstood.
It's knowing that just underneath the surface is a part of your life that people can barely see and never understand.
And the misunderstood constantly field questions they can't or won't answer...
So why don't you date?
Why are you single?
You just work too much, don't you?
Geez! Why are you in such a bad mood?
What's wrong with you today?
So when are you guys having a baby?
Missed you in church today...where were you?
I haven't seen your husband around....are you guys okay?
People hiding their pain know how awful this questioning is and how it feels to bite your tongue for the thousandth time. It sucks.
To be misunderstood is to be very slightly invisible, at least in one way. And there is nothing humans fear more than invisibility.
So when the closeted person finally reveals the blueprint—the FULL blueprint—of his or her life, they feel the joy of being understood, of being known. It's a big relief.
I discovered all this back then.
2011 had some challenges, but it was also a healing year for me that brought some new peace. But I knew I had a long way to go. I knew I needed to go back to counseling.
Unlike the time before, I wasn't looking for someone to fix me. I was looking for someone to help me figure out this new life—forever single and semi-out.
My new therapist couldn't have been more stereotypical. He was an older white guy with grey hair, aluminum-rimmed glasses from the 80s, pleated khakis, and plaid shirts. His office was a jumbled mess of clutter, loose papers, and old-school psychology books. All in all, he was a cool guy though.
He told me he was a Christian, and that he incorporated Scriptural as well as secular methodologies into his counseling style. Like before, the first few sessions were biographical—telling my life story and catching him up on the past 30 years. Predictably, I cried a lot.
And after a few weeks, he began to figure me out.
And this is the point where counseling gets fun. It's fun because they finally start giving you what you came for: Answers...
"Brett, I'm not worried as much about the same sex attraction thing as I am about the fear in your life. Are you aware of how fear rules you?" He went on to quote 1 John 4:18...
"There is no fear in love. But perfect love casts out fear..."
He talked about how love and fear can't really coexist. He said that understanding grace was the difference-maker. He talked about God's fixed, firehose love that's constantly aimed at us, regardless of our desires. He said that when we understand this, it has a way of bullying out the fear. "Love casts out fear..."
I had never thought about that really.
I mean, I knew I was scared of this whole situation, but I didn't realize how much it gripped me, how much it controlled my thoughts. He was right.
"Have you ever heard of the 4 R's, Brett?" he then asked me.
I told him no. He summarized it, telling me it was a secular framework some guy had developed for treating people with OCD. But he said you could use it to minimize any unwanted desires. But he wasn't suggesting I use to beat back the same sex attraction. He was suggesting I use it to control the fear and other negative emotions that had been ruling me. Being the good Christian therapist that he was, he then pointed out how this aligned with Scripture, pointing to 2 Corinthians 10:5, "...we take every thought captive and make it obedient to Christ."
"Brett, this is how God uses the brain to change us. It's in science, but it's in the Bible too."
I pressed in, peppering him with questions, so he gave me a little crash course in neuroscience.
He told me how our repetitive thoughts create neural pathways in our brains which is the source of a lot of our crazy and our bad habits. He told me how, over time, we can rewire those neural pathways through something called neuroplasticity and, as that happens, our minds can change. Those "deceptive brain messages" can decrease.
Now that's what I paid my $125 per hour for, doc!
I was completely intrigued.
So I asked him where I could learn more. He said he'd mail me an article.
"You mean email?" I asked.
Oh no. He wanted to send me a printed copy of an article via snail mail which I thought was the cutest, most old-school-counselor thing ever.
I read the article and then researched neuroplasticity even more. I was hooked on learning about the brain.
As I learned, I began to put the 4 R's into practice.
"Reframing" is the 2nd R, and it was the step that resonated with me most. So I began reframing everything. I reframed my fears. I reframed problems at work. I reframed all kinds of things I was thinking badly about. Each time I would reframe, I'd pray and ask God to be in the middle of it.
And, much to my shock, I began to notice that it worked.
To this day, it's been the single most helpful methodology I ever learned in any of my therapy. And I can honestly say my life is different because of it.
In November 2011, I celebrated my 30th birthday.
My friends organized a big surprise birthday party at this hip bar in Atlanta, and I was completely surprised. It was one of the sweetest moments of my life.
But anyone who's been single at 30 knows it's tough. By that age, most of your friends are married off and many have kids. The loneliness still stung, so I knew I had to learn to beat those feelings. Time for some reframing.
Around that same time, I made a note about some reframing I did once in a church service. After the service, I recorded it in my big UNFR note. Here's what I wrote (unedited)...
"Have been trying a new technique lately of reframing PDA. Was at Passion City last night and there was a really cuddly newly-wed couple sitting in front of me. He would stroke her hair, then hug her real tight, then hold her hand and stare at her. All throughout the service. This kind of stuff usually makes me sad b/c it reminds me of what I'll never have. But I just had the sense that I needed to reframe this kind of stuff as God's affection for me. I imagine I'm the one being pursued, loved, and hugged by a God who loves me. I've started doing this everywhere now as it turns a moment of pain into a moment of hope."
And this began a new season of mental conditioning for me. It was a season of self-talk and reframing and quiet little moments of coaching myself up. No one ever knew, but my mind was always spinning.
One of my favorite quotes of all time is by pastor Charles Swindoll...
"Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it."
I've always believed this so hard. I realized back then I had to react better to the loneliness. I had to take control of all that negative emotion, because I was in it for the long haul. I was committed to honoring God by being single and celibate, and I couldn't let anything derail that.
So I created some little incantations for myself. One of them was very simple...
I don't need love.
Oh sure, I needed to be loved by friends and family.
I knew we all needed that. But that's not what this incantation was about. This was about me not needing romantic love. This was about me not needing a companion of any kind. I knew this mantra would protect me from ever seeking out love in a bad place. So I preached it to myself often...
Another friend gets married. I don't need love.
See a good looking guy at the mall. I don't need love.
Feel lonely at a wedding. I don't need love.
Hear another love song on the radio. I don't need love.
Someone asks me who I'm dating. I don't need love.
I reframed every "love moment" I saw in this way...
You don't need love, Brett. All you need is God. His love is enough.
This was my new frame, and, to be honest, it felt really good. Freeing myself from the expectation of love felt like a big release.
But I knew I needed to reinforce the frame some more beliefs...
Love is silly.
Love is non-essential.
Love is time-consuming.
Love is a pain in the butt.
Love brings drama into your life.
Love requires time I don't have.
Love takes you away from your work.
Love can fail you which makes it very risky.
Love leads to heartbreak and who wants that.
Love has failed many others...look at all the divorces.
What even is love?
Can we measure it? Observe it? Track it? Bottle it?
Love probably isn't even real.
And so sometime around 30, I slammed the door...
I slammed the door on love.
And I put a giant steel padlock on that door.
I nailed some two-by-fours to it and slid a bunch of old furniture in front of it.
I posted a "DANGER: DO NOT ENTER" sign with a skull and crossbones square in the middle of that door.
I walked back upstairs and forgot that door was even there.
Love wasn't an option for me. It never would be. Love was for everyone else, but not me. Jesus seemed to get by fine without it. So did Paul.
And I knew I'd be fine without it as well... 👊
B.B.P.S. - Reminder: I am not a therapist, pschologist, or psychiatrist. My thoughts about the mind and neuroplasticity are simply my opinions on what was helpful for me.
I don't recommend you attempt any kind of treatment outside the guidance or care of a licensed professional. However, if you'd like to learn more about Jeffrey Schwartz's 4 R's, you can click here for a 5 minute overview video or click here to buy his book (which I highly recommend).
Furthermore, I have absolutely no relationship with Jeffrey Schwartz and am not being compensated to promote him or his book. I mention it simply because it was a helpful resource on my journey.
All photos by Sterling Graves. Copyright Blue Babies Pink & Sterling Graves.
B.T. Harman is the creator of Blue Babies Pink, a Southern Coming Out Story in 44 Episodes.
B.T. is a consultant, writer, and speaker living in Atlanta's historic Cabbagetown neighborhood. He was previously a vice president for Booster, an Atlanta fundraising company, where he helped the organization raise $150 million for elementary schools.
B.T. is passionate about storytelling, leadership, good design, Seth Godin, SEC football, Chick-fil-A, Taylor Swift, archaeology, European Travel and CS Lewis.
To learn more about B.T., visit his personal site at btharman.com.