Working On, Imagining and Building a New Life

(April, 2014)  My name is Paul, and I am 27 years old. I started therapy three years ago and terminated about two months ago. I found out about Dr. Nicolosi’s work through the web after a few months of feeling more and more despair about where my life was going.

At the time, I was in grad school getting my Ph.D. and living in the city in an apartment with two roommates. The two of them were already good friends, but since I was the latecomer to the group and we didn’t know each other very well, during the first few months I felt really left out. They already had their groups of friends, their plans, and their lives, and I was always tagging along, feeling out of place. Also, as the cliché goes, the city can be a very lonely and alienating place. After a few months, I was feeling very lonely and sorry for myself, spending more and more time alone and, obviously, not having a lot of success making new friends or meeting new people. I didn’t like the people at grad school very much, either. Perhaps it was my prejudices, but I felt everyone was just too weird, too self-involved, too eccentric. In a sense, I think I feared that I was already too much of that myself, so making friends with people like that would only seal my fate as a weirdo and an outcast.

I had felt strong attractions toward guys at least since middle school, and it was always something I rejected, without not really facing up to it. I barely acknowledged it to myself and didn’t really give it much thought—delving into what it meant was simply too full of despair and darkness and confusion. Although I never got to the point of having sex with a guy—my religious inhibitions, my own fear, and my raw disgust for the whole idea kept me away, thankfully—but I lived my SSA practically every single day by generously indulging in pornography. I practically lived in a fantasy world. I remember I started with porn by watching straight stuff during late-night shows on TV when I was a teenager. Slowly, I overcame my disgust and rejection of same-sex stuff when I found it on the internet, until I developed a pretty solid addiction and basically lived my life around it, always being torn inside by my religious commitments against it.

I did have some attractions to girls along the way. In college, I even went so far as asking one particular girl I was infatuated with to go out with me. She turned me down twice, which was tough as hell but now that I look back on it I think it was one of the most constructive things that ever happened to me. In any case, the strength of the attraction for girls was nothing compared to my attractions to guys. My sexual feelings for guys were much more intense, in a completely different order of things.

As I explained, when I went to the city I felt more and more alone, and in that loneliness I slowly started to think seriously for the first time about SSA and its implications. I guess I had to face myself finally since I barely had anyone to talk to. When I thought about it, it started as all despair and darkness—I had no idea what to do, what to expect, where I would end up, and I was full of fear about where I was taking my life with all the porn and loneliness. So I started looking, hoping to find something. At first, I began reading psychology books, particularly the work of Conrad Baars. It resonated with me incredibly, and I devoured the books one after another. Baars talks about homosexuality in his books, but what struck me was that he suggests that it can be healed. I guess I always suspected (or blindly hoped) this was true, but it was more a dream or a hope than anything else. Now I had some scientific backing for my dream, so I searched on Amazon for more books, this time dealing specifically with SSA and how to heal it. I read many, until I came upon Dr. Nicolosi’s work and found his website. At first I wasn’t sure about it. I’ve always been a pretty “brainy” guy, so I like to study something before I jump into it. I got Dr. Nicolosi’s book, “Healing Homosexuality,” which contains stories of men who went through the therapy more or less successfully, with transcripts of what actual therapy is like, and it was very gripping for me. The most important thing was that it gave me a lot of perspective, helping me to see and understand the depth and range of problems guys with SSA have faced and which I had never even suspected. Also, I saw myself in them a lot. Wanting to understand more of how it works, I bought Dr. Nicolosi’s “Reparative Therapy and Male Homosexuality” which spells out the theory behind the whole process and explains the origins of SSA. Everything I read resonated with me more and more.

After reading and reading (and slowly overcoming my initial delusion that I could somehow heal myself), I went online to contact Nicolosi. I thought he was a particularly good fit for me because he’s Catholic like me and takes his faith seriously. Since I understood now that healing SSA would involve a lot of deep and difficult work in very sensitive areas, I did not want to work with someone who would ask me to back away from my beliefs or would not acknowledge how important it was for me that the whole process respect and prioritize the integrity of my faith. Nicolosi was my guy.

Once I started therapy, the first thing I think I learned was that I had to refocus my whole perspective on SSA. Until therapy I had only seen it as something that happened to me, a temptation that I had to control with all my strength. Through the work I came to see that beneath that temptation was a yearning and a need that was deep and, more importantly, very good and healthy: a desire for deep connection and friendship with guys. This was really important for me to see because I stopped fighting against it and started to try to bring it to the surface, since until then it had been drowning under the layers and layers of porn and fantasy that I had built in my mind around it. I learned that connecting with guys is very good (not, in fact, some “gay” desire) and, indeed, that it is grounded in a fundamental part of what being a man is.

Thankfully, I’ve always had good friends, but one of the problems with SSA was that I was very self-conscious around them and I really didn’t let myself go deep into the friendship or let myself be seen as I really was. In a sense, I only had the illusion of friendship, though it was with guys who were thankfully very good and wholesome and who didn’t hurt me. When I realized that SSA was masking my yearning for deep friendship and connection with guys, I realized that I needed to let go of those insecurities little by little if I ever wanted real friendship. I think this was one of the most transformative parts of therapy for me. It was incredible. In fact, I think one of the things I value most about therapy is how it made me appreciate the importance of friendship and the need to be vulnerable in order to attain it. During therapy, I forged the strongest friendships I have ever had.

The first part of therapy focused on the past and understanding the existence of this yearning and how several emotional wounds had transformed it into SSA. A lot of healing came from understanding that my relationship with my parents was simply not good. My family life was never like a horror story or anything like that, always apparently “normal,” but therapy opened up a whole new dimension of it that I had buried in my memory and only started to acknowledge little by little. There were a lot of painful events in the past that I didn’t really decipher until the therapy. For example, I began to understand how my father was completely absent from my growing up (although he was always “there”) and how my mother was insecure and domineering and wouldn’t let me be who I was born to be as a man. The other women in my family, my grandmother and my aunts, also contributed to this with their equally domineering personalities. Just understanding and coming face to face with this reality, although painful, was very important in my healing. I was beginning to see how these events had effectively scarred me, leaving me almost incapable of forming new and mature relationships, so that I was repeating those past traumas in the present when I met other people. It may have been new people and characters the next time around, but it traced back to the same story: fear and yearning for a distant Dad, and submissive and idolizing feelings for the omnipresent Mom.

Another huge part of therapy involved working on my addiction to porn. The therapy didn’t address the addiction per se, but rather it helped me understand why I was attracted to the images I was seeing, what triggered the attraction, and what emotional states the porn addiction produced, nourished, and benefited from, etc. I became very aware of these different states, and through a lot of hard work (I’m still working on it!) I learned to control them, to not make such a big deal out of them, to see that they are nothing more than feelings that will pass and that come from some lie or “story” in my mind that triggers them. Slowly, I learned to dissect them, to find the lie underneath and liberate myself from them. It’s tough work, very exhausting, but incredibly liberating.

Today my life is totally different. I feel myself grounded in my own self and happy with who I am. I have struggles like everybody, but now I’m not drowning in them, incapable of seeing what’s going on as I used to. I see myself as moving forward, although my progress is much more modest, much more realistic, much more based on who I am and what I can and cannot do, than it was at the beginning, where unrealistic dreams of absolute transformation kept me depressed and stuck. Another great thing about the therapy as a Christian was that I came to see that part of my yearning and my need for connection was in fact a need for God as my Father, which gave me a vision of life that changed completely how I function. I ground my hope in Him and not only in my own abilities, and I know that the only true and deep healing (although I can do a lot to help) comes from Him. This liberated me from all the pressure to do everything perfectly myself.

I have been married three months now and my wife is pregnant with our first child, but the road to where I am was long and hard. I always thought that I would get married, as a kind of passing thought or simple assumption (I simply “knew” that it would happen at some point, almost as if magically), but I never got started down the path that would take me there. I was paralyzed by fear; I had thought about becoming a priest, but realized that I was only thinking about it out of fear, as an escape rather than a truly fulfilling life in itself. In fact, I never had a girlfriend until I met my wife, which was about two years ago, when I had just finished my first year-and-a-half of therapy.

Our relationship started off slow, since she was in another country and we had to do it long-distance, which is very tough. She was (and is) a veritable godsend because she was very different from my mother (which was the idea of womanhood I had). She’s mature and strong, a whole new femininity that I didn’t know. When we first met I noticed and loved the fact that she respected me as a man and wanted me to achieve things as a man. Little details made the difference, like she wanted me to drive her home after our first date, not because she couldn’t drive the car but she wanted to give me that space. Or that she expected me to take care of certain things, instead of doing everything for me like my mother, etc.

I’ve come to realize that my mother is a good woman, but she is a micromanager and it is very hard for her to lose control of things. It is hard for her not to want to take care of everyone and instead to give other people their space and opportunity to do what they need to do. With my wife I don’t have that problem because she encourages me and understands me. I can confide my frustrations with her without thinking that she’ll try to smother me by trying to solve all my problems for me instead of giving me the strength to do it myself.

One major sign that she was the right woman was that I told her about my SSA and my therapy before we got engaged and she was incredibly supportive. She understood me and saw the man that I wanted to be, even if I barely knew who that man was or how to become him. She saw him somewhere inside me already. It was simply unbelievable. She just saw it. She would say: “You are going to be a great father, husband, and professional because I see it already in you, even if you don’t.” We have our issues as a couple like everybody, but we’re happy, we’re connected, we struggle together, we start over together, and both emotionally and sexually I think we are where we want to be. It’s more than I ever dreamed of.

I think the most important realization I’ve had about therapy (and indeed about life) is that there is no such thing as a magical pill that one can take and life does a “180.” Therapy is decidedly not that—it’s tough, it’s messy, it’s not something I looked forward to. But it saved my life because it taught me to love myself as a broken being; it taught me to accept that there are no perfect solutions, only the daily struggle. Indeed, I’ve learned that to be happy one must abandon all utopian delusions of a future life where everything will be “perfect” and learn to love that daily struggle with oneself and with the world. The struggle is where boys become men, where one stops to play and fantasize and dream. Therapy is tough, it’s messy, it’s not something I looked forward to. But it saved my life because it taught me to love myself as a broken being; it taught me to accept that there are no perfect solutions, only the daily struggle.

Indeed, I’ve learned that to be happy one must abandon all utopian delusions of a future life where everything will be “perfect” and learn to love that daily struggle with oneself and with the world. The struggle is where boys become men, where one stops to play and fantasize and dream, and starts to work and imagine and build. That’s the key: don’t only acknowledge that there is the struggle, love it. Now, I can fulfill those deep needs for male connection by challenging myself in healthy ways to make new friends and assert my own self, be my own self so that they will accept and (some of them) love me as friends. I still have some temptations and “gay” thoughts sometimes, but I’m OK with that because it doesn’t define who I am; it’s just another obstacle on the course to becoming the man I want to be: husband, father, caregiver, builder. I can continue to live my life the way I want it because the struggle makes me stronger and more myself. That’s why I have always objected to the self-label of “gay,” as if one’s weaknesses or tendencies defined what one is. I identify as a man, and that’s it.