Mark told me about the first time he forced those two words out of his mouth. “I was crying, my body was shaking with terror, and I felt completely unloveable,” he said. Four long hours sitting in Starbucks with a Christian counselor, but he had finally said it.
Even more important, he’d finally said it to himself.
In Part I of this series about what has kept my friend from high school alive, I wrote about Mark’s journey from a conservative Christian home in rural Texas to studying music at Bob Jones University (BJU). It was at BJU that he described having a spiritual crisis, in which he decided to take a temporary break from college to examine his spiritual beliefs more closely than he ever had before.
It was while Mark was exploring his Christian beliefs and doubts at a semester-long Focus on the Family’s apologetics program that he said those two words about his sexuality. It was also during that program that he came closest to killing himself. Not only did he feel confused about the most basic values and beliefs he’d built his life on, he also felt incredible self-hatred about being gay.
The storm in his soul swirled into a major climax one day as he sat in an 8-hour class about homosexuality. The teacher claimed to be heterosexual now, but had identified as gay in the past. Mark’s hatred toward himself grew that day, which he described as “one of the worst days of my life.” He also felt hope, however, because here, right in front of him, was a real-life man who had also plead with God to take away his same-sex attractions and also dreamed of having a wife and family. Just like Mark. And this man was offering a way out! A way forward.
So when Mark came out to his counselor a month later in Starbucks, his counselor arranged for Mark to meet up with this man.
“It was in that meeting that I realized it was all bullshit,” Mark told me. “In the public eye, yes, this man had been cured of his homosexual orientation, but privately? In private, he told me that he’d never really changed, but had just gotten married and had children anyway.”
After that meeting, Mark decided he would never put a woman through being married to a man who wasn’t sexually attracted to her. As he said to himself, “I’m just going to have to live with this!”
So Mark decided at that time that there was definitely nothing was wrong with himself. However, he also told me about his painful impression that Christians hated him regardless of whether he ever acted on his romantic desires, simply because he was gay and didn’t fit into their narrow definition of conservative, Christian masculinity.
Perhaps it’s no surprise that Mark hit an all-time low at this point. Suicide became less theoretical, and something to seriously consider. Mark found his confusing and splintered life to be maddening.
“I’d refuse to go out for drinks with my fellow students at Focus on the Family because that was against the rules, while at the same time, I doubted whether the God supposedly behind these rules even existed,” he explained.
So why did Mark almost kill himself? He gave two reasons.
“I thought committing suicide would actually make everyone else’s lives better. I felt like a burden to others,” Mark explained. “I knew they would be upset that I killed myself, but I thought I knew better than they did what was really the best thing for us all.”
The second reason was harder for Mark to talk about, in a way. Because it was about revenge.
Revenge for all the harm and pain and torture Mark had suffered up to this point in his life.
Mark and I returned to our earlier discussion of the infamous TV show, 13 Reasons Why, which guides viewers through a litany of 13 reasons the main character, Hannah Baker, killed herself. I haven’t watched the show myself, but those who have tell me that Hannah’s main goal was to take revenge against those she blamed for her own unbearable emotional pain.
“What is it like to be so honest about your desire for revenge back then while constantly hearing people condemn 13 Reasons Why precisely because it appears to glorify Hannah’s successful revenge?” I asked.
Mark told me the desire for revenge, as taboo as the subject may be, isn’t uncommon among those considering suicide.
And yet, Mark did not kill himself. Why?
Stretched between his desire to save his friends and family from the shame of association with him, and his desire to show these same people exactly how it feels to be disregarded and abandoned, Mark discovered a third option.
“I slowly realized there was a different way of living with myself and with others,” Mark told me. “I had been raised to be completely selfless at all costs and to believe that being angry was wrong.”
Even while Mark felt alone in his internal battle with himself, he had an epiphany: if he wanted to break out of his messed up understanding of his own value and worth, suicide might not be the most appropriate option.
“I thought to myself, sure, I can plan a super elaborate suicide so that everyone will feel so bad and change their lives, but how will it benefit me?”
Since Mark couldn’t find a good answer to this question, he then asked himself several more questions:
Why can’t just do whatever the hell I want?
If I’m at the point of caring so little about what others think of me, why don’t I just shoot up some heroin?
Or, since I don’t particularly care for drugs, why don’t I just do something else that’s fun?
Do I really want to give up my own life for these people for whom I feel so much anger buried inside?
These people don’t even know me. So why give up my life for them?
If I’m willing to die, I’m obviously okay with never talking to these people again. So why not live my life instead, deciding not to be controlled by what they think of me?
These questions led Mark to his decision: “I decided I want to live my life to make myself happy and to help other people around me.”
And just as importantly, Mark also decided he wasn’t going to live to please them — the many people in his life who hadn’t been able or willing to love him unconditionally.
So Mark lived. He in fact transferred to Dallas Baptist and completed a degree in music composition. Now he lives in Dallas, TX with his two silky, beautiful cats, Lady Mimosa and Bellini. He is always fixing up or remodeling his beautiful home. It keeps his hands busy while his soul continues to heal. And he has long-since embraced his eye for beauty by working a successful career as an interior design consultant. He’s a workaholic and he knows it.
And the rest of his story? How he now makes sense of his sexual identity and his beliefs (or lack thereof) about God, for example? We haven’t gotten there yet. I’m still trying to remember his cats’ names, for goodness’ sake.
For now, I’m just thankful that Mark is still here. I’m glad there’s a life for me to get to know, all over again.