Over the last five years, as I have faced the many changes involved in coming out later in life, I’ve faced internal struggles between feeling familiar feelings that were nevertheless painful; and feeling unfamiliar feelings that were nevertheless natural and peaceful.
At the same time, I’ve often found myself at some sort of crossroads – perhaps one that appears small on the outside but feels enormous on the inside. And my therapist would remind me of the roller coaster effect. When I sit at the top of a roller coaster, I feel both excited and scared. It’s really my choice how I handle that inevitable moment just before the roller coaster picks up speed and starts to fly down the incline. And often, I find myself feeling both feelings at once – which ultimately increases the exhilaration of the total experience.
As a roller coaster fan from way back, I adore this analogy. I love that moment at the top where you think for just a second that you’re going to absolutely EXPLODE from the fear; and then the bliss of flying, flying, flying, down, around, maybe upside down, and back up again. When I was younger and I used to go to amusement parks, I would go from roller coaster to roller coaster over and over – in all my years of amusement park fanaticism I may have seen one show, eaten at maybe two restaurants, bought maybe one of those weird light necklaces. I just spent my time running from roller coaster to roller coaster.
Now that I’m onto memory lane, I have to give credit to a little dude of the roller coaster world called the Schussboomer at an amusement park called Worlds of Fun. I just read in Wikipedia that the ride was dismantled in 1984, which, I suppose, dates me terribly. Here’s a photo taken (not by me) during the summer I probably spent most of my roller coaster time on the thing. It was supposed to simulate skiing – you know, the thrill of victory without the agony of defeat. It’s hard to see the scale of it but it was really small as roller coasters went so you could ride it and run around and ride it again and run around and ride it again, you get the idea.
So I have really fond memories of actual roller coasters (I wonder how my inner ear stability would handle them nowadays? Hmmm…). And I love the idea of looking at the challenges of my life as being right at the top of the Schussboomer, ready to plunge down, run around, and go again – and again, and again!
Now, I don’t think the actual Schussboomer was dismantled because of any safety concerns, I think it probably just got out-classed by all the fancier roller coasters that came along later. But the one constant that remains in roller coaster riding is that moment where you sit, suspended for that eternal few seconds, before you plunge into whatever downward or twisting or ferociously fast track that takes you, in the end, to the exact spot where you began just a few moments before.
It’s been a puzzle to me, then, how come I can’t access that thrill-seeking capacity in my coming-out experience. I live it, and love it, when I sing, or speak in front of groups of people, or get called upon to do something spontaneous in a group setting. I know the feeling. I know it well. It’s one of the reasons I picked my profession.
But it doesn’t work for me for the issues I’ve faced in coming out. And I finally figured out why. It’s pretty simple. I don’t, when facing new choices, new decisions, new coping techniques, new beliefs, find myself on the cusp of excitement, fear, and then WHOOSH!!! I just don’t. I wish I did. I try to. I try to pretend I do. But I don’t.
When I face the big choices and changes involved in coming out, instead of sitting at the top of the roller coaster; or standing in the wings waiting for the stage manager to call the cue that sends me out to sing; or walking up to talk to a class; I sit in an emotional morass, tied to a dungeon wall, hearing inner criticism that feels both emotionally and physically painful. There is nothing in that experience that correlates to the fear/excitement/roller coaster/standing in the wings sensation. Nothing. It’s just wave after wave after wave after wave of uncontrollable panic and genuine terror and a sense of isolation so desperate that I cannot even imagine any other human being reaching me, even if they tried.
It’s not fear/excitement. It’s a terror that leaves me shaking all over, unable to think, unable to act, unable to function except on the most basic level (the children are always fed and clothed and cared for). There’s no way to step through that into a downward WHOOSH or step into a warm and welcoming spotlight where people are ready for my song. I can’t get there from here, if that makes sense.
This past week, as we finally determined that it is indeed time to legally divorce, I spent almost 24 hours in wave after wave of panic. I could NOT talk myself out of it. At night I would relax enough to fall asleep, only to wake up in a desperate panic as soon as I relaxed enough to let go. It was truly unbearable.
That’s when I called in reinforcements. I know that there is a medication I can take and have taken successfully that deals with this anxiety. I asked for a renewal of the prescription and the relief was IMMEDIATE. Within ten minutes of taking the first dose.
After a week of taking this medication, and living my life, and realizing that removing the panic from my plate has improved my voice beyond all possible realms of imagination (I’m getting ready for a show next month), and has helped me talk to my ex (soon to be legal ex) about matters that would, in the past, have ended up with me curled up in the floor in the fetal position, I realized. It finally hit me. I benefit from the help the medicine provides. I don’t discount the therapy. I reach out for all kinds of support, IRL and online. But I can’t even get to that fear/excitement/waiting in the wings/top of the roller coaster feeling without the medication right now.
So that’s my clue – that when it comes to coming out, I really do get to feel optimistic. I really do get to feel proud of myself. I really do get to feel like I’m doing the right thing. I really do get to face the coming conversations with that “oh I hope my high note is where I want it tonight” feeling. I really do get to have that.
Now I can tell when the panic is about to set in, and I can take this particular medication (a prescription, non-habit-forming), in a variety of doses throughout the day. Now I recognize when I’m in a place where I need to step through the fear and into the excitement, and when I need to take the help I need in order to be able to do just that.
It has been a godsend to recognize this over the past days. I look in the mirror and I look at peace. I sing with a true connection to my spirit. I teach with creativity and insight and depth. I prioritize where it counts.
I had a chakra-balancing session last week, after I had allowed myself to start taking the help from the medicine. It was a wonderful experience of hearing sounds and smelling aromas that led me into what felt like my home universe.
And, it turned out, my home universe is gentleness. That’s where I come from.
So I’ll take it. And I’ll give it. And I’ll reach out for every possible resource I can find to get me to the place where I’m ready. I remember one time, shortly before I went back on the medication – I was talking to my therapist and I said, “You know, about the time I think I’m close to comatose, I’m really about halfway to calm.”
Is getting divorced because I’m taking my final steps in coming out a way to learn to be calm? Yeah. Yeah it is. I don’t know why that’s true for me, but it just is. So I’ll take the roller coaster fear/excitement. But along the way I’m so thankful for the places in me where I can find something other than panic, desperation, and shame.
Because this is the right thing for me to do. This is me, living my truth.
[via this time this space]