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Goodbye, all done: S01E19

Goodbye, all done

Hello and welcome to Episode 19 of This Little Light Of Mine.  My name is James Powell and I’m glad that you’re able to join me for today’s episode, ‘Goodbye, all done.’.

As I finally sit down to record this episode, I can feel the impact of what I’m about to share in my body.  I have a massive knot in the lower right side of my neck, my breathing is shallow, my thoughts are racing, I had Burger King for lunch, followed by half a bag of chips and have a tub of candy cane ice cream… and I’ve put off this record to do anything and everything else I could think of.  I even considered starting to do my tax prep (and we haven’t even finished the year).

Goodbye, all done

Trigger warning

Before I go further, I want to share that this is another ‘explicit’ episode as this part of my story contains content that may trigger some survivors.  In today’s episode I will be talking about suicidal ideation and attempted suicide.  This is a topic that nobody wants to talk about, but one we desperately need to talk about.  I’m dedicating this episode to all those struggling with mental health challenges and to the incredible services that The Trevor Project provides in the US and the Kids Help Phone provides in Canada to help support young LGBTQ lives.

As always, I encourage all listeners to be gentle with themselves, listen to your own bodies and to proceed with loving intent, knowing that it’s okay to stop and/or take breaks.  For some, you may need to skip this episode and that’s okay.

If you are a survivor of religious trauma, sexual abuse or assault or are a person facing mental health issues related to today’s conversation I strongly encourage you to be extremely gentle with yourself and to reach out to a mental health professional that specializes in trauma.  A safe place to start asking for help is at www.thetrevorproject.org in the US or www.kidshelpphone.ca in Canada. There is no shame in asking for the help that you deserve.

Fear + Shame

Sitting down to record this episode, I’m staring into the eyes of my own fear and shame. This is one topic that I haven’t been comfortable sharing with anyone: ever.   For me, the shame is admitting to others that there have been times when I really was not okay.  There have been times where I felt so overwhelmed and alone that I thought it would be easier to erase myself.  Times where I thought it would be easier to disappear than to share what was going on inside of me and to ask for help.

Despite all of the work that I’ve done over my life to pretend that everything’s okay, sharing about suicide is like admitting that there have been times where I felt like I was beyond repair. Times where I was as lost, as broken and as full of sin as the leaders of the evangelical Christian movement said that all those who choose a “same sex attracted” lifestyle were.

My shame comes from admitting that there have been times where I thought they were right… and in those times… thank God for Mariah Carey.

Mariah Carey - Music Box

Here’s today’s story episode called “Goodbye, all done”.

One of my favorite memories during my pre-teen and teenage years was pouring over the Columbia House catalogue and spending hours and hours agonizing over which 12 albums I would pick for $0.01.

Columbia House 

Oddly enough, my parents weren’t ultra-strict when it came to music.  Some of my church friends, they were another story.  They were on total Christian lock-down when it came to secular music & entertainment.  For these protected souls, it was only Christian music artists and when it came to movies things got really extra. 

Let me run through how it worked at the home of one of my church friends.

If we wanted to rent a movie at Tony’s, it was a multi-day production.  I think God invented the 48-hour rental from Blockbuster for children of Christian parents. 

Ready for this rundown?  

Step one: 

We would have to get permission to rent the movie… only movies rated F for Family,  G for General or PG for Parental Guidance would get the pre-approval.

Step two:

After selecting the movie and renting it, we had to provide the VHS copy to Tony’s mom for full inspection…. Yes, full inspection, the Motion Picture Association of America rating review board had nothing on Mrs Norsey. 

Step three:

Mrs. Norsey would watch the entire movie in total adult seclusion.  With pen and paper in one hand, tethered remote control in the other she would watch the entire movie pausing at any swear word, inappropriate scene, or anything unbecoming for a young and impressionable Christian mind.  The timecode for those sections would be recorded onto her master control sheet.  These timecodes would be double checked, cross-referenced and confirmed for accuracy with another neutral adult (I’m making that last part up… at least I hope I am).

Step Four:

After a night to pray over the decision to allow us to watch the movie, we would be handed the official master control sheet and given permission to watch the movie as long as we fast forwarded through the sections of offending content.

Pop quiz  

A mother gives a group of four 13-year-old boys a VHS along with a piece of paper that lists out the EXACT timecodes where offending language, images and content appear.  The mother then leaves the room so the boys can enjoy the movie.

What do these boys do with the master control sheet?

WRONG!

My friend Tony, who now happens to be a pastor, was perfectly obedient child. Despite our constant harassing to FF directly to the offending timecodes, Tony held steadfast, owned that tethered remote and diligently fast forwarded through 30% of every movie we ever rented.

I’m not saying that parental guidance and discernment are wrong.  I believe they are important and needed to raise children in our world.  What I am advocating for is a more balanced approach and a desire to start talking about the damage and trauma that occurs within the walls of our churches and within our Christian homes.

Remembering this story reminds me of the many different religious prompts and warnings that we were under constant surveillance or at risk of an attack

“Oh be careful little eyes what you see… for the Father up above he is looking down with love… oh be careful little eyes what you see.”

“Be vigilant, don’t let your guard down.  You must learn to discern in everything you do”

“The Christian body is your temple, and it needs to be protected from the lurking and ever-present Satan who is looking for any way to infiltrate your mind so that he could gain control of your soul.”

As I continue to pour over the seemingly endless options in the Columbia House catalogue something would come alive inside of me. 

No longer was I this little Jimmy or Jim Powell, I was so much more! I would let my imagination run wild and would dream that I had the incredible, confident and fabulous life of any number of these music artists.  I didn’t have anyone in my life that I could share my fear, my pain and sadness or my deep loneliness; and yet music made me feel almost safe.  Part of me knows that it was music and my imagination that kept me alive. 

For the first couple years of high school, I was a paperboy, and that job gave me the perfect daily escape after school. 

paperboy

I would put my headphones on, pop a cassette tape into my SONY Walkmann, load up my delivery bag, hop on my bike and I transported myself to a private fantasy world far, far away.  As I listened to the words of Mariah Carey, Janet Jackson, Paula Abdul, NKOTB or En Vogue; I became them.

Janet Jackson
En Vogue
New Kids On The Block
Paula Abdul

Inside of the music I gave myself permission to feel things deeply, to connect with the words and to let down my guard.  Music became my meditation and my medicine.  With my headphones on I was powerful, I was in control, I could make anything happen.  It may sound silly, but these artists felt like they were my friends and the only people in the world who knew who I really was.  They were also the ones who held the vision of who I could become. 

Thank you, God for Mariah and her song, ‘Anytime you need a friend’.  They say that God works in mysterious ways and I know that God used Mariah Carey to speak hope and love into my life at a time when I needed it most.

In the mid 1990’s it felt like I couldn’t take a breath without being sucker punched by the topic of HIV/AIDS.  AIDS was becoming the leading cause of death amongst all Americans 25-44, it was headline news on TV, newspapers and tabloid magazines, celebrities were attaching themselves to the cause every day, the evangelical Church and their ‘media’ sources were smugly claiming that AIDS was God’s wrath on sinning homosexuals for choosing to be deviant, even Tom Hanks had won the Oscar for playing the role of a gay man dying of AIDS in the movie Philadelphia.

AIDS headlines 

The summer before I turned 17 and I was working as a camp counsellor at the daily summer camp at our church.  This was also the first summer that I was allowed to skip out on our family vacation.  While the rest of my family went to vacation to Vermont, I was allowed to stay home alone, with access to a car, for more than a week! 

First taste of freedom

This freedom was unheard of for me, and I was stunned that my parents allowed it. I remember getting excited at just thinking about this freedom.  I’d be able to do whatever I wanted.  There would be no checking in and get approval for my every move.  There would be NO monitoring of my ridiculously early 10PM curfew (ya, even with church youth group events).  I wouldn’t even have to lie to cover my tracks!

Time to party

When the week finally arrived, I had a packed agenda full of the things I’d never do with my parents around.  Top of the list was inviting a big group of friends over for a pool party.  I never really felt comfortable having friends over with my parents around, looking back I now understand.  I was wearing too many different masks and juggling too many different roles and overlapping social groups ran the risk of being outted or exposed.  Unfortunately, the pool party didn’t pan out.

I started the week off with a cold and was exhausted from a full day of camp.  Keeping a group of 10-12 kids between the ages of 5-7 wasn’t exactly the cake walk I thought it would be.  After postponing the pool party for a couple of days I decided that the next best thing was to rent a movie and have a quiet night in.

Quiet night in

On my way home from camp, I dropped into Blockbuster and rented Philadelphia.  I was curious to see what the all the Oscar hype was about and a bigger part of me wanted to see Tom Hanks play the role of a gay man.  I’d never risk been seen even glancing at a ‘gay title’ with my parents around, so this was the perfect opportunity. I grabbed some comfort food at Burger King (nearly 30 years later these old habits still run strong) and I settled in for the night.

Do I have HIV/AIDS?

I wasn’t prepared for what I was about to see.  The rawness of the movie rocked me to my core. I was terrified.  I’d heard how bad HIV/AIDS was, but I actually didn’t know anything about it; other than it’s a gay disease and God’s punishment on men who choose this sinful lifestyle… my sinful lifestyle.  As I watched Tom Hank’s character deteriorate through the movie, a sinking feeling began to grow inside my stomach.   Seeing the body of Andrew Beckett ravaged from HIV/AIDS, I convinced myself that this was already my fate.

‘Maybe they’re right.  Maybe this is the only way God gets us to stop our sin’

Sitting alone in my living room, sniffling and coughing from a summer cold I let my mind wander down a very dark path.

‘Where did this cold really come from?’

‘Could this be really be my punishment from God?’

‘I’ve tried to stop God, you know how many times I begged you to take these feelings away.’

‘You’re right… I’m weak.’

‘I brought this on myself.’

‘How could I have been so careless?’

As my mind began to speed up, I didn’t know what to do, where to go, or how to stop the panic that was eating away at my insides.

Praying to be cured… again

I cried myself to sleep begging God for his forgiveness and praying that he cure my body from AIDS.   And as I cried and prayed, I also knew that it was no use.  These prayers had never worked in the past.  God never took my same-sex attraction away.  God never removed my desire or helped me stop masturbating. I lost hope.

Waking up the next morning I knew that nothing had changed.  My cold was even worse, my head was throbbing, and I felt sick to my stomach.  There was absolutely no one that I could ever talk to about what I was going through.  I had no other choice but to shove my terror deep down inside, shower, get dressed and force my way through the day at work.

I need to get tested

With my mind spinning non-stop, it hit me; I needed to get tested. I remembered overhearing some of the girls at school talking about some sort of confidential sexual health clinic near the food court at our local mall.  It was the place where they would go to get birth control without risk of ever get back to their parents. 

I had to know NOW and knew that my mind wouldn’t stop racing and my stomach wouldn’t stop churning until I knew my fate.

HIV test

During my lunch break I drove to the mall, found the sexual health clinic, somehow found the courage to go in, ask about testing and was handed a bunch of forms.  I was thankful to learn that the test was completely confidential, but I was confused as to why they needed my phone number…. I didn’t have a phone number… it was my PARENTS phone number.  How is that confidential?  The request for that single piece of information spooked me enough to make a beeline for the door.  There was no way that I could risk that.

Driving back to day camp my anxiety was through the roof and I could feel my diseased blood pumping through my veins.  I started to cry and knew that I had no other options and no one I could talk to.

No other way

Somehow, I made it through the rest of the day.  On my way home I returned my rental and walked into a drug store and looked for the aisle that sold sleeping pills.  I was too scared to buy multiple packages at one store so, so I drove around to three different locations before heading home.

I knew that I needed to act quickly, or I would chicken out.  I grabbed a glass from the kitchen, headed up to my room, sat on my bed and took all the pills out of the packaging and decided there was no other way.

Mariah Carey’s ‘Music Box’ album was in my CD player, I hit play, skipped track 1 and as Hero started to play, I started to swallow pills.  Anytime You Need a Friend came on and I swallowed more pills.  Music Box came on, more pills… then sobbing rocked my body.

There was something in Mariah’s words that spoke deep into my core.

Mariah Carey Music Box
Mariah Carey Music Box

I ran to the bathroom.  Forced myself to throw up.  I couldn’t even do this.

Thank you for giving me the opportunity to process and share this difficult part of my story.  That’s the thing with trauma.  You don’t just ‘get over it’, ‘pray it away’ or ‘give it over to God’.

Trauma is blocked emotional energy that is trapped inside of your body.  You need to process it and you need to feel it.

Do you deny your feelings?

So many of us who grew up in the evangelical church were taught to ignore, fear, deny, run from and repress our emotions.  We were taught that our emotions, our desires, our needs and our wants are sinful; and they were our evidence of our “fallen nature”.

Feeling angry, selfish or critical represented a rebellious or deviant spirit.  When we felt fearful, worried, overwhelmed, anxious, helpless, hurt or insecure it meant we didn’t trust God.  Being sad, depressed, lonely or isolated meant we weren’t being thankful or grateful enough.  Feeling powerful, passionate, and respected were indicators of being full of pride.  We were even discouraged from being too excited, energetic, sensuous, playful, creative or even being too relaxed because these emotions could lead to us being out of control and open to an evil outside influence.

What are we left with?  #Blessed, humbled, peaceful, good, fine with a big helping of guilt to keep us in line.  This isn’t living.  This is being an automaton… remember that movie Stepford Wives?

Our feelings are our gifts and signals

Our feelings, emotions, needs and desires are our gifts from God. These are our unique inner resources that help us through life.  They allow us to experience the joys and the sorrows of life. When we learn to love and accept ourselves, we also learn to use these gifts responsibly.

What I have learned is that when I repress and deny my feelings and my Knowing, I’m blocking my connection with God and I’m hurting myself… and I’m hurting others.

Hurt people hurt people

Another hard part of this healing journey is looking at that hurt that I inflicted.  Thank you, Christine for the uncomfortable and much needed reminder that hurt people hurt people and the responsibility that I have for my actions, even when I’m hurting.  Sam, I’m sorry for how I treated you and for the names that I called you in high school.  Nobody deserves to be treated that way.

Suicide is selfish?

I’ve heard it said that suicide is the most selfish act a person can commit.  I don’t agree.  For me, drifting towards suicide happened because I wasn’t being selfish enough.  I cared more about what others thought about me than I did about myself.  I believed the lies that I was being taught about my being, instead of trusting my Knowing.

At more than one point in my life I thought it would be easier to leave this world than to feel my feelings, follow my God given Knowing, speak out against those I considered to be in ‘control’ and to share my truth.

We need to stop this abuse

That’s what this healing journey is about.  I’m learning to let my light shine.  And I’m using my voice to shift perceptions around what life is like living with mental illness as a result of early childhood trauma from growing up in the evangelical church.

  • 40% of LGBTQ youth in the US considered attempting suicide in the past twelve months, with more than half of transgender and nonbinary youth having seriously considered suicide (Trevor Project 2020 National Survey of LGBTQ Youth Mental Health)
  • LGBTQ kids who come from highly rejecting families (families like mine from churches like mine) are 8.4 times as likely to have attempted suicide compared to QUEER peers with low level or no family rejection (Family Acceptance Project, 2009)

I started this episode off with a trigger warning since I was talking about suicide, and as I recorded this episode it hit me… our non-affirming evangelical churches need to come with large, flashing, neon warning signs to protect our children.

Church warnings

Warning, bringing children under the age of 18 into this fundamentalist religious environment may cause unintentional yet fatal harm.  Developmental trauma including altered and detrimental brain functioning along with compromised immune functioning may occur.  Side effects including toxic shame, low self-worth, self-hate, addiction, anxiety and depression which may lead to loss of life may occur.  Children in high-risk groups including all non-white children, females and any that may be classified as LGBTQ2S+ are at an exponentially increased risk. 

For a full list of potential side effects please see pages 10-14 in our service bulletin or visit www.AllOurWelcome.com/WARNING

Every single one of us has the opportunity and what I would argue, the obligation, to help make our world a safe and more loving place for all of our children. 

Call to action

I’m hoping that my sharing might be a call to action.  My intention in sharing so vulnerably is that it may impact others on a human level.  The church has turned the lives LGBTQ2S+ humans, the lives of non-white humans and the lives of women into an ideological and partisan debate.  Our lives have become political pawns.

I’m asking that you tap into your God given humanity.  I’m asking that you might listen to your body, your emotions and to your Knowing.

People are being harmed

Very real humans are hurting right now because of the man-made teachings, practices, rules and regulations of the church.

Will you join me to bring more love into our world for all of us?

I’m going to propose an action step.  As we close out today’s episode, I’m going to share a track called VERRTRANDT that the artist BLEEDING RAVEN shared with me.       

When I first heard this track all my ‘satanic warning’ signs were triggered.  This was the type of music that we were taught in church to stay away from.  And yet, Bleeding Raven’s haunting and terrifying lyrics were created because of abuse from the church. They were also a dark form of encouragement for today’s episode. 

While you listen to his artistic cry, I encourage you to visit www.thetrevorproject.org to learn more about the work that The Trevor Project does to help save young LGBTQ lives.  They are a phenomenal organization that I personally support and one that saves LGBTQ2S+ lives.

Here are some of Bleeding Raven’s lyrics

Bleeding Raven 

“Another broken soul dies young… so young.

Another empty heart “goodbye”… “all done”

So she quotes Leviticus

“Bad boy, Devil boy, With evil toys, You Satan’s concubine…’

“Repent and be straight

Or you goin down to hell

Maybe suicide?

Who is gonna tell?

Boy wanted help

Instead he got scalped

By a self-righteous witch

Sayin she’s “for the Lord”

The hell she proposed

Is the hell she’ll know

Another broken soul dies young… so young

Another empty heart “goodbye”… “all done”

WE MUST STOP THIS ABUSE

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