Breaking the Cycle of Shame and Silence

Anthony-photoBy Anthony H.

This conversation was long overdue, and the time had finally come. For decades I had been living silently in my mother’s presence. I had grown tired of feeling like a coward who couldn’t speak his truth.

I entered the guest room where mom lay anxiously but quietly awaiting my arrival. I sat down on the bench next to the bed and rested my feet on the side rails of the bed frame. I placed the script in my lap and, for a few seconds, studied the expression on her face. The sound of the television created enough background noise to eliminate complete silence between our sentences. Her eyes stayed focused in the direction of the television even as she uttered, “I’m listening.”

A couple of months earlier I had watched an episode of OWN’s Lifeclass. Oprah and Iyanla Vanzant shared the formula for having a hard conversation. It was a process they had engaged to help them publicly repair their friendship and professional relationship. The show helped me acknowledge the need to share my truth. I began writing talking points as a way to avoid being blindsided by emotions that might rush to the surface in the midst of talking.  Over the years I had learned to “love” myself by not telling the truth about who I was, and by feeling ashamed, alone, and afraid. These patterns no longer worked in my life.

She had been anticipating the conversation and asked several times what I wanted to talk about. Each time I asked her to be patient until I was ready. I imagined that part of her must have known this day would come. I was extremely nervous. These were things I had never admitted to her. In fact, it seems like it took forever for me to admit them to myself.

Through reflection and preparation for our talk I realized the common themes affecting the major issues of my life were secrecy, shame, silence and fear. Instead of calling them by their real names, however, I had been taught to call them love. In our family, that was acceptable so long as these things were meant to protect and keep one another from perceived harm.

I began by thanking her for being with me in this difficult conversation. I told her that I had been living in fear about many things in my life and that it was time to speak my truth in a way I had not been able to before.  She let me know she was listening, and mumbled an occasional “mm hmm” during and after some of my sentences.

I look forward to finding and keeping a loving and committed relationship. And now that it is legal in some places, I even hope someday to marry him.

“Mom, I have been angry and confused about a lot of things over the years. There have been lots of lies, secrets, shame, guilt, fear, and insanity in our relationship and with other people. For the first 21 years of my life, I was told things about myself that weren’t true. I learned from this that lying is ok when you say you love someone and are trying to protect them. I also learned that the truth of my life was not ok. I have applied these lessons to my life in many ways that no longer serve me.

By the time you were my age, you had been married for 22 years. For most of my adult life, I have wanted to be in a long-term committed love relationship. I no longer intend to do it secretly or in fear. The few serious relationships I’ve had didn’t’ last because we were not ready to face the world with our truth.

It is time for me to shift. And to do this I need to be in a place where I’m surrounded by people who support me, who are completely comfortable with my life, and who are not afraid of what it means for me to live openly and truthfully. I look forward to finding and keeping a loving and committed relationship. And now that it is legal in some places, I even hope someday to marry him.”

She paused as if to make sure I was finished, then quickly and briefly cut her eyes in my direction and said “I’m not coming to the wedding.”

Although it wasn’t the outcome I hoped for, mom said what was true for her in an honest conversation. I was grateful for the courage to sit in her presence and speak things about my life that had been bottled up for years. Hard as it was to hear, I was grateful that mom shared her truth.

And perhaps for the first time in my life, I realized the strength I had to gather and reshape the puzzle pieces of my life into a bright and brilliant expression of my true self. Having broken the cycle, I began living more openly and honestly.

Anthony Henderson is a youth workforce program director and lives in the community of Mount Rainier, Maryland. This post originally appeared on Many Voices.

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Francesca F says:

I came out to my mother (a very religious woman) about three years ago. She assured me she loved me, but expressed clearly that she would never “celebrate” my choices. “I won’t bring you balloons or throw you a party, like everyone else does,” she said. My mother is convinced that the media and society in general are all about promoting “the gay lifestyle.”
I have a partner of two years, and in family phone calls to the East Coast, I always describe our lives together. My mother never makes a comment or asks anything about my partner, and has declined an opportunity to meet her. This hurts me. It hurts my partner (as I’ve been welcomed with open arms to her family). I describe my mother as a woman I love, and as a “good woman;” then my partner reminds me that a “good woman” would not ignore and deny one of the most important aspects of her daughter’s life.
I am conflicted. I understand my mother’s point of view (having grown up with it), yet I desperately wish that someday she would come to my wedding and share in the joy of my own family and children.
I suppose honesty and patience and love are all I can hold on to now. I hope my mom will come around one day.