Here one of our friends shares with us how she celebrated after a long journey of personal growth. She chose to stay anonymous in order to respect that her parents still need some time for accepting her truth. – HOSTED BY KATHRIN AND WRITTEN BY A BELOVED ARC ALUM 2015.
I’d like to share a personal party story with you, which is not easy for me, because I and people close to me still struggle with my story sometimes. I’ll tell it nevertheless as I am 100% sure that it’ll be worth jumping out of my comfort zone sooner or later.
An inconvenient truth
Around five years ago, I had my “inner” coming out: I realized that I am interested in both men and women. I believe I subconsciously knew since I was seven or eight, but somehow I managed to hide it from myself even though I felt incredibly uncomfortable whenever sexual orientation was discussed in public. I was afraid that I could blush and somebody could think or see that I was also ‘like that’. My inner coming out was a shock, but also a relief for me – my life got more complicated but it started to make sense. As I slowly became more comfortable with my new truth, half a year after my inner coming out, I started to tell others and made my first experiences with women. I even worked up the courage to tell my parents at some point. They were surprised and partly shocked, but I survived and after all I could handle their shock and worry.
Another half year later, I went to my first gay pride festival in Amsterdam with a girl I dated at that time. She was holding my hand to shuffle through the huge amount of celebrating people. Suddenly I spotted a colleague. Quickly I let go of my friend’s hand, afraid he could think I was into women and tell it everybody else. Today I can laugh about this, but back then I was terrified of my colleagues finding out and the consequences this would have – not only on my work environment. My friend did not realize what was going on, she just grabbed my hand again. I felt miserable for denying my truth and especially for denying her. At the same time, I kept nervously looking around for other acquaintances that might see me.
I thought that I had been through it. I couldn’t understand why I still felt so awkward when I was with a woman. Why was flirting so awkward for me? Why was it so hard for me to show affection publicly?
From inner conflict to pride – the magic can be found inside
It was last summer, in a conversation with one of my Arc fellows, that I realized where the problem was rooted: I didn’t accept my sexual orientation myself. Yes, rationally, in my mind I did, but the acceptance hadn’t reached my heart. At first this was hard to deal with: The problem was in my heart, so running from it made no sense. On second thought, I was glad because I knew where to continue my journey: the goal was self-acceptance. Cheesy and so self-evident somehow but I didn’t have a clear plan how to reach this. At the Arc I learned to feel my way back up, take small steps, challenge myself and look for support when I needed it. I knew I could connect back to my Arc fellows any time. They do not necessarily share the same struggle, but they are also on their way. A thought that keeps on encouraging me.
This year I went to Christopher Street Day in Berlin. Looking forward to a big blast, I invited several of my friends in Berlin to join the celebrations. Drinks, music and lots of dancing was on my mind, and I was really excited. To my disappointment, none of my friends could make it after all, the parade was mellow and the party would just not get going. The festival wagons dragged on and only a few people danced: Some strangers with freaky outfits, men wearing only a sock on their penis and women with some stars on their nipples. Before my inner coming out some five years ago I had never understood the people who would do this. I thought: ‘Why do they want to provoke that much? They create a stereotype for all those who live gay but do not look or behave in an extrovert way.’ I never wanted to be put in the same box as them. But then I suddenly remembered the anxiety with which I had let go of my friend’s hand, the anxiety that had hindered me from developing a natural flirt, a fling, or let alone a relationship. I also remembered the many times I went out of my comfort zone and just walked up to girls to give them my number. I may have been clumsy, but I did it – and it was not that bad after all. I understood after a while that there are so many more women interested in women than I thought, they just didn’t show it openly. In turn, when I behaved more openly about it or took initiative, others were maybe first surprised but then charmed or even comfortable too. Little by little I saw that when I accept it myself it doesn’t matter so much what others think.
The next wagon came and with it my mind went fast forward to the present. I had a girlfriend with whom I could simply live my truth. I had understood that ‘pride’ means being proud of the growth of my LGBT fellows – and my own. I felt proud that I had also been brave and left my comfort zone many, many times. So well, ‘fuck it’ I said to myself and took off my shirt to dance in bikini only.
I showed it on the outside, but the key part of the celebration took place inside of my heart. Maybe that’s why gay parties are so much fun? People not only demonstrate but also celebrate their freedom and (I believe) their personal growth.
How to celebrate your growth?
I think there are many ways to celebrate apart from standard parties. Smile, hug someone, write your story down, tell your companions, coach, your loved ones. Whatever you do, in my opinion this is essential:
- You are the most important participant of your celebration, you can even celebrate on your own. Feel it in your heart first, everything else comes naturally.
- This is not a must, but I recommend to do that for a full picture: Take time to look back. Remember how you behaved and felt at the beginning of your journey. Rewind the process with its milestones, the difficulties, your companions, the risks you took, your bravery and persistence. Open your eyes for your situation now. Notice concrete behaviors that you do differently, attitudes that changed, your overall feeling about yourself.
Can you feel it? If not yet now, maybe the time is not right, but if you do: Enjoy the feeling fully. This can take a few seconds to minutes and it definitely can make your week. If you feel like it, share your story. It will inspire others and yourself again.
When is the time right?
In my opinion, this requires some sensitivity. It could be a good time to celebrate when …
… you realize the change you’ve gone through. You won’t get an invitation. I sometimes celebrated because I thought I have to. It’s my birthday, an anniversary, I have to invite people. These occasions without the inner celebration makes it hollow though. I like the custom of an Australian native tribe that never celebrates these type of events.* They celebrate when a member has matured. So the key is to listen well. Realization can happen by surprise. Take good care, just like the struggle throws you off guard, the celebration moment may surprise you too!
…. you get stimulated and inspired from events and people around you, for example the reunion of your arc-group, the next level, your birthday, the anniversary of your arc experience.. this can help you to pause and make you look at your pathway, seeing and celebrating milestones, even though you don’t feel like having reached the ‘final goal’ yet. Remember, you don’t need to celebrate ‘outside’.
…and in the long run?
Most personal growth successes are not like courses that have a clear beginning and a clear end. It could happen that you fall back into old patterns. Be gentle to yourself, recollect your thoughts and feelings and navigate your mind back to the celebration moment, this can help you to be your success again or at least to remind yourself that you can do it.
If all goes well and you feel like at the top of everything, open your heart to see whether there may be new challenges knocking at your door. I could tell another story about this, but let’s leave it there for now.
*from the book ‘Mutant message from down under’ by Marlo Morgan