Last week I was in my Monday evening yoga class and we were in the relaxation phase. I was lying on my back, looking up at the ceiling. The lights were turned low and soft music played. In the quiet of the moment, all I could see in my mind's eye was my seven-year-old daughter's face. Just a day earlier we had told her that we are getting divorced and that I'm gay. She took the news bravely. I was proud of her. But as I lay there in the yoga studio trying to clear my mind, all I could feel for what I had done was shame. Tears rolled down my face as I cried quietly. When the lights came up, I just got up and left rather than have to face anyone in the room.
I went to the locker room to shower. As I stood under the water, my crying turned to sobbing. I was so upset with where I found myself in that moment. A child of divorce myself, I never wanted to inflict the pain that I experienced in my childhood on my children. Yet here I was, a day removed from telling my daughter that her parents were ending their marriage. I felt crushed. I felt like a failure.
My mind kept rolling back to the night before. After we told our daughter of our impending divorce and then put her to bed, my wife and I got into a bit of an argument. She felt ambushed by a couple of the things I said about how we will proceed--specifically, when and how I will move out of the house. She was angry with me and felt as though I had been keeping things from her and used the occasion of coming out to our daughter to reveal my thought process. I understood her point, but it wasn't something I had done intentionally.
These two scenes kept playing in my mind--my daughter's reaction to the news of the divorce and my wife's anger at things I said. I walked from the gym after dressing from yoga class to get on the train home and as I did, I had a moment of epiphany. I realized that the guilt I was feeling about telling my daughter that I was leaving her mother and my (at times unconscious) reluctance to raise certain issues about separation with my wife in a direct way were rooted in the same ground: shame of being gay.
I'm sad about the end of my marriage, but I have accepted that it is something that I both need and want to do. I'm sad about the divorce experience that my children will now face, even though I believe it is the right course for us. So why was I feeling so devastated? Shame. Shame that I still feel about being gay. Shame not at getting divorced or telling that to my daughter, but shame for the reasons behind it. Shame for being gay.
I talked to my therapist about this a couple of days later and he was not surprised. He told me that I was fooling myself if I thought that I could undo 30+ years of conditioning in seven months. He told me it would take time to get past feelings of shame about being gay. He told me this wouldn't be the last time I would feel this way.
Most of the time, I feel like I've made remarkable strides toward accepting myself and being happy about being gay. For that, I'm thankful. And for the times when shame creeps back in, I'm just grateful that I've learned to recognize it for what it is.