No. 14 – Coming “home”
I’ve always said that if I ever knew the full scope of what a future plan would unfold that I would never agree to the small piece I understood from the beginning. It’s like God baits me with a small piece of a really larger vision, and my small mind says “Yes!” And then each step unveils new details, that would have had me running and hiding, and never committing because I love feeling safe. The full scope is the life changing part, yet typically too much for me to commit to.
In 2017 I had a plan:
-I am going to take a year off from work.
-I am going to rent out my home.
-I am going to have my assistant take on most of my contracts and work remotely.
-I will be back to all my pursuits of safety, workaholism and false security in no time.
As the exit came near, the plan shifted. In 2018 the specifics had changed:
-I am going to go travel indefinitely.
-I sold my home.
-I resigned from my career permanently, to focus on writing.
-I need the unknown like never before. I have no plan b.
Last summer I travelled around the US for my farewells and goodbyes before my departure. I would check my pulse in each city and say “Hmmm, is this is it?! Is this the one?!” “Is this where I will land after my travel?” I continued to fall short of a new plan b, and continued to trust no plan b is necessary.
My friend Jim, suggested I make a quick trip to San Diego before my sabbatical. His suggestion was more direct and clear than our previous and more casual conversations about a reunion. I registered his suggestion and squeezed in a last minute trip the weekend before my travel sabbatical began.
San Diego was the scariest place I had ever lived. I left Nashville in 2010, with my soul full of language about “christian community,” “God’s will,” and all things being “a calling to ministry.” I arrived in SoCal with all my previous baggage from CPTSD (Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder), and had just scratched the surface on the necessary help in front of me. So, here I was. Faith fully intact. All my judgement in perfect alignment, of anyone not like me. It felt as though I was staring down the barrel of San Diego’s gun, and it’s invitation to be authentically me.
The time in San Diego (Solana Beach specifically) ended up serving me in ways, I would not recognize until I moved away. My angst and pain had little to do with San Diego, and much to do with all of my neatly organized, internal compartments shifting, moving, spreading, breaking. Everything I knew was becoming undone, and I was desperate for something to feel safe and real.
I spent most of my time alone. I was overwhelmed by people. I wanted to find out what I was made of, and I wanted to get to know myself. I found that I love reading, and my Saturday morning ritual began. I would tuck my book under my arm, grab my beach chair, water, sunscreen, and a pack of cigarettes, and walk a couple of blocks to the beach. The oceans waves was my background noise. My beach days were where I learned to get lost in someone else’s story.
Years later, after leaving SoCal, I would look back at my time differently. In the end I saw it as a much needed chapter to get to know myself with no distraction. The moments of growth often happened through pain, walking the beaches in the early mornings, and sometimes in the middle of the night. It was a difficult time, but necessary.
So, when Jim recommend I come back for a visit, I was ready. It had been six years. Six very full, beautiful years, and I knew I could revisit this city where I felt alone, afraid, and yet aware I was in a different place.
Last summer, I jumped off the plane and headed to meet Jim and Pam at my hotel. We walked through Little Italy, and laughed. We strolled through the streets reminiscing with our same humor we had shared years before. The next morning, I met my friend Karen for an oceanside breakfast. After we ate, we walked for hours down Pacific Beach, and talked about my old life, and I had this thought while I watched the waves: “What was it I hated so much about this city? Is it the sounds of the waves? Is it the view of the ocean? ”
At a dinner later that day, my friend Erika shared how hard it was to watch me suffer while I was here. That was a popular remark by many. I underestimated how much I was cared for, and how people saw me hurting and wanted to help, but I was not available for that …yet.
Several more lunches, dinners, and belly-aching laugh sessions later, I ended my weekend with Laura and Bob. We walk in the restaurant in Banker’s Hill, and I am tired from the weekend of full goodness, and much confusion about how much I enjoyed this city. We have not seen one another in several years, and yet Laura’s question was not “How have you been?” but rather “So, what did you think of San Diego?” Somehow she knew something I didn’t. I replied “I think I want to move back here.” She smiles a huge smile and says “I knew it! Your life is coming full circle!”
If someone would have questioned me on Friday morning, before boarding my plane to San Diego, what the chances were of me moving back there, I would have said “Zero. None. Never.”
I tucked my new appreciation for San Diego in to the back of my mind and took off for my sabbatical the next week. The first stop: Croatia. The stop after that, Germany. Then Prague and the list would go on and on and be full of interesting places, with an invitation for stunning exploration of itself.
Many things took place during my travel that I did not anticipate. Some good. Some bad. Some, regardless of good or bad, were necessary for me to pursue my life in different ways.
I don’t know that I will ever be able to experience a more beautiful hike, than the south of France in Marseille, when the city was still asleep and I had five hours in the woods to myself.
My favorite day of the travel was in Barcelona, when I hiked over 8 miles, all within the city. I saw the museums, the beach, the wild waves colliding with the concrete piers, the scope of the whole city from one of the top peaks, and then capped the day off with a tour of Sagrada Familia. I got back to my hostel, and found new blood on my blistered feet, and I knew the day was complete. My heart was satisfied with its pursuit of Spain.
My scariest moment was in Marrakesh. I had taken a cab and due to the language barrier, was not sure where I was when I exited the cab. It seemed the more I spoke, the further he drove. I looked around in the alley I was standing in and panicked on how to get back to my apartment. I hit the address on the map and watched my phone signal show that there was not enough of a connection to use my map. My battery was dying, and the sun had just disappeared from daylight. After a 30 minute guess walk, I popped into a restaurant, and asked to use their wifi. I downloaded the directions back to my place, and confirmed, I did in fact take the wrong route. I was 40 minutes away.
I sat across from a local in Kuala Lumpur and listened to him talk about kale. It was one of the most awkward moments, and I could not understand his obsession with one of the worst parts of the leafy green family. “Kale has an incredible food scene.” “Kale has an interesting history.” “Kale is still growing and sorting out much of its identity.”
FYI: If you are ever in Kuala Lumpur, they call it KL and it may sound like “kale.”
When people have asked my favorite place, I have said “Too many to name.” Oddly enough, I am more interested in the people and no one has asked “Who were your favorite people?”
My answer would be the Vietnamese. I have never seen kindness, grace and mercy offered by people like in Vietnam. Their innocence made me panic, assuming they did not know what was going on in the rest of the world. Surely, if they did, they would not be this kind and trusting. On my final day in Hanoi, the taxi came and got me. Navigating traffic in Vietnam is like you becoming Frogger in real life. We make our way to the airport, and the driver is
saying the same sentence over and over. He finally spoke in to his translation app and with a crooked smile, and large eyes, proudly held up his phone by his face while it read, “This is an international chicken.” I immediately panicked, because I had seen what they do with what we consider American pets, and couldn’t imagine what this meant for the chickens. He saw my confusion and rearranged his words, “This is the international terminal.” God save the chickens, and thank you for the exposure to these amazing people in Vietnam.
On a tougher note, it was painful to sit in my apartment in Prague and not know why my body could not process any food. On two occasions, friends came to my aid, and we made our way to the hospital for more tests and pain meds. It was scary, as it went on for weeks, and to this day, we are not certain what ingredient my body reacted to so severely.
Around the time of the food issues, I was in an incredible flow of writing and putting out new podcasts. I had just completed episodes 9 and 10, and while both of those episodes are coming from a place of healing, and strength from being addressed many years ago, they still had tremendous impact. I had not discussed some of the details in as many as 15 years, and I felt the pain of reliving much of that trauma. After episode 10 my immune system shut down and asked for much rest. At one point I was taking five medications for different ailments, and just frustrated that I could not shake the allergies, flu, sore throats, colds, fatigue and was desperately wanting to push through.
My body became tired. In full authenticity, I could have never anticipated the way my sex addiction showed up while traveling. I was often struggling. I live a healthy life. I am surrounded by wonderful, loving community. I address any and everything that comes up in front of me, yet rewriting my story, has provoked pain in other areas that I could not have anticipated. My coping skills have needed to be refined and more work is needed. I am grateful to know that and eager to do more exploring.
The above combination helped me get to a place where I realized, that I had indeed, found what I was looking for. I went to 22 different destinations, and started sharing my story. I have had thousands join along that story, and so many bravely begin to unveil their own journeys, and need for healing. I knew I wanted a break from the travel, but was also craving “home.” I wanted to lay on a couch and reach over for a new book. I wanted to make my breakfast with its egg whites, sautéed spinach, and know I could pronounce it all, and will also probably burn part of it in my own special way. I wanted routine, and consistency. I needed to reengage some old places and pursue work on some other private areas of my life. So, I decided to come “home.”
From the moment I have made that decision, here are the stories that have unfolded in my life, that are affirming all that needs to be affirmed and telling me “I am glad you are back.”
I had a very specific timeline to buy a new condo. My sights were set on San Diego, and my location was fine tuned. I also shared with my Realtor (Jim from the story above), that I want a large living space (I thoroughly enjoy hosting dinner parties), I want 1 bedroom only (I thoroughly enjoy being alone after said parties end) and I wanted something that needs work. I also did not want to be in a squeaky clean area. I like areas that are transitioning. We searched for almost two months and no luck. One week before I was flying back to the US a condo came on that not only matched my criteria, but had been under contract with a different buyer when I started my search, and was just coming back on the market (again, the week before I am coming back.) The condo had six offers. I put on my Realtor hat, and we put our plan in motion. On Thursday, February 8th I was heading back to the US with a ticket I had bought five weeks earlier. Jim called to confirm that after six days of counter offers, the sellers have selected my offer. So while I had planned my re-entry to the US for five weeks, I had no idea I would go under contract on my new condo, the day I am flying back.
I was in Denver for a few weeks before moving back to San Diego. A friend asked me to write out my experience with conversion therapy so she could share it in front of the House Committee, who is reviewing a bill to ban conversion therapy. My story was one of many read the next week. The House Committee passed the bill it on to the Senate. The Senate signed off and Colorado will now ban conversion therapy!
I posted about this celebration on social media, and an elderly gentlemen I used to attend church with (who has strong opinions on facebook), left a crude remark about my story. As I do with all the inappropriate behavior, I remove it, wish them well, and move on. I understood he is older and may have a different view of my story, but he was clear that his intent with his remark was for me to feel shame. Let’s call him Richard Landry for the sake of the story.
The next evening, I signed up for a hot yoga class next to my friends home where I was staying. I was confirmed for noon on Sunday. They updated the class, because the teacher cancelled and the new teacher would be… “Richard Landry.” What a coincidence I thought. What a small world. How odd that this teacher has the same name of the man trying to cause me harm the night before.
I sat in this “Richard Landry’s” class, and experienced his power in instructing others on how to use their bodies to heal. He shared his own story of growing up in an environment where he felt he could not successfully ally for his own body and and how yoga has empowered him to pursue a new layer of wholeness. So, maybe it was not a coincidence. Not a coincidence at all, when I confirmed, that he is the son of the man who left remark the evening before. Yet, this yoga teacher, who looks like his dad, but in no way sounds like him, is empowering other people through his own pain. Pain caused by the father. It helped me to see there IS a way to overcome EVERY situation in this life. It also reminded me not to take toxic behavior personal. Some are unaware who they are hurting, even their own.
The next week, one of my subscribers who lives in North Carolina, posted on social media that she felt I should check out Reema Zaman’s work. I clicked on Reema’s profile, and was honored to see, she was following my story. I read through some of her work, and immediately felt a connection. This Portland based writer, is my people. Her relationship with her writing through her pain, is poetic and stunning. The next evening, I hopped in my car after a warm cafe dinner with a friend, and on my instagram feed read “Reema Zaman at Tattered Cover in Denver, tonight at 7pm.” My jaw may have dropped. I rerouted, and drove to the bookstore. I walked in and the moment our eyes locked, we recognized one another and celebrated that we have common practices and needed to connect. She later referred to me as her soul twin, and I can simply say, knowing her while reading her work is a gift.
When I announced my move to San Diego, a good friend of mine, Ryan (who lived in my same complex in Denver) sent a message to say “Welcome to San Diego.” He and his fiancé have moved to San Diego, and live about 8 minutes away from me. Another ironic detail is when he said “I have been inside your condo. I went to an open house there.” So, my friend from Denver, saw my condo a few months before I knew it existed. It was delightful to be walking down University Ave last week, and bump into Ryan. It felt natural that we are now both here.
One of my followers sent me a powerful link to her story being picked up. She wanted to make sure I read it. Her story is profound. She was abused by a pastor, and while wrestling with substance abuse years later, has now been sober for eight years. Love What Matters picked up her story, and this was a game changer for her. They have a following of almost 8 million people, and now her story is shared for the masses to know what she has fought. I had not heard of Love What Matters, but began following them. I could not help but let my jaw hang open again, when two days later, Sophia, from Love What Matters reaches out because she found my story on instagram, and wants me to write about male survivors of sexual abuse. I obliged, and was the first male survivor to write for them.
Colby Martin wrote the book (UN) Clobber. I promote his work, because I know it is much needed and in line with my convictions. He and I have connected and when he announced he would be speaking at Point Loma Nazarene University, at a LGBTQIA event, I knew I wanted to hear him in person. Point Loma put this event on to bridge the gap between the school and the LGBTQIA community. The response and support was staggering. There were hundreds of people there, and you could feel the change and acceptance in the room. The people there, were there to say “I am here. I support you.” I listened as one of the older people there. I snapped a quick photo of the stunning campus before entering the event, and could not help but think about how much these young students must enjoy being there. In the middle of the talk, it hit me. Point Loma. Point Loma Nazarene University. This was it. This was where I went exactly 20 years ago… to my first Exodus International Conference. The ministry that was teaching me to become ex-gay, and has now gone away, and I am sitting here listening to beautiful words and momentum, for change and overwhelmed by how these stories keep showing up.
The last piece I wrote was a tough one. I went back and forth on what should be said, and how it should be said to get the point across that while I am not harboring anger toward the old staff who caused me harm, the story still needs to be shared for those still healing, and trying to find their way out of religion. So, I wrote it. I posted it. I sat and watched the most beautiful messages come through of others who have been hurt by religious leaders, and churches and we were unified. Also unified, was myself and one of the leaders from the organization I was part of. John reached out after the piece went live… “I will be in San Diego this weekend. Can you meet up?” We had not seen one another in 23 years, and his intent was to make sure he apologized if he had done me harm. He hadn’t. At all. But, the moment became a sacred ground for two men to recognize how painful it has been to recover from the angst of being part of communities that are escaping accountability at the cost of our souls, and health. We bonded deeply, and I saw an incredible, humble man, who also needed healing from the organization that he helped lead.
So, here I am. I am sitting in an empty condo that I bought. I am overlooking the skyline of downtown San Diego, and thinking back on where I started exploring life outside of being a workaholic and having this story living inside of me, that most didn’t know. I have new memories of exploring other countries while my earbuds serenaded me with beautiful music and my mind and heart producing a hope that matches the music. I kept writing, and kept letting the fear fall to the side, and trusted that this was leading me somewhere and was something that I needed to do. I bumped into new places in me to explore, and in the end I found myself feeling stronger and more aware than ever.
Now, I feel safe. I feel safe in my home. I feel safe in my skin. I feel safe in my story. My story continues to unfold and I see the need to walk away from the 80 hour work weeks, and go travel was to give my body time to relax and catch up. It has been a gift, as is today. It is also a gift to see, there is still pain. I have successfully built a life that allows me to quickly access the continued work that needs to be done. There is much anger, grief and sadness that can only be seen when you remove the chaos you have created. For me, that was work, and being busy. There is necessary movement in parts of my story that I have revisited by writing, and found a new layer of heartache over how things could have been so different. But, they weren’t and what I must do now is move ever so closely to those pieces and parts.
The calendar is becoming my friend. Each day is full of intentional time of sorting through old memories, working on my heart and mind, and celebrating life as a writer, and story teller.
I am writing and being honest, and it is inviting others to be honest too. That honesty is going to unravel other parts of me, that I have kept so locked up, that only a community of authenticity would unlock it.
There was nothing I explored in the world travel that compared to getting to know myself, and learn to love that self: abused, addict and all. I went from being busy, afraid, and anxious to deeply loved and known. That is what I hope to share and help others capture until my feet exit the earth. To be loved and known.
I am now trusting that even when I am in my toughest hours, and my roughest days, that I am surrounded by a plan in motion that will bring me peace and growth in the most unexpected ways. I sit here amazed that I could have never conjured up this plan going on around me, yet every part of me knows, I am exactly where I am supposed to be.
My traveling for now is done, but my exploring has just begun.
Be well! I am fighting for each of you…
Connect with Nate