Some things you should know about the journey out of homosexuality
Change happens through process
Sometimes people think that if they pray enough or wish hard enough, their homosexuality will just disappear. This is an unrealistic expectation. Changes in the area of sexual orientation happen as a result of a process which usually involves some hard personal work.
Imagine wanting a vegetable garden. You could pray for years that God would make vegetables grow in your backyard. When nothing happens, you might even decide to be angry at God for not hearing your prayers. However, the reality is that while God can make vegetables grow, we must prep the soil, plant the seeds, water and weed, and do other work. This gives the best chance that there will be an abundance of vegetables to harvest.
In the same way, individuals who want to experience changes in their sexuality must do a lot of work as part of the process. God certainly does His work, and by His Spirit accomplishes things which we cannot do ourselves, but we need to prepare the space in our lives and cooperate with what God wants to do.
How long will this take?
How long the process of change from homosexuality to heterosexuality takes depends on a number of factors. These include:
1. The root issues that are involved. The more difficult or complex the underlying factors involved in a person’s same-gender attraction, the longer the process of change may take. For example, the process may take longer for a person who has experienced severe sexual abuse in childhood than for someone who has experienced mild sexual abuse. For Rob, most of the sexual abuse that happened in his childhood was worked through fairly quickly. One particular abuse incident, however, took four years to work through because of the degree of shame and destruction of person-hood involved.
2. How much support a person has. The more helpful things a person puts in place, the better progress he or she can expect to make. For example, a woman who only attends the support group will most likely make slower progress than another woman who is also in individual counseling, involved in a church fellowship, and has friends with whom she can share what is happening in her life.
3. Ones ability and willingness to face difficult personal issues. As the process of change involves facing difficult personal issues and the pain related to these issues, a person’s ability and willingness to face these things will affect their rate of progress. Related to willingness is the question of whether a person truly wants change. Some individuals say they want to change, but are not prepared to take serious steps to accomplish this. A person who thinks, for example, that entertaining a little fantasy now and then is ok, should not be surprised when change doesn’t proceed the way they hope.
It is not unusual for the process of change to take 5-10 years. This is no reason to despair. We are not talking about 5-10 years of going through hell! Many people change their identity much sooner than this. Significant relief from the intensity of homosexual feelings can also come much sooner. If God is part of the process, He will walk with you, protect you, direct your path, and shine His light into the darkness. Remember the ultimate goal in life is not heterosexuality versus homosexuality, but following God and giving ones life to Him.
Is this guaranteed to work?
As with any deep personal issues which a person may want to change, there are no guaranteed results. No one can promise you that in so-and-so many years, you will experience a complete change of sexual orientation. Many people do experience a complete change of sexual orientation. Where before they were only attracted to the same sex, they are now only attracted to the opposite sex. Other people experience significant progress toward that goal. They may now be fully attracted to the opposite sex and ready for marriage, with very little same-sex attraction remaining. For others, there may be great change in their attraction toward the opposite sex without any change in their attraction to the same sex. Others still may become able to make healthy choices in terms of their behavior yet find that their attractions and desires remain the same.
This is part of life. If two people are dealing with the same three issues, it is normal to expect different outcomes. The issue that may be resolved quickly in one person’s life may take the other person years to work through. An issue that may take 5 years for one person could take a lifetime for the other to resolve.
The best foundation for embarking on a journey of change
1. Life is bigger than sexual orientation. Do not let your desire to leave homosexuality become the primary focus of your life. Do not become obsessed with changing, as this also is unhealthy. Instead, live a balanced life. There may be times when you work very hard on changing this area of your life, and times when other things take priority.
2. God loves you and accepts you as you are today. What you think, feel and do may certainly affect your perception and experience of His love, but His love for you is not conditional on anything you think, feel or do. You do not need to change first, or be perfect, or get straightened out, in order for God to love you.
Grasping this intellectually is one thing; knowing it on a deep gut level is quite another, yet this is of great importance. When we know that God truly loves us and will never leave us, we have a solid foundation from which to face difficult issues in our lives.
Sometimes we are tempted to go to one of two extremes. The first extreme says that God loves everybody except for me – I’m not good enough. This is simply a lie. No one is “good enough” for God to love them, yet because God created us, He loves each of us. The Bible says “while we were still sinners Jesus died for us. . .”(Romans 5:8). God loves us in the midst of our brokenness and sinfulness. To go to the other extreme of saying that God loves me exactly as I am and therefore I do not have to be open to the change He wants to bring in my life, is not true either. God loves us as we are, but loves us too much to leave us this way. He wants to bring us into wholeness and into an even greater understanding of what it means to be His son or daughter.
Part of knowing that God truly loves us and accepts us is coming to love and accept ourselves as we are today. Hating something we do is one thing, especially if the behavior harms us or takes us away from knowing who we really are. Hating ourselves, on the other hand, is not good. Even hating the part of ourselves that is attracted to the same sex is not good and, in fact, just causes more pain. Rather, we need to accept the part of ourselves that experiences same-gender attraction, and work toward meeting the legitimate needs and resolving the hurts which have brought about such an attraction.
3. You do not have to identify yourself according to sexual orientation. From a Christian perspective, a person’s primary identity is as a well-loved child of God. That is who you really are, whether or not you know it at this point. God has created you, loves you deeply and knows you completely.
You do not have to use a label such as gay or lesbian. Instead of saying “this is who I am,” you can describe what you feel or experience with a simple statement such as “I am dealing with homosexual feelings,” “I am attracted to other men/women,” or “I experience same-gender attraction.”
Especially when the process of change is discouraging, and at times it will be, it is important to remember that we belong to God and nothing can take us away from Him. That reality can help us keep the right perspective and keeps us focused on Gods goodness and love to us, and His faithfulness to us in all circumstances.
For many people, change happens as effectively do two things:
1. We need to deal with the root issues of our homosexual attractions. These are the negative and damaging events and dynamics of childhood, such as sexual abuse, rejection, deficits in our relationship with our parents, shaming, etc. The past often continues to affect us today. While we cannot change what happened, we can change how it affects us today and how we understand what happened.
2. As the root issues are being resolved, we also need to undo unhealthy patterns of living and thinking and learn new ones instead. If for years we have lived in certain ways which were influenced by the hurt and pain of childhood, those ways will have become habits or patterns, automatic ways of doing things and of responding. Often, these patterns will have been reinforced by fantasy and masturbation. If they are unhealthy habits, they need to be unlearned and new ways of living and responding need to take their place.
The Process of Change
1. The process of change is both different and the same for everyone. Each person has a unique personality, personal history, support system, and so on. At the same time, there are many common threads which run through most people’s process of change. Childhood sexual abuse and issues with one’s father or mother are two common roots which need to be worked through by many men and women. A feeling of being somehow “different” and accepting the labels that peers put on this differentness is also a common story. The same kinds of resources tend to be helpful, though they may be needed in a different order and to different degrees.
2. Change happens in the three areas of behavior, fantasy, and attraction. The goal for a person who wants to change their sexual orientation is to experience a decrease in homosexual behavior, fantasy and attraction, and a corresponding increase in heterosexual attraction. As change is a process, it is import ant to realize that change in one area may happen sooner than change in another area. While we can make choices about what we do and what we think about, we have less control over feelings and attractions. For example, J. chose not to be sexually active any more, and thus his homosexual behavior ceased, even though he still was attracted only to men and had fantasies about them. Subsequently, as he started working through various issues, he began to notice some attraction to women, even though his attraction to men had not yet changed. Much later, he began to find men less attractive than before. Do not be discouraged when one area starts to change and another does not – this is normal.
3. Things get worse before they get better. This is a reality that many of us have experienced on our journey out of homosexuality, and it is import ant for a person starting on the journey to be aware of it. As we begin to work through difficult issues from the past, there is often much pain to face. Things may seem worse simply because we are starting to face past issues which before we ignored or denied. If we are used to dealing with our pain by drowning it with alcohol, sex or other addictions, we can expect the temptation to drown the pain to be stronger than before we started to face it. As well, this journey of change involves talking about sexual issues, which can be arousing in and of it self. This is normal. Over time, discussion of sex will become more matter of fact. When things first get worse instead of better, do not despair or give up. Continue to work through your issues and find freedom and resolution. Put extra support in place – let a close friend know what you are feeling, attend a support group, talk with someone who’s been there.
4. Sometimes it will seem like nothing is happening. In the process of change, there will be times when nothing is happening. This may be because we need a break after doing some hard personal work. This may be because there is something blocking further progress. If you feel that you are on a plateau and that you may be stuck at this place in the process, talk to someone about it. Often another person can be instrumental in helping us identify what is preventing further change and what can be done to overcome that block.
Here are some of the more important resources that will help you in the process of change:
1. Involvement in a church which proclaims Gods love and healing and worships Him regularly. This is vital as it is God who truly can heal the core of our being and meet our deepest needs. Regular worship also redirects our focus away from ourselves and the men or women we at times idolize, onto God who alone is to be worshiped.
2. Close friends whom you trust and who accept you as you are, and with whom you can talk about difficult personal issues related to your same-gender attraction. You cannot do this alone. You need friends to walk with you on this journey, people who will stick by you and not betray your trust. In particular, straight same-sex friends can help you to understand that you are accepted as a man or as a woman by those who have no sexual interest in you. One does not want to share ones personal life and struggles indiscriminately. In some contexts, like family and church where one may have contact with people for years to come, one must be particularly careful not to reveal information that is so startling that the other person can never think of you as changed – even long after this is a resolved issue and in your past. In general, however, having more people who know can be very helpful in terms of removing some of the shame that you may feel and in terms of helping you feel accepted.
3. Accountability. This simply means meeting with another person regularly for the purpose of being held accountable. For example, if you have resolved that you do not want to buy any pornography but still find it a temptation to do so, this person can ask you regularly whether you have bought any, encourage you to stick with your resolve and, when you do give in to temptation, help you examine why you did.
4. Support groups. Well-run support groups are a safe place for sharing honestly and openly, learning more about homosexuality and meeting with others who share your goal of overcoming homosexuality. There is much to learn from others who are on a similar journey to yours.
5. Individual counseling can be very helpful in working through some of the more difficult issues. Whereas support groups provide more general information and support, counseling is an opportunity to focus on your particular situation in detail with someone who is equipped to do so. Choose a counselor carefully, finding out their perspective on change and homosexuality and what kind of experience they have working in this area. Do not be intimidated by counselors who attempt to discourage you or influence your journey to a path other than the one you choose. There are many good therapists who will support and affirm your journey. Keep looking until you find one.
6. Educate yourself with the many resources available. There are good books, articles, and newsletters which you can read, websites to browse, and conferences to attend. While information does not by itself produce change, it can give greater understanding and insight. We particularly recommend talking to those who have left homosexuality and reading their stories because…
change IS possible!
Rob G. understands this journey from his personal experience and from listening to the stories of others who have been on it. He is currently on staff with New Direction for Life Ministries, where he manages their web based resources.
Copyright 1997-1999 New Direction for Life Ministries of Canada. All rights reserved. Reprinted by permission. http://www.newdirection.ca. No endorsement is implied of the organization which is reprinting this material.