Warning: If this article enrages you, you may have never experienced unconditional love. If you have judgments about my story, that tells you a little bit about your subconscious biases. If you can’t make it through this entire article, it tells me that you might need to journey within.
If you are suffering from estrangement from someone you love, I am genuinely sorry for your loss: I also have a slight tingle of joy in my belly because I know you are on a journey of discovering the true meaning of love.
Before you stop reading, please allow me to explain. Over the last fifteen years, I have been estranged from a father who removed me from his life. In addition, I have been estranged from my son and daughter for the same length of time. Let me be clear; I have been estranged from them not by my choice but through their choices because they hold some extremely negative feelings toward gay people and couldn't stomach the idea of me being involved in their lives.
I came out 15 years ago as a gay man. Yes, I married a woman. Yes, I have kids. Sure, I sometimes wish I would have come out when I knew at the age of five; but I didn't. I am sorry for the impact my fears and insecurities had on my ex-wife and children, and I grieve what could have been, had everyone abandoned their judgments. I also want you to understand; I came out because I deserved to live my life based on my desires, not others' wishes. Coming out was my first radical act of profound self-love.
Over the last fifteen years, I have spent countless hours thinking about how I shamed my father because no father deserves a gay son. I have ruminated on what I could have done differently to soften the blow of him learning about having a gay son, despite remembering his words. My sister called him and said, "Dad, Trey is gay." His response, "Tell Trey his mother died from cancer last year, and he died today.” I have replayed the scene speaking with my ex-wife when she assured me that I would have open access to both children if I allowed her husband to adopt them. She even went so far as to suggest that we would all spend the holidays together. Six weeks later, I received a call from her new husband, proclaiming, "You will never contact my children again, or I will sue you."
I have looked for every way to blame myself for the decisions of my father, ex-wife, and her complicit homophobic husband.
Eventually, I finally realized a powerfully loving truth: others make decisions that impact our lives. Sometimes, these decisions hurt. Occasionally, these decisions devastate us.
Back to the "tingling sense of joy in my belly."
I feel this way because I know you are presently being invited to abandon all your judgment, shame, anger, rage, betrayal, stories of limitation, conditions, expectations, rules, and the future you imagined for yourself. You are being invited to step into unconditional love. You are being invited to learn how to live in the present moment.
People estrange from others when someone else's rules confront their "rules" about how life is supposed to be.
Please allow me to explain.
Let's begin with how you function as a human being. When you come into the world, you are naive and innocent and certainly do not know how to operate as a human being. Your parents (or the people responsible for you) step into a position of influence and work diligently to keep you safe in the world. These people teach you how to function in every aspect of life: learn what to eat, how to interact with others, how to develop your identity, and how to contribute to society. Our parents/guardians teach us who we are. In effect, you are shown an exhaustive set of RULES about how to function in the world. These RULES drive every decision, action, interaction, and perception you hold about yourself and others. The problem is that the people who taught you the rules, based their training on their safety perceptions and how to function in the world. They have imposed their rules and mores as a means of keeping you safe. There are rules about gender roles, success, religion, politics, clothing, self-expression, masculinity, poverty, femininity, how a family should function, who is most powerful in society, and who to judge. These are just a few of the types of RULES we live with.
Here's an example. When I was a child, I was raised in a conservative and very homogeneous community where almost everyone was white, professional, and striving for social status in their world.
In my neighborhood, it was uncommon to see anyone of color, let alone interact with them. I was taught that people of color were different from my family and me. I was informed that people of color had a lower set of standards and a poor work ethic. We were not to interact. The key message I was taught was that people of color are different and unsafe! I knew nothing else; it was my conditioning.
When I left for college, I chose to attend a university in a completely different part of the country and was exposed to people who were radically different from me. These fellow students had different skin color, lifestyle choices, religious priorities, and relational rules.
One evening, I was at a party and found myself standing on the front porch with an African American guy from Atlanta. The conversation started very awkwardly. Think about it this way; we were two people from entirely different tribes and had to find common ground if we wanted to build a friendship. Thank goodness we were both committed to the journey. Thankfully, we were both open to learning about ourselves and each other, so we began to talk. "Where are you from?" "What do you do for fun?" "What type of music do you like?" etc. With each question on the journey, we were both forced to evaluate our own RULES and perceptions.
In our conversation, we found commonalities regardless of where we came from, the color of our skin, and how we grew up. We thought about the same things (the more critical meaning-of-life-stuff), and we had some of the same interests. We realized that our skin color was not what defined us, and we embraced the idea that someone we perceive as different, can indeed be safe. We shifted our conscious reality, and we found a connection between us.
When you look at the things in society that seem to separate us the most, you realize that the things we perceive are nothing more than RULES we believe. The million-dollar question is, "Why do we have all these rules?"
We create the rules in our lives because of how we have interpreted others and situations based on whether we are safe or unsafe. We have learned the RULES from others who wanted to keep us safe, and we have implemented the RULES to maintain a constant state of safety. Herein lies the problem; RULES limit our ability to grow and change through connections with others. I cannot emphasize that enough, all your RULES about how the world is supposed to be, how people should look and act, what is respectable and not, and how you should behave are all based on fears that reside at your core. Most troubling of all is that all these RULES limit you to a FIXED reality. Consider all the rules you have about yourself and others, and then dissect them to discover the underlying fears.
Let's dig a bit deeper into the world of RULES. Did you know, the RULES you hold are rooted in your neurochemistry. As an adaptive species, we have five senses that are always active and working diligently to keep us safe in the world. Our senses alert our brains to fearful and unsafe situations and then cause a chemical reaction in your brain that allows you to fight or flee in unsafety times. When we have experiences with others that our minds perceive as threatening, we neurochemically adapt to the circumstances. When we have experiences with others that are different from the RULES we have been taught, we have a similar neurochemical reaction.
Back to my time on the porch with my new friend that looked different from me. Because I had such a robust set of beliefs about how people are supposed to look and act, my neurochemical structure was fixed. When I was standing on the porch, I experienced a slight feeling of fight or flight. It was as if my body was telling me that I was unsafe and needed to seek safety. The truth was I could move away from my new friend, or I could stay. I made a conscious decision to override my core narratives of fear and stand in a place of openness.
Consider the last time your body was telling you to fight or flee. Have you had physical indications of a lack of safety that were wrong? Have you perceived your security in the world and ever been deceived by your senses? Do your RULES keep you in a fixed reality? How have your RULES limited your interactions with others? Have the beliefs you hold limited your ability to grow and evolve as a human being?
Earlier, I mentioned that you are being invited to a more profound understanding of unconditional love. I believe this to be true because as you struggle with making sense of your estrangement, you must confront every condition, judgment, expectation, and RULE you have about how people are supposed to treat each other, how families are intended to operate, and the future you cling so tightly to. The act of unconditional love is releasing others from all your RULES and merely holding them in a place of unconditional love. To do so, though, you must release any attachments you have to the person you lost.
Furthermore, you must look at those who have estranged from you with grace: release them in mercy. Hold them in honor, and celebrate them for their Divine perspective of themselves. Remember, estrangement is nothing more than two people rigidly holding to their rules for personal safety.
Unconditional love begins when you allow yourself to step out of all conditions, judgments, and expectations you hold for others because they are conditions, judgments, and expectations you keep for yourself.
Unconditional love cannot exist when we base our identities on others, what we do, or how we are perceived; it can only exist when we stand in authentic grace. The way I define "grace" is "unmerited favor. " To do so, we must cling to the understanding that we are all visible expressions of a wildly creative God (however you choose to define), and we are all responsible for our own journey.
Releasing all attachments to others and standing in a profound personal acceptance allows you to begin to create your life as you choose. To do these simple acts, you must release your stories of shame, sorrow, and regret from your past, and all expectations about the future, and learn to create a life of beauty in the present moment. You must also focus all your energy on living in a constant state of acceptance and unconditional regard for others (simply because they are unique expressions of the Master Creator.)
Just because you don't like something, it sure does not give you the right to impose your opinions on others. Instead of searching for blame, sprint toward forgiveness. Instead of thinking you have failed, honor that you are evolving. Instead of drawing another line in the sand, let others live their lives as they choose.
When you do all this, you discover unconditional love. Trust me, you are wildly loveable, unique, and a spectacular expression of something I celebrate, but do not comprehend.
As for my father and ex-wife, they might eventually learn to love themselves. Until then, I am unattached.
As for you, it is ok to break your RULES.
Trey Malicoat, M.S.
P.S. If you need support on your journey of healing from estrangement, please contact me to schedule a complimentary 30-minute consult.