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  • Writer's pictureChris Tompkins

3 Lessons I learned from nearly 30 years in the Closet.

Updated: May 11, 2020

Brooke Cagle - Unsplash

“Healing yourself is connected with healing others.” Yoko Ono

During college, it was easy for me to hide who I was. I used to jokingly tell people I could’ve won an Oscar for the role I played as a straight man. I joined a fraternity and trained myself to act like the guys I knew.

I had girlfriends and a life-size poster of Heidi Klum in a bikini hanging on my bedroom wall. I even went so far as to strategically place Playboy magazines in my room to make sure guests saw I looked at naked women. Just like the one I kept under my bed growing up, so anyone snooping in my room also knew.

Once I graduated, it became increasingly more difficult to hide who I was.

It seemed as though everyone I knew began to wonder and ask when was I going to get married. I couldn’t stay anywhere too long, otherwise I’d risk my secret from becoming discovered.

My excuse for not settling down was that I wasn’t settled down, which is why accepting a job in a foreign country when I was 24 was the perfect opportunity. I was able to run away to a place where no one knew me or had any expectation of who I should be.

When I interviewed for the job, I remember my boss telling me something I’ve always remembered.

He said, “Your 20s are about trying and failing and trying again at the opportunities life gives you. Your 30s are about taking what works and applying it toward the direction you envision for your life. Your 40s are about mastering what you’ve learned.”

I always took what he told me as career advice. Until recently, I discovered he wasn’t only talking about career.

A few months ago I turned 40, and to celebrate I took myself on a three week vacation. Prayer has always been a big part of my life and the one I found myself saying during my trip was: Dear God, continue to work on my heart.

I’m not sure why that was the prayer I chose to say, but it was the one I intuitively said for the next 21 days straight—throughout the day, at the beach, while walking, taking tours, visiting historical sites, or even eating—I would say to myself, Dear God, continue to work on my heart.

After I returned home, I was on the phone with my mom and she wanted to know how my trip was. I told her something inside of me shifted. After a decade of being single, I told her I wanted to share my life with someone.

She quietly replied, “I’ve been waiting years for you to say that.”

Hearing the genuine love, celebration, and joy in my mom’s voice made me realize how far our relationship had come and how much healing we’d both done.

I grew up in a religious household, and I first came out to my mom when I was 25. Her response was, “you know what my religion says, I can hate the sin, but love the sinner.”

Her shared desire for my relationship was a precious gift of her love and acceptance—and a gentle reminder of my own.

After our conversation, I started to think about what my old boss told me those 15 years ago and how it applied to not only my career, but to my journey of self-love.

I spent my 20s failing at loving myself.

I was trying to look at myself through eyes of love, but failing terribly. I was trying to be someone I wasn’t and I was denying who I was.

My 30s were about learning how to accept myself for who I am.

And now, having turned 40, I can see how sharing my love is what will help me to master what I’ve learned.

It doesn’t matter whether it’s with a partner or on my own, what matters most is that we share—share our healing and the journey we took to get there.

It’s through our personal transformations that we collectively heal.

The most valuable tool we can teach anyone is to love themselves. Some of the most painful experiences in my life came as a result of low self-esteem and lack of self-worth. And as I began to love myself, those issues began to fade away—it was the biggest gift I could receive.

If you’re like me and have ever failed at loving yourself, then these three takeaways will open your heart to self-love, healing, and self-acceptance:

  1. Failure is the context to develop our greatest gifts.

  2. The ability to bless our identity is the very nature of love.

  3. One of the greatest gifts is curiosity: to know the heart of another—including our own.

When it comes to engaging matters of the heart, it isn’t easy. Not because the act itself is hard, but because we often resist exactly what it is that we’re supposed to do.

Something else that happens when we engage our hearts: we change.

We become closer to who we have been all along.

The healing work we do in our lives makes a difference in more ways than we can ever know.

It may take time and will require courage, but if I can share anything from my journey so far, it’s that beliefs can change and open hearts heal.


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