Ending My Silence: Why I Married A Woman

If ignorance is the basis to what leads to hate, I want to clear up as much as I am able in regards to why I chose to marry a woman, after once being married to a man. My underlying hope in this disclosure will be to invoke deeper understanding into the humanness of us all regardless of sexual orientation.

It is my fundamental belief that all of us share the common desire to be loved, cherished and respected.

But first let me share that as I sit in the relative comfort of my home in this very moment typing these words, I am surrounded by doubts as I stare at the title at the top of this blog. Literally, my heart rate is increasing and I am afraid that I will be making a mistake in outing myself on my web site. I am more than aware that my blog feeds directly into my professional web site as a Psychotherapist, and I am beginning to fear this may affect my future client base. The simple choice of who I married runs deeply through the veins of haters in this world who would wish to see me, and others like me, dead.

This constant concern and doubt is part of what has become my reality; however, I can no longer feel comfortable with my own silence. I must stand up and find my courageous skin, colored with my own identity, so that I may help put a face to our community and reduce the stigma associated with being gay. If I cannot stand up and be counted, I am part of the problem.

Keeping silent is no longer an option for me.  I am compelled to do my part. 

As those close to me know, I just finished riding in the AIDS/LifeCycle ride last week. In this ride, we cyclists travel from SFO to LA in 545 miles of hard-core road biking as a fundraising effort to end AIDS. There were 2500 of us this year. I was riding alongside a gathering of people who came together from all different backgrounds, sexual orientations, and cultures to form a community of shared hope and love. At around mile 180, I saw a car riding up towards us from across the street. As I put my finger on my bike bell to honor them honking in support of us (which was most of the people we came across), I noticed that a 20ish year old girl was hanging out the passenger side of the car flipping all of us riders off with her middle finger. Her face was transformed through ugliness into a grimace of passionate hatred.

Why so much hatred?

I have considered this deeply as I have had the experience of automatic privilege that comes from marrying a man. I have then had to understand the consequences of choosing to marry a woman instead.

I have decided it all comes down to my bedroom. Frankly, it comes down to my sex life. The reality is, I could be a woman who decides to buy a home with another woman, raise my kids with her, travel with her and share my life with her. These things are acceptable in society as they can be written off as two friends who couldn’t find a husband, sharing life challenges together as companions who love each other. I even think there is a term for it: Spinsters.

All is socially acceptable until those two women actually have sex together. Once sex is involved, all bets are off and people who you have never met in your life instantly hate you and are disgusted by you. Really? How did sex get so important? I mean, it’s definitely fun and all, but worthy of death? I don’t know about you, but it seems a bit extreme to me.

Why is anyone but me even interested in what goes on in the privacy of my bedroom? No one seemed to care about my sex life when it was with the men I had messed around with…I would go so far as to say that no one even considered my sex life at all before I married a woman. But let me tell you, the minute I reached out in public and held my wife’s hand, it became one of the first thoughts that now crosses people’s minds when they look at us. You should see some of the expressions that I watch happen as people realize what they are seeing and it dawns on them that they are looking at REAL LIFE LESBIANS!

“EEEEK, run for your life, hide your children, wash your hands”…. Surely it must be contagious.

The idea that we want to convert straight people or have sex with anyone we can find because we are desperate and crazed sex maniacs is ridiculous. Heard the one about goats? Seriously? This is as far from the truth as is possible, and yet is also somehow what drives so much fear into the minds of homophobic people.

So I want to make this really clear and simple. Here is my answer:

Why did I marry a woman?

I married a woman because I fell madly in love with her in the sweetest possible way. It was unexpected, beautiful, and the stuff love stories are made of. I married a woman who was the first person in my life that had my back, made me feel safe, and loved me completely for exactly the person I am. Isn’t this the reason people marry each other?

Here is my secret to tell: It didn’t matter that she didn’t have a penis. …….shhh, don’t tell anyone else.

I am not over simplifying it; I married a woman because I found my person in this world and she happened to be a girl. It wasn’t more complicated than that. I was lucky enough to see beyond gender, and allow myself to be completely loved by another human being for the first time in my life.

Love is beyond gender or anatomy. Love transcends.

Our marriage is probably like many of yours. We go to the grocery store, do dishes, travel and run a business together. We raise kids (who are amazing, thank you), pay bills and have pets. We are not the crazy lesbian cat people, but are coming close with 3 rescue cats. We are everyday people. We are your neighbors, we teach your kids PE, and watch TV. We may not have to argue over who puts the lid down on the toilet, but maybe battle a bit more over who used the last tampon. Really, it’s not anything out of the ordinary. She likes to cook; I like to bake. Differences we have learned to manage.

In all seriousness though, the isolating variable in our lives, is that people all over the world hate us who don’t even know us. You can not imagine how vulnerable a feeling that is.

Orlando happened to all of us. Horrific violence can be as simple as the girl who hung out the window during my AIDS ride last week pulling out a semi-automatic weapon and firing on us during our ride. It is unimaginable, unbelievable perhaps, and yet it is happening right now at this very moment in our world.

I don’t need you to want my lifestyle for your own; although, I do hope you have a marriage that is based in the same fundamental truths as mine. I hope you are as supported, safe and loved as I am by my wife. I wish that on everyone. I believe if everyone was as cared about and loved as we are in our marriage, that there would be no place for hatred.

My hope for our world is tolerance. I am willing to end my silence to further this aim.

wife photo

The Author

Surrender Without Quitting: Accept What Is

Surrendering with White Flag

I have been contemplating a new wrist tattoo that has a dandelion with the word “surrender” floating away as if set free in a wish. This concept of letting go seems to go against every bit of my type A personality’s desire to “power it out” and “get it done”. However, I would suggest to you that surrendering is the hardest skill to learn of them all. How do we learn how to let go and just be? How can we ignore societies ongoing messages that drive us to achieve, achieve, achieve? I suggest to you that to letting go is the opposite of driving through your life at 110% of capacity…that the truth to living a fulfilling life filled with mindful presence is to actually take a deep breath, exhale it out, and surrender.

There is resistance around the idea of surrendering as it can feel like quitting. Surrendering is not quitting. Surrendering is allowing yourself to live in the moment of your life and to realize that in this very moment this is as good as it gets. If you can learn how to let go and be fully present in your life, you can surrender the anxieties that surround all of the “what ifs” that we all tend to ruminate about in our heads. What if I lose my job? What if my spouse cheats on me? What if I never lose these 20 pounds? What if I get cancer? What if my son doesn’t get into that college he is fighting for? Quitting is rolling over and allowing your life to run you; it has nothing to do with surrender. Surrendering is allowing space to just be, as is.

You can surrender and decide you are never willing to quit. You never “quit” trying to be mindful, eat healthier, improve upon your body, learn to relax, living fully and with passion, etc.. Never give up in fighting for the things you want in your life whatever that means for you. To give up self-care is to give up on yourself. Always do your best…and then surrender to what you currently experience as your life. Know that for this very second, what you see is what you get. There is no purpose in feelings of bitterness for what you may or may not have in this second. Surrender to your reality as is.

Why does this matter?

I am always sharing different themes around our internalized myths about what we believe to be in our control (everything) when in fact what we control is very little (almost nothing). We control our own individual words, actions and behaviors. We have no control over how other’s perceive us, what other’s say to us, or how our bosses act. The more we try to control our external environment, the more frustrated we become and the less present we are in our lives. We become focused on the future, potential catastrophic anxiety inducing worries that may happen, or we hold on to past vulnerabilities and pains. What we don’t tend to do is be present in this very moment breath by breath.

Sometimes when a client comes in for therapy, they work really hard at trying to task through the work of becoming more aware of their own internal processes by getting mad at themselves or frustrated by their thoughts or the way they feel. They despise their own judging minds and thoughts. If this ever happens to you, I suggest you try to imagine letting go instead of criticizing yourself. Your thoughts can spiral out of control and you can choose to non judgmentally notice that they are present, then surrender and not engage in the emotions that will only fuel the fire of your judgements. Give yourself permission to be just who you are and allow that to be good enough. Let go of all of the ways in which you feel you are not doing what you “should” be doing according to some internal judgement of yourself and be free. Be good enough. Surrender. It is so much less effort to let yourself go in this way.

What can you do right this second as you read this to let go? Surrendering sets you free. Be free.

Stacey Neil is a Licensed Psychotherapist and Personal Trainer in private practice in Los Gatos, CA. She can be reached at 408.827.5139.

Healthy is Too Hard!! Answers On How To Implement Positive Change

smart goal setting concept

If you are someone who is interested in making positive changes in your life, I imagine you are reading this blog among many others. It is my hope that you read with an open mind and take things away that are pertinent to you or speak to you in some manner, but leave behind the advice or suggestion that doesn’t speak as easily to you. In my work as a therapist, personal trainer, and wellness coach, I spend a great deal of my time with my clients working on the issues that they are hoping to work through or heal from; along with a great deal of energy dedicated to how to make positive changes. As I have heard in the voice of many of my frustrated clients: “Healthy Is Too Hard!”

Yes, it is incredibly challenging to make, implement, and maintain positive changes that you attempt in your life. A lazy, sloth-like, fast food eating, indulgent lifestyle are much easier to pull off in our society full of convenience, sensory overload, and consumerism that pushes us to “buy”, “eat”, “compete”, “drink”, and live in a manner that is not in alignment with a wellness based goal of balance, health, and long-term care of our spirits.

Sometimes it is easier to ask yourself, “why bother?”. I find the answer to this question to be grounded in the idea that many people who are not taking good care of their health and wellness are unhappy, unfulfilled, lack work/life balance, and are completely living a life that does not feel in alignment with who they always believed themselves to be (if in fact they are aware of who that is). Sometimes they have anxiety, depression, impulsive shopping problems, work/life balance issues, no real quality time with their children, or no idea about who they are and where their passion lies, or chronic health problems. Maybe they drink themselves to relaxation every evening to relax.

Wellness is about integration between many different components in your life in which you have health including: emotional, spiritual, mental, vocational, physical, family and financial. Often we are good in one area in our lives, but not another. If for example, you are doing a great job working out and eating well each day but you are working 14 hours a day at a desk and having no time to explore your emotional well-being – you are not living a life of wellness. It is the integration of these components that makes up a complete picture.

This discussion gets complicated because the first step in working towards improving upon your life is to take an honest assessment of where you are. I use an integrated wellness assessment I have created with my clients, but you can even write down the 7 areas I mentioned above and check in with each section by asking yourself, “How am I doing?”. You must be brutally up front with yourself if you are going to be able to truly take a current day snapshot. Most of us have one or two real problem areas in our life and struggle with having to face the facts around our behaviors and how they are affecting us.

The next step is to grab one of your problem areas and set yourself up with 2-3 goals using the S.M.A.R.T. format listed in the graphic above. You literally just start somewhere positive. Pick one (maybe the area you tend to feel the most negative consequences in your life from). You can learn more about setting smart goals here:

http://www.wikihow.com/Set-SMART-Goals

Pay special attention to being specific and having goals that are achievable. We often attempt to set goals that are too vague or general and have very little chance of success. If you are not honest with where you are currently in regards to the behavior, you have very little chance of setting up an achievable goal that targets it effectively. For example, if your goal is to start exercising and you are currently at 0 times per week. Your smart goal would look like: I will walk 20 minutes on Tuesday and Thursday mornings from 7-8 beginning 9/15. It must be that specific, and as you can see, it needs to start with an achievable amount of time and days involved. Going from 0 to 2 X per week is a great start. Keep it up for a few weeks and re-evaluate if you want to, but don’t create a goal that has you working out 7X per week straight out of the gate. You will set yourself up to fail.

Speaking of failing, one critical step when setting a new goal, is to always be mindful of also setting up a plan to fail. That is, put down a plan for what happens if you fall off the wagon. It happens to all of us, no matter how motivated we are to get started, so you want to anticipate it ahead of time. It is always incredibly helpful to say your new goal out loud to someone who can hold you accountable, or post it on social media…maybe you want to hire a wellness coach to help you along. Whatever it takes. Wellness is a life long journey that will require tweaks, updates, and constant monitoring to check in with yourself and how you are feeling within your individual life.

I am lucky to have worldwide readership on this blog; however, for those of you who may live in or are close to Silicon Valley, I am offering a special program to help this process along for my clients. I am offering it only for a limited time to help kickstart some of my readers and clients (and their friends) to get started on improving your wellness. Please see my flyer below for more details.

IMG_2217

I will continue to write tips and ideas on how to integrate wellness and find a way towards authentic living in a mindful, balanced and fulfilling manner. This is my greatest passion and I believe strongly that we need to focus on all of the areas of our life to have a true understanding of how we are living. Our lives are so very precious and short. We owe it to ourselves and our loved ones to live it as fully as we are able.

Stacey Neil, LMFT, CPT is a licensed Psychotherapist, Wellness Coach and Certified Personal Trainer who is in private practice in Los Gatos, CA. She is also the Co-Founder of TotalFit Solutions, Integrating Mind & Body. She can be reached at 408.827.5139, or http://www.totalfitsolutions.com

Or you can fill out the form below and I will get back to you!

In Order to Authentically Live; You May First Need to Imagine Your Death

Typically at some point in the beginning of your work with a therapist you will get some form of the question, “What brings you in to therapy?”, or maybe “What would you like to work on together?”. It doesn’t matter if I am working with a client who comes in for therapy, personal training, or wellness coaching (which combines them both), the question needs to come up in order to provide good ethical service on behalf of my paying client. In theory, a client should know what it is they are having trouble with, or what is causing them distress; however, I have found this is not always the case. Some clients come to see me because they aren’t feeling well, living authentically, or without knowing what’s wrong at all. They just know something is off. That life promised more than what they felt was being delivered to them and they couldn’t begin to figure out what to do about it or how to fix it. These are some of my favorite clients to work with because I get the double pleasure of helping them to articulate and discover what it is they are looking for and THEN support them to figure out what they need to change in order to attract the possibility of a different path for themselves.

In my work I have found that sometimes the best way to figure out how to live is to imagine your death. I draw out a tombstone on a piece of binder paper and send my clients home with a homework assignment to write out their headstone. I ask them to imagine that they are at their funeral and their family and friends are surrounding their grave. “How would you want to be remembered?”, I ask. “What are the characteristics that matter to you most: kind father, loving partner, foundation president responsible for funding the cure for cancer?”. I ask them to imagine the possibilities are limitless. This is an exercise that you can do at home on your own. The answers point you in the direction of what matters most to you and uncovers for you your core values and goals in life. It helps to start you off on a direction towards authenticity if you feel stuck and it can take as little as 10-15 minutes.

I have done this exercise with gang impacted teenage boys aged 15-19 who were in an anger management class I taught at a local High School in East San Jose. They came in with their creased tombstone hand outs from the previous week folded up and pulled out of their back pockets. I hadn’t really been sure what to expect as these were not typical homework “doers” and I hadn’t tried this exercise with this population before. Imagine how incredible it was when all 10 of them came in and one by one read out loud how they wanted to be remembered when they died. These young men are surrounded by death at every turn in their gang families and were no stranger to dying young. Most of them wrote that they “had lived a long life” which quickly became evident as a common goal they shared. They talked about raising children outside of the gang culture, providing a home for their families and working an honest job. Many of them for the first time were given the opportunity to experience hope as they imagined a life with different goals and values then they were currently promoting. It was one of the most powerful sessions I have ever had the honor of facilitating. It was inspiring.

Once you are able to see the final curtain for yourself, you can ask yourself the next fundamental question: “What does my life look like today?”. If what you are living today and what you want to be remembered for in your life are not in alignment, you have an answer to the question of what to work on in your life. You can begin to change the choices you are making each and everyday by asking yourself when faced with a choice, “Is this in alignment with my vision of who I want to be remembered as, or not?”. If the answer is NO, you know it is time to make a different choice.

When I first went to graduate school, I was given this task as an assignment. Part of what I learned about myself that day is that I am afraid to die. Another thing that I learned was that I am passionate about helping others change their life because with the realization that death is scary is the knowledge that life is delicate and short. This blog is a part of my larger plan to do everything I can to help anyone who is interested, seeking, or curious to become empowered to start living the life they want now. Right Now.

I welcome your comments or suggestions. I would also love to hear about how this exercise goes for you if you give it a try.

Yours in Health,
Stacey Neil