Recovery

Dear Alice,

I finished therapy yesterday! I never thought I’d be the person to have to go to a partial hospitalization program, but I did and I am better for it. I learned a lot (as mentioned in my previous letter) and I am still learning. I think the greatest thing I got from therapy was time to think. I really, really needed time to just think and process all that had been done to me and that had happened to me.

Now that I’m in this in-between time of post-therapy pre-returning-to-work, I start to think about recovery. I know I have to keep up with my meds (which now have a higher dosage) and I have a follow up appointment with TWO psychiatrists so I can get different opinions on what’s going on with my head, but I have to think about other things to do to cope with my depression and anxiety, as well as keep my mind and body healthy.

I think I might start taking walks. Now that I have more energy in the mornings due to reduced stress, I might be able to take a walk every now and then to get myself moving. I always hear that exercise is good for the mind, and I have to admit that I was happier when I was exercising. Sure, I did it for the wrong reasons, but I did feel better when I was doing it. I know I don’t have to do a lot, just about 10 minutes of exercise a day would be good for me, but it’s hard to start. I think that’s the hardest part.

Another thing that I might start doing is practicing being grateful. Many times during therapy we were told that Depression is obsession with things that happened in the past and Anxiety is obsession with things that will happen in the future. I have to learn that I cannot change my past and I can’t control my future, all I can do is focus on the now. My counselor also mentioned that I need to acknowledge feelings and thoughts as what they are, not as crazy hypotheticals. If I allow my mind to wander in the hypotheticals, I can get lost in them, thinking of things that never happened or things that aren’t true.

Mental illness, I’ve noticed, has a lot to do with what is true and what is not true. I hesitate to use the word “fake” as things can be true and fake and not true and real. My thought are real but they are not true. To dwell on things that are untrue only leads me further down the path of despair, so I think I need to focus on things that are true and be grateful for the things that are good.

To be honest, this sounds a lot like what Paul told the Philippians. “Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” I have to focus on what is true about my feelings and my situation rather than what is not true. Example: I feel scared, I feel hopeful, I feel anxious. All are true, and all are being felt right now, but they are not who I am. I am not anxious, I am now scared, I am not hopeful, I simply feel these things.

Things are looking up, dear friend. I hope to find a path forward soon, but in the meantime, I think I’ll stay in the dark for a bit while longer.

Love,

Alex

Light

Dear Alice,

Guess where I’ve been theses last couple of days? Outpatient Clinical Therapy. Every day, I go to the local psychiatric hospital, leave my phone behind, and enter into intensive outpatient therapy with a bunch of people who are in a similar journey as mine. We talk about healthy ways to cope, our struggles, and the things we know to be true about ourselves. It’s very wonderful. I even made friends!

This process has helped me realize many things. First of all: my workplace is a little abusive. So much is expected of people in my position with very little tools provided for us. We’re set up to fail and we are blamed for our shortcomings as if they were completely our fault. Now, don’t get me wrong, I am very much aware that we (speaking for people in my position) are not perfect, we’re human after all, but to be blamed for failures that happen because of lack of tools is not right at all.

The second thing I learned was that work is the main cause for most of my issues. Due to the constant pressure I feel to attain a level of performance that’s (if I’m being blunt) really flipping impossible to attain, my body and mind have fallen out of alignment. My insides are at war with each other, which has caused me a myriad of health issues. These issues aren’t just of the mental health capacity (though those are harder to identify and treat) but also of the physical capacity. Did you know that depression can cause (or worsen) hypertension (something that I have had to deal with since I was 18)? How about diabetes (something I was recently diagnosed with)?

It’s interesting to see how the mind and the body coexist and cooperate with each other. How a disease (depression) that exists in the mind can deeply affect what happens in the body. How our inner self is deeply linked to our outer self. To me, these inner workings of humanity hint to our divinity. We are divine in nature, both our bodies and our minds. We contain multitudes. And as multitudes do, they sometimes fight. The multitudes of our minds fight with the multitudes of our bodies. Or at least that’s what it feels like.

War is being waged inside of me, but there is a hope for peace. If I learn how to care for my mind and my body, if I unlock the secret to aligning them once again, then the turbulent waters of my multitudes will transform into a calm lake, or at least a steady river. There is light in the darkness.

As I drove to my parents’ house where I’m staying while in OCT, I thought about the sisterhood of light and darkness. One cannot exist without the other. Light without darkness is blindness, darkness without light is consuming. I think God gave us the gift of darkness so that we could grow, and then gave us light so that we can flourish. I might be in my darkness right now, but I am growing, day is dawning, and I hope for the day where my flourishing comes. For now, however, I focus on growth, transformation, and the inner self. Healing in the darkness so that I can shine in the light.

Anyhow, I think that’s enough philosophy for now, better rest up for tomorrow. Hope you are well, friend.

Love,

Alex

Darkness

Dear Alice,

I fear that I am coming undone. I thought I have achieved the balance I so desperately desired, but it feels more like my life is coming apart at the seams. I feel sick, tired, lonely, and hopeless.

I keep trying to ask for help, but it would seem that I am not critical enough to receive it, despite how often I feel as if I’m treading water, keeping my head just above sinking. It feels like I’m staring darkness in the face and I am left with a choice: either to step in or run away.

I don’t know how things got to this point. I think it’s an accumulation of feelings that I’ve kept hidden in the deepest parts of myself that I’ve recently had to let loose. Perhaps it’s the result of avoiding the reality of my environment for 5 years. Or maybe it’s just that I’ve been running on empty pretending I’m full.

Honestly, Alice, I don’t know. I don’t know anything. It feels like my life is no longer under my control and that I’m just a piece in some twisted game of chess. This is the part where I’d say something brave, as if I were the hero in some fantasy novel, but I have no brave words to offer. All I have is this heaviness inside.

I don’t think sadness is the right word for what I’m feeling right now. I think despair is better. Despair: to be without hope. I feel like I don’t have hope anymore. Like a compass without a north, I feel directionless. I don’t know where to find the path forward.

The concept of the dark night of the soul comes to mind. The mythical rock bottom that St. John of the Cross wrote a poem about. But the name is deceiving, for I am not experiencing a single night, but 5 years worth of darkness. They say you are transformed at the end, but with no end in sight, I am unsure of what I am becoming.

I think that’s what terrifies me the most. The uncertainty. I’m used to a certain level of uncertainty (I mean, I’ve lived in 3 different places in the past year alone), but I’m at a point in my life where nothing is certain. Everything feels shaky and unsure.

I thought sending my resignation letter would make me feel at peace, yet it has been the source of my greatest anxiety. For I fear what is to come and the consequences I must face. The fallout of this situation might be more costly than I can bear alone.

But I have to keep going. At least for now. I owe it to myself to make it out of this. I owe it to that bright-eyed kid that thought becoming a pastor would make all things better. I owe it to the kid who dreamed of a better world. I owe it to the kid who cried bitter tears when he realized that the world was more broken than he could fix alone.

So I believe I must step into the dark rather than running away. Perhaps the dark has something to teach me. Perhaps I will become someone better after I have walked with the dark for a long time. I t is time I face the dark and not run away.

Love,

Alex

A note to the reader: be not alarmed by what you read here. I am safe. I am cared for. I am getting help. It just takes a while before the people who can help can see me. The problem with living in a colony is that medical care is not very accessible, and due to my current condition, there are a lot of hoops I have to jump through. If you wish to reach out, you may do so, but it might take me a while to reply. But do know that I appreciate those who reach out and I do value your concern. Love, Alex

Memories

Dear Alice,

As I sit in the same bookstore/coffee shop that I frequented when I was in college, I am flooded with memories. Most of them good, some of them not so good, but all of them very valuable.

It’s interesting, really, missing the person you used to be and being excited to meet the person you are becoming. On the one hand, I grieve that young boy who sat in this very seat, wrestling with things he didn’t yet understand. I feel for that kid who was entering the world of independence for the first time, eager to discover what the world had in store for him. I used to think he was stupid for dreaming so boldly. But I see now that he was wise beyond his years.

I often think about my 18 year-old self and I wonder how I managed to handle all the emotions I had at that age. The simple answer is that I didn’t. I would bottle them up and tuck them away to a secret part of myself, so secret that I wasn’t privy to the information stored in that place. It’s funny to think about now, that shy, reserved boy became the person I am today.

I wish I could go back and have a conversation with him, I’m sure he’s got interesting things to say. Maybe one day I’ll be able to talk to my younger self, but for now, I will be happy to share his memories.

Memories are a powerful thing. They can heal and they can hurt, they can mobilize and paralyze. My memories usually just make me feel too many things at once.

I recently found a picture that my high school friends gave me. It features a collage of my face as Miley Cyrus’ wrecking ball from the Wrecking Ball video. I can’t believe that, after all these years (almost 10!) I still have it. It survived all the moves, hurricanes, decluttering attempts, and time.

I wonder why I kept it. I think it’s because it reminds me of a simpler time. I don’t necessarily talk to the friends that gave me that picture, honestly, I doubt any of them remember even giving it to me. I may not spend every day with them anymore, but I still keep up with them through the magic of instagram. They look happy and at peace with their lives. I’m glad they’re doing well.

I think I’m gonna end this one here, Alice. The chair at the coffee shop is getting uncomfortable and I don’t want to pay for parking. I’ll talk to you soon.

Love,

Alex

It is finished

Dear Alice,

I finally did it. I wrote and sent my resignation letter. In a year’s time, I will no longer be a pastor. I will no longer be affiliated to the people who have hurt me so much. I should feel happy. I should feel like a weight has lifted from my spirit, but I don’t. Not because I feel like I’m making a mistake, which I’m not, but because having to reinvent myself is scary.

When I left Puerto Rico for the first time, I was running away. Not from a future or from a people, but from myself. I ran away from everything that made me, well, me, and I ran to something that I thought was better. I was wrong. It wasn’t better.

Now that I’m back and that I’m beginning to rediscover who I was and who I could’ve become, I’m scared of having to rebuild. I’m scared that I won’t like who I become. But I guess that’s how life works. Change is scary. Living is scary. But the possibility for good is so big that it should cover for the fear. But because all of this is so recent, I guess that reality hasn’t clicked in my head yet.

I will say, I’m happy I did it. I’m happy I made this choice and that I made it now. I don’t know what the future holds, but I think that the next chapter in my journey will be a good one. I hope that, whoever I become, I’m happy. That’s all I want. To be happy.

Tomorrow will be scary. I don’t know when, or if, my email will receive a reply. But all tomorrows are scary, and I have lived through so many uncertain tomorrows that I know what to expect.

So tomorrow I’ll do what I always do. I’ll get up in the morning, pet my cats, and I’ll figure it out. One day at a time, one step at a time, slowly but surely. I’ve learned that courage is not facing fear, but recognizing that I’m afraid and showing up anyway. So tomorrow I will show up. No matter what happens.

It would seem, dear Alice, that our relationship will be made even more public soon. Maybe once people ready my letters, they’ll know the truth of what I’ve experienced. And once they do, I hope they learn and grow, so that it doesn’t happen again.

Here’s to tomorrows and whatever they bring.

Love,

Alex

Ricochet

Dear Alice,

This week has been strange. I know it’s only Tuesday and that the week has only started, but it still feels strange. I feel myself becoming someone I don’t want to become, but have been forced to become to do the job I am currently doing.

I used to be soft and kind, but in this past month, I’ve had to develop a skin as thick as iron. This whole managing-an-entire-center thing is hard. My heart wants to do the right thing, but me head knows that to do that, I have to be the bad guy at times.

I wish I could always be the good guy. I wish I could radiate joy and love everywhere I go, but it seems that life is very far away from me. Not because I am unable to be that person, but because I have endured so much in so little time that I have little joy to spread.

I thought this was supposed to be my time to heal and recover from all the wrong I’ve had to deal with in the past few years, but I guess I have to endure a little bit longer. The environment I’m in isn’t exactly the best either.

Let me give you an example. Today I went to a Christian bookstore to pick up a new Bible. I don’t really need a new one, but the only other Spanish Bible I have is old and the notes it has don’t really reflect what I believe anymore so it was time I changed it. So I went to the bookstore, found a Bible, and because I had a little time, I decided to browse the shelves to see if I could find any hidden gems. Well, what I found was closer to a lump of coal than a gem.

Right there, at the end of the gondola, there was an entire section dedicated to Queer Christians. And no, it wasn’t the nice “God loves queer people and affirms who they are.” Quite the opposite, really.

It shouldn’t shock me to find this in a Christian bookstore in Puerto Rico of all places. But it did. As I stared at the books, it hit me that these authors were talking about people like me. People who love differently than they do. People who feel differently than they do. And instead of trying to understand my reality, they choose to hate, to try and invalidate all that I and countless others have experienced and felt for generations.

At that moment I felt so small. So insignificant. So unworthy of a love that I know I don’t deserve. It had been a while since I had felt so unwelcome in a place I once called home; and I’m not talking about the bookstore, I’m talking about the Church.

Thankfully, I got a call to go pick someone up so I payed for my Bible (it was $30) and I left, trying to put the experience behind me. However, life has a funny way of being sucky all at once (why is it never just slightly sucky and not mind-shatteringly sucky?), and I had another moment of feeling unworthy.

So I picked up the people I was supposed to pick up, went back to the church and started working on some paperwork I needed to do for an employee of mine (did I mention I have employees and volunteers now?). I go out to print the paperwork and the husband of one of the volunteers takes it upon himself to let me know that I should’ve stayed with the kids on their hike because I could use the exercise.

And there it was, the eternal thorn in my side. I don’t think I need to tell you how many times (and in how many ways) I’ve been called fat in my life. Just know that there are many of both. I’ve learned how to put it behind me, but this one caught me by surprise. Sure, I’ve head the whispers about the fat guy who replaced the old pastor. I’ve seen the looks I get from people when I walk by them. I’ve heard the people sitting next to me in planes, buses, and cars complaining when my sides inevitably spill outside my seat and into theirs. I know what it means to be fat in a world designed for thin people. But this comment really hit me hard. Because my mind was already jarred from the homophobia at the bookstore, and now I have to deal with someone who doesn’t even know my name telling me that my body is somehow inadequate.

I was angry. I was sad. I felt like there was a monster inside of me trying to come out. But, I swallowed my words, picked up the papers, went into my office, and breathed. I tried calming myself down and steering my mind in some other direction, but difficulties and anger kept showing themselves today.

Eventually I left the office after the kids were gone, I went home, and I sat there trying to forget that today ever happened.

Why do people feel the need to comment on other’s bodies as if they had any authority over them? Why do I let comments from people who don’t know me affect me so much? I don’t know, and I guess I’ll never know, but I do know that keeping it inside isn’t gonna help anyone.

So that’s why I’m writing you today, because I needed to get the anger and the sadness out of me before it became something else. I don’t know, Alice, I don’t think I can make it to April under these conditions.

I know I said October was the time I wanted to end my relationship with my current church, but I considered extending it to April so I could get my affairs in order. But I’m not sure I can hold out that long. I thought that going back home would help me escape the hatred and dirty looks I got in New York, but they’ve just transformed. Now they look at me not because I’m brown and queer, but because I’m fat and queer. Guess I can’t really escape hatred and prejudice, but it stings a little more when it comes from people who are supposed to care for you.

I don’t know, Alice, I just guess I’m done with hiding and forcing myself to be someone I’m not. I don’t want to be the pastor, I don’t want to be Alexander anymore. I want to be the person I chose to be. I want to be Alex. Just Alex. No baggage, not gendered language, no legacy to uphold, no reputation to protect. Just Alex. Whoever Just Alex is.

I have an early day tomorrow, so I’ll just leave it here. Thank you for listening.

Love,

Alex

Homestead

Dear Alice,

I finally made it to Puerto Rico! It’s been a long time coming, but I finally made it to where I wanted to be. Honestly I think I should feel happier than I actually do. I mean, I got what I wanted right?

I guess the grass is always greener on the other side. Hindsight is more a curse than it is a blessing. If I’m being honest with myself, and with you, I miss New York. Sure, I didn’t have much there, but I had a nice life out on my own. I could do anything, go anywhere, be anyone I wanted to because I had no precedent. Now, I have history, reputation, legacies to protect and uphold.

I missed this community and this life, but now that I have it again, I guess it’s not what I imagined it to be. I miss my friends in New York. I miss the cool morning air and the sounds of the highway out of my window. I miss my small apartments (did I mention I have a huge house now?), and I miss going up and down flights of stairs with groceries.

I know this is only temporary, and that I will get used to living here again, but everything feels so foreign to me. I was only gone for five years, yet it feels like I was gone for centuries. Everything is different, everyone is different, yet I feel the same.

Makes me think of that one Taylor Swift song “right where you left me.”

Did you ever hear about the girl who got frozen?
Time went on for everybody else, she won’t know it
She’s still 23 inside her fantasy
How it was supposed to be

I feel like that character. Stuck in time, waiting for something to happen that will probably never happen. Waiting for the past to change so that my right now transforms into something better.

But I know that’s not how it works. Nothing will change unless I make better choices now. Because I can’t change the past, and I can’t control what happens next. All I can do is try to be better today.

But what does it mean to be better? Is it being a better person? A better Christian? How do I become a better me?

I don’t know, Alice. I guess I just have to keep trying until I find the answer, even if the answer brings more questions.

On the bright side, now that my internet doesn’t block my access to this website, I can write to you more often! So I hope that I can write more letters to you soon. I like writing to you, even if you’re just a voiceless internet website.

Talk to you soon, friend.

Love,
Alex

Beautiful Scars

Dear Alice,

I often find myself thinking about death. Now, don’t worry, the days of constantly waiting and wishing for death to come are far behind me. But I still find myself pondering death occasionally.

Now, you know I’m a Christian (sometimes) and I believe in God (sometimes) and life after death and all those good and beautiful things, so I don’t think I need to go into specifics about theological backgrounds surrounding death and dying. However, I feel as if I must explain my own thoughts on the matter.

I see death not as an ending, but as a beginning. The start of something new (yes, I stole this line from High School Musical). Death is the doorway into a new and better reality, where we all live together with God in perfect peace and harmony. Sounds great doesn’t it?

I find myself longing for that reality. Living is exhausting. Again, I’m okay, no need to worry about me, I’m just engaging in some philosophy. But yes, being alive is quite unpleasant.

I often find myself wondering if life is worth it. More often than not, I decide that it is and I keep going, but on the days when I find myself in the negative, I think about flowers.

I love flowers. They’re absolutely beautiful to look at (I personally don’t care for the smell) and they liven up any room. But, cut flowers tend to whither rather quickly. Their life is a flash and their death leaves behind a scar.

I like to think about flower petals as beautiful scars. They stand as proof that the flower lived and lived to the fullest. It did what it was meant to do, and even at the end, it left behind something beautiful to look at.

I want my life to leave behind a beautiful scar. A reminder that I existed in the grand timeline of human consciousness. A legacy. I look at my life now and there’s not much worth remembering. I should probably do more exciting things.

The only problem with that is: I’m quite alright with being forgotten. I don’t feel the need to leave my mark on the world, it’s just something I kinda want to do someday. Maybe someday I’ll think of something I can leave behind. Perhaps it’ll be these letters.

Anyway, I have to go now. I’m moving in a few days and there’s loads of packing to do. Thank you for listening.

Love

Alex

Cereal Bowls

Dear Alice,

I’ve been feeling a little lost lately. I’m not sure what the next steps are for me, I don’t know where to turn or what to do. And the funniest things is, I don’t know why I feel this way.

I guess it could be because it’s Pride month and I can’t really celebrate how I want to, or many because I feel lonely. Or maybe it’s because I’m moving (again).

I’ve been through too many moves in too little time. It feels like I don’t belong anywhere, or that I belong in too many places. I don’t think that makes much sense, but then again, most of the things I write you don’t make much sense at all.

In two weeks, I’ll be able to write to you without having to connect to my hotspot, which is very nice, and I might be able to write to you more often. I think that’ll help a lot.

You must be wondering why I titled this letter “cereal bowls.” The reason is because cereal bowls always make me feel better. There’s just something about something crunchy and sugary sweet that makes me feel like I can get through anything.

I guess I just need to find the metaphorical bowls of cereal in life, rather than just eating bowls of cereal. That gets expensive fast. but I need to start finding joy in my life, rather than just sitting in the hurt and the sadness all the time.

I want to be happy, Alice, but I don’t know how. I keep looking inside myself to find happiness, but I think I need to star looking outside myself. I need to find more cereal bowls. Because the inside of me feels like a scary place to be. It feels like it’s filled with so much hurt and pain that I can’t find the light inside.

So if I can’t find the light inside, maybe I can find it outside myself.

I don’t know, Alice, all this sounds crazy, but I guess there’s some truth to it.

Anyway, I’ll talk to you later.

Love,

Alex

Heartbreak

Dear Alice,

Today was supposed to be a good day. I got a call that I’m moving back home. I’ll be closer to my family than I’ve been in many years. And I was so happy to hear that and to know that I would finally have a support system close by. But all of that turned sour so quickly.

I knew this organization (I hesitate calling it a church) was homophobic. I knew they weren’t the best place for me. But it wasn’t until today that that fact became very clear to me. Could you believe that I’m apparently on probation? And nobody told me about it.

I’ve given my all and my best to this organization. I’ve been a part of it my whole life. I’ve defended this organization and claimed that they’re good people, even if the system is flawed. I thought I was gonna be the one to change them for the better. But I see now that all that was just foolish. The dreams of a young stupid boy who didn’t want to see them for what they truly were. And now look at me. 25 and stuck. 25 and absolutely heartbroken over this.

Because I never thought they would treat me like this. But I see how it is now. I see how they see me. And what did I do that was so horrible, so bad that I’m merited a probation period? I shared affirming content. I posted on my little corner of the internet that queer people are loved by God. I tried to share the Good News.

Sure, other people in this organization can share racist and homophobic content, content that actively hurts others, and no one says anything. But when I share the fact that queer people might be good and holy, I’m the bad guy. Well, I guess I’m gonna be the bad guy forever.

I’m angry. I’m sad. My heart hurts. I can’t sleep. And I just want it all to stop. I don’t want to live like this anymore.

I think I’m just gonna end this letter here.

Love,

Alex