When I was a kid, my mom would say, “Shannon, you are such a free spirit.” I didn’t know what that meant, but I knew it wasn’t something anyone else in my family was.
When I got older, my free-spiritedness manifested itself in many of the obvious ways: rebellion, drug use, dressing outlandishly, listening to hard rock loud and proud, and taking risks with my body and my life. In every sense of the word, I was “wild,” and there was nobody who was going to tame me.
When my best friend gave me the ultimatum to marry him or we wouldn’t have a friendship, I couldn’t imagine a life without him in it. I knew I was a lesbian and I didn’t want to get married (or even have kids), but I was pretty sure that I would never have another friend I loved so much. Reluctantly, I married him.
Shortly after our wedding, my long-haired rocker husband became a fundamentalist evangelical, and in an effort to “fix” myself, I tried to pray away my gay. Over the next 18 years, I died to myself a million times. I compromised on what I wanted for myself because I loved someone else. Not in one area, but in every area.
I got rid of the music I loved, the clothes I loved, a car I loved, friends I loved. I did it as an act of love and in an attempt to convince myself that the love was worth it. In doing so, I lost myself and became very unhappy.
When my dad finally confronted me about being miserable and not being myself, he threw the tiniest ember under a pile of hay and slowly fanned the baby flame that began to grow until I mustered the courage to come out of the closet at the age of 38.
In the year that followed, my pastor announced my “sin” of being gay from the pulpit, my church prayed for my death in a public worship service, I was ordered by a judge to leave my house (and kids), and I lost most of my friends and half of my family.
It was devastating.
And it was beautiful.
Almost immediately, my authentic self surfaced. Not the rebel who was angry that I was stuck in the closet, and not the church-going, homeschooling mom trying to bargain with God for heterosexuality. It was the me that I was never able to be before I had the courage to speak my truth.
I began to remember the things that I liked to do before. I read articles about my favorite bands and went to their shows. I got rid of my church clothes and started to wear edgy, rock-n-roll clothes. I started to study other subjects besides faith and theology. I started speaking freely. I watched porn. I got a tattoo.
Last week, my son called me from college. He sounded down, and I asked him what was wrong. He was depressed that he chose a major that wasn’t what he thought it would be and he was now committed to doing this for life. After all, he made the decision to do it and now, he felt locked in. For life.
It was my absolute pleasure to inform him that the best thing about life is that we have the right to do the things that make us happy. That means that if we choose something—a job, a partner, a house—whatever it is, and find out it’s not what makes us happy, we can always change our minds. And we can always change our lives.