Crying Behind the Mask

By Rebecca Anne Johnston

 

Outwardly, I was a happy Christian wife and mother; inside the turmoil and pain of my marriage was tearing me apart.

While browsing through a store recently, I saw a card which reminded me of the emotional secrets I hid behind a mask while growing up. It pictured a little girl, with golden braids and a pretty pink dress, hanging up laundry on a clothesline.

Once I was that innocent little girl, happy as a "mommy" to my younger brother, a nurse to my dolls, and a little helper to my mother.

Then a chain of events occurred which changed the course of my life. At age three, I learned from my aunt of an older sister who had died at birth. "She was so beautiful," my aunt told me, "with lots of dark curly hair. She was just perfect." I asked my aunt many questions, and became obsessed with this sister. As I grew older, I knew secretly that I could never attain the same perfection that this little girl would have attained if she had lived.

My self-image was also shaped by my younger brother. Things seemed to come so easily to him. He did everything better than me: More friends, better grades, more talent in sports. I always tried to be just like him, but failed continually.

When I was eight, my family was involved in a serious car accident. My brother and I were separated from Mom and Dad for three months. This separation created a great sense of loss and abandonment in my life. Then came the most devastating event of all: My grandfather molested me when I was nine. Prior to this, he'd never shown any inappropriate behavior toward me. After the incest, my childhood slipped away like a thief in the night. My dolls were traded for a baseball and bat. When I played house with my girlfriends, I was always the husband. And my golden braids disappeared, replaced by a short boyish hairstyle. Others labeled me a "tomboy" and secretly, I wished that I could be a boy.

I teased other girls, rather than identifying with them. I could never be as feminine or pretty as they are, I thought. I admired and felt protective toward feminine girls, like a boy would feel.

I became my mother's protector, admiring and idolizing her. We became emotionally enmeshed as I became her confidante, her caretaker, her surrogate husband. My father was withdrawn emotionally and physically, and found refuge in his work to avoid emotional involvement. I began to believe that emotional support and security could be found only in another woman.

I longed for physical closeness to other girls, but avoided physical contact due to inner fears of my growing same-sex attractions. I had been raised in a Christian home and knew such feelings did not agree with God's intended plan for men and women. At age 15, I made a strong commitment to the Lord, but my Christian walk was judgmental and self-righteous, centered around what I could do for God. I did not know how to grow into an intimate and joyful relationship with Jesus Christ.

I was 16 when I met Bob and we were married by the end of my senior year of high school. Soon we were blessed with two beautiful children. I became the "good Christian wife and mother," but all was not well. Outwardly, we looked like an ideal family. But behind closed doors, our marriage was very dysfunctional. I continued in my childhood role of protector and rescuer; Bob became verbally--then physically--abusive. I was terrified of his anger. My shaky identity as a woman was beaten down even further by his outbursts.

I was afraid to confront any of these issues. And I'd do anything to avoid Bob's wrath. If I sensed that he didn't want me to do something, even simple things like playing softball or going shopping with my friends, I'd wait until the last second before announcing my plans and running out the door.

I felt totally unaffirmed, unloved, uncherished as a woman. Instead, I was filled with shame, guilt and a deep sense of worthlessness. But, rather than confronting my feelings, I stuffed them down, pretending everything was perfectly fine.

Then, when I was 29, my "perfect" mask was shattered into a million pieces. My husband became deathly ill and was hospitalized. During this time, he confessed to me that, two years earlier, he had became sexually involved with another woman.

I was totally devastated. All my suppressed feelings came rushing to the surface. I remembered my grandfather's betrayal of my sexual innocence. I also felt the pain of other physical (non-sexual) abuse at the hands of my dad, my brother, and other men as I was growing up.

At first, as a "mature" Christian, I forgave my husband. But, over the coming months, my emotional and physical stability wore down. Bob was not able to work, and all the family responsibilities fell on my shoulders. I had to nurse my husband, raise my children, manage the house, and work a full-time job to pay the bills. Bob's own frustration and fears about the future came pouring out in more verbal and physical abuse.

By the summer of 1981, I was totally exhausted. Then I hurt my back at work and had to apply for disability. All the years of suppressed emotions broke loose. My mask fell off and my true feelings were revealed. I felt heartbroken, angry, betrayed and disillusioned. My life had careened out of control like a runaway car with no steering wheel.

Five months later, after 13 years of marriage, I became involved in a lesbian relationship. I'd met this woman at a Christian camp, and we had become emotionally dependent upon each other. I was trying to encourage her away from alcoholism. But one night I was so depressed over my marriage that I suggested we go to a bar and have a drink. We did--and I began a pattern of heavy drinking that continued for almost two years.

My lover and I began to frequent the gay bars and lesbian clubs. At the same time, I continued to be involved in my children's lives. Bob did not want a divorce, so I initiated it. Our marriage ended officially in September 1983, and we were given joint custody of the children.

My parents were totally shocked. It was two years before my mother could utter aloud, "My daughter is a lesbian." My father tried to ignore the whole situation, hoping it would go away.

The first year of my lesbian relationship seemed wonderful. But gradually my emotional and sexual addictions grew more obsessive, and the deep hurts in my heart continued to flourish. My lover's alcoholism grew worse, and she became physically and emotionally abusive to me.

But I was addicted to the relationship. Even when I experienced abuse, dishonesty, unfaithfulness and financial ruin, I could not break away from her.

I'll never forget one night we were in a lesbian bar. I was sitting alone while my lover danced with another woman. I heard the Lord whisper to my heart, "My child, what are you doing here? You won't find happiness in this place. I desire so much more for you." As I looked around, God showed me the unhappiness under all the smiling masks around me.

But it was another year before God broke through my denial. It was Fall 1984. I was hitting bottom, feeling more inner pain than when my marriage had broken up. I couldn't eat or sleep. My health was failing and I was suicidal. My lover was seeing another woman, and I felt all the hurt, anger, betrayal and other emotions that I'd experienced while married--only the hurt was multiplied tenfold.

I had suffered betrayal again, only this time at the hands of a woman. I had given up everything for this relationship, and now it was falling apart. I felt an overwhelming sense of hopelessness. I was taking tranquilizers, antidepressants and sleeping pills to get through each day and night.

God showed me that these medications were only like Band-Aid plastic strips covering a deep and festering wound. I knew I'd never fill the inner void with lesbian relationships.

I realized that I needed help. With my Christian upbringing, I knew the truth of God's Word. I cried out to the Lord and He heard my cry (Psalm 40:1-2). He took me by the hand and began leading me on the journey toward wholeness.

Many people had been praying for me. My mother sent me the testimony of a former lesbian who had changed with God's help. Then a Christian man at work discerned my pain, and began reaching out to me. He put me in touch with another woman who had also walked away from lesbianism, even though I had not told him about my specific struggles! The Holy Spirit was at work in a mighty way.

In January 1985 I asked my lover to move out, and I began counseling with Carrie Wingfield, a former lesbian who directed a ministry in Seattle. She introduced me to her church, where I fellowshipped for the next five years. I received the baptism of the Holy Spirit in April 1985, and grew in my healing process through joining support groups like Al-Anon and Adult Children of Alcoholics.

My journey to freedom was not easy. In 1987, I relapsed into an unhealthy relationship and then had a one-night affair with my ex-lover. Later that year, I checked myself into an inpatient treatment center for co-dependency, then began counseling at Metanoia, an ex-gay ministry in Seattle.

Through counseling, God began digging up the deeper roots of my lesbianism. I had to face the rejection, loneliness, self-hatred and other hurts from my childhood. The pain of withdrawal from my addictive behaviors was overwhelming at times. Sometimes I wondered if the pain would ever end.

But God was faithful, and my relationship with Him began to change. I became totally dependent on Him for my every need. Instead of seeing Him as an unfair and condemning God, I began to experience Him as a loving Father who wants wholeness for me.

Four years ago, I moved back to the area where I had lived as a married woman and my children came to live with me. We had many issues to work through. I asked their forgiveness for leaving them, but my son was not able to find any release until he verbalized his pain in a letter: "Mom, when you went away, it left a big hole in my heart that I am not sure will ever be filled again." Scott's letter opened a door for more communication and healing between us.

There has been pain, but even more victory and healing. I still have struggles in relation to my former husband, who has since remarried. But my parents are extremely supportive of my healing process, and they are excited to see God's call on my life. In February 1992 I became women's ministry coordinator at Metanoia Ministries in Seattle. I am now also attending college, pursuing a degree in counseling.

For much of my life, I hid my wounds behind a mask. Now, with God's help, I have faced the inner pain and I'm finding His healing. The smile on my face is genuine, reflecting the inner joy that God has given me.

Copyright (C) 1990, 1994 by Rebecca Anne (Baeder) Johnston. Distributed by Love In Action, PO Box 753307, Memphis, TN 38175-3307; 901/542-0250.