L.T. Miller shares another scene in the continuing story about his life — first in, and then after coming out of an ex-gay ministry.
I’ll never forget March 6, 2007 as long as I live. Carolina blue skies reached out to the far shores of California where I was living, and the air was sweet, filled with the soft fragrance of jasmine and flowering plum trees. Doves serenaded me as the sun began to set over the golden hills, and as I sat out in my garden, bathing in the lingering warmth of an amazingly beautiful evening, I felt stirring within me, feelings I didn’t know existed. As the voice spoke from somewhere outside of me, so audible, so clear: “your life is about to change dramatically,” a bliss overcame me like never before. In that moment it seemed that every ounce of serotonin in my body exploded, and my feeble words will never be able to adequately describe the sensation that coursed through my veins. I honestly believed that I was some great prophet sent to earth with a message for the entire world, and for a brief moment even considered that perhaps I was Jesus in body, fulfilling the “second coming.”
Over the next couple of weeks, I had an energy I’d never known before, and soon began to function on little to no sleep at all. I spent countless hours calling friends and family at all hours of the day and night telling them how much I loved them, apologizing for all my shortcomings. I talked a mile a minute. The wheels in my head would not stop spinning and it became impossible for me to keep up with my own thoughts. I abhorred those who tried to dissuade me. They didn’t understand my connection with the endless universe, and I hated them for it. I’d lost control, gone mad, or as Sergio said when he frantically called my mother on the east coast and screamed into the phone, “L.T.’s gone fucking nuts!”
My mood continued to soar. I became increasingly delusional. I wrote letters to every major talk show host telling them why they needed me on their program – my ramblings were incoherent and deranged. As a cleansing ritual I would plug the drains of the sinks and tub in my flat, turn on the spigots and let the water run over. I left dozens of burning candles unattended. Every evening I would build fires in the fire pit in the backyard well beyond the size of what was safe. As I watched the smoke billow into the night sky, I sat precariously close to the glowing embers and communed with every Native American spirit pre-colonization. I ripped up carpet and haphazardly painted walls in a myriad of colors that didn’t make sense. My roommate fled.
I began to slowly dismantle my garden, and at the crack of dawn before my little town was waking up I’d load my truck with my flowering shrubs and drop them off at local businesses and random homes. Within a few days, the garden was almost denuded. I depleted my supply of food by cooking elaborate meals, making individual portions, and then driving into Oakland in the wee hours of the early morning. Completely out of touch with reality, I’d park my truck in the most dangerous, crime infested neighborhoods and wander around until the sun rose, placing meals on doorsteps and passing out cigarettes and dollar bills to the homeless.
The police found me on March 22, and in their presence I began to undress myself . . . first my shoes, and so on. “Here, somebody else might need these more than me.” Soon the ambulance arrived and I was strapped onto the gurney and rushed to the hospital. I became an out of control, raving lunatic. I was convinced that I’d been framed. Upon my arrival, I paced the floors like a wild man and pleaded with the nurses to set me free. Finally I was given a sedative and slept for the first time in days.
I spent a week in a locked psych ward, finally released into the care of my brother who had flown out to California from North Carolina. I was still pretty manic but no longer surpassing the one hundred mark on the mood scale. He and friends went to Home Depot, bought paint, and put the apartment back together as best as they could. I offered no real help. Still lost in my own world of craziness, I mostly wandered aimlessly around what was left of my beloved garden. Albeit more subtle, I continued to wreak havoc until the end of May. In retrospect I should have been in residential treatment, but I was no longer deemed a threat to myself or others and was therefore left to my own devices.
On Memorial Day I had a yard sale and sold almost everything I owned. I remember awakening the next morning with a cinder block pressing heavily upon my chest. The shift was sudden. Overnight my soul had plummeted from the top of Mount Everest to lows unfathomable. The sun had abandoned me and her warmth was replaced by dark ominous clouds. I found myself in the pit of despair, wandering aimlessly in Death Valley. Eight months of this would follow – suicidal by the minute, unable to eat, and barely able to function. Showering seemed an almost impossible feat, and brushing my teeth took tremendous effort. I was plagued with unrelenting, stifling anxiety. I’d been doomed to hell.
Life as I knew it was shattered into a million pieces. Soon after my descent into an endless abyss of gut wrenching pain, my family rented a large oceanfront condo at Myrtle Beach, and I flew east to join them for a week. We were on the seventh floor, and every morning I’d go out onto the balcony and imagine what it would be like to jump. Would it hurt? Would I suffer in agony before succumbing to death or would I die instantly? While my niece and nephews frolicked on the beach during the day I’d lock myself in my bedroom, pop Ativan, and try desperately to lose myself in the stack of National Geographic magazines lying on the nightstand – anything in an attempt to escape the hellish existence I now faced. Whenever the anxiety became too intense to lie still, I’d venture outside where I’d pace the beach for hours calling friends in California – lamenting on and on about my misery, taking and taking from them all the emotional support I could, unable to offer anything in return. I’m sure they tired of me but they never stopped encouraging me, never gave up on me, and never for an instant took their love away.
My only respite was sleep, but it never came easily. Tylenol PM became a constant companion, and with its help I’d sometimes manage to fall asleep by midnight, inevitably waking up around three or four in the morning with crippling anxiety, reach for the bottle, swallow a few more pills and hope desperately to sleep past the rising sun. My days were spent mostly drinking, chain smoking, and pacing. I imagined all the ways I could bring an end to the pain. I contemplated what it’d be like to drive out into the country at the end of an abandoned road, run a hose from the tail pipe of my truck and into the cab, play soothing music, and just go to sleep. But I didn’t – I couldn’t – all I could think of was my poor mother and what that would do to her. Her love for me during this time of darkness never wavered, and my heart still breaks for what that whole experience must have been like for her . . . so I fought the pain as best as I could and plowed on.
My family convinced me that it would be best for me to come back to North Carolina for a while and get my bearings. Hell, what other choice did I have? Seriously what else was I supposed to do? My life was in complete shambles. I was jobless, on the verge of eviction, and had very little money . . . and so I returned to California to gather what was left of my things and say my final goodbyes. My friend Samantha had agreed to accompany me on the cross country drive, and came over to help me pack. Thank God I didn’t have to face this ordeal alone. She was a godsend and I don’t know what I’d have done without her. She was with me in my dark night, and for the next three weeks she would listen to me, sit with me in silence, hold me, and let me cry. I am forever grateful.
I’m sure it must have been shocking for her to walk into such chaos hours before a cross-country move, but she didn’t bat an eye. She just rolled up her sleeves and took charge, “Do you want to keep this? What about this?” I gave her full reign to make executive decisions. What I remember most was stuffing my clothes into big black trash bags. When the truck was finally loaded with God only knew what, when all was said and done, and all that was left behind were cobwebs and memories, Sam and I trekked into the unknown.
Within a few hours of driving, we stopped to gas up the truck and Sam examined my tires, “Poodle, you sure these tires are gonna get us cross-country? They’re looking pretty worn.”
I dismissed her concerns.
“Okay,” she shrugged, “we’ll see . . . but I’m just sayin’.. .”
Two hours later, we had a flat.
“Shit shit shit!” I screamed. “You gotta be freakin’ kiddin’ me. Really?! Seriously! You’re right, my tires are shot to hell but I just didn’t want to admit it. Sam, I’m terrified my fuckin’ money is gonna run out before we get to the east coast. Shit, at this rate, we’ll be lucky if we make it out of California.”
The consensus at Pep Boy’s was unanimous – all four tires needed to be replaced. I looked at Sam, shrugged my shoulders, and whispered in her ear, “Don’t know about you but I need a drink.” So while we were waiting, we wandered down the street and stumbled across a little dive Mexican joint where we sat at the bar and drank margaritas. “Sam, what the hell am I doing?” She said nothing, just grabbed my hand and held it tightly. I mustered a faint smile and lifted my glass in her direction and weakly mumbled, “Cheers.”
By the time the truck was ready, the sun was setting on the first day of an unforgettable journey. Despite Sam’s love and companionship, all I knew was a relentless feeling of aloneness and abandonment. I got behind the wheel, and headed east to Palm Springs. Cream’s “I Feel Free” blared from the radio, and while Sam sang along, I silently cursed Eric Clapton for taunting me with the insane notion of a freedom that didn’t exist.
L.T. MILLER was born in a small southern town. While in college, he became involved in ex-gay support groups, and in 1996 was accepted into the New Hope Ministries residential program in San Rafael, CA. During his two year stay, he questioned everything until finally he completely abandoned a misguided ideology that made less and less sense. He found a gay church in San Francisco where he was accepted for who he was, and with the loving support of a lesbian pastor he was able to begin life anew as an openly gay man. L.T. Miller is the Ex-Gay Survivor.