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Finding the Light in the Dark
My name is Mitchell Clark. I was born in December of 1994. My entire life I’ve lived in West Jordan, Utah with my mother and father, and my 2 sisters, one older and one younger. I currently work at The Soap Factory in Provo and am attending BYU-Idaho online. I was basically born and raised a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and I was baptized and confirmed at 8 years old.
I always seemed to know I was different, even as early as six years of age, and it was often manifested in the way I acted and the way people treated me. For the most part, however, I had a good childhood. I loved animals, enjoyed nature, playing outdoors, and loved to spend time with friends.
When I was about six, I became friends with a boy my same age who lived in my neighborhood. He and I became very close, we were best friends. Our relationship was positive, fun, and fulfilling, in fact, neither of us ever thought we’d stop being friends. It was when we got a little older, about seven or so that our relationship began to change. Sexual exploration found its way into our friendship, and after that we started to grow apart. Things finally reached a boiling point when we were about nine, we got into fights more and more frequently, finally ending in our last fight effectively ending our friendship, and not long afterwards, he moved away and I’ve never seen him since.
By this time I had started elementary school and had found a new best friend, but I hadn’t gotten over the loss of my other friendship. My new friend and I had a much more positive relationship. We never really fought, we got along well, and we both enjoyed spending time together. As time went by, however, he too moved away, and our friendship eventually died out due to distance.
After the fight and consequential ending of my first friendship and the dying out of my second, I moved on to find another friend. She and I became much closer than my previous friendships. After the loss of my friendships, and the overall painful experience I had in the first, I began to distance myself from boys. I didn’t socialize with the boys in my grade, if anything I tried my best to avoid them. My new best friend was who I strove to be with, and who essentially I tried to act like. Both she and I started to reach out and make new friends during Elementary School to add to our “group”, all of which were girls, with the exception of one boy who I never grew close to anyway. I tried my best to be like my friends, to be “better” than other boys. My new actions earned me the name “Michelle” which I carried, sometimes proudly, throughout nearly my entire elementary school to high school experience.
I experienced some abuse as a child from authoritative figures in my life. While originally I thought nothing of it, it led to me taking my avoidance of boys my age to another level, and essentially believing that all males would hurt me, and that it was best to just avoid them. I became even more fastidious with those I let in to my life and those I socialized with, and having any boys as friends
Essentially I got to the point where I feared males enough and had enough unhealed wounds that it soon turned to hate and resentment. I pushed males out of my life because of the pain and fear I had experienced. This led me to be isolated and void of any healthy friendships, or even relationships with members of the same-gender.
When I was about ten I ran into pornography. At first I didn’t really know what it was. I had heard of it, and knew from what I had been told that I should avoid it, but curiosity took hold. What started as an accidental encounter turned into a war of addiction to pornography as well as masturbation.
Addiction and Depression
My addictions have been a problem for me ever since they started, and yet at the time I was still unaware of the consequences and severity of what I had gotten myself into. It wasn’t until about age 14 when I really began to realize what was going on. I didn’t consider myself an addict, by any means, but I knew logically that what I was doing was wrong, and I was being affected.
I started feeling a lot of guilt and shame for what was going on. I hid my addictions, my “secret life”, as best I could from everyone for fear of being caught. I decided one day that I wanted to do what I felt God and my family wanted me to do, even what I wanted me to do, and that was stop my addictions. It seemed, however, that no matter what I tried I couldn’t stop. No matter how hard I focused, or how hard I tried, even pleading to God to help me, to just take it away and make it like it had never happened, it would flare up again and I’d slip back into the addictive cycle.
The guilt, shame, and destructive nature of addiction really started to affect me when I was fifteen. I slipped into a habit of isolation, staying away from social situations as often as circumstances would permit, even going out of my way to not be interrupted in my time in isolation. The nature of isolation drove me further into my addictive cycle, and brought me to start to question my worth, question my abilities, even question if God truly loved me. I had been praying for help for so long, to be “cured”, but I hadn’t seen any changes. It seemed I was continually going downhill.
My parents eventually found out about my addictions. My secrets had finally been revealed, and in fear I denied as best I could. I made excuses, lies, anything I could to misplace the truth of the situation. My parents got me in to see my family doctor and I told him about my pornography addiction, and disclosed some, but not all, of my emotional pains. He diagnosed me with depression and anxiety, though we didn’t talk much about the addiction, and whenever he asked me how I was doing, I’d lie and say I was fine.
I ended up getting into therapy for my depression, anxiety, and addictions. The therapy helped to a degree, but I never felt like any of my therapists truly understood me, and in consequence I kept quiet about most things, especially same-sex attraction. Because I kept quiet the help I received was minimal. I had been going through a lot of different therapists trying to please my parents and go through the motions so that they’d believe I was ok enough to not need therapy. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to change, it was that I didn’t believe I could, I wasn’t ready yet, and I didn’t love myself. I was finally in a position to receive the help I had been praying and asking for from God for years, yet blinded by fear, I didn’t recognize it.
Things got to the point in my life where my depression really started to hit hard. I was trying my best to go through the motions in life, but things just didn’t seem to be improving. I didn’t know what was wrong with me. Why couldn’t I change? Why did I feel like God had left my life? Why was I chosen to deal with these things? My self-worth and motivation finally plummeted enough that I began to consider suicide as a viable option. It was at this time that life began to change, yet again for me.
Hitting Rock Bottom
My isolation had seemed to have reached its’ peak. I often spent the night in my room alone after school, and stay there until the next morning when it was time to go to school again. My emotions which had originally seemed only to affect me internally began presenting themselves in my external life. I started failing classes at school, my friendships were nonexistent outside of the set school environment, and I did nothing extracurricular outside of work and school.
Despite everything that was going on, I still somehow managed to put on a face when I was around people. I still managed to convince everyone that I was ok, and that I was happy. Internally, however, I was being destroyed, and trying to put up that front to lie to people by saying I was okay was absolutely draining and exhausting, and it became harder and harder for me to hide it. I had pushed God out of my life. I stopped praying, I stopped reading my scriptures, and as soon as my parents weren’t around, I’d leave Church.
Everything started to climax when I was sixteen. My depression had reached a peak, and things started to really spin downhill. I found out another guy in my neighborhood experienced same-sex attraction, and though I had never been close to him, we spent some time together. Things quickly escalated between us, and eventually we acted out together sexually. It was at this point, where I had pushed God from my life, and I had just committed something I felt for myself to be unforgivable in God’s eyes, that I decided to let God go entirely.
It was at this point where I hit rock bottom. Things kept spiraling down-hill. It finally reached the point where I planned to take my life about a month before my seventeenth birthday. My father found me just before I was about to go through with my plan, and was able to calm me down enough that I was able to go home and get to bed safely.
The following morning my parents took me to an inpatient treatment center. The treatment was hard, emotional, slow, and at times depressing. Being in the inpatient treatment center essentially meant I was on lock-down, no contact to the outside world aside from the minimal time allotted for seeing immediate family. I was allowed to see my family once a week for 1-2 hours. Due to the shock of my new situation and separation from my addictions, I resorted to a new destructive behavior of self-harming. It never really became a full-blown addiction for me, but I'd harm myself whenever I felt stressed, overwhelmed, or hurt.
Being in treatment, I was brought to the point where I basically had to face the truth, and I had to face it head on. I couldn’t keep lying to myself, and I couldn’t hide things from those around me. I was finally broken and all the secrets, pain, shame, and lies I had were let out and exposed. I was vulnerable, but it was because of the vulnerability that I was able to begin to let things go. I was able to do something that had seemed impossible to me before, I had learned how to forgive myself and love myself. I learned that I could be honest, and that many times it helped to be open, it was like so much weight was being lifted. It was a gradual process, but one that I will be forever grateful for, and it was during this time that I began to turn to God again, not even only for help, but with thanks and gratitude. It was hard, but I started to find God in my life again, even in the small things. I started praying again, reading my scriptures, and though Church wasn’t available in treatment, I found ways to worship and grow closer to Him.
I had spent almost 230 days in treatment before being released the summer before my senior year of high school. I remember the feeling of having been clean of my addictions for some time, and I felt great. Unfortunately it wasn’t long after being released from treatment that I had a relapse on pornography and masturbation which led me to fall back into my addictive cycles. I was shocked. I thought I had been doing so well, how could this return? How could this happen again? I had just turned my life back to God, I had grown closer to Him then than I had ever at previous periods in my life. I was still learning that addiction doesn’t just disappear, it’s something that you have to work on one day at a time. I was able to pick myself up each time I fell, I was able to forgive myself when I made a mistake, and rather than focus on guilt and shame, I was able to focus on trying harder the next day.
My addictions are still something I deal with today. They’ve never “gone away”, however through what I have learned, I’ve been able to turn to Christ for love and support, I’ve been able to tackle one day at a time, and I’ve been making great progress. That’s the beauty of life because of Christ, mistakes don’t have to hold me down. I can learn from them, and strive to do better the next day.
Back to School
Once I was released from treatment, I was thrown back into normal life again. In the treatment center environment, we talked about anything and everything, there were no secrets. That’s something that helped me so much, to be able to be open and honest with everything and everyone. Once I left treatment, I didn’t feel that same comfort to be open and honest about my struggles. It was hard for me not to have those people to turn to.
It was time for school to start up again, and it was my senior year in high school. I met with my school counselor to decide what classes I needed to take and what I needed to do to catch up on my failed credits. My counselor recommended that I not take seminary that year so I could catch up on credits, and I decided that I’d take seminary 2nd semester but not 1st. I had taken seminary 9th-11th grade, but decided not to take it my senior year.
During the weeks leading up to the start of the school year, I couldn’t get my mind off of my decision to not take seminary the 1st semester. Seminary had been a huge lifeline in the past and had helped me immensely personally, emotionally, and spiritually, and here I was deciding not to take it. I kept praying, asking God for help and guidance. I desperately wanted answers as to what to do. Spirituality had become a core part of my life again, was it worth sacrificing it for a semester to get caught up educationally? I finally got the answer to my prayers thanks to the promptings of the spirit. I decided seminary needed to be a part of my schedule for the full school year.
The first day of school I met with my counselor and got seminary put back into my schedule even though she still urged me to consider leaving it out, otherwise I’d have multiple packets to do. It was an academic risk, but I trusted in the promptings of the spirit and in the Lord to help me make it.
That year, particularly the first semester of seminary, was one of the most spiritual experiences of my life. All three of my previous years in seminary I never really participated, I kept to myself and sat in the back, but I resolved that this year would be different. I was blessed that year with the most amazing teacher and class, and every single day in that class was a spiritual experience.
The first day of seminary, our teacher passed out a piece of paper to everyone and told us each to write him a letter about us; who we were personally, where we were in life, and things we had questions about. The letters weren’t anonymous, and I made the decision to tell my seminary teacher everything in that letter. I told him about my addictions, depression, my experience in treatment, and yes, even my same-sex attraction.
A few days later after my teacher had a chance to read the letters, he told me almost tearfully how proud he was of me, and that he loved me and felt I could be a real example to so many people in the class. That solidified my resolve to participate and be honest, not only in seminary, but in life to those important to me. Throughout that year in seminary, I shared about my addictions, trials, and eventually came out to my entire seminary class about my same-sex attraction while bearing my testimony about why I’ve chosen to stay in the gospel.
The experience of coming out to my class was scary, but afterwards I felt such a weight lifted from me, I felt the spirit. I got an overall positive and loving response from the class, particularly from my friends and the teacher. I had a few classmates who seemed to ignore or avoid me and treat me differently afterwards, but no one ever made rude or degrading comments directly to me, and none of the little negative that happened was enough to dampen my spirit.
It was around this time, shortly before my eighteenth birthday, that I decided to trust in God and be more proactive in sharing my experiences as a way to help myself, but also to try to help and teach those around me.
Even after coming out to my seminary class, to my family, and to some close friends, I still felt lost and lonely in many ways. I still had so many unanswered questions and I was still unsure of where to go in life, though I had a strong conviction and testimony that urged me to stay in the gospel and stick to what I knew regardless of doubts or fears.
The Christmas after my eighteenth birthday, my parents got me the Voice(s) of Hope book by Ty Mansfield. I loved that book, I read from it almost every day after getting it. It was such a blessing to me and answered so many questions that I had, but more importantly to me at the time, it made me realize that I wasn’t alone to a degree I hadn’t understood before. Not long after receiving that book for Christmas, I started doing research on it, and found In Quiet Desperation by Fred Matis, Marilyn Matis, and Ty Mansfield. That book was another big help for me.
I later found some blogs online that were a huge help to me, the first and probably most inspiring blog I found was (Gay) Mormon Guy by David Peterson (who is now my best friend). This was the first time I had found a blog about someone who was happy to be living the gospel while dealing with same-sex attraction. So many of the pages and blogs I had found in my previous searches for answers were about people who either left the church to pursue a gay lifestyle or had remained in the church, but were pushing for a change in the church’s beliefs and wanted the church to recognize and allow gay marriage. Finding David’s blog, and many others after that really inspired me to be more open about my life, and brought me comfort and a desire to live a life following the standards of the gospel.
Life was getting better, I felt more at ease with who I was, and I had a desire to stay in the gospel and live a happy and worthy life according to Christ’s standards, yet I still had unanswered questions and desires. Even though I had found so many wonderful resources, and had some friends and family who supported me and tried to understand me as best they could, there was still part of me that desired to be understood on a different level.
I had been making great strides in overcoming my isolation from males, and I was trying hard to make friends with different guys in my life, but I was having little success. I had distanced myself from other boys for so long that I really had no idea how to act, and I was just awkward and lost. I did, however, manage to get a few friends who I felt close to that were males. I decided to share my struggles and my same-sex attraction with one of my friends who I felt really close to. He ended up rejecting me after I told him about it, he told me that my feelings of same-sex attraction were wrong and that I needed to change them, I tried to explain to him what understanding I had gained about my feelings, but he seemed unwilling to listen to my views and eventually our friendship faded and died out.
That was hard for me, to lose the one guy I actually felt close to in such a long time. Luckily I was prepared at that time with the knowledge I had gained through my experiences to be able to handle the pain without resorting to old behaviors, though the pain and sadness were still present. I became more reserved with who I shared my orientation with for a while after that because the fear of rejection had resurfaced.
During the second semester of my senior year I was taking a journalism class. In April of 2013 our teacher told us that, as part of our class, we would be starting blogs. I was immediately sparked with excitement, I thought I finally had a chance to get my voice heard, to be a part of something I was passionate about. I was cautious at first, and my original blog Finding Your Way Through Faith was about the LDS church and things I had learned about my faith and my experiences, I was very hesitant to mention anything about my same-sex attraction, especially in a blog that my entire class and teacher would be reading. My first blog, however, was a step to success for me, it gave me knowledge of what to write, how to write, and what styles and approaches make things easier to understand and get into.
Finally, due to promptings from the spirit, and my own desire to out myself and make my voice heard, I created a page on my Finding Your Way Through Faith about same-sex attraction just 2 weeks after starting my blog. It was scary for me, I didn’t know if anyone in my class would actually click on the link to the page, and I didn’t know what the response would be from them or my teacher, but things kept quiet, and no one said anything to me. About a week after posting that page, I decided I wanted to start a new blog specifically about living a life following the standards of the gospel while dealing with SSA. I wrote a post about it on my original blog stating that I would soon be starting a new blog about it, and as terrifying as it was for me to post that, knowing that my entire class and teacher would see it, I did it anyway, and actually got a very positive and loving response.
On May 18th 2013 I started that blog. I created Living My Faith With SSA (now renamed as Gay, Single, & Mormon) and was so excited, nervous, and hopeful. I was out to the world, and as scary as it was, I felt so free and I felt as if a weight had been lifted from me. I have been working on my blog ever since and am so thankful for the responses and love I have received, and I’m especially thankful for the healing it has brought me and the closer relationship I have with God.
I was, with the help from my parents, school counselor, and most importantly God, able to catch up on all my credits by doing packets, and I didn’t fail a single class my senior year. I graduated high school, along with the rest of my senior class, on June 4, 2013. Thanks to the promptings of the spirit early on before my senior year had even started, I graduated from seminary as well.
The summer after graduation, I didn’t have much to do, and I was mainly just working. Though I had friends, I wasn’t spending time with them. I wasn’t necessarily isolating, nor was I in a deep depression, I just seemed to be disconnected from normal life for a while. I spent most of my time at home not really doing anything productive. I still had many unanswered questions, and I was trying to figure out what to do now that I was out of high school.
About a month after graduation I came across the Voice(s) of Hope website. I was immediately intrigued and watched a couple of the videos. After watching about 2 or 3 videos, I was touched with the spirit so strong, and that same day signed myself up to be a part of the Voices of Hope project. One of the first videos I watched hit me so hard, and I felt the spirit so strong. There was an option next to the video where you could message the person in the video, and so I messaged him on Facebook. In the message, I told him how thankful I was to him for his video. I expressed how I had felt the spirit so strong while watching his video, and that he had inspired me to better myself. Little did I know that that message would change my life forever.
10 days after sending that message, he responded. After some messaging back and forth, we talked over the phone. He told me about North Star. I had heard of North Star before through therapists, but all they had ever told me was that they didn’t feel like it was a good thing for me, and I had never done any research on it to see if they were right. After talking with him on the phone though, I felt a strong desire to join North Star, and he got me added onto the Facebook North Star group. He told me he wouldn’t mind meeting me in person, and as scary as meeting new people can be for me, I excitedly agreed.
The day we met I was so nervous, I hadn’t spent time with a guy in, well, let’s just say a long time, let alone a guy who knew about my same-sex attraction. He had asked me about physical touch over the phone and had asked if it was important to me, I didn’t really know how to respond. I hadn’t really experienced loving and healthy physical touch from another guy before, and yet it was something I had craved for so long. When he opened the door though, he gave me a hug. I was surprised. None of my guy friends in the past had ever really hugged me, or when/if they did, it was a “bro hug”, short and ultimately unfulfilling. The hug I received when I first met him meant so much to me.
That day we mainly just talked and got to know each other better. I had never been around someone like that, someone who loved me and didn’t judge me, regardless of my past or what I dealt with. When I talked about something hard, he put his arms around me. Healthy physical touch was completely new to me, and yet it felt so natural, so loving, so fulfilling. The rest of the night we watched a movie together, arms around each other, just talking and enjoying the closeness. I felt the Saviors love through his touch and through his love. I do not believe that sending him that message on Facebook, him finding the message, and us eventually meeting in person was a coincidence. I truly believe he was an answer to so many of my prayers I had said for years and years without any visible answer. God blessed me beyond what I had ever expected by sending him into my life. He is still one of my best friends to this day.
After that amazing night and after being put onto North Star my life changed quickly and dramatically. The support, love, and understanding I received from people on North Star completely blew me away. I had been coming to terms with the fact that I wasn’t alone in my struggle, that there were other people out there who were living lives following the standards of the Church while also dealing with SSA, but North Star really opened my eyes to how many people were out there who I could relate to. Not long after joining North Star, I met and made some of the best friends I’ve ever had.
Looking back on my life, where I was and who I was, I can honestly say that I have made so much progress, and basically completely changed from who I once was. I used to believe there was no hope for me; I questioned my belief in God and my membership in the church. I hated myself, I was so depressed and hurt. I feared others, I didn’t feel like I could trust anyone, and I pushed everyone away. I thought I was cursed, I thought my same-sex attraction was a curse, a sickness, a sin and abomination. I didn’t feel like I deserved love. I thought God was upset with me and that I had offended Him. I believed I would never be able to overcome my addictions. I thought I would never be able to change the negative aspects of myself, I felt stuck, trapped, and ultimately consumed. Now, however, I realize how wrong I was.
I’ve had people ask me why I made the decisions I made, why I decided to turn back to God, even why I decided to follow the standards put in place by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints through Christ regarding same-sex relationships and marriage. My answer has been that I know that God loves me. I know that He loves me, I know that He loves everyone. I have faith and a testimony that He exists, that He created all things, and that through Him, all things are possible. I know that a same-sex romantic relationship could never bring me true happiness. Could it bring me happiness? Sure. But real, eternal, lasting happiness? No. I love my Heavenly Father, and I want to live with Him again someday, and all the people I love. And I know that to do that, I need to love Him enough to turn my will and my life over to Him.
There is hope, love, and support for everyone, no one is truly alone in this life. That’s something that has been proven to me time and time again. I realize now more than ever that I am worthy of love, I am worthy of acceptance and friendship, and so is everyone else on this earth. I’ve been monumentally blessed in my life, especially recently with all the friends I’ve made, all the answers to my prayers, and all the progress I’ve made. Life may not be perfect, and I’m definitely not perfect, but I love life now, I love existing, I love God.
For quite some time I struggled with remaining in the Church, I wasn’t sure if living a faithful life following the standards put in place by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints was what would bring me happiness and fulfillment in this life or the next life. I wasn’t even sure if I believed in God. I didn’t know if I had a testimony of the gospel or the Church. Now, however, I’ve found more happiness living by the standards of the Church, turning to God in prayer and scripture study, growing my testimony and sharing my faith with others than I ever did by questioning or living by what my carnal body and mind wanted. I’ve come to truly love the gospel, I love living by gospel standards, and I have a testimony I cannot deny.
Is life still hard sometimes? Sure! Of course it is. Trials, struggles, and questions arise, life gets rough, sometimes I fall and make bad decisions, but the important thing is what I decide to do afterwards. I’ve realized that happiness and hope are feelings I give myself and let myself experience. I choose what I do and feel in this life, even though there may be outside factors that affect me, I choose how I deal with it. I’ve decided to take a positive outlook on life, I’ve decided to be happy and have hope for the future. I’ve decided to turn to God, to have a relationship with Heavenly Father and Christ. I’ve decided to live according to the standards of the Church because that’s what brings me happiness and because that’s what I know to be true and right.
Do I still have feelings of same-sex attraction? Yes. How do I feel about it? I’ve come to realize that my feelings or attractions in and of themselves are not bad, having them does not make me a sinner and does not make me worth any less than others. My attractions are just that, attractions. I can choose to let them define me, I can choose to act out on an urge every time one comes my way, or I can choose to let it just be a small sliver of who I really am, and that’s what I have decided. I have not experienced a lessening in my attractions, nor have they gone away, but, with the Savior’s love and guidance and all the resources and friends I have, I am able to better cope with temptations when they arise. I’m able to look at my life with a different pair of eyes and see what it is that I truly want for myself. While my attractions have not lessened, my ability to deal with them has been strengthened.
If there is anything I wish I could tell my past self, anything I wish I could tell others in a situation similar to mine, it would be that there is always hope. No one is ever truly alone in this life, even if there is no one physically there, even if you feel you have no friends or no one to turn to, God will always be there for you, through the hard times and good times. God wants to be part of everyone’s life, God wants to bless all His children, we just have to be willing to surrender and turn to him. No one is ever beyond love. Everyone deserves to love and be loved regardless of situations, circumstances, or trials, past, present or in the future. Christ’s Atonement is real, and so very amazing and powerful. Christ suffered for every single one of us, he thought of every one of us personally and was willing to suffer for each of us so we could have the opportunity to change and repent and eventually return to live with Him.
My trials have made me who I am. The things I’ve gone through and experienced were what brought me close to God. It was those hardships that urged me to grow, that prompted me to find and keep God in my life, and that ultimately brought me to become a better person, and refine me in every single way into who I am today. I still have progress to make, my time here isn’t done, but I know that so long as God is by my side, that all things are possible, and that so long as I follow Him, someday I will have the opportunity to love with Him again.
Trials will arise, things will become hard, that’s just the nature of this life, but we all have the ability to choose what to do with what’s given to us. Life will continue to throw us curve-balls, Satan will continue to try to break us and destroy us until the day we die, but we can choose to turn to God, to do our best, and to stand up and fight every time we fall. We are all children of a very loving Heavenly Father. We all have infinite potential, and we are all worthy of love, understanding, acceptance, and forgiveness, and through the Atonement of Christ, we can receive all the blessings our Father in Heaven has to offer us.
There is always hope and love in the arms of our Savior, Jesus Christ.