June 24, 2010 | 4:15 pm
Posted by Lia Mandelbaum
On August 23rd, 2007, I boarded a plane heading for Los Angeles in hopes of creating a new life. I had been struggling with depression for several years, and finally believed that I had hit an emotional bottom. I came to L.A seeking recovery and a new way of life at Beit T’Shuvah, the Jewish residential treatment center that I now work for. It was time to get real with myself, something that I hadn’t been for more than ten years. I was completely disconnected from myself and everyone around me, and did not know who I really was anymore. I had created so many masks to hide behind, unable to reveal my biggest secret, that I am a gay woman. I had known that I had feelings towards women from a very young age. The first time I admitted my feelings to my mom, I was five years old. I explained to her that I had feelings for my female preschool teacher, “the same way a husband has for a wife.” By the time I reached eighth grade, I had begun to create masks to conceal my true identity.
In my recovery, I have come to realize that I had created all these masks out of my own fear of judgment from others. I believed that if people were to know the truth about who I was, those I loved and trusted would disapprove or stop loving me. Ultimately, I came to the realization that my feelings were those which society had placed in my head, and I was projecting my own feelings onto those around me. I had hidden my sexuality and had become my own harshest critic and biggest oppressor.
I want to take a moment to express the overwhelming gratitude that I have for my life today, I am finally free. As someone who has gone to some very dark places, and spent several years hiding who I was, the fact that I now desire to be completely transparent in writing this blog, is absolutely profound for me. I feel such a tremendous sense of freedom in being able to write my truth. This blog is a testimony of my recovery.
In addition to Beit T’Shuvah being instrumental in my recovery, there is an organization called JQ International, a space for GLBT Jews, which has taken on a meaningful role in my recovery. Last year, I went to Beth Chayim Chadashim’s annual brunch fundraiser. It was there that I met Asher Gellis, Executive director of JQ, and my world opened up. I was invited to volunteer at Single De Mayo, LA’s largest single ladies event, which has been produced by JQ for the past two years. I had never in my life been surrounded by that many proud gay and bisexual women, and I had an amazing time. I felt like I was part of something much bigger than myself, and realized there were so many women out there just like me. I started going to their Shabbat Potlucks, and getting involved with a solid group of young people that I truly respected and was thrilled to have become a part my life. After I started getting involved with JQ, I invited Asher Gellis and Naomi Goldberg to Beit T’Shuvah where they made a brilliant presentation training our counselors and therapists how to create a safe space for the GLBT residents. It was wonderful to see how our staff and volunteers embraced their presentation.
With all that being said, I cannot say that I never struggle. I continue to wrestle with my old mindset, and the ideas placed on me by society. A lot of my old fears still come up, but through contrary action, I continue to move forward. The road towards authenticity is not easy, but I have learned that pain is the touchstone of all spiritual growth. If I can use my experience to help another young woman who is struggling, it will have made my whole journey worth it.
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