Bob Schwenkler

Shame, Sex, and Suicide: My Path to Open-Heartedness

Written by on August 14, 2014

Posted in: Masculinity, Sex

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[Originally published on The Huffington Post]

At one point in my life I was nearly a dead man.

Not by someone else’s hand, but by my own. It was practically an accident that I survived my second year of college, a chance opportunity to leave the apartment and city where I lived beside death for some months.

I spent my days in a waking, numbing hell. I daydreamed what it might be like when my roommate found me dead in my room, blood soaking the sheets. My pain was so intense that the only place I could feel any bit of remorse for what I knew would pass was when I imagined how my mother would feel when the news broke.

That phone call that no parent dare imagine.

My heart, my soul, my truest self had been put on lock down. I’d learned from the world, in a million different ways that who I was was not ok. And after a time nobody else even needed to do or say anything. I could do it all on my own. I could take the message that I was not ok how I was and tell it to myself a thousand times more effectively than anyone else ever could.

This is how shame operates.

The shame behind this particular share is vicious and deep. Cultures have passed it down from one to the next. From father to son, from peer to peer, from story to reality.

The truth will set me free.

Behind this wall of shame I feel my pulse burning. My spirit is straining to be set free. I know, in my deepest heart that I am far from alone. I know that the truth will release me. It will unlock my passion, my soul, the very dust that grants me consciousness and connects me to every living being on this planet.

I know that my deepest truth can set you free too.

“All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know.”

-Ernest Hemingway


When I was a boy I tried to have sex with another boy.

Key word “tried”. I didn’t much at all know what to do with any of my parts or any of his parts, but I tried. We tried. The first few times, in fact, were with other boys.

I remember each moment vividly. I’ve kept them inside for all these years and now it’s time to set them free.

One was in my bedroom on the downstairs level, 5th or 6th grade. It was nighttime and we were having a sleepover. From some strange place there came a heat between us and we found ourselves touching and rubbing against each other. We tested out what limited knowledge our young minds had thus far acquired about the human body. We played and explored. I didn’t yet know what the words faggot or queer meant and our bodies acted without thought, unhindered by our conscious minds. After a while the fire subsided and we fell fast asleep.

The next time we had a sleepover I wanted to experience something like it again. He didn’t. I now know that he sensed what might happen if anyone ever found out.

These two moments were not the first.

The first was in that tent in the backyard. We didn’t touch each other but for some reason he showed me and I looked at him and was curious about what I saw. I asked him if I could see more and he grew ashamed. He pulled his pants back up and for the rest of the evening we acted like “normal” boys are supposed to.

There are more reasons for the lock down, the death-life I lived for so many years as a young man, than the single fact that I grew up attracted sexually to other boys. But looking back I now know that the shame I’ve held here has been an extremely powerful contributor.


My body is heating up just writing this. 

From fear. Fear of what you’ll think as you read these words. Fear of the emails I imagine will come. Fear of the physical violence that could be directed toward me as a result of this share.

My middle school friend once told me a story about his dad. He was at a bar in Boise, the city where I grew up. He may have been standing too close to his friend, said the wrong thing, who knows. When he left he was followed back to his apartment.  I’m not exactly sure what happened next. What I do know is that my friend’s father ended up on the ground bloodied and that his body was broken, very badly.

And this story is just a drop in the bucket. You and I both know that.

I also feel an intense fear of the conversation I’m going to have to have with my parents before these words are published. Up until now I’ve only spent a few moments imagining how it will go.

I think I will say “Mom, Dad, there’s something I want to talk to you about.”

“I don’t know what words to use in this moment, so I’m going to read to you what I wrote the other night.”

“I know you love me, deeply. What I’m going to tell you may be upsetting. You may not like hearing it. But I am so blessed to know that you will hear me and you will continue to love me. I know that our connection is strong and that it will grow even stronger as I release a burden that’s kept me weighed down for most of my life.”

“I am so grateful for how loving you have been to me. I could not have asked for better. No matter how many times you think you messed up, this moment is proof that you have done it exactly right.”

“This moment, where I come to you with one of my very deepest shames and I speak my truth to you, knowing that you will still love me after it’s been done is proof.”

“I’m going to read you something I wrote…”


How has my truth touched you so far?

We may have never met before. I may not know who you are, how you’ve lived, or why you’re here.

What you’ve read so far is the truth, for me. Not necessarily for you though. You may have never imagined what it would be like if you pulled him close, pressed your lips to his, and breathed his breath. Or what it would feel like to have him inside of you.

But please, pause and reflect. What lies between the words you’re reading right now goes far beyond straight and gay. What I’m speaking is spoken to anyone who’s ever kept a secret. You fall into that category?

I thought so. And so I wrote this for you too.

What have you dared not speak?

What have you dared not feel, acknowledge, or even remember?

Notice what happens as you read my words. Pay complete attention to how your body feels, if you dare. Notice how you distract yourself from being present with the full experience of this moment.

Where in your body do you hold shame? How does it feel to hold it?

Do you feel a pressure growing inside you? A pressure that you’ve taken so much care to numb out with alcohol, drugs, video games, tv, food, exercise, laughter, silence, sex, mean jokes, self pity…

Or do you notice it subsiding, a sense of relief that you’re not alone?

What’s possible in your life once spaciousness has taken the place of shame and the world gets to know the version of you that is as big, bold, powerful, and brilliant as you’re meant to be?

How does it feel to feel this force inside you? Shame holds a fierce power.

Is this power good or is it bad?

Is water good or bad? It nourishes us, keeps our mouths moist, our skin soft, and our blood flowing. It also has the power to extinguish the flame inside us, to kill us.

I have a deep, powerful shame inside me and I get to choose how I use it. See, I’ve made my choice what I will do with my power. You have a choice too. What will you do with your power?

Act now. Start at the beginning.

  • Acknowledge – To yourself first.
  • Speak – To a tree, your pet, a friend, a men’s group, your family, on your blog or podcast or book or poetry club or class, or to the world.
  • Breathe – Take the breath that you’ve been waiting to take since the moment you were born.
  • Repeat – Do it again. As many times as you need until you feel openness and peace filling you up.

This. Is. Our. Birthright.

I’m breathing it right now. It’s expansive, new, powerful. This is the first time I’ve ever breathed this deep. I’m 32 years old as I’m writing this, let’s say one third of the way through the brilliant life I have ahead of me. The joy that I feel when I notice how far I’ve come, and contrast it to how much farther I’ve got ahead of me is incredible. It expands into my chest, spreads out through my arms and legs, and fills my whole body up with a buzzing lightness.

Numbness and sadness are nowhere to be found. Awe and an overwhelming sense of freedom are what’s present.

This is beautiful. This is perfect. This is as it should be.

I’m letting go.

I’ve let go.

My breath is deeper.

My chest is lighter.

My heart feels nearer.

The door is open.

Goodbye.

And then hello.

ambroo

[Top Image Credit] [Bottom Image Credit]

  • Josh Spofford

    Are you still attracted to men? Does your open relationship include dating/sexing men?

    • Josh, that whole part of my sexuality is still very much under exploration. I feel like I’ve got a lot of layers to work through, this post was one of the very outermost!

      I don’t date or sex men at this point. I’m in a wonderful relationship with a woman I’m super in love with.

      It’s hard to know what the future may hold and I don’t have any specific intentions one way or the other, but regardless, I continue doing my personal work to heal from all of the shame I’ve taken on around same sex attraction.

      • Joshua Spofford

        Thanks for answering Bob. I feel like my same-sex attractions may be at the root of my issues with woman so i really appreciate you being so open about this topic. Do you feel like you have ever been in love with man as more than friends?

        • Joshua, thanks for your reply. I sent you a personal email.

  • joshlipovetsky

    You are one courageous motherfucker, Bob.

Power. Honesty. Authenticity.

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