The Bahá’í Network on AIDS, Sexuality, Addictions and Abuse (BNASAA) is holding its 20th anniversary celebrations on November 6-8, 2009 at Green Acre Bahá’í School. They were asking for “transformation stories” in order to capture the impact of the BNASAA process in the last 20 years. What follows is my story.
I didn’t go to the first BNASAA conference. I could have. I saw the ad in Bahá’í Canada and even called Marjorie for more information. The first man I ever loved had AIDS at the time, and he died in December 1989, a year after his diagnosis. Although I was married to somebody else, I helped him die that year. So it would have made sense to go, but I thought I was strong enough on my own and didn’t need a group. How wrong I was.
My marriage ended shortly after and a year and a half into my year of patience, I fell in love with a woman. I’d read all the Writings. I knew it was wrong. I just couldn’t make it stop – so when BNASAA held its second conference on homosexuality, at Green Acre, I went. I knew that the purpose wasn’t to challenge the law, but I hoped I’d meet other gay Bahá’ís who’d found a loophole that would make it all right. I really thought we’d talk about being gay and about being Bahá’í, but informally we talked about using sex as an addiction (a new concept for me), and formally we heard about being created noble and then abasing ourselves. It all made sense – and I became a BNASAA groupie.
Since BNASAA didn’t have the loopholes I was looking for, I wrote to the House of Justice – looking for their approval and I got it. They told me it was OK to love someone of the same sex, and they told me I was living in a society that sexualized everything, so it was no wonder that so many people confused love and sex. It was hard to hear that sex belonged to a married heterosexual couple, and that there was no way for this law to change, but the letter was full of love and although I didn’t like it, I knew that this Faith was bigger than my likes and dislikes, so with the help of 2 Local Spiritual Assemblies I left the relationship, willing to align with the will of God. It wasn’t easy. We owned a house together and I had to sell my interest, losing my entire investment in the process.
The stress precipitated a major depressive episode and I wasn’t able to work. I went onto long term disability and stayed there for many years. I lost the remainder of my life savings and moved into a one room shack in the woods with my 8 year old son, where we lived for 2 years. Of course, the depression wasn’t all because of my decision to leave.
The third BNASAA conference focused on Addictions, but what everyone wanted to talk about was the abuse that fed into the addictions. I’d been working through my abuse issues for several years, which were triggered by Randy’s diagnosis of AIDS, and made worse with every loss. This series of losses was just the final straw. The BNASAA conferences raised more questions than answers, and I often left, writing more letters to the House asking for clarity and sharing their answers with each subsequent conference. I never would have been able to attend the BNASAA conferences without the generous subsidies from the scholarship fund, so if you are one of the angels who paid my way over the years, please know that I am eternally grateful.
Each conference left me more determined than ever to align with the teachings of the Bahá’í Faith. As instructed, I read the Writings morning and night, and almost always found a quote that gave me insights into my struggle. I collected the quotes, and in 1996 was invited to share them with a conference at LouHelen. Up till that point, they were all in a file drawer, and I didn’t know what I had till I grouped them together, and a book was born. I didn’t like telling my story and being the centre of attention (my abusers told me that if I talked about what happened to me, I would be killed, and since I’d watched it happen to others, I knew it to be true), and at several conferences, I was unable to function and needed the support of the on-call therapist.
I owe another debt of gratitude to Pat Romano McGraw, who understood triggers and dissociative disorders and post traumatic stress and was able to get me though some tough situations. It was hard having all these writings at my disposal, and not living up to them. As it says in the Tablet of Ahmad: “the wisdom of every command shall be tested” and I was testing most of them!
I was back into another relationship, unable to live up to the standards of the Faith, about to become a household name when the book came out, and I wasn’t doing what it said to do. All of the quotes were nothing but “shoulds” and I was sinking under the weight. But I kept going to the conferences and I kept trying to bring my life into alignment with the Writings, and I guess it must have had some effect, because at the last conference, I met some people I hadn’t seen for several years, and they called me a poster child for BNASAA transformation, and I am grateful for this yardstick by which to measure my progress.
I think what they saw was my smile, and my willingness to make eye-contact, two things I hadn’t done at the earlier conferences. I still have a long way to go. I still struggle with anxiety and depression, and still live under a cloud of despair from time to time, but I do have hope, and most days, I can see light at the end of the tunnel.
At the beginning of the journey I wanted to talk to others who’d made it through, and I couldn’t find anyone. I promised that if I made it through, I’d show others it’s possible. So now the book is out in the world (Abuse and Violence: Reasons and Remedies, Bahá’í Publishing Trust India, 2009), taking on a life of its own, and I’ve started a Bahá’í-inspired life coaching practice, with a strong presence on the web, sharing the quotes with others and helping people apply the Writings to their everyday life situations. It was a real step, breaking the silence imposed on me by my abusers, putting my story out there on the internet.
You can find it if you look deeply enough, at www.susangammage.com I know these stories are meant to be anonymous, but sharing my story publically is part of my healing.
I’m proud to be affiliated with BNASAA and 10% of the royalties from the book are going back into the scholarship fund. Thank you God, for BNASAA and all the selfless steadfast sacrifices of its organizers! May we have 20 more good years, and 20 more after that. The world is waiting!
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