An Arduous Journey Towards Pride

Written by: Nick Henry, NAMI Metro Suburban Team Member

Shame has been the primary driver of my actions for most of my life. My decisions were informed not by what would make me happy, but by hiding any unsightly parts of my identity. I did not know who I was or who I wanted to be; I just knew what I would never allow myself to be. Many parts of my identity fell into this box, but one word resounded in my head over and over, more cacophonously than any other: Queer.  

To this day, it’s hard for me to say exactly where I learned that queerness was such a terrible thing. I had the privilege of a childhood mostly free from prejudice and persecution. My family was, for the most part, supportive. I was never truly bullied. Few people ever overtly told me that I should feel as ashamed as I did. But through the media I consumed, offhand comments I internalized, and a dose of condemnation by omission, I learned that there was something wrong with me.

I promised myself for years that queerness was the one identifier I would never let surface. I would burn it with acrid chemicals. I would turn my body into a siege wall and starve it. I would cut it out of me if that’s what it took. I didn’t believe I could ever start a family or truly be worthy of love. This internal narrative ensconced me in shame throughout my adolescence. 

To cope with this overwhelming self-hatred, I developed an eating disorder, became addicted to various substances, and resorted to self-injury. After years of using these behaviors, I became a shadow of my former self. I lived only to satisfy my addictions. I lost both the strength to recover and the desire to heal. I felt I deserved what I was doing to myself—that I had become who I had always been at my core. 

My grueling journey from shame to pride began when I was admitted into a residential treatment center. After a few weeks of forced abstinence from my addictive behaviors, my mind slowly began to clear. For the first time in years, I saw the possibility of getting better. I saw no path to recovery yet, but that hope was a crucial first step. There was no sudden realization, no miraculous solution I stumbled across to vanquish my shame. I just had to spend years taking care of myself, treating myself as though I deserved love, even when I felt I didn’t. And even then, I slipped back into old patterns several times. My self-worth ebbs and flows to this day. But as hope turned to self-acceptance, and acceptance turned to pride, I moved further from shame every day.

Pride is the direct antithesis of shame. It is a radical denunciation of every thought that kept me down. 

It is seeing the beautiful array of multifaceted queer people around me—people held together not by one common identity, but by choosing to be unfettered by social expectations and remaining proud of ourselves and each other, no matter what. Pride is what transforms us from a collection of isolated heretics to a unified coalition fighting for one another. 

I staunchly maintain my pride in my community and my pride in myself. Shame attempts to drag me down every day. But I choose to stand in defiance. I choose to be proud.





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