By Steve Austin:
I’ve had a lot of labels in my life.
It started around the age of three. I remember it like it happened this morning — every nasty detail. Jeremy was the teenager who lived across the street. He seemed like a giant at the time. He was big and strong and took advantage of me. And he knew better.
My family went through the court proceedings, counseling, hearings, but nothing happened to that teenage boy. He was shown grace. Grace he didn’t deserve. My family would have hung that teenage boy out to dry, but the judge gave Jeremy a second chance.
2) People Pleaser
Life went on. I learned from watching my Momma the technique of “fake it to make it”. She had a great deal of hurt in her life, but she was always the life of the party — even when she was falling apart inside. I was a good little church boy (another label): Sunday morning and evening, Wednesday night, children’s camp, youth camp, you name it. Dad sang in the musicals, Momma helped with the children’s choir, and there is a video of me singing a solo in the Christmas program at the age of five. It made people happy, which made me happy.
3) Sex Expert
At 12, I began a love affair with pornography that lasted for years. I liked it. It looked fun. It reminded me, in a sick and twisted way, of how I made Jeremy feel good as a little three year old boy. I shared it with friends, explained things to boys at school, and became the “porn expert” by 7th grade. I felt like I knew it all.
As I grew older, my label evolved to include all kinds of sexual experimentation. There was a void inside me that I had barely begun to notice, but the sex promised, “With this adventure, you can be taken away for a while.” Besides, it was who I was, so why not embrace it?
These conflicting labels began to seriously collide. One day in high school, I toured the Department of Human Resources as part of a Youth Leadership group. They were talking about how they handle child molestation cases. My defenses went up, and my “fake it to make it” People-Pleaser personality went into overdrive. I tried to play it cool and not think about my own past. But as the director held up the dolls they use to interview the children, I lost it. I ran out of the room and fell apart in the hallway. I was humiliated, and my labels were becoming impossible to maintain.
In the midst of these wildly conflicting labels, I thought I knew God. It was what the Church Boy in me wanted to believe. But while I knew plenty about God, I had nothing that resembled a relationship. He was just another label I wore. I had no revelation that God’s love could keep me safe and sane through all of life’s struggles, without the need to hide behind labels.
When I was twenty-five, I began a process of truly learning who my God is, and how he could provide me with a second chance, free from labels and forced definitions. For years, I’d allowed hurt to control my life. Clinging to a victim mentality, I shrouded myself in shame and used it as an excuse for sexual deviance. But God’s grace is greater. His love is made perfect in my weakness.
And it all came home for me one day when I realized that, just like Jeremy, I had been given grace that I didn’t deserve.
I’m now twenty-eight, have been married for four years to my very best friend, Lindsey. About a month ago, we celebrated the birth of our first child, Benjamin Thomas. I no longer live under the weight of labels – I’m me. The real me.
And being real is freeing. Setting aside the masks of religion and victimhood, I am now free from the chains that once bound me. I’m free to love others and myself with grace. And with that love, it’s my desire to start a revolution – free from labels – in the lives of everyone I come in contact with.