By Terri Schlichenmeyer, Nov. 20, 2014.

My Thinning Years: Starving the Gay Within by Jon Derek Croteau. Hazelden, 2014 | $14.95.

“You look great!” When you’re dieting, there are no sweeter words. Losing weight is work, sacrifice, and lots of self-control. For sure, it’s not for wimps.

But how much is too much? Can you shed your past while you shed pounds, too? In My Thinning Years: Starving the Gay Within by Jon Derek Croteau, you’ll read about gains and losses that have nothing to do with a scale.

From a very young age, Jon Derek Croteau feared his father; a salesman who traveled a lot. The man was loud, controlling, and abusive to the entire family, both physically and mentally.

Croteau remembers when he was small, and his father screamed at him for singing in front of family friends. When Croteau confessed to playing dress-up in preschool, his father withheld food. Years later, after the family moved from Ohio to the Boston area, Croteau’s father forced him into sports, vowing to “make … a real man” of him.

Croteau fiercely hated sports but he played anyhow. He desperately wanted his father’s approval, and football, basketball, and baseball seemed the way to get it.

But the older Croteau got, the more relentless the abuse became. He started staying with friends as much as possible, avoiding his own home. By then, he’d “internalized” his father’s homophobia and, in doing so, began to fear his own feelings and his confusion about his sexuality. He prayed to God to deliver him from being gay. He developed an unrequited crush on his best guy friend.

Disgusted with himself, loathing his father but unable to stop trying to win his love and approval, Croteau became depressed and, he said, “I started thinking about killing myself.”

He couldn’t, so he began running. When he realized that exercise and weight were things he could control, he ran even more. He cut fat from his diet entirely, then he avoided almost all foods and began to starve.

“I knew that my father would rather I be dead than be gay,” he said. “There was noting I could do but obey the orders I was given, until I disintegrated into nothingness … and no one was going to stop me.”

In his preface, Croteau (who obviously lived to tell the tale) said that he almost didn’t write this book, until he realized that it might inspire others to “let hope in” when faced with abuse for being gay.

For sure, victims who start this emotional rags-to-riches story will know they’re in the company of a kindred spirit because of what Croteau bravely shares.

Those heartbreaking recollections make this a hard book to read for anyone (including LGBT allies, who will be horrified). But at the same time, it’s also hard to turn away from the firm promise of triumph we’ll get in the end. “It gets better” was never more apt than here.

I think that if you’ve taken an anti-bullying stand, you will surely appreciate what’s inside this book. It may not exactly be a pleasure-read, but My Thinning Years is thick with meaning.

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