I’m not sure I’ll be able to write this blog post, some things are always too close to the surface. Even then, I’m not sure where to begin. The only place to start, I suppose, is at the beginning. During my childhood, a man in a position of authority over me, an uncle I should have been able to trust as a seven-year-old girl, taught me that sex is shameful. He never said it outright, but when you’re told over and over that you can’t talk about something—that if you do, your parents won’t love you anymore, that no one will believe you—you get the gist. Years later when I did talk about it, again, I was silenced. I couldn’t tell anyone for fear that someone in our family, my father most likely, would take retribution. Another fear was that someone would tell my grandmother of frail health that her son was a pedophile.
For years, I lived with those secrets and those secrets manifested themselves as shame. For most of my life, shame has been intertwined with sex for me. It’s something dirty that you should never talk about. Even in church it was all about saving yourself for marriage, that you’re a whore if you don’t. Sex wasn’t something beautiful you shared with someone you loved, not for me anyway. I dealt with it using bravado, JP was brazen about it–but I had to crawl into someone else’s skin to make that happen.
Lately, that’s started to change and I’ve been able to find confidence and comfort in a healthy, loving relationship. But, this past Saturday, my boyfriend was coming over for a party at my apartment. He kept joking about taking me back into my room—no one would notice we were gone for a bit. It was cute, and I went along with the joke, but the thought of them knowing what we were doing—it made me feel ashamed. It didn’t matter that I’m sure they assume we’re at that point in our relationship, the shame was still there. I kept saying no, mostly in a teasing way because honestly, I was ashamed of being ashamed. It’s like a vicious fucking circle.
Eventually, I hit a wall of saying no about it.
I told him with no teasing and no ambiguity to quit, which is what I should have done in the first place, and went to take a shower. The crying started as soon as the water did. For anyone who has never had a panic attack—that’s essentially what it is: uncontrolled crying, a tightness in your chest like you can’t breathe, panic and fear and this wild anger because you’re freaking out about nothing. FUCKING NOTHING. He wasn’t even in the same Goddamned zip code, but I couldn’t make it stop.
It was the feeling of being trapped that triggered it, and it lasted about half an hour from take-off to landing, though the flight time was shorter. And, of course, then came the shame. Shame of being unable to control my reactions, shame of sex, shame of freaking out in front of this guy who I’m in love with, and who probably already thinks I’m a lunatic. Half the time, I certainly do. But, I got dressed, I walked out of my bedroom, and went shopping with a friend. I got up and walked away—that’s a big step forward for me, I’ll admit.
What happened wasn’t his fault. It wasn’t really even my fault—sometimes even I don’t know what’s going to trigger a problem for me.
Each day here in Atlanta, I take more steps forward than backward and it’s a constant process. Part of my process is talking about it because I was unable to for so many years. Hiding this shit doesn’t make it go away—it just gives you a big fucking monster in the closet. If you go through the same emotional issues—whether it’s from sexual trauma, or violence, or abuse—remember that it is a process, for all of us. It may be something that we never fully walk away from, but each step takes us forward. You just have to take one more step. If you take one more step each day, you’ll always be farther than when you started.
Even steps backward are something to learn from. As I look back, I haven’t had one in several years. That’s a win for me.