Shame is one of those words that sounds exactly like what it evokes.
Shame is why I didn’t admit to any caring adult in my life when I started having sex or that I took myself to Planned Parenthood to go on the pill, barely 16.
I was supposed to save myself for marriage. My mother had specifically told me “Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.” which I had interpreted at the time as “Don’t put all your hopes and dreams in one guy when you’ve got the rest of the world still waiting for you.” Shame is why I didn’t explain how damaging this period of time was. To go from in love and wanting and consenting, to wanting to say no and feeling I couldn’t. It was disorienting to try to understand how in two-and-a-half years time, things could go from one end of the spectrum to the other. Humiliating to see in hindsight what others had all along. Shitty to realize that I had made an error in judgment. Went with my heart. Lost my virginity. And a lot more along the way.
Shame is why I couldn’t bring myself to face the reality that in a following relationship I was being battered. I was only 20.
Surely at 20 I couldn’t be in an abusive relationship. Surely as a college student, as an intelligent and ambitious person I couldn’t have allowed myself to be victimized. When we got into a fight about Thanksgiving, one that left me scared to go home and forced to stay behind and head to his family’s festivities, he found me crying on the phone in his mother’s bedroom. I wondered if that would be the first time he might hit me.
The way that sex became a coerced activity became a part of our normal relations. I blamed my lack of interest and libido on depression. My roommate had died only months before. Surely it was grief that made me no longer want him. And so I stayed quiet. Hopeless. Telling myself lies, myths. Until I interned that summer at the domestic violence shelter back home and recognized myself in the pages of the training manual. Still, I said nothing. Feeling I had led myself into my own trap.
Shame is why I held secret my rape for three years before I uttered the words to my family.
Certainly if I had been with the first partner and given my virginity, and been with the latter partner and allowed him to treat me as some kind of possession, I also must have given permission to my rapist. This must have been my fault somehow. My need to use a restroom and my willingness to go with him to his room to use his, must have been some indicator for him that I wanted something more. But I didn’t. And so that night, after the restroom was used and so was I, there became two selves that emerged. The me from before and the me from after. They fought with each other. Hated one another. But had to live with the other regardless. Two angry souls blaming each other the whole way to the truth.
And truth being nearly intolerable. Those were the days I carried a blade. Mace. Anger. And employed a hyper vigilant eye both over my shoulder and looking ahead.
Shame has prevented me for years from writing about any of these experiences. I haven’t wanted to stir up the shit all over again. To relive the sorrow, pain, or confusion of those dark periods of time.
I haven’t wanted to remember the absence of light or the way darkness chiseled a finite statue of some disfigured version of myself. Recognizable to me in body, but with that distant, empty look in her eyes.
I haven’t wanted to fall back into that dark hole and retrace yesterday’s scratch marks, the imprints of my fingernails attempting to dig myself out from under the crushing darkness.
There’s never been a desire to deal with the assholes and haters. Those who victimized me but don’t or can’t admit that they did. Those who don’t believe me. Disagree with me. Or blame me. Those who say things like ‘she asked for it,’ ‘she deserved it,’ ‘she should have known better,’ ‘what a slut.’
I haven’t wanted to list the things I told myself during or after any of those times, the things that echoed the assholes just around the corner: I asked for it. Deserved it. Should have known better. I am a slut.
I haven’t wanted to cast a spotlight on some of the choices I made out of ‘love’ that I now look back on and shake my head and ring my hands and make me want to strangle my younger self for being so stupid.
But now, now I’m stronger than I ever was. Braver. I am bold. And I own my truth. As hard as it is. And I have surrounded myself with the people who would never lay blame on me; they are my armor. They are all I need.
Now is the time to speak my truth. Share my experiences. Now is the time to be brave. I am ready.
So here is a gigantic FUCK OFF to shame. And all the shit that comes with it.
Shame is only as great as I’ll allow it to be. It is only as strong as the amount of power I offer it. It is only fueled by those I shouldn’t surround myself with or thoughts and beliefs that serve me no purpose. Life is too short for shame. We all make mistakes. All have things we regret that happened to us, happened because of us, or both. We learn. Grow. Move on. We get stronger.
But we shouldn’t hold ourselves back. We shouldn’t completely define who we are on a handful of failing and painful moments in time that could have been better or
gone differently. If we do, they win. And I refuse for that to be the case. I’m the author of this story. My story. I’m the traveler on my journey. I don’t give a shit what wolves lurked along the path.
Though I hate all they took, there is no denying that for each thing they took, I was given twice-as-many-somethings in return for my suffering.
Strength. Resilience. Empathy. Perseverance. Understanding. Voice. Hope. And a whole lot to write about.
There is no longer room or space in my home, heart, or head for Shame and its baggage. So fuck off and get out, Shame. You’re no longer welcome here. See yourself to the door. This party is over. Your time is up.