Forgive Yourself

I’ve spent a significant portion of my adult life agonizing and lamenting some awful decisions I made. Thankfully as time continues to pass, I’ve been able to gain the space I needed to find perspective. Eventually we are able too look back on our younger selves with compassion rather than shame and regret. We begin to realize that we have to forgive ourselves for not knowing what we didn’t know.

As a child, my family had five dogs at one time. We lived out in the countryside and a lot of our dogs ended up with us because people would drive down our road and abandon them there. Ultimately we were being kind in taking care of them, feeding them, making sure they had all their shots, etc. But my parents would not allow them to live inside the house. It still haunts me to know that those dogs spent so many cold winter days and nights with only a plastic dog house filled with hay to keep them warm, chained in one small area for most of their lives. I still live with a lot of guilt about this which manifests itself in the form of reoccurring dreams where dozens of animals are confined, sick, dying, starving, and forgotten in dirty cramped cages.

I had always blamed myself for the way those dogs lived. Although my sister and I constantly pleaded with my parents to let them live inside, their response was always that if we were so concerned about it, we could give them away. Given this decision I always felt I should have allowed them to find new homes that would have treated them more properly. I was too selfish to do what was right. One day my sister made me realize something though. She said, “That was not our fault. We were children. We shouldn’t have been expected to make such a difficult decision. We loved those dogs and we did our best.” Until that conversation with my sister, I had never really considered the fact that we were merely children. I still have to remind myself of that fact from time to time. Now I’ve even begun to look back at my adolescent mistakes and realize that I was just a kid.

Only since finding another person that I truly love deeply and unconditionally, have I been able to look back at my time in college without immense pain and regret. For a very long time I thought I had destroyed my life. Even though the boyfriend I had back then was incredible and still one of the greatest loves of my life, I cheated on him. Not only that I cheated on him with two different people. Neither of which gave a single shit about me. Ultimately I broke up with that boyfriend in order to continue to explore what else was out there without guilt.

I can’t say what might have happened if I had stayed. All I know is that the years that followed were filled with disappointment, frustration, and heartache. But with my extremely limited romantic experience, how could I have known what I would find? How could I have known that the relationship I had was so uncommon and wonderful? If I hadn’t made the mistakes that I did, I may still be unaware of that. In the end, I’m grateful for the painful lessons I’ve learned through my mistakes. They have allowed me to become the person I am today and to be with another amazing person whom I love dearly.

I’m sure that I will continue to stumble and fall as I move along this path called life. There will be many more difficult lessons for me to learn. I only hope that part of me can remember that despite the pain, time will transform it into something worthwhile. I can recover from my mistakes, learn from them, even be grateful for them one day. But we don’t have to wait for that shift of time and perspective to be kind to ourselves. Punishing or belittling ourselves over our mistakes does not serve us. If nothing else, mistakes are an opportunity to practice self-compassion, self-acceptance, and self-love. It is also a reminder to be gentle with others as they make their own mistakes.

It's Time for Forgiveness to Go Viral | Time

The Pleasure Paradox

Profound pleasure
is hard to find
it hides beneath thick, sticky layers
of pain, shame, and fear

Piercing pleasure
ignites a small terror
Will this last?
Do I deserve this?

Simple pleasures
are overlooked all together
discarded and forgotten
alongside childhood trinkets

Pure pleasure
is something to be hoped for
to be dreamed of
never to be obtained
Self Pleasure & Self Sex - How To Pleasure Yourself | Goop | Goop

Trauma

Emotional and Psychological Trauma - HelpGuide.org

Working at a child advocacy center, I have learned a lot about trauma. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) isn’t just something that war veterans have, it’s something that can result from many different situations. A lot of the children I work with end up having PTSD as a result of the abuse they have experienced. You might have PTSD from childhood trauma, a car crash, an abusive relationship, the sudden loss of a loved one, or any number of different scenarios. I’ve also learned that what defines “trauma” is different for everyone. Two people may experience the same thing and react completely differently. There are tons of things that factor into trauma.

It seems like trauma and PTSD are popular topics in the media today. I hear it mentioned all the time in the various videos and podcasts I listen to. The reason I want to talk about it today is because I caught myself feeling guilty about not having experienced any serious trauma in my life. Let me explain. I’ve always kind of considered myself a mess. I feel incapacitated by anxiety and neuroticism most of the time. However, I have heard so many stories of people that have gone through so much more than I could even imagine that seem to be coping with life better than I am. It makes me feel ashamed of myself, quite frankly.

It almost feels like I don’t deserve any compassion or sympathy for the issues I am struggling with from myself or anyone else. I often joke with my coworkers that the kids we meet are still higher functioning than I am, even though I’ve had such an easy life so far. I genuinely can’t understand it. Combing through my memories trying to find some kind of event to explain my poor mental health only makes me feel worse as I realize that I’ve not even had many minor forms of trauma in my life.

When I caught myself feeling guilty the other day, I tried to imagine what I would say to myself if I were a good friend. (We should all be our own good friends anyway, right?) I would have told that friend that they don’t need to justify or explain why they feel the ways they feel. It’s their experience and that’s enough to make it valid. This isn’t the trauma Olympics. Not all people who have anxiety or depression or any other mental illness have to have had a traumatic life experience. That’s why the DSM distinguishes between PTSD and other anxiety disorders, for instance. Not every mental illness has to be trigged by a particular life event. Not all traumatic life events have to lead to mental illness.

I often fall into that familiar trap of black and white thinking. Just because other people have it worse, doesn’t mean that my suffering doesn’t matter or that I’m not allowed to experience it. We each have our own shit to deal with. There is no need to compare ourselves to others in any way, let alone when it comes to mental illness. It’s not as if I choose to feel this way. Just like others didn’t choose to experience traumatic events or the aftermath that comes with them. You should never feel ashamed of something that is out of your control.

I would never want anyone to feel ashamed for not being able to “justify” their mental illness. That’s like being ashamed of having cancer because you never smoked and lived a healthy lifestyle. It makes no sense at all. In fact, even someone that does smoke cigarettes, resulting in lung cancer, still deserves compassion and sympathy. Despite all of my psychology education and social work experience, I can’t seem to let go of these nonsensical perspectives when it comes to myself. Even though I know mental illness is just as real and valid as physical illness, I can’t seem to shake the idea that it’s somehow my fault that I manage it so poorly. Even when I really am trying my best.

It’s amazing to me how much easier it is to offer love and understanding to others, while it feels impossible to extend the same kindness to myself. So this post is for all the other people like me out there, beating themselves up over things they can’t control. If you are unable to say it to yourself, I’m here to say it for you. No matter what you’re going through, no matter what you’ve gone through, no matter who you are, or what you’ve done, YOU deserve love. YOU deserve compassion. YOU deserve happiness. YOU are enough. YOU are worthy. Don’t forget it.

Sierra Boggess Quote: “You are enough. You are so enough, it is  unbelievable how enough you

Shake It Off: Autistic Traits

As some of you may already know, despite no formal diagnosis, I fully believe that I have “high-functioning” autism. Although this self-diagnosis has given me great comfort, I’m very careful about who I talk about it with. A lot of people don’t believe me and respond with a surprised look. I don’t blame them, before I looked into it, I wouldn’t have believed me either. The way autism is portrayed in the media isn’t the way mine looks. I am able to blend into society quite well. I’m like a duck, gracefully gliding along the water. No one can see how hard I’m actually working just below the surface.

I don’t necessarily want to talk about my autism today. I want to talk about the way I view autism in general. I’m not quite sure how the autistic spectrum was determined. The two ends of it appear as totally different disorders in my opinion. How not being able to speak or live on your own and having trouble understanding social cues can be classified as the same disorder never ceases to amaze me. It made more sense to me when high-function autism was called Asperger’s. Anyway, when I refer to “autism” from here on out, know that I am speaking mainly about high-functioning autism.

I guess I’m biased, but to me, a lot of the symptoms of autism seem to be more natural than “normal” behavior. For instance, I’ve always thought it strange that human beings are expected to make eye contact with one another. In the rest of the animal kingdom, direct eye contact is a threat, a sign of aggression. I don’t blame myself for getting anxious and having to make a concerted effort to look someone in the eye when talking to them. The rest of the natural world seems to agree with me that this is not a great idea.

Another common trait of autism is not quite understanding or falling in line with social customs. However, most of these things have been arbitrarily created throughout the centuries. It seems more bizarre to me that most people appear to have inherent knowledge about these rules of etiquette. How should one be expected to know, understand, and accept things that continue to change throughout history and geography? Perhaps autism wasn’t discovered until recent times because in the past there actually were things like cotillion and other ways in which people were formally educated on how to properly behave in society.

The final autistic trait I’d like to comment on is often referred to as “stimming.” This is when a person does some form of repetitive motion in response to strong emotion, either positive or negative. One of the more common forms of stimming is hand flapping. This is one of the key factors that causes me to believe I am on the spectrum. I have had the urge to do this for as long as I can remember. I remember my mother advising me not to do it and my sister teasing me about it as a young child. Since then, I’ve learned to control this behavior in front of others. However, I still have the strong urge to move or flap my hands after a stressful or exciting event. As a teenager, while sitting on the classroom floor, my friends asked me why I was always rocking side to side while we did so. This was another form of stimming that I hadn’t even realized I was doing!

Even more so than the other things I’ve mentioned, I think stimming is actually a natural, beneficial behavior. I hadn’t realized it until hearing it discussed on a podcast the other day, but animals will often be seen doing something similar. It’s quite normal to see a dog shake their whole body after something stressful or exciting happens. I have seen many different species of animals doing something like this. It is a way to discharge excess energy or stress, a way to quite literally “shake it off.” It even makes me wonder where that expression originally came from. Perhaps I wouldn’t be such a tightly wound, anxious individual if I hadn’t been discouraged from doing this self-soothing behavior by society.

I’ve started to see my autism as something to be embraced, rather than just something that sets me apart from most of the people around me. It makes me feel more in tune with the natural world and other animals. To me, society is what’s strange, not my behavior. I’m simply doing my best to assimilate into this painfully artificial world human beings have created. From now on I am not going to stifle myself. When I have that overwhelming urge to shake, I’m going to shake without shame. I’d much rather fit in with the rest of the animals than humans anyway.

Photo by Polina Kovaleva on Pexels.com

It’s Not You, It’s Me

We accept the love we think we deserve

After spending the last few days with my boyfriend, I’m more convinced than ever that he is perfect. Maybe too perfect… I’m used to being the one in the relationship that has it together. If you read my posts then you know what that actually means is I date complete assholes, not that I’m exceptional. This time it’s different though. Nate is more organized than me, more cleanly, even more vegan than me. Of course those are all wonderful traits. I am endlessly impressed and inspired by him. The only problem is how it makes me feel about myself.

I felt so ashamed yesterday when we were making dinner. I saw him diligently washing his hands while I had already started cutting up vegetables. I know not washing your hands before you eat seems like a silly thing to be embarrassed about, but I still am. There are lots of little things like that that make me wonder what he actually thinks of me. Am I gross to him? Does he find my habits disgusting? Does he notice at all? Does he have some idea of me in his head that is better than I actually am? It makes me feel like I have to hide myself away even more than I’m already used to doing with the rest of the world. It makes me feel like he could never love the person I truly am.

I’ve always said that I want a partner that will help me better myself. I just never realized how being with someone who’s already better than me would actually feel. I guess there is a part of me that craves damaged people. There was something about seeing someone else being beautifully flawed that allowed me to let my guard down and be vulnerable. I miss when my high school boyfriend and I would shoplift little gifts for one another. I miss having nights where we would do nothing besides binge junk food and smoke weed. Sure, those things aren’t great things to indulge in, but it felt nice knowing that even though I was a mess, someone would love me anyway.

Now I’m just afraid of my mess. I’ve pushed it into a closet and have to stand nervously in front of the door, hoping Nate won’t open it. For instance, I haven’t smoked cigarettes in around two weeks now. I’m extremely proud of myself. I really worried I wouldn’t be able to give up the habit this time. The problem is, I’ve replaced it with vaping again. For me that is fine, but I’ve hidden both from Nate this whole time. He certainly must suspect, so he probably wouldn’t make a big deal out of it. Still I’m too afraid to bring it up. I really wanted to while I was staying with him this week, but I never managed to work up the courage. God only knows how long this secret will continue now.

Problematic Sexual Preferences

As you may know, my boyfriend and I have been doing the long-distance thing for nearly a month now. I was somewhat surprised that it didn’t happen immediately, but the other day he finally asked me about sexting. This is the point in a relationship where my emotional and sexual immaturity really starts to become clear to me. I’ve mentioned before that I have hardly any sexual interest. I believe this is partially due to the SSRI I am taking, but I digress. The point is, I wanted to tell him that I’m not comfortable with sending pictures of myself. I don’t really mind dirty talk. I can actually have a good bit of fun with that. However, for some reason instead of just being honest, I told him I was okay with everything. I guess I’m still just afraid that if I’m honest he won’t like me as much.

I hear my mental voice saying these things and I just want to scream. I sound like the fourteen year old girls that I meet at my child advocacy center. It makes me feel so ashamed that I can’t be a better role model for them. Not that they would ever have any clue what I do in my personal life, but still. I feel like a hypocrite, advocating for these young girls, telling them that they have every right to be comfortable and expect their boundaries to be respected. Yet in my own life, I cave to social pressures just as easily. I don’t know why I struggle so much being true to myself in these types of situations. I’m embarrassed by how embarrassed these topics make me at twenty-eight years old.

Now my dilemma is how to go about finally telling the truth about how I feel. At first it felt like it was too late. I said okay, so now I have to keep going along with it. Then I felt ridiculous for thinking that. Consent can be withdrawn at any point. I believe that for the young girls I work with, so I must also believe that for myself. It’s not even that I fear Nate being upset with me. I know he’s an amazingly kind boy and will be completely understanding. He would probably even feel guilty knowing that I’ve been allowing him to push me past my limits.

Which brings me to the next issue I’ve been having. Nate is a very kind, considerate boyfriend. He asked my permission before he kissed me the first time. He routinely makes sure what he’s doing is okay with me when we are together. While I respect the hell out of him for that and wish more men were like him, especially given the things I hear every day in my line of work, it doesn’t really suit me personally. This is where my “problematic” sexual preferences come in. Given that I’m not very often even interested in sex, I have very specific turn ons. Mainly, they all center around being submissive. I like to feel like the reluctant, innocent, object of desire. Quite ironic since in the rest of my life I am a violently outspoken feminist.

In the past this hasn’t been much of a problem. Most men I’ve been with are very forward and sexually aggressive. They didn’t ask permission and my hesitancy was seen as an opportunity for persuasion rather than a signal to back off. Now normally, I’d say that is really walking the line of coercion and consent. These are dangerous sexual situations to be in for both parties. Yet I think that’s part of the reason it excites me. A lot of my turn ons are unspoken assumptions. I like to feel like my partner wants me sooo much that they can’t help themselves. That’s the only way I ever really feel “sexy.” I don’t want to be asked if I want to have sex. I want them to convince me.

Poor communication is where it all starts to become problematic. I know that if I explained the way I feel to Nate, he would be more than happy to oblige me. However, just knowing that he’s doing it because I told him to ruins it. Now do you see my issue? The only thing that gives me a small amount of comfort is knowing that other women have felt this way. I still remember a comedian joking, “I’m just supposed to rape you and hope you’re into that?” Yes, frankly. But I see why that’s not okay from the man’s point of view. I’m really at a loss of what to do about it.

I realize that this is a VERY personal topic to be discussing in the open forum of the internet. However, I want my blog to be a safe place where I can be completely open and honest with myself and the world. It helps that I don’t know anyone on here personally. Despite that, I’d genuinely like some feedback. Do you have any ideas or suggestions on how I can approach these sensitive issues? Have you ever had similar sexual problems? Were you able to resolve them? How? Any and all advice, questions, or comments are welcome. I can use all the help I can get.

Teen Sexting: What Should Parents Be Aware Of

Secrets

As a kid I remember being asked and hearing others ask the question: what is your deepest, darkest secret? No one ever seemed to believe me, but for the longest time I had no answer to that question. I didn’t really have any secrets. It even struck me as odd that that question seemed to come up so often. Do regular people have terrible secrets that they’re hiding? I couldn’t imagine it. For most of my childhood and adolescence, I was pretty much an open book. Any secrets I may have had were rather by chance than by intention.

Throughout my college years I made a lot of very serious mistakes. Those were really my first secrets. Even so they were only things I hid from certain people. My boyfriend never knew I cheated on him, but it was common knowledge to my close friends, despite my shame. I suppose I also had secrets from my parents in my late teens and early twenties. These secrets seemed sensible though. I kept selectively silent in order to preserve the feelings of those I loved.

After years of living on my own, and particularly during last year’s quarantine, it feels like I’ve become more secretive than ever. These are much bigger secrets in my eyes. Maybe not as damning, but certainly more embarrassing. These secrets are ones I keep out of personal shame rather than courtesy. They are not selective events or things I conceal from only certain people. It feels like these things have crowded around me to form a separate, secret me. There are so many things about my day to day life and the inner workings of my mind that I would be mortified for anyone else to know. It’s gotten to the point where I wonder if anyone even truly knows me anymore.

That’s why I wanted to talk about secrets today. Secrets separate, secrets isolate. I’ve recently read about something called imposter syndrome. This is the experience of feeling like a fraud and/or undeserving of the things and people you have in life. I’d say that fits me, but I hesitate. Is it “imposter syndrome” if you really are an imposter to a certain degree? I don’t feel like this is some imagined perception. I truly believe that most of the people in my life would no longer like me if they knew more about me. Whether it’s true or not, this only encourages me to hide myself away. And the more I hide myself away, the bigger my secrets become.

I see only two ways to remedy this situation and rid myself of this ever-present shame. I could either come clean about all of my idiosyncrasies to everyone I know (no way would I ever do that), or I could change my behavior and live each moment of my life in a way I can be proud of. This second option is my goal. Everyone knows the phrase “dance like no one is watching,” well I want to live like everyone is watching. For the most part I agree with the saying that your true character is who you are when no one is watching. That’s why I feel fake most of the time. But I want to live a life that I don’t have to be ashamed of. I don’t want to keep feeling like a phony when I face the world.

Satya is one of the five Yamas (restraints) laid out in the yoga sutras of Patanjali. Satya means non-lying or truthfulness. I’ve tried a few times to adopt this way of living, but have always given up quite quickly. I really never realized how much I lied, even about little insignificant things, until I tried to be mindfully truthful. Most often these lies come in the form of excuses. I’m too anxious to go hangout with my friends, so instead I’ll say I have other plans. I also tell a lot of half-truths, purposely being vague or omitting certain details in order to stay on someone’s good side. When I really think about it, I guess I’ve been more concerned with other people’s opinions of me than my own self-respect.

After so many years of telling these little white lies, it has become second nature to me. But I’d like to start looking at truth as an act of self-love. Being honest is really a gift to myself and others. I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to feel truly worthy of my loved ones unless I learn how to be honest with them and myself. It may be scary, but it’s something I’ve got to do. Happiness won’t be found in falsehoods.

Why I Want to Stop Smoking

Hard to believe it’s already June 2021. This past January I had intended to stop smoking cigarettes. I hadn’t realized just what a difficult task that would be unfortunately. I didn’t really have much of a plan either. I did manage to cut back somewhat, and I am proud of that fact. But just like in the past when I took up smoking, the longer it goes on, the more repulsed I become by it. Each time I light a cigarette I am overcome with guilt and shame and anxiety. Strangely what pushes me to light up is also anxiety. There is a momentary relief as I inhale that foul smoke. I reminisce about the reckless abandon I once felt, the freedom, the sheer disregard for everyone and everything, even myself, in favor of the sickening pleasure of the moment. It made me feel tragic, dangerous, poetic. But these feelings are the foolish fantasy of youth, and like youth they cannot remain for long. What was once an act of rebellion has become the very chains that bind me. So today I want to write about the reasons that I want to stop smoking in the hopes it will shake me free from this secret shame.

Health

One of the reasons smoking causes me such intense shame is the hypocrisy of it. I am constantly railing against the hypocrisy of loving animals while simultaneously eating them, but in the end I am just as absurd. How can a vegan, yoga teacher smoke cigarettes? It’s laughable. I claim to care about my body and my health, but how can I while I continue to poison myself all day, every day? I want to treat my body with the love and respect that it deserves. I want to take good care of it so that it can take good care of me for a long time. If this pandemic has taught the world anything, it should be the incredible importance of our lungs and respiratory system. Even my yoga practice is all about the breath. Yet despite this sacred gift of breath I have been given, I choke myself with soot and black smoke. I pollute the very part of me that gives life.

The Animals

Time to state the obvious. Buying and smoking cigarettes isn’t exactly “vegan.” While it may not be a food or an animal product, like certain cosmetics, the cigarette industry is no friend to animals. While I’m not sure if they still do (I’m too afraid to google it) I know that cigarette companies are notorious for their horrific animal testing. Whether or not these practices persist, I cannot continue to support such a heinous industry. Not only that, more personally, I am directly harming my own animals by smoking. This is the main reason that finally got me to stop last time. I may not care enough about myself to stop, but I love my sweet babies even more. I genuinely believe that the world as we know it will come to an end before I have to worry about lung cancer, but my fur children have much shorter life spans. I wouldn’t be able to live with myself if I caused them to suffer and die from the effects of second hand smoke. I’m so ashamed of this aspect of my smoking that my boyfriend doesn’t even know. I’m afraid it would make him lose all respect for me, and I wouldn’t blame him.

Money

I don’t even want to calculate the amount of money I have wasted on cigarettes. They are expensive enough as it is, but I also buy Marlboro so it’s even worse. I definitely spend at least $30 a week on cigarettes. I am such a cheap person though! I don’t even want to spend $10 a year on multivitamins. Or $60 every other week on therapy! I’m basically teaching my yoga class to pay for cigarettes. The irony is palpable. I should be saving that money or at least spending it on something worthwhile. Maybe when I finally stop, I’ll set that money aside and get myself something nice with it as a reward.

Shame

Even though all of my other reasons are probably more important, the biggest thing pushing me to stop is shame. I’m pretty much a secret smoker. My close friends and family know, but even so, I try not to smoke around them. I always feel so shitty and stupid whenever I do. They must think I’m such a fool. Besides that, I don’t want to make them worry. I used to sneak out at work and smoke once or twice a day. Eventually I got caught and even though they didn’t seem to care, I was utterly humiliated that they knew. Shame is a toxic emotion. It rots away your insides. It erodes any positive image you have of yourself. It isolates and separates. I want to live a life I can be proud of. I can’t bear to live in shame any more.

I’m sure there are probably many more reasons I could think of that make me want to quit, but those are the biggest ones. To be honest, it was hard for me to even write about this. Denial is part of the way I’ve been able to continue for so long. It’s painful to face your own hypocrisy. I have a plan now though and I’m praying it works this time. I’ve ordered some nicotine salt vape juice. I know it’s not ideal, but I figure it’s still a step in the right direction. I’m not going to buy any more cigarettes. Once I finish the packs I have, I’m going to switch back to vaping. I’m hoping this will be the end of my dalliance with tobacco. Wish me luck.

Health Risks and Diseases of Smoking

Throat Chakra

The throat chakra is connected with communication. It helps us to express ourselves, our feelings, and our personal truth confidently and clearly. I still don’t know exactly where I lie on the sliding scale of believing all of these things. However, I do find it fascinating to learn about chakras and integrate this knowledge into my own life. At the very least the chakras are a nice way to visualize a lot of the obstacles that come up within ourselves. Sadly for me, no matter what chakra I think about, it seems like I have a blockage in it. It’s no wonder I feel so anxious and on edge.

Today I wanted to focus on the throat chakra though. For me, like the heart chakra, this chakra is easy for me to buy into. Our language even has phrases that have become part of our shared culture that seem to reference this energy center. “Frog in your throat,” “lump in your throat,” “choked up,” “choking back tears,” all of these remind us of that familiar sensation of tightness in our throats when we are struggling to speak.

It seems like the art of communication has become more and more forgotten as humanity becomes more comfortable texting than speaking in person. It is much easier to choose the right words when you have time to think about it and carefully craft your response. Especially without the added pressure of the person waiting right in front of your to hear what you have to say. With texting you can take as long as you want to figure our the perfect way to phrase your thoughts.

For the longest time I’ve described my difficulties with speaking my mind as a fear of confrontation. However, lately I’ve started to think that it’s more than that. I’m just afraid to speak my truth. I am so concerned with what other people will think of what I have to say or the reactions it may illicit. I pause, panicked, searching my mind for the most polite and non-offensive way to speak the words I want to say. So many times I’ve gone along with something I didn’t want to just because it was too difficult and awkward to say no. Even when I’ve mustered up the courage to say no, I often feel ashamed and guilty about it. I have to stifle the urge to profusely apologize. And apologize for what? For being honest? There should be no shame in being true to myself. The idea that so many times I’ve put the needs and desires of others ahead of my own just to avoid feeling awkward saddens me deeply.

I hesitate to be so open and share the details of my private life any more than I already have on this blog, but no one knows who I really am on this site anyway, so fuck it. The reason I’ve been contemplating these things is because of my date yesterday. I notice my shortcomings in self-expression the most when I am dealing with romantic relationships. I usually seek out a partner that is so emotionally intelligent that they are able to compensate for my extreme lack of personal insight. I realize that is unrealistic though. I can’t expect my partner to simply carry my weight. I must try to push myself through my own hardships.

Anyway, I always dread the moment when someone I’m dating tries to be physically intimate with me. I’ve mentioned on here before that I have a very low sexual interest, especially with people I’m not in love with or very emotionally bonded to. There have been many times in the past where I have given reluctant consent to sexual encounters simply because I felt obligated to. I felt too guilty and awkward to say no. I realize the horror of that statement, but it’s true. Even though I did that to avoid confrontation or uncomfortable conversations, it never ended well for me as you might imagine. This attempt at avoiding healthy communication and mutual understanding and respect led to a lot of pain, heartbreak, and even more unpleasant conversations down the road.

Knowing that my date was going to be stopping at my house to pick me up yesterday, I had already tried to mentally prepare myself for what may come later on. Sometimes I’ll even do something like avoid shaving so the embarrassment of them discovering that forces me to be true to myself and say no to their advances. Humiliatingly enough, sometimes that has even failed. As I had anticipated, the dreaded hour drew near where this lovely man I met wanted to go further physically than I was comfortable with. While I am proud of myself for sticking to my guns and declining, it doesn’t change how embarrassed and ashamed that moment made me feel.

I did my best to explain that it was only because I still did not know him that well, but I feel I could have said much more than I did. I desperately wanted to discuss it more, but that damn frog in my throat wouldn’t let me. I spent the rest of the evening suffering in silence. I am always afraid that saying no will result in the end of that relationship. I know how foolish that idea is though. Wouldn’t I rather it end there than have slept with someone who would have stopped talking to me if I hadn’t? Just the idea of sleeping with someone for any other reason than because I deeply desire to is terribly sad.

Part of the issue is a lack of experience in these types of scenarios. I don’t have many healthy examples to draw from. Most of my social skills have been adapted from television and movies. But when it comes to sex, these sources are even more unrealistic than usual. In my mind, it seems perfectly reasonable to not have sex with someone the third time you’ve ever met. Then why do I feel so awful for saying no?

Part of my fear is not knowing when, if ever, I will want to say yes. One of the many reasons romantic relationships are so hard for me to navigate is that I struggle to enjoy each moment as it comes. I am always wondering what the end result will be of every decision. I can’t enjoy a kiss, because I’m busy panicking about where it might go from there. I can’t listen to my own body when I am worried about what will make the other person like me the most. I guess the only real way to improve my communication skills is to keep getting practice through uncomfortable moments like these. I’m sure it’s much more embarrassing to be declined than to be the one declining. Yet my empathy for the other person’s position only makes what I’m experiencing all the more painful. Just a few days ago I was so happy and excited. Now I’m not sure how I feel at all. I feel detached and depressed mostly. I have no idea where this relationship is going to lead, nor do I know where I want it to at this point.

I’m not going to give up just yet though. I have to remind myself not to be so serious all the time. Just enjoy the time I spend with this guy for what it is. I don’t need to know everything that the future holds. Part of the fun is not knowing. All I have to do now is stay true to myself and follow my own feelings and intuition, letting each moment unfold as it comes.

Photo by Katie Salerno on Pexels.com

Shame

Photo by Samson Katt on Pexels.com

Shame is a powerful emotion. It grips us, stays with us. While other memories fade, shame seems to linger, just as poignant as it felt in the moment, for years afterwards. I can still remember some of the very first moments in my life that made me feel ashamed. The first was in daycare. I must have been only three or four years old. We were going around the group, introducing ourselves maybe, all I can remember is that after our turn, we got to pick a toy from this massive pile in the center of the circle we were seated in. Immediately I fell in love with this florescent yellow/green duck stuffed animal. The rest of the world seemed to fall away as I focused on how I had to have it. I began to feel panicked that another child would choose it before I could. Who wouldn’t choose that magnificent duck?! This panic led me to speak out of turn. In desperation I tried to take my turn early so I could secure the duck, but was gently chastised and told I had to wait. That is my first memory of shame. A shame so sour that even though I did end up getting that duck (still have it today at my mom’s house) the moment was ruined anyway.

I also have another very early memory of shame. It was my first day of kindergarten or one of the first. My family and I were seated around the table having dinner. I was telling everyone how my day went at school. There was a boy I knew because our fathers were friends, and I had always had a crush on him. At one point during dinner I proudly announced that I had told this boy that I loved him. To this day I can feel that sickening silence that followed. My mom, dad, and sister all stopped and stared at me dumbstruck. I immediately recognized that I had done something wrong. I don’t even remember how that incident ended, nor if it was ever brought up again. I just remember that bitter piercing shame.

I’ve read before that shame has a profound effect on us. I don’t need to be shown much evidence to believe that it’s true. We can all feel the power of shame in our own lives. Sometimes I wonder how those early memories of shame have bled out into the rest of my life, how they changed me. Generally shame is a social emotion. It is a cue that what we’ve done is not socially acceptable and that it could put our place in the group/society at risk. This is why it strikes us so intensely. It is a defense against behaviors that could get us ostracized. Although like most remnants of our evolutionary history, in the modern day sometimes it can be a hindrance instead of a help.

I’m actually not sure if anyone else experiences this, but I feel shame about things even when I’m all alone. And not about anything that would make sense to feel shame about. There are moments when shame grips me deep down, in my core. I feel ashamed to exist, to be who I am. For example, sometimes I’ll be having fun dancing and singing in the shower only to be suddenly overcome with shame. It’s hard to explain why. I guess I’m ashamed of feeling good about myself, of what other people would think if they knew how I had just been feeling and acting. It doesn’t really make sense even to me. But because of these feelings up until recently I would hardly ever allow myself to dance, even all alone.

It makes self-love and self-acceptance very tricky for me. Because my shame primarily seems to come from moments of feeling proud or liking myself. It usually follows intense happiness or joy about something I’ve done or am doing. Like this blog for instance. I love writing on here everyday. It makes me happy and I’m not doing it for anyone but me. But there are still moments when I feel ashamed of the things I’ve written. I think to myself: how dare you think anyone cares what you have to say, it’s so embarrassing that you prop up this false image of yourself online. I think similar things about anything I create. I’ll be so happy with it and desperately want to share it with others, but when I do I feel ashamed. I’m ashamed for thinking anyone else would care, for wanting to “show off.” I never fully believe any compliments I get. There is always some small part of me that wonders if they are just being nice.

All of this shame I harbor inside of me is just another example of how I tend to take life too seriously. Shame only works if you care about what people think of you, if you have an image of yourself you are trying to protect. When I imagine the times when I’ve seen someone else do something embarrassing or shameful, I don’t care much. At most I just feel pained because I am empathically sharing their embarrassment. I want to start facing my shame, to get acquainted with it, to know what makes it tick. And eventually to make peace with it. Shame is a product of the ego. I hope to someday let them both go.