Trigger warnings for sexual assault and Too Much Information – like, if you’re a member of my family, you probably don’t want to read this.
Five minutes after my first kiss I was hiding in the toilets. “It seemed less awkward to make out with him than tell him I didn’t want to,” I told my friend. “Kate,” she said. “You are the only person who would think that.”
At the time, I believed her. What’s wrong with me? I told myself again and again. I was unaware that my crippling social anxiety was far from unique. At the time, it seemed something to be ashamed of, to hide away from the world at all costs while I pretended to be a happy go lucky teenage girl.
Which is why, a few months later, I found myself in the back of a car with the same boy, trying to remove his hands from my underwear whilst trying to look after a friend on the other side of me, who was throwing up the evening’s vodka onto her lap. With hindsight, I should have turned round and punched him. But I was worried about being impolite.
Trying to do what I was supposed to do, and fear of being judged, has defined most of my sexual experiences.
I’m currently reading Becoming by Laura Jane Williams and would definitely recommend it. She writes with such intelligence, self-awareness and grace about her journey to where she is today. There have been so many moments in it that ring so true for me, I have to pause and let them sink in a little bit.
This one in particular stood out because it was about something that I’ve been wanting to write about for a while. I just didn’t know where to start, so let’s start with what Laura has to say.
I wanted love to wash over me and heal me and be me and become me.
I wanted to love myself.
That was it.
A voice raged inside me as the thought wandered across my mind.
YES! She screamed, uncompromising and forcefully. YES, YOU DO! THAT IS WHAT YOU WANT!
I let that sit with me. I wanted to love myself. I didn’t know how to get there, to that. How it looked. But I knew how it would feel.
It would feel like enough. And I – I desperately wanted to feel like enough.
As people, and especially as women, we are not very good at loving ourselves. We shouldn’t beat ourselves up about this. For the most part our culture is set up to make us feel bad about ourselves, so we might buy all the things to make us feel better, to keep the economy going and make sure everyone has a job (which they need to make sure they can buy the things that probably won’t make them happy).
The thing is, I’m starting to believe more and more than loving ourselves might be the thing that helps us most in our lives. I don’t want this to be the answer. Firstly, because it sounds really trite, and secondly, because it’s a lot more effort than buying a new dress. But boy does it work.
I wrote a piece for xojane.com about how I stayed in an awful relationship because I thought that was all I deserved. You can read the whole thing here.
One of my clearest memories from primary school is everyone being handed a paper plate and asked to recreate our favourite foods. While I vaguely recollect building pizza slices out of cardboard, what I can picture most clearly is mixing pva glue and white paint in search of a substance that could pass for mayonnaise. A little more paint then a little more glue: a careful balancing act that made me the most intensely focused seven year old in the room.
Three weeks into a new job and I received the first invitation to socialise with colleagues outside of work. I was looking forward to the party as a chance to see what everyone was like in their free time, and for them to meet my partner, who had been asked about in the office. That is, until he said he couldn’t make it. At which point, I considered not going after all.