Sunday, October 23, 2011

Words are like urine: coming out helped me come in

When I was young I was sexually abused by three different men.
I still don't think I want to talk about it. But this blog is about breaking the silence.
It's about speaking up even when we want to hide and keep quiet.
Even when we feel scared or unsure or uncomfortable with our past.
I will talk about something, if not THAT.
Perhaps THAT will be for another day, but I think it's important to know THAT in order to understand the rest of my story for today.

Two and a half years ago while on a plane to England I wrote my autobiography as a class assignment for my study abroad program. It was supposed to be a way for the professors and assistants to get to know us, as well as a way for us to explore different aspects of our lives that we could write about for our creative non-fiction part of the program. Somehow, for me, it became the beginning of a very painful process.

I surprised myself by writing about specific instances with the three men who tainted my childhood and consequently my young-adulthood. All this shit that I'd held in for so many years just spewed out as black ink onto the pages of my journal. I couldn't even read it afterwards, so I ripped out the pages and turned it in to my professor. He asked to speak to me privately one evening after reading my biography. He seemed concerned, yet he had such a kind and loving look on his face. He asked if I was comfortable with letting the rest of the staff read my bio, and said he would understand if I didn't want them to. I knew I had let myself leak out onto those pages. That there was a lot of honesty there--a lot of what I thought was the "deep dark" part of me, but I couldn't bear to read it myself and so I said it was okay with me if the rest of them wanted to read it.

There were two professors and their wives, and then there were two student assistants. All six of them read my biography. All six of them read about how one of the men held me in his lap, trying to coax me to take my wet clothes off in the attic of an old shed. Not letting me go. The first five readers came to me one by one to tell me: how sorry they were, how strong I am, how much they love me. They each hugged me, and I felt scared about letting these sorts of things eeek out of me, but I also felt like maybe it wasn't so bad. I had my bio conference with the sixth reader. He didn't say anything about how sorry he was or how strong I am or how he loves me. He talked only about my writing and some of my options for future essays and techniques, and what did I want to write about most? I think it was the way he treated my bio that made me feel like it was okay to write about what I wrote. Because it wasn't a big deal. But maybe it was the silence creeping in again, maybe he just didn't want to talk about it like I didn't want to talk about it even though I DID want to talk about it which is why I wrote it...uh....Yes, sometimes things don't make sense.

Anyway, I should be doing homework right now. Because I have a big midterm to study for, but I will tell you about coming out. How writing about the scary moments of being a kid allowed me to face the emotions and the "dark" stuff not in the past, but in the present. My freshman year of college I knew I was attracted to a girl. ONE girl. Just ONE. That was it, and that was all it would be and there would be no more. A year and a half later at the end of my sophomore year while I hiked through the England green fields littered with sheep and shit, I had to face the facts. I'm attracted to women. Not ALL women, of course. But, this being attracted to women thing is not going away. I think that once I allowed myself to let out all my pent up past problems (ie the sexual abuse stuff) I was then able to (and really had no other choice but to) acknowledge this scary idea of being attracted to women, which was really the thing that I needed to get out--or rather, needed to let in.

I can't hold things in without exploding. One time in the second grade we were playing Bingo on Halloween. I really really needed to pee, but I didn't want to leave to go to the bathroom because what if I missed getting Bingo and didn't win a prize? I thought I could just hold it. That I could keep that pee inside me. But, of course I couldn't. And it came out of me without my permission. Caused me all sorts of discomfort and embarrassment. Words are like urine. I can't hold them in. If I try to keep them inside then they burst out, leak through my undies and pants, trickle down my legs, like hot, smelly urine. And when that happens I can't ignore it anymore. I can't try to hide the fact that I'm wet and smelly and standing in a puddle of pee because people can see it. They can smell it. And if others can sense my explosion, I can't hide from myself either.

Allowing others to see a glimpse of my past self allowed me to--forced me to--see a glimpse of my present self. It was tough. I hated the self that I saw. Hated how I thought everyone knew I had wet myself--but of course we know what has happened long before anyone actually notices.
I hurt myself. Cut myself with pocket knives and box-cutter razor blades. Trying to get rid of the nothingness that I had let seep in to replace the nasty cold, wet feeling. Trying to prove that I had control. Trying to show someone that I needed help, needed acceptance, needed to TALK.

Finally, my friend, Debbie, confronted me. Asked me why. Told me I wasn't alone. Other people hurt themselves too. But we don't have to do that. Later she commented on how I'd wet myself--and by that I mean she confronted me about being attracted to women. It was true. I couldn't hide it. She said it was okay. She still loved me. She would still be my friend. And slowly, but surely I came out to others, or rather, they confronted me about how I'd wet myself.

The most important conversation I ever had was with my mom. She asked me if I had feelings for women. Because she could tell, of course. Urine has an unmistakable smell. (forgive me for using such an awful metaphor, but really, everyone's wet themselves at some point in their lives. it's so natural and fitting--at least in my mind). She let me see that I had options. That I didn't have to just settle for conforming to the social expectations directly surrounding me. I could explore, ruminate, discover. I could choose for myself. And she would love me the same no matter what. That was when I began to allow myself to accept my feelings. I began to see that they could be beautiful and not vile or horrid. That while they were very potent, it didn't have to be a bad thing. I could embrace and love every part of me.

I'm still learning to accept myself. I'm still learning about and discovering myself every day. But, I've learned one thing for sure: I can't try to hide or hold my feelings. Even if it means missing out on a Bingo (or perhaps getting the Bingo and instead experiencing wet pants and social embarrassment) I have to express myself. I have to let my words form and land on a page, on a set of ears, on some virtual page for a pair of eyes to discover. So, even though I didn't really talk about my first line this time, I think it's important to let out all the past sludge and get it out of the way in order to tackle the more important, present urine and thereby "come in" and accept our current selves.

~live your own truth~


  1. You are a gifted writer. I really appreciate your post. I love the awkward yet extremely perfect metaphor. Brilliant. I know you probably have, but I am curious have you seen a counselor or someone in relation the experiences you've had? Sometimes/oftentimes talking about things can help us heal and figure things out.

    Thanks for sharing.

  2. I'm glad you write, Tif. I'm glad you share. You inspire me. So, thank you.

  3. @Liebe Thanks for commenting. :) Yes, I saw a counselor for about 9 months. Those sessions really helped me in a lot of ways. I learned that I'm in charge and I don't have to worry about "shoulds". I didn't talk much about my childhood experiences because I wasn't ready. I didn't want to face it completely yet. I'm thinking of doing a discussion panel about sexual abuse in the near future and I will definitely be on the panel. I will talk about the hard things. Someone has to.
    I agree that talking about things helps us heal and understand.

    @Justin Thanks! It's so great to have feedback, even just a little bit. I'm glad we can both write and share. :)

  4. Absolutely beautiful. Thank you for being willing to share.

  5. I'm glad you have such an understanding mom, and a caring professor. I know which professor you're referring to, and it makes me wish I had gotten to know him better. ;)

    Way to take a stand, Tif. It takes a lot of guts to say these kinds of things, especially in a community like ours.