Within the first few minutes of closing my eyes, the cicadas outside my window begin to sing their summer song. Instantly I am transported back to my childhood, remembering that unforgettable sound on a hot summer's day - heat ripples in the humid air hovering close to the road, part gravel, part paved, part fresh, sticky, bubbly tar that snaps as I ride over it with my bike wheels.
I recall delivering letters to my best friend on the other end of the road and later, making new friendships with others at various ages and different stages. I was always drawn to older friends.
Desiring to be older brought with it the longing to wander into that territory (whatever that meant at the time) and as I moved from being a child to being a young girl, (in hindsight) I see the bridge into the physical realm - comparing where I was at with where I assumed other girls were at.
We're not taught at a young age to honour where we are at. Imagine, a 12 year old being told to honour her current comfort zone and limitations? I can't even comprehend how I would internalize those words. Fair enough, we are instructed that it's okay to be ourselves, but swirling around in a soup of messages is a hearty serving of religion (often fear based), the messages distributed to us via television and magazines (umm...Cosmopolitan?), the practices and beliefs of our family, the things taught to us in school and so on and so forth....
All of this adds up to a dizzying whir of information that even my 29 year old self has a challenging time making sense of, never mind my childhood self.
I'm not going to pretend that there's not a complex back story to each person's behaviour even as a child, but from my perspective - I was never as comfortable with my female body as others appeared to be. I remember watching Now and Then and relating entirely to Roberta who tapes her breasts down in order to play sports. I felt perfectly comfortable befriending boys and talking to them, but anything beyond that produced a fear in my body that was so profound I was literally stunned. Unable to make sense of the potential reasons for this, or even consider the fact that this reality might just be true for me and that there really wasn't a need to fight it, I thought that this difference was horrible, disgusting and prudish. *a word I learned through being called this.
It wasn't just my imagination either.
In grade six I was "dating" (if it can be called that?) a grade eight boy from another school. When I danced with him my arms were straight out in front of me like a zombie. As far away as possible was best. We hung out a few times but of course he dumped me. He said I was a TMN (Touch Me Not).
In grade seven I had a crush on a boy from grade eight and it appeared that he liked me too. But of course, being the attractive young bachelor that he was, he had options. After what must have been several attempts to get physically close to me, he chose the other girl for she was older and wasn't so challenging in that department.
In grade nine I started dating a guy from grade ten. But something happened...
I went away on a church weekend retreat and stumbled upon the message of True Love Waits - they even sold rings! The message was "God wants us to be pure. We need to be pure for our future husband and so, all women and men should abstain from exploring sexuality with anyone but their future spouse." In other words, don't sin. But hey, this was alright with me! The message actually aligned with my fears and totally gave me the excuse I needed to wear my prude crown proudly.
Going home after the weekend I knew what I needed to do.
I dumped him. I used my religion as a convenient veil and I just pretended that I didn't like him. But the truth is, I did.
Grade ten and eleven were similar. I tried dating a couple of people all with the same result. I broke up with them when the pressure was too much for me. They would try to kiss me and I would freak.
I was even in a band in high school and hanging around the older crowd. I met this super handsome stud guy and we began seeing each other. He was like movie character good looking (true story) and my friend and I event went to his university house for a weekend. Boom. Same thing. I was wracked with fear and after that trip he broke up with me.
I was crushed.
I'll never forget when one of the attractive guys at high school that everyone had a crush on told me "Carissa, you're beautiful - not hot."
I can't even begin to imagine what those words evoked in my heart, my body and mind. Doesn't every young girl just want to be hot? Hot is everywhere. Hot is sexy! Hot is supermodel! Hot is summer! Hot is in.
Beautiful eh? Because I was some church going prude who didn't seem to fit into a world where everyone was comfortable exploring sexuality?
When I went to a party I would drink a Smirnoff Ice or two (blegh, beer!) and I would relax. I could talk to the people I didn't feel comfortable talking to before - mostly because I never thought I was COOL ENOUGH. I could sink into the moment a little bit and not worry that everyone could see how uncomfortable I was.
My friends were off making out with boys and I was like.. ummmm okay so this party is fun?
I was clearly the odd one out.
The guys I liked always ended up with other girls. Obviously. I wasn't the girl who they could brag about to their friends, I was the 'beautiful' one. The one who liked to chat and nothing more.
I learned that the only way I could be comfortable in this world of men and women (boys and girls at the time) was to relax, and truth be told, I couldn't relax on my own. The very fact that I was at these parties produced a conflict inside of me that I couldn't understand. The workaround? Drinking.
Now, I'm not talking about getting trashed at that age, but I would relax with one or two drinks (which back then was quite substantial) and I would be able to forget the concept of sinning or darkness or disappointment or confusion for a brief moment.
Fast forward years later and I'm again, dating an older guy. What would the natural plan of action be at that time? I now have it engrained in my psyche that unless I am physical with them, they will dump me. Our relationship evolved and I must say, it became a rather unhealthy one. He was too busy gaming all hours of the night to pay attention to me and I just loved him, blaming myself for not being interesting enough to want to hang out with.
It was during this time that I began to smoke pot incessantly. Morning. Mid-morning. Noon. Afternoon. Night...you get the picture. Toss in a few beers and there you have it! My early 20's. Not surprisingly, boyfriend and I broke up, but I didn't break up with my habits. If anything, it got worse. I drank so often and was so relaxed about life that I didn't have to care about my hopes or dreams.
Or so I thought.
Though I might not have been the most conscious young lady at the time, I was well aware of my dream to be a professional singer, recording an album and touring the world. But my priority wasn't on what it would take to achieve my goals, my priority was on how to pretend like I didn't care if it happened or not. I didn't have the first idea about how to deal with my disdain for myself, for the lie I was living and for the hangovers that no matter how much I promised wouldn't happen again, always did.
I often wonder what would have happened if I just followed my own rhythm? If I hadn't felt so ashamed for not being like everyone else expected me to be.
As I got older, I never got more comfortable with being physical, I just drank to fool myself into thinking I was as easy going as Carrie and the gang from Sex and the City. I actually binged on the show - staying home from school to watch episode after episode of this dream world that I so wanted to exist in.
It's a little bit of the chicken or the egg complex. Were my fears engrained in me through my experience with church and my fear of God? Were they alive and well because I didn't want to disappoint my parents or was my fear of being physical something that lived inside me, imprinted in my very essence, on my soul, in my bones, in my blood? Is there any way to know the answer?
At the end of the day, though I have made strides with my self understanding and self confidence, it doesn't necessarily change my hesitation to be physical and that's okay. What if it's just not me? What if, all this time I've been forcing myself to fit into the expectations of a society that just doesn't work for me? What if, I'm okay with simply letting it be and seeing what happens in the future? After all, I'm a little busy spending my free time reading, writing and learning about myself, spirituality and psychology to decide how my future self will behave.
Writing this down for everyone to read is the definition of wearing my heart on my sleeve. The subject matter in this post is deeply personal. But you know why I do it? I think of my little cousins who are now 12 and 10 and I don't EVER want them to feel ashamed for who they are - even if it doesn't look like my experience. I think of my niece and I never want her to feel that she has to be like everybody else. I think of all the women, young and old who are always comparing themselves to others and never feeling like they are good enough, pretty enough, hot enough! But what if we, just as we are, in this very moment are freaking enough?
Certainly, my experience is not exactly the same as yours but there are likely similarities. When did you pick up your first drink? Were you trying to change (even just for that moment) aspects of your personality at the time? Did this habit evolve over time? What about yourself did you think wasn't good enough?
If we only knew how unbelievably unique each one of us is and how all of our feelings have a rightful place in this world. If only we knew that our feelings, both physical and emotional are trying to teach us something, that listening to our fears and anxieties for an underlying message is apart of the process itself. Our bodies are trying to communicate with us all the time, so why not take a moment to listen?
I recently spent a solid two years hating myself for my experiences and questioning my value as a woman on this earth. I was deeply ashamed for my behaviour and for sharing parts of my being with people who didn't deserve such intimacy, but I honestly didn't know any better at the time. I did what I could, with what I had at that moment and for those years and, I'm where I'm at today because of it. I'm writing this today because of it. I'm compelled to share this message because of it.
It took me a while to get here, but I wouldn't change my journey even if I could.
As women, we are inundated with conflicting messages every hour of every day. Be this, be that, don't be this, don't be that, be more of this and sometimes more of that...and on and freaking on and on and...
We've been taught to hate our periods, use a tampon and play sports! We've been taught to wear bikinis but never to have ANY pubic hair or leg hair or armpit hair. We've been told that being sexual is the modern woman's birthright and to be anything else is to deny everything that our grandmothers, great grandmothers and beyond fought for by gaining us the right to vote. We've been taught that childbirth is just a momentary thing that happens for a few hours in the hospital and the care for mama bear ends when they push her out the door! Just sew her up and voila - happy parenting!
Women all over the world are saying no.
Women everywhere are rising up and asking "wait, who the hell am I if not these 18 million things I've been instructed to be, think and feel?"
Men (and many women for that matter) can shame us, they can under pay us, they can cut us off when we're speaking, they can count our calories for us, they can judge us, they can dictate how we should think and feel but every day, more and more women are waking up this reality. More and more women are throwing their hands up and declaring "no more."
By spending some time looking at how we got here, where we learned our lessons and by dissecting what might be the beliefs of others and what might truly be the authentic belief of our own selves, we create an awareness so unstoppable that we can't help but share it with others. With our sisters, our mothers, our daughters, our fathers, our friends, our family, our coworkers, our nieces, our nephews.
We raise boys who become men who respect women. We raise girls who become women who respect themselves and know who they are in a world that is trying at every moment to create that reality for them.
I am doing this for myself, but I'm also doing it for my niece and for my cousins, and for all my sisters out there in the world.
If we don't pave the way for them, who will?
- carissa, xoxo