11/03/2012 | Share this article: View CommentsBy Danae ~
I told a lie. It was the fifth grade and I told my classmate, Theresa, that she could copy off of my paper. The idea didn’t seem too mischievous to me at the time, but when Theresa was caught and my teacher confronted me, I denied the whole thing, flat out. “What? No! I didn’t say you could copy off of my paper, Theresa. What are you talking about?” Survival mode kicked in and I saved my neck. Everyone’s been there, right? We’ve all panicked in response to a sticky situation and left another person high and dry. For the average person, a situation like this may cause some guilt, but would soon be forgotten. For a young girl entering into years of obsession and anxiety, a scenario such as this one is all that is needed to begin the cycle of guilt, anxiety, and self-loathing- a cycle that I am only now, at the age of 27, beginning to break.
I can’t remember how old I was when I was “saved,” but I do know that the process of obtaining this salvation was a ritual I performed excessively in my adolescent years. For an anxiety-prone child growing up in a fundamentalist Christian home, the human mind becomes nothing more than a prison cell. Held captive by my own neurotic thoughts, I became convinced that I was not only a terrible person, but that my sins and wrongdoings were beyond forgiveness. Night after night I would ruminate over the possibilities: was I sexually perverted? Did I cheat on my tests without knowing it? Did I harm someone and I just couldn’t remember?
The problem was that no matter how many times I asked myself these questions, there were never any answers. No matter how many nights I begged God to forgive me or to make my transgressions clear, nothing changed. There was no way out.
I couldn’t control my mind, but there were some things I could control. I could wash my hands over and over again in case I had encountered something or someone “dirty.” I could avoid using public restrooms and I could shower anytime I thought I might be morally corrupt. But soon, this wasn’t enough. I became obsessed with the idea that I would accidentally masturbate without meaning to. This made the simplest tasks a nightmare. Sitting down wasn’t even safe because I might move my body in a way that would cause me to become aroused. Sleeping was impossible because I might have some sort of dream that would lead to self-pleasure. With all of my neurotic hand washing and squirming around, it begs the question-why didn’t anyone notice that I was suffering?
As I grew older and graduated from high school, the obsessing seemed to become less severe. I left for New York after graduation to try my hand at musical theatre. During my two years in New York my world was turned upside down, and for the first time in my life, I was able to see that it was possible to live apart from fundamentalist views. It was possible to choose something else and it was possible to think for myself. This was the beginning of my exodus from a belief system that had been distorting my view of reality for far too long.
Unfortunately, it’s not possible to fully recover from something you don’t quite understand. Even though I abandoned my religious beliefs years ago, the obsessive thoughts and unhealthy rituals have continued. My first go at a relationship was self-sabotage at its finest. “He doesn’t really know who I am, so he doesn’t really love me. Would he love me if I didn’t wear makeup? Would he love me if I weren’t in a good mood all the time? Does he think I’m boring?” Because my obsessing had taken on a different form than what it had been as a child, I couldn’t see that I was stuck in the same old rut I had always been in. What followed was an absolute shit storm of self-destructive behavior that ultimately led to a terrible relationship and an even more terrible breakup.
“I am with you,"In recent years I have replaced my hand washing rituals with something even better, something that can make my anxiety go away in an instant. Alcohol. Wine, beer, vodka, yes, yes, please. Why didn’t anyone tell me about this sooner? Instant fix. Feeling guilty? Drink a bottle of wine. Feeling insecure? Drown your sorrows in gin and tonic. Can’t gain the courage to talk to boys? Two shots of tequila and you’ll be just fine. Problem solved.
But what happens when the solution becomes the problem? What happens when you wake up and realize that you’ve compromised so many things, just so you wouldn’t have to feel. The cycle is the same as it has always been, but the consequences are felt so much more intensely. It forces you to ask when it is going to stop. When will you ever be able to face these demons head on?
This story has no ending because it is still being written. But if I could go back and tell my fifth grade self one thing it would simply be “I am with you.” Because, you see, by that time I had already abandoned myself. I had already decided that I was not worthy of love. In recent months I have learned a lot of things about myself with the help of a genuine and empathetic therapist. The thing about therapy is that you begin to see things so much more accurately, yet somehow you walk away having a tremendous amount of compassion for yourself.
Now I can begin to tell myself “I am with you,” because no matter what anyone tells me, no matter how many supportive friends and family members I may have, it’s time to rescue myself. It’s time to tell myself that I’m worth saving.
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