When I was a baby, I needed surgery to correct a birth defect. Even though it was a success, it left me with scarring on my body that I became very self-conscious of.
As a teenager, I was the only openly-gay person in my school, and as such, the usual rites of passage around relationships and exploring sexuality completely passed me by. There’s a certain fearlessness we have as young people, because consequential thinking hasn’t quite kicked in. Inevitably, what happens as we get older, we have more time to consider the consequences and more time to create stories in our own heads. This is where we become inhibited and fearful.
The stories I developed because of my lack of relationship experience and because of my scars was:
“No-one will want to sleep with me”
"I'll be a disappointment to my partner"
“I can’t take my clothes off”
“I’m better off on my own”
And yet... I wanted to so much to love and be loved.
So I lied. I told everyone in my life that I’d had conquests and relationships. I would talk of make-believe lovers and early experiences that never happened. I felt so lonely and so unloved that these fantasies seemed to bring me comfort. For a while I felt normal, having stories to share with my friends who were all experiencing relationships and sex for the first time. I felt connected to them and I felt less alone myself.
But not for long.
As time went on, not only was I filled with shame about my body, I was also filled with shame about the lies. And please don’t misunderstand, the lies were for me and nobody else - in a warped way they brought me comfort and allowed me to live in a world where I wasn’t ashamed and I wasn’t alone.
When in reality, I was both.
The shame of my body, the shame of the lies, and the stories I was telling myself meant that I would avoid relationships, or fall for people who I could never have - in spite of the heartbreak and longing, it was ultimately safer.
I would behave in an overtly confident way to “ward off” suitors. And if a suitor came along that liked my confidence... I would panic and run a mile. Of course, none of my friends had a clue why I did this. Talk about incongruence...
I would find reasons not to progress relationships, end them or avoid dating. As such I attracted people it would never work with. All the while I was telling people I just wanted to be loved, whilst manifesting people that would not or could not love me, and that I would never love. Even more incongruence.
I even convinced myself and everyone else that I was the victim of unrequited love. I’d tell people I still loved him or wasn’t over him - that’s why I wasn’t ready to “put myself out there”. That one kept me “safe” (aka “alone”) for a good few years...
It was exhausting. It was guilt and shame-inducing. And it was very, very lonely.
Then one day, in my early 20’s, the penny finally dropped. My lies had kept me caged. Kept me stuck. I finally felt ready to confront my body image issues, but couldn’t because everyone in my life had been led to believe that everything was fine. How do I now unpick this web to get to the truth? And how do I do it alone because nobody else actually has a clue about it?
Yes - by some weird twist of fate, my lies about connections and relationships were now KEEPING me alone. How’s that for irony?
So I got brave. And vulnerable. And I told everyone the truth. That at 24, I had never had a relationship, never been sexually intimate with anyone, and was struggling deeply with body-shame, inadequacy and fear. In order to be really true to myself, I had to be true to those around me. I prayed that anyone who really cared for me would understand, but I was prepared to lose people for being so deceptive. The story I had told myself was that no-one would ever trust me again and everyone would hate me for being a liar.
But I couldn’t - and didn’t want to - keep it up any longer.
Fortunately I didn’t lose anyone. Everyone was so supportive and compassionate. Some had always suspected it anyway, although had no idea why I’d lied, and now it made sense. The relief to finally be free of the lies and have the space to confront the awful truth was palpable. I was finally starting to be the real me. And this emboldened me to continue being brave and being vulnerable.
I decided that it was time to embrace who I was, work on my body-shame issues and REALLY open myself up to loving and being loved. I’ve never been more vulnerable, but also never required more courage.
More on that another time...
In truth, it feels very vulnerable to be sharing this story. For years I lived with shame and lies, and once I was free of it, I was happy to leave it in the past. In fact, I haven’t given it as much thought as I have in writing this post in years. But something compelled me to recall it and share. I realised that there are so many of us living in a cage of our own making. Our own shame, our own fear, our own lies, our own insecurities, our own internal stories. If my experience of getting brave and vulnerable inspires just one other person to be brave and vulnerable and release themselves from their cage, it’s worth sharing.
So be brave. Be vulnerable. And if you don’t know how, CALL ME!