How many times do we let fear dictate our actions? or the path we take in life? I’m not talking about the fear you feel while watching a scary movie or doing something new and scary. I’m talking about the deep rooted fear that was ingrained by years of habit through repeated use of control or abuse. I recently had a conversation that reminded me how much I used to live in fear–fear of being myself. And I had an experience that showed that fear is still very much a part of me. My last stable, long-term relationship ended 4 years ago. It was a 6 year relationship with talk of marriage and living together and all the ups and downs. Everybody loved him . . . except me. He was perfect, from the brain’s perspective, according to logic, according to everybody who wasn’t in the relationship, according to all the lists I made of what I should be looking for in a husband. It wasn’t until after we broke up that I understood just how controlling he was and how negatively he changed my core personality.
To this day I still can’t put a nice slab of yummy butter on my toast without hearing his voice in my head telling me precisely how much weight I will gain just by using butter. After we broke up, I chopped off my long beautiful hair and dyed it red because he liked it long and natural. I still keep it shorter and red because since then I have found my own style, but the initial step was a big “fuck you” to him. I started wearing contacts again because he made sure to tell me how much he preferred me in glasses. He constantly told me how I didn’t dress nearly as cute as when we first met, my clothing was much more “conservative.” I remember having to hide when I was reading because I would get “in trouble” for reading all day when I should be doing homework (according to him). He hated it when I would watch TV while I cleaned, a fact I had to lie about when he would call me from work. I could never really be myself around him. I could never buy the right gift for him at Christmas or his birthday or or Easter or our anniversary or anything. But the worst, the absolute worst, was the sex.
I hated having sex with him. For years I thought I was broken, maybe I had a hormonal imbalance. But I would lie to keep the peace. I would have sex with him no matter how much I didn’t want to. I would have sex with him no matter how much it hurt. Because if I didn’t have sex with him, I would get the silent treatment and the cold shoulder for days and our little home was miserable. He would say it had nothing to do with sex but with “intimacy,” but it’s funny how close intimacy and sex were related. I was afraid. I was afraid to say no. I was afraid to be myself. I lived in fear for years. But it wasn’t until years after the relationship ended that I actually realized this.
I know it sounds like I lived in a horribly abusive relationship for years, but that’s not true either. He was a good man. We were both young, still growing up, and I don’t think either of us understood what was happening. And there were a lot of good times. Unfortunately, for me, there was a lot of fear, and that fear still sticks with me today.
The greatest fear I experience is the fear of being myself, though I am quickly getting over this. However, I have only just realized another fear I have. I have a fear of saying “no.”
It’s ironic because I spend at least a month in my 102 course teaching on rape culture, and we discuss how, no matter the circumstances, a person can ALWAYS say “no”. Yet, I fear saying “no”. I hadn’t realized this because it’s been so long since I’ve said n”o” to a man, but I don’t want to be that girl anymore. Boundaries. For six years, I lived in a relationship where saying “no” meant I had to deal with the consequences of that: not physical consequences but anger, hurt, a miserably and emotional withdrawn few days or weeks. I lived where sex was simply a tool to maintain peace, and to keep a guy liking and wanting you. And, apparently, all of that has been carried over and I’m still living with the consequences of that life four years later.
It is my right and my responsibility to say “no” to something I am not comfortable with, yet I fear it. What if I make him angry? What if he feels rejected? What if he doesn’t want me anymore? What if he doesn’t like me anymore? What if he doesn’t call me again? What if he . . . him. him. he. he. It’s all about him. What about me? What about how I’m feeling? What about what I want? What about my “no”? It’s been so long since I’ve said “no” to a man that when I finally did, I freaked out a little because I couldn’t even fathom his response. And that’s why I’m here, writing to you.
I was hoping I would have some brilliant words of wisdom or hope to share at the end of this confession, but honestly, I’m still in shock by it. I’m glad I finally found this out about myself because now maybe I can start to heal. I hope it won’t take a lifetime to heal. I hope I can heal. I don’t hate him at all. We were children. But I hope I can forgive completely for the damage done. I hope I can overcome the damage, with the help of God, and truly become the strong woman I believe God intends for me to be. I hope I can not live in fear anymore. I hope.