Day 60: Shame from Missing Childhood Learning
The list of things about which I feel ashamed seems to grow every day as I work through this healing process.
No . . . that's not quite it. The list doesn't grow, my awareness grows. And, as I deal with them, the list shrinks. Today is a case in point.
As a child and through to adulthood I was afraid of most other people because of the abuse I faced from adults and from children. It took (it takes) a long time for me to warm up to another person. When I was a child I rarely played with other kids, almost never at school. I had one friend at home I played with.
Other kids were really mean to me. I was so small, and so timid (and so much in my head all the time) that other kids saw me as a target. I think they wanted a reaction out of me. And, with enough pressure they would eventually get it. But, it was awful for everyone involved.
What I need to say today is something that makes me feel ashamed related to things I missed learning in my childhood. The main thing I missed out on was how to be feminine. I couldn't learn about clothes and develop a style, because dressing up was an invitation for SA. The same is true for makeup and for any self-care activities.
Eventually I did develop a sense of my own style. But, I'm always afraid when I shop. I feel intense anxiety about the judgment of others while shopping. As I shop I think, "I don't know what I'm doing. I'm going to pick items that look wrong on me." I'll never know either, because there isn't anyone for me to ask. I was bullied mercilessly for how I looked, for what I wore, for my haircut, for my shoes. It was always something. And my step-father would dress me for his pleasure too.
No matter what I did, there was a heavy price to pay for it.
This issue came up for me today because I'm preparing for an appointment with a gynecologist this week. This puts me in the position of facing the reactions of others to my grooming. Our society says our legs must be shaved and our pubic hair must be trimmed, with no hair outside the bikini line. I never learned how to do this in a way that avoids razor burn or ingrown hair. Plus, I am not ready to face waxing or laser removal. Some day I want to be able to get laser removal.
This issue of grooming is an example of something I never learned about because of my childhood. I developed a way of dealing with it, but it doesn't work very well. However, I'm far too humiliated to look for help.
Or rather, I was until today.
A couple weeks ago I looked up advice on how to shave the bikini area and trim pubic hair without irritation and in-grown hairs. (Thank goodness for the Internet!)
Even though it was incredibly uncomfortable, today I mustered the courage to go to a store and find the products I needed. I had to make a phone call in advance to see if a store in town carried one of the items. That was almost enough to bring my whole plan to halt.
But, I decided the person at the other end wouldn't know who I was. I didn't have to face her judgment in person. Furthermore, I really didn't want the abuse to determine what I do, who I am. I didn't want this to remain another thing the abusers took from me.
As it turned out, the clerk on the phone was incredibly helpful. She told me where to find what I was looking for; and she even told me her own preferred products, which were sold at a different store than the one where she worked. I was astonished by her kindness.
I went to the store, found what I needed; and didn't feel too anxious (a little, but not more than I could handle). It helped that I had one of my kids with me and we had other shopping to do. It ended up feeling like a pretty normal shopping trip. I came home and spent about two hours learning how to groom these areas in a way that was gentle on my skin. My usual routine has been just soap and a cheap razor.
A few times, as I was ensconced in the bathroom, one of my family members knocked on the door (like to tell me the mail arrived or ask what I want for dinner). It was hilarious to me that I was working so intently on something that was quite difficult for me, but the mundane activities of life were proceeding as usual. It was comforting too. (Of course, they had no idea I was experiencing such anxiety.)
I took my time with this process of grooming. I told myself to go slow and take a deep breath every so often. It was pretty stressful. My muscles are sore and I have a headache. But, I got through it and I'm pleased with the result. I feel tired, but content.
It seems silly to me to have such fear associated with something so basic. (And I need to let go of this self-judgment about my ongoing reactions and issues.) I have lots of these kinds of fears. As I name them, I will face them.
I realize now that I experienced vulnerability today. I reached out for help. Not that I told the clerk anything about my history. I just asked for a product and asked a couple questions about it. But, I was vulnerable in doing this. And, what I received was help, not derision or impatience. She was kind, not judgmental.
It was OK to be vulnerable. It was good to meet my needs.