Content warning: this piece makes mention of sexual assault and harassment, including attempted r*pe.
I barely recognize who I am these days. And I’m okay with that.
I have a lot of pent-up energy working its way through my body today. It’s a sensation that feels like anxiety, but is different in very crucial ways. This is reluctant hope, shady optimism, and perhaps a smidge of ambition working to push themselves out of my mouth and into the world — full-force and violent, leaving me with a high and heady sensation.
I feel like a walking, buzzing thrum of light because my life is changing so dramatically, but … not really. It’s moving and winding around me like waves on an ocean readying herself for tempests. But on a sunny, mid-August afternoon instead of a dreary night in winter.
These are not unfamiliar sensations — not wholly, anyway. I am very much used to anxiety. Very much acquainted with worry. We are peas in a pod, pieces of a puzzle. We fit together, albeit rather contentiously. But we fit.
So, no. I am not unfamiliar with bee-like energy. The difference now is a noticeable absence of fear. Or rather, the absence of the shadow that fear throws across new possibilities.
I am simply waiting to burst. I wrote a poem about that a few months ago. I remember the space I was operating from when I wrote it, too. In that moment, I was bubbling over with panicked emotion. Feeling remarkably unstable, unclear, and unworthy. So completely in the throws of change that I thought I was drowning. And I wanted to explode, be rid of the shackles of my body, and give some release to what felt like molten lava coursing through my intestines. Pure, unbridled anxiety.
I wish I had been better at journaling throughout that period, had wrote down some of the realizations that knocked me flat on my ass before forcing me out of a ditch.
In this very moment, it feels like I have been outgrowing the person I’ve been telling myself I am for the last 10 years, minimum. Which, even to my own ears, sounds somewhat absurd. Instinctively, I want to invalidate my own adolescent experiences, including the trauma of divorce, nonstop sexual harassment, and modern-day colonialism in the form of rapid-fire gentrification both in my native hometown of Washington, D.C., and my adopted hometown of Durham, N.C. In writing this, I’m hesitant to talk through all of the defense mechanisms I picked up and how they’ve seeped into my close relationships, carved out canyons of distance between me and my loved ones, and built up mountains of uncertainty and panic within my own, mostly immutable body.
In the interest of complete transparency, here are just two of the … mildly unpleasant things I have come to learn about myself in the last two years. Things that used to fit into my heavy, leaden armor when I needed it for protection, but don’t serve me quite as well today. Full disclosure, I have not seen a therapist for any of this shit. This is my personal musings on what in my life is changing to such a degree that I was initially riddled with fear and panic, but am now feeling more like a hot-air balloon merging with the clouds, into the sunlight. But, like, not about to burn up. And if I am, like I would be reborn from the ashes of myself. Not to wax poetic about it, or anything.
I adopted defensiveness as a means of protecting myself and let it become a major part of my personality.
One unfluctuating memory I hold from adolescence is being told “not to be so defensive.” I wish the owner of these words had explained to me, a child, what defensiveness looks like, instead of throwing the words at me, expecting me to figure out what they meant. But they didn’t, and I’ve lived my life defensive as fuck.
In my life, defensiveness looks like assuming people are deliberately trying to hurt me, even the ones who’ve committed themselves to my health and wellbeing. It looks like personalizing the bullshit that other people throw at me when their lives are in turmoil and internalizing that, folding it into my self-esteem and image. It looks like being unable to accept criticism of any kind because it sounds like a personal jab, an insult to my character, my capability, my value to people.
When I was fourteen and my parents separated — my mother, sister, and I leaving a pretty complicated family arrangement and the lingerings of our previously isolated lifestyle — we embarked on new journeys that were worlds away from our norm, journeys which I will reveal in my tell-all book scheduled for release in 20-whenever-I-go-to-therapy. One lasting consequence of my parents’ separation is my utter protectiveness and defensiveness over my body, particularly the ways I choose to use to express my autonomy, ownership, and personality. This includes tattoos, clothes, touches, sexual preferences and kinks, and — in true Black girl fashion — hairstyles.
I remember very vividly the two or three years I spent being barred from family and community functions over my refusal to wear bras, my colored hair — which my father liked to say was “un-African” — and my skimpy, revealing clothes. And maybe that’s not a lot in terms of trauma. But when I connect this to the several sexual assaults I survived in high school, culminating in an attempted r*pe during my senior year, and the emotionally abusive and manipulative relationships I had, I can clearly tie together the threads of my anxiety with regard to my body. And I can sense the roots of my defensiveness.
Most importantly, I can dredge up some sympathy for myself when I lash out at folks who project their respectability politics onto my body. I can take a step back and remind myself that this is a touchy subject for me, and I can better articulate my boundaries. Most fulfilling of all, though, is finally recognizing that no one can punish me for my body because it’s mine and, as an adult, I can choose the spaces I want to inhabit and the people I let have access to my person—in any capacity, be it emotional, physical, or spiritual.
In the end of all this, I am making adult, autonomous, informed decisions about the pieces of myself that I will continue to grow. I am no longer at the whims of my parents or community, and — to the extent that any broke ass queer Black woman can be, I do not exist at the whims of society, the government, or any of these niggas.
I have seriously codependent tendencies that stem from childhood and have kept me from creating lasting, fulfilling relationships with people, absent of anxiety, ownership, and half-way connectedness.
People to me are like teats to a young calf. I latch onto them and find it nearly impossible to let go. I’ve been doing a lot of internal thinking and challenging myself to be able to 1. Identify what codependency looks like in my relationships; 2. figure out the source of this habit; and 3. push back against what has become the norm for me.
For me, codependency looks like gluing myself to people who make me feel safe and loved, without regard to my or their boundaries. Coupled with crippling anxiety, it looks like being unable to leave the house by myself and becoming angsty when I have to do just that.
I have no easy solutions for codependency, and haven’t overcome the nasty habit by any means. What brought me to my senses, however, was a few months of stern-talking-to from my loved ones, and some long, hard fucking self-reflection. While a romanticized picture of codependency looks like homebodies loving up against each other, drowning themselves in all the things they love to do together, alone—the reality is emotional abuse and manipulation, disregard for other people’s boundaries, and a slow decline into narcissism. For me, there’s no immediate fix, just a shit-ton of patience and intentionality.
It’s my instinct to lash out at people when they can’t fulfill my needs in ways that I’ve grown accustomed to because they have their own lives to tend to. It’s instinct to take personal offense when someone needs space from me. It’s instinct to feel left behind and forgotten when people have to tend to their own needs.
But, it’s healthy to step back and analyze those feelings before opening my mouth, and to be honest with myself about the coping mechanisms I picked up. It’s healthy to examine the boundaries I need for my own wellbeing, and the ones that my loved ones erect for their own wellbeing. It’s healthy to hold myself accountable.
Be a woman who makes shit happen …
In the end of all this, I am making adult, autonomous, informed decisions about the pieces of myself that I will continue to grow. I am no longer at the whims of my parents or community, and — to the extent that any broke ass queer Black woman can, I do not exist at the whims of society, the government, or any of these niggas.
I get to be wholly and authentically myself, in whatever ways best fit my circumstances at any given point in my life. My sister once told me to be a woman who makes shit happen, not a woman who lets shit happen to her. Over the last four years, I’ve been internalizing that … rolling it around in my head and figuring out what that looks like in my life, on my body, coming from my mouth.
I have decided to build myself, not to let the world dictate who I am, how I respond to people, how I love, how I receive love. Not any of it. I’m making myself happen, I won’t let the world do it for me.
Sept. 26, 2019