Here’s what I want to talk about today: sex and lies and running away.
The first time I had sex was in the attic of the recreation building at the United Methodist Church in Westlake Village, California. His name was Brandon, I was a sophomore in high school, and for years afterward I pretended that it never happened.
It’s not that I was ashamed. Or maybe I was, I don’t know. What I do know is that I kept it a secret because it felt good to have a secret. When something is a secret, it’s yours. When something is a secret, you don’t have to explain yourself to anyone or justify your behavior or think too critically about who you are and how you’re acting.
The summer before my senior year of high school I was set up on a blind date. His name was Monte, and all throughout our relationship he always seemed to love me more than I loved him, which I found soothing and which then became the dynamic I looked for in all of my relationships for years. Power is its own type of comfort.
I didn’t tell Monte about having sex with Brandon. I rewrote that story in my mind and told the new version so confidently that I came to believe it myself.
Monte and I were together on and off until I moved across the country for college, and I honestly do not remember if we ever had sex. I know that we talked about it, I know that we awkwardly tried a few times, but I do not have a single solid memory of whether or not it actually happened.
This is the problem with keeping secrets, and with constantly rewriting your own history. Eventually you forget what the truth looks like.
Secrets work, until they don’t.
I quit drinking the month before my 26th birthday. At the time I thought that I was simply letting go of a destructive behavior. The behavior would be gone, but I would be exactly the same. This is the most naive belief that I have ever held; you can’t change your life without changing your life.
And yet, I was determined to try. I had twenty six years of experience as a deeply secretive person, and those twenty six years were littered with all the stories I had told and untold and retold about myself. I spent twenty six years running away. Why couldn’t I do the same with quitting drinking? Just rewrite the story, and move on. What’s the problem with that?
The problem is that when I first quit drinking I thought it was about quitting drinking. But quitting drinking isn’t about quitting drinking, it’s about learning how to not run away, how to stay. And you cannot stay if you don’t first commit to telling yourself the truth about who you are.
That is a painful thing to do. Fuck, it is so painful.
This past Tuesday was my 32nd birthday. It has been just over six years since I quit drinking, but I think that this is the first year that I have actually begun the true work of being sober. Of sitting with myself and with my desires and mistakes and dreams and fears and with the memories of all the people I’ve loved and hurt and lied to and lost and taken for granted. Sitting with that, and not running away from it. Not rewriting it. That’s sobriety to me.
This is why I’m writing to you today about Brandon, and about having sex in the attic of a church recreation building. Not because it’s noteworthy or particularly important, but because it’s true. It’s what happened.
I had sex with Brandon. I spent an entire summer drinking at work, even though I worked with children. I moved across the country because I was too immature to break up with James. I didn’t spend enough time with my grandfather before he died. I lied to my first therapist. And my second therapist. I have been unfaithful to all but two partners. I wish I had a closer bond with my mother. I hate myself for not trying to be closer to my mother. Sometimes I feel that I do not deserve my husband, Paul. I’ve twice woken up in the middle of the night sobbing, caught in the aftermath of a dream about losing him. I just love him so much.
I don’t drink and I was vegan and then not vegan and then vegan again. I only have a few close friends, and I am working on being less selfish. There is never a day that I don’t want more tattoos. I am obsessed with three feelings: the warm sun on my bare skin, being submerged in water, and that frantic giddiness that comes when you’re reading a book that’s so good you’d pay $1,000 not to have to put it down.
I worry a lot. I worry about getting sick, about not being good enough, about never being able to make a sustainable income from my creative passions. My hair is going grey and I’ve decided not to dye it. I no longer own any high heels. Pants? Why would I ever want to wear pants? Working from home is the holy grail of people who do not wear pants.
This, all of this and so much more, is who I am.
It’s who I am when I am not running away from myself, and if by this time next year, if by my next birthday I can say that I did that – that I stayed – it will be more than I could ever ask for.
Here’s to staying.
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