Disclaimer: The following content consists of my own experiences on the subject matter of sex and choice. Every individual is different. Sex is a mental activity even more than a physical activity. If you are under the age of 16, it is highly unlikely that you are ready to deal with the mental consequences of having sex. Additionally, if you are knowingly having sex with someone under the age of 16 and you are over the age of 16, please stop.
Everyone has that one thing about their past they could never bring themselves to tell anyone. Or, if they have, maybe one or two people ever.
It’s that one thing you don’t know if you could ever forgive yourself for. It shames you.
Just thinking about it makes you feel uncomfortable. You look around furtively to see if anyone else noticed your discomfort and you seek escape in a different task or a sudden urgent thought. Something else to distract you.
Anything but that. Anywhere but there. You don’t go there. Not ever.
A place of peace exists for you, but only if you’re brave enough to cross the bridge you can never seem to bring yourself to approach.
That’s where I want to take you today.
I want to take you on a journey that’s going to make you feel very uncomfortable. You’ll want to navigate away from the page. You’ll want to ignore it. You’ll look around to see if anyone can see the shameful article you’re reading on your screen.
First I’m going to tell you a true story about myself. It’s raw, real, human, more common than I ever thought, and it’s going to make you feel.
What you feel depends on who you are, but I know that you’ll feel something, and that’s what I need from you.
So at the risk of alienating many of you, here’s the story of that one thing I regret but have forgiven myself for. I tell you this story, not because I want you to know. I would prefer that no one knows. I’ve dealt with it on my own, and I don’t need a release. It’s very personal and it feels unnatural to put it out there for the world to see.
I tell you because, in the spirit of this blog, I need to give you something real. Something as dark as anything you might have to deal with. I don’t fluff. I don’t beat around the bush, and I sure as hell don’t sugar coat the reality of this beautiful life.
I would be doing you a disservice to tell you a story any less heavy than the one I’m about to share. The article would be useless. I would be just another girl giving you meaningless advice about how to overcome simple problems. You’d wonder what I knew about what real regret feels like.
Well, I promise you won’t wonder what right I have to offer advice about regret after you read my story. That’s for sure.
A Walk In The Dark
When I was twelve years old (almost thirteen), I let a sixteen/seventeen year old boy take my virginity.
When I was tired of this boy, I found another one who would pay attention to me, and I had sex with him as well.
These boys were almost always at least five to six years older than me, and I never knew them for more than a few days before giving them what they wanted.
I did this for a year or two, until I was 14 and I found that having an eating disorder was just as destructive and didn’t require a second person.
I felt like I was a slut, a whore. Other kids found out and I denied it of course but I knew the stories were true. I lived in a small town. I could only get away with secrecy for so long.
It was a dark place for me, and for years and years I couldn’t bring myself to think about my actions without complete disgust and horror.
The things that I did were appalling and so shameful, I wanted to hide from the world. I tortured myself with judgements and name calling.
It was a very dark place inside of me for a very long time.
So I just sat in the dark with my head in my knees and curled up to protect myself from my own vicious attacks. Then, one day, I decided to get up and walk around. I felt my way around that dark place until I found light.
Checking The Source
The first thing I needed to do was check why I felt such a deep sense of guilt, shame, and regret.
It seems self-evident at first. I’m sure even you felt a little bit shame when reading my story. Anyone would feel bad about it wouldn’t they?
Maybe so, but still it’s really important to first check the source of my emotions and, second, evaluate it from my true beliefs and values.
Again, it seems self-evident that I was ashamed for being promiscuous and I regretted giving away something so precious to any bystander that would have me. Although this is true, what if I felt guilt and shame because I took advantage of so many boys, and maybe ruined their innocence for life?
Maybe I wish to apologize for treating them so callously?
I’m sure there are many men and women who can relate to breaking someone’s heart carelessly and without thought. I needed to check the source first before I could eliminate the guilt or understand my behavior.
Also, I needed to make sure that I had something to feel guilty for in the first place. If I was a young girl being taken advantage of by older men, it would not be my fault. It would not be me who should feel guilty and shame.
However, in this case, in my own personal case, I was not a victim. I manipulated boys by lying about my age (I looked like I was at least 15, so I usually said I was 16 or 17), dressing in ways I knew would get their attention, and making it a point to sleep with them.
Once I was sure I knew what I felt ashamed for, I needed to understand why I felt ashamed.
Did I truly believe I did something shameful, or was I projecting the beliefs of the world onto my actions?
As it turns out, my beliefs about sex back then were a projection of the values instilled in me from my mother, but they do hold true today. I believe sex to be the best expression of romantic love between two individuals who understand the meaning of sex.
I believe it to be too good to give away, and I believe that who you have sex with is a direct reflection of how you feel about yourself.
Meaning my behavior said loud and clear that I was insecure, looking for attention, in need of external validation for confidence, and lacking self-respect and self-esteem.
Yes. I could be ashamed of that.
Now that I knew the source and evaluated it against my values, I needed to start the healing process.
Emancipation From Guilt
Often we feel guilty for things we don’t necessarily feel bad for. Usually it’s one of those beliefs you’ve just picked up from the world around you, but you don’t understand it.
This is not what we’re talking about today (although that’s an important topic on A Life on Your Terms and you can read more about it here). Today, we’re talking about actions you’ve decided you definitely deserve to feel guilty about.
The easy thing to do is to berate and torture yourself for the rest of your life because you feel like you deserve it. Maybe you do, maybe you don’t. Either way, that’s the easy thing to do.
Suffering is easy. It’s all over the place. Every time I turn a corner, I run smack dab right in the middle of some suffering.
Achieving and sustaining happiness and peace is much harder.
The answer is not to condemn yourself to a life of self-inflicted pain. The answer is to emancipate yourself from guilt.
Emancipation Step 1: Acknowledge Your Actions Without Excuses
If you thought I was going to tell you it’s ok that you did what you did, you’re sadly, woefully, hugely mistaken. Emancipation has nothing to do skirting responsibility.
You need to acknowledge that you did what you did, whatever it might be. You did it. Not some impostor or evil twin. Stop ignoring it or denying your participation in your actions.
For me, this means saying that I had sex with more boys from the age of 12-14 years old than I can count or than I could even remember. I violated a sacred value and I annihilated my own integrity by my own actions.
Emancipation Step 2: Acknowledge Your Actions To Those You’ve Harmed
In this case, I didn’t really harm anyone other than myself, so I’ll have to give you another example.
When I was fifteen, I some kind of demon awakened inside of me, and I became the worst, most disrespectful child ever to live. There’s no room to get into the why of this particular horror, but just know I’ve gone through this process for the terrible actions I committed during this time.
From the age of fifteen to seventeen I…
- did every drug I could get my hands on
- would steal my mothers car in the middle of the night and the last time I did it I blew the engine without telling her and she broke down on her way to work the next day
- broke into my boyfriends house and stole his life savings
- crashed my aunts car and made my boyfriend take the fall
- threatened to call the cops on my mom if she laid her hands on me (all the while I was wrecking havoc on our lives)
- did other things I can’t think of right now.
Needless to say, I had A LOT to answer for.
Even though I justified it all to myself at the time my maintaining a 4.0 GPA, I hurt a lot of people and I had to apologize and sincerely convey that I understood the consequences of my actions on myself and on them.
Emancipation Step 3: Do What You Can To Make Up For Your Actions
For my actions, I needed to make it up to myself. I needed to gain back my own integrity, and I did that by reclaiming my virginity (mentally) and promising to fiercely protect it for the rest of my life.
I’ve done a pretty good job of that.
For you, it might be paying back that money you stole, minimizing the damage done by a lie, paying for the car you crashed, etc. Do what you can to make amends. This is your responsibility, so don’t expect gratitude (although most people are so good that they’ll give it to you).
Emancipation Step 4: Choose Learning & Growth Over Self-Condemnation & Contempt
This step takes place throughout every other step and continues until you’ve forgiven yourself for your actions.
You need to learn and grow from what you did or you’ll just do it all over again. Guilt is toxic to your self-esteem, and happiness is hard to come by if you feel shitty about yourself.
Similarly, easy as it maybe to hold yourself in contempt and condemn yourself, it’s not conducive to peace and happiness which is what you deserve.
In the case of guilt and regret, to grow, we must seek to understand our actions so we can make a commitment to do it differently the next time.
Understand why you did what you did.
My father left my mother when I was 5.
I’ve always known that he ‘loved’ me, but his presence in my life was so infrequent that his ‘love’ was only a cerebral, abstract concept and not something I could actually feel and describe.
It was intellectual and rational. It wasn’t the kind of whole-hearted love I needed as a young girl.
This isn’t me placing blame on my father. What I did was not his fault. I chose to do what I did. There are plenty of other girls who are completely fatherless who didn’t do what I did.
This is me trying to understand why I would do something so awful.
For the longest time I brushed off his absence as insignificant. I never felt it had anything to do with my life and how I turned out.
The truth is I believe I was doing my best to gain attention from men in any way that I could. I didn’t understand this at the time, but thinking back I remember how comfortable and safe I felt when with a boy.
Then, when he’d had enough of me (or I of him), I would feel scared, lonely, lost and generally confused until I could anchor onto another boy. I was just trying to live in the only way I knew how.
It’s important to remember that we, as humans who want to live, are always acting out of our self-interests. What we choose to do may be objectively wrong, but, subjectively, we’re only trying to take care of ourselves.
This is vitally important to understand and is the crux to understanding our actions and developing compassion for ourselves.
Ask yourself in what ways you were trying to look after yourself when you did whatever it is you regret. There is always an answer to this question (unless what you did was a complete and total accident).
Maybe you were taking actions to avoid pain, discomfort, or some other kind of hurt?
Again, how were you trying to take care of yourself? In what way can you do it differently next time?
Don’t Drop The Context
We love to generalize our behavior and the behavior of others.
He’s a rude man. She’s just lazy. They’re social outcasts. She’s a total whore. He’s a bad father. I’m a bad person.
Can these statements really be true? Can he be rude all the time? Is she lazy all the time? Is he always a bad father to all children? Do you not have any qualities of a good person?
Stop generalizing and start taking into account the circumstances and context in which you acted.
For me, I could just say that I’m a whore, or I could think about my circumstances and what options I believed were available to me at the time. I could also think about the context and the resources available to me, what I knew, what I believed in and what I knew to be true at the time.
Without deflecting responsibility, ask yourself these questions as the relate to your own situation.
For me, I need to understand that I was essentially a child who knew nothing about sex and knew only that it was a very good way to get male attention I so desperately craved. I believed that is what boys required of me and I knew that if I gave it to them they would give me their full, undivided attention. My other option was loneliness and a complete sense of abandonment and confusion. I wanted to avoid that pain, so I chose sex.
I didn’t know how wrong my actions were and for that I’m not to blame. Nevertheless, in order to make amends I, Liz Seda, needed to take responsibility for making the choices I did. If I was 10 and killed someone, I would need to answer for that. I want to answer to myself for the choices I made, even if I made them without fully knowing the consequences at the time. I know in my heart I wasn’t a victim, and I don’t want to pose as one. However, there are many young girls out there who are victims, so please keep that in mind. This is only my personal story about my personal mental state. I can’t speak to the mental state of other girls in their early teens and it’s safe to assume they simply aren’t ready.
This is the full context in which I acted, and seeing that helps me understand, forgive, and resolve to do better next time.
Developing Compassion. What if it was your best friend?
It might sound corny but the best thing is having compassion for yourself.
It’s so important that I’m going to repeat myself and remind you that we are always acting in our self-interests. Even if those interests are false or misplaced.
You have to remind yourself that you made the best choice you could with the information, resources, beliefs, and values you had at the time. Even if it was a horrible thing to do, or if you know it wasn’t the right way. You still made the only choice you knew how to make under the circumstances.
You must understand that and have compassion and be empathetic. It’s a difficult concept to understand; empathy for yourself.
Who you are now is not who you were then, so essentially they are two different beings. However, you are responsible for both of them. You need to be more understanding of your states of being that have done things you’re less than proud of.
Think of your past self as a very good friend or a best friend. If they were confiding in you, how would you talk to them? They are vulnerable, ashamed, scared that you’re going to reject them, but still they are opening up to you.
What would you say to them without making it seem like you’re pardoning them of responsibility?
I know it feels impossible right now, but you can move forward and past whatever it is you feel like you can’t forgive yourself for.
I also know you may not want to move forward.
You may feel what you’ve done is so terrible that moving forward would be too good for you. Maybe you want to punish yourself. Unless you’ve done something unspeakable like raped or murdered someone, you’re taking the easy way out.
You’re also taking the path that propagates the kind of behavior you’re punishing yourself for in the first place. Less integrity leads to acting with less integrity which is followed by a further diminished integrity and self esteem.
So if you really want to make up for it you have to learn from it and resolve to stopping the behavior for good. That takes time, understanding, compassion and forgiveness.
If you think you’re a wretch, and treat yourself like one, you’ll act like a wretch.
If you think you’re a good person who made a mistake, you’ll act like a good person who made a mistake; which is, in fact, what you are.