There was a swing in the yard when we lived in Beirut. One day I straddled one of the support posts and, inch by inch, shimmied up toward the crossbar. Something happened. Waves of wonderful rolled through my body. It was great. If I slid down and rested my arms I could climb the post again. Great again. If I didn’t want to go outside, I could hold on to a doorknob with a leg on either side of the door and hang there for a bit. Great again!
Comfort in my body
When I was six my family left Beirut and all that was familiar — the people, the house, the community — and moved to the other side of the planet. Life was lonely and confusing. But I knew how — for a few minutes — to find comfort and control. When my parents realized what I was up to, they said Stop that! Mom made it clear I was doing something wrong. Don’t rub your tinkler. No explanation why it was wrong, or why I should stop. I liked the way it felt. I didn’t stop. The scolding continued.
My need to obey and my need for the waves of wonderful see-sawed through grade school. I was the small child hanging from the edge of a chair or reading table. In third grade a few other students recognized what I was doing. They sniggered at me. On the playground one boy shouted, “Hungry! Hungry, Becky!” He laugh and leered at me. I didn’t know personal pleasure was a dirty joke.
Shame in my body
My sister figured out her body. She was scolded. We became informants — I tattled on her, she tattled on me. We were both punished. Instead of the usual spanking, we were shamed. Personal pleasure was wrong, naughty, bad. We were wrong, naughty, bad. We each quit. Dozens of times.
The scolding began including stories of girls who injured themselves or women who, because they knew the secret to their own pleasure, were not happily married. This totally baffled me. I didn’t see a connection between what I was doing and marriage. Eventually, Mom sat me down for the talk. How babies are made. How this was special for a husband and wife. Her tone was strange and secretive. But nothing was said about pleasure. I still didn’t get the connection.
Eventually I understood three things:
- You cannot be trusted with your body.
- That authority is outside of you. It belongs to a man (your future husband).
- When you are tempted, pray about it.
I grew up with the song —
Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so.
Little ones to him belong. They are weak, but he is strong.
I love those words. But when I failed to resist the temptation of those waves of wonderful, the words of the second verse rang in my head.
Jesus loves me when I’m good, when I do the things I should.
Jesus loves me when I’m bad, though it makes him very sad.
My parents would tell me that I made them cross, disappointed, angry, or sad. Now I was responsible for how Jesus felt. Every time I chose personal pleasure, I prayed for forgiveness. I prayed a lot. I became more discrete about personal pleasuring, but I knew God could see me. I felt ashamed.
Anger with my body
Shame grew into anger. I was angry that my body could shake and melt with waves of wonderful, angry that I knew how to make my own waves, and angry because I wanted the waves & knew they were sinful. When I resisted the desire for pleasure I felt self-righteous. When it didn’t, I felt wicked for making Jesus sad. Shame grew into anger that grew into self-loathing.
This is the first of two parts about breaking up with my body. For part two, Subscribe.
I’m writing about very personal anger. Thank you for standing with me and creating a safe place to bring dark topics to light. If this is an essay worth sharing, please do. With gratitude, ~ Rebecca