Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Cutting Out Self-Injury, Year 3

My name is Christi, I'm 23 years old, and I'm a recovering cutter.

It has been six months since my last post. A lot has happened in that time - I began and ended a relationship, I graduated university with my English degree, got into graduate school, and as of today, made it to three years without self-injuring.

Looking back at my post from two years ago, Cutting Out Self Injury, I continue to face many of the same struggles outlined there. I compare my cutting to fighting an addiction. It is not uncommon for an alcoholic or drug addict to be sober for years or even decades and still consider themselves in recovery because, chances are, they had to try and fail a number of times before getting to where they are today. It doesn't mean the struggle to steer clear of old self-destructive habits and behaviors has become any easier because there has been no relapse in years. I view my situation in the same way. From the ages of 15-20, cutting was my go-to response for coping with my GAD and depression. I became dependent on it after multiple failures to stop, convinced that it was simply a necessity in my life. I saw it as a clever escape instead of the trap door that it was.

I vividly remember the night I was escorted in hysterics to the county mental health department, sitting in that lonely police car in the dark. It clicked for me that night that although I had tried in the past to quit, NOW was my time. I am unsure to this day exactly what about the situation reawakened my determination to get better: the threat of institutionalization, the realization I had so much to live for, the fear that I was on a slippery slope that could end in death...take your pick. I arrived at the same mindset regardless.

The stigma of mental illness is slowly fading. My story is by no means unique, but I have no shame about my past and am here to put a face to mental illness. Eight years after my initial diagnosis, I am still mentally ill and battle my disorders every day. The urge to go back to my old ways haunts me on a regular basis. Knowing that I have made it three years without giving in to their tempting promises of solace and relief through cutting makes me incredibly proud to say that while I continue to fight, I'm the one winning now. There is hope out there, and I am grateful to be alive to tell how I rediscovered mine.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

The Myth of Being "Bi Enough"

There is an interesting situation that bisexuals (and to a lesser extent, everyone else on the sexuality spectrum who is not straight) are faced with when discussing their sexualities that straight people largely do not encounter.

As a bi person, when I come out to someone new, the question of “so, have you ever been with a woman?” usually comes up. Others who express interest in the same sex tell me they have been asked this too, but I do not know how much this occurs as a whole in the gay community. There is frequently pressure from non-bisexuals to “prove” my same-sex attraction in order to legitimize it in their eyes. My lack of experience with women has led well-meaning, curious people to ask “well, then how do you know if you REALLY like women if you haven’t had sex with or been in a relationship with one?”

Why should my level of experience determine how legitimate my bisexuality is when the same standard of determining orientation isn't applied to straight people? It sounds utterly absurd when you turn the question around. Hardly anyone thinks twice about a straight person who doesn't have sexual or dating experience yet – their word that they’re straight is taken as good enough. Even in the gay community, some have looked down upon me because I’ve never had a girlfriend or had sex with a woman (random aside: the time for the latter is coming very soon, hehe). I’ve felt pressure since first coming out at 16 to “validate” my sexuality through sex, just to stop the stupid assumptions I’m not really bi. I thankfully realized early on that desperation was not the right motive for seeking out a woman to sleep with.

My first experience with a woman is going to add to my gay résumé (if there is such a thing, haha), but I’m excited to do this because I want to. I’m eager to act on the attraction I’ve felt for years and learn more about what makes me happy. Almost 23 now, I'm finally ready to do this just for me. No one needs proof I'm bi enough. I'm secure now and know I'll be no more or less bi once going through with this.

It’s ATTRACTION that determines your orientation. Not your experience, not your peers – but YOUR feelings. I’ve been out for over six years now. I knew I liked guys before I started dating and having sex with them; it is the same for women. I’m tired of people judging me with their silly mental checklist of necessary criteria that will convince them I’m bi. Some will never believe that I, or anyone else for that matter, can be truly bi. These people aren’t worth wasting time on. Even though being asked about my experiences with women is annoying, most of the people who ask do not intend to offend me and I find it worth it to turn the conversation into a teaching moment. I won’t convince everyone that sexuality is determined by attraction alone, but I feel accomplished that I gave people something to think about.   

Fellow gay, bi, and other non-hetero people, have you encountered situations similar to the one I’ve addressed, from straight people and/or the gay community? I’d like to know if this has been an issue outside of me and the gay/bi friends I’ve talked to. If they were straight, have you challenged them to think about how ridiculous the questions seem when they’re asked the other way around?