Learning to love myself again

I was 11 and walking to the public phone when a group of about six boys came running towards me from various directions at the open field. There was nowhere to run and hide.

They surrounded me and laughed at my mom’s blue sandals that she used to let me wear because we were the same size. They attacked me, licking me, pulling at my t-shirt and my shorts, that I desperately held on to. I was left humiliated and in pain.

Fast forward to many years later when I was in a relationship with an adorably affectionate man. He liked to touch my hand, which often startled me. ‘Are you okay? He would ask while we were kissing or having sex.

‘Yeah, why?’ I almost always responded, until one day, when we were making out, he had asked me three times if I was okay. I was back in the open field with six boys trying to devour me. My body was tense, I was shaking and started crying.

I went to go see a therapist who had advised me that I need to rewire my mind from associating touch with danger. Then once I felt safer to do so, to communicate to my partner that this was something I was working on. The other person is likely to be understanding and might be supportive, she said, anticipating my fear of rejection.

It is difficult to trust the world again when your dignity has been profoundly violated. It requires you to do an honest and sober assessment of your surrounding at all times, to avoid completely blocking everything and everyone off as dangerous.

I still get startled when touched unexpectedly, but I am teaching myself to learn to receive affection. I am learning to feel that tension from the open field, to sit with it, to interrogate it and to come out okay on the other side of it.

I am learning to be okay with feeling my emotions. I am also more comfortable with sifting through them. I can easily locate where they came from and see them for the fear they really are.

“We are yet to learn that whatever we are going through is okay, that you don’t have to run from it. It is not permanent, and that if you learn how to be with whatever is happening, you will learn healthy coping mechanisms instead of trying to escape your emotions.”, a yogi and healer, Kafui Awoonor, once said to me.

And so despite what the world has done to me, I continue to be who I am and to unlearn and do away with the ways the world has tried to teach me to hate myself. I carry my light in my heart, I share  it with the world in ways that don’t cost me my sanity and I let it shine on my crown. Most importantly, though, is that I am committed to recognizing my shadows, without any immediate plans of bringing them to light. I want to just sit with them…

Welcome Lishivha is a contributing writer for Engage Men’s Health. These are his views, which may or may not reflect those of Engage Men’s Health and its affiliates. Engage Men’s Health offers free and confidential sexual health services to gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men (MSM) in the Johannesburg, Nelson Mandela Bay and Buffalo City metros. Services include free HIV and other STI testing and treatment and free PrEP, which prevents HIV. Call or WhatsApp us on 082 607 1686.