By Devon Mac
There’s this word that I’ve become newly acquainted with called repression. To say that I’ve become newly acquainted with repression is sort of misleading because most of my conscious and breathing moments on this earth, apart from early childhood, have been lived repressed. What I mean is that at 40 now, I’ve become a lot more conscious of what repression is and how it has manifested in my life.
The scary thing about repression is that you can actually have a great time while being blissfully ignorant of its presence in your life.
I grew up in the church and while it’s common to hear people say that they did not enjoy their church-going experiences, I did. In fact, I had the time of my life as a teenager growing up in church, wouldn’t trade my experience.
We were led by a youth minister who was radical in his approach, who boldly took on topics like sex and sexuality in ways that were mostly healthy and affirming. For example, one of the mantras that was driven into us was that sex was great and that on its face, nothing was shameful or bad about it. Sex was, in fact, beautiful because God created it. And those words and teachings were formative in my life. Little did I know though that that time was cultivating a life of sexual repression for me.
At home and among my family, I quickly learned that doing “the right thing” brought along wonderful benefits. If I got good grades, I was rewarded with cash from my dad. My dad bragged about me at work and wherever he went. With my mom, doing “the right thing” (or helping out around the house) kept things peaceful and harmonious, which, as an introvert, I loved. My extended family would buy me gifts and praise me whenever I did “the right things.” And as a child, I wanted for nothing. For those reasons, I became the ultimate “good girl.”
That said, this painfully shy Black girl from the southside of Chicago quickly learned that doing “the right thing” was the way to go in life. Church reinforced this model all the more. I was prized with recognition for taking the word of God seriously and investing in my relationship with God. I was popular at church and had friends who loved and cared for me. We all seemed to be having a blast growing up in that environment.
I’ll never forget the weeks leading up to my departure from home and off to college. The women mentors of our church had rented out a space for a girl’s sleepover. The time would be dedicated to crossing me and several of my peers, now seniors in high school, over into young adulthood.
Most memorable though, was how I felt when the ladies were imparting wisdom to us about college. It was my turn to share and I remember tears filling my eyes as I expressed how terrified I was of going the route of others who had gone away to college- those who essentially lost their damn minds (coming back home pregnant, dropping out of school, wildin’ out). A part of me vehemently didn’t want that for myself and was scared to death of following that path. Yet a deep part of me was madly curious about that life and wanted it for myself.
Fast forward to present times, married (15+ years), children, a career, and yet facing my repression in ways that can no longer be avoided. I married an extraordinary man straight out of college, a loving, caring man. In a world where it is certainly not the norm to be one, he was a devout and faithful man. He was in many ways, ideal.
But all and all, he was my safe choice. Marrying him was me doing “the right thing.”
The problem was that my husband married a fraud and an imposter. I was faking the “good girl” thing and didn’t even know it. There were parts of me that I had repressed for so long, I didn’t have the chance to discover who I was. And because I didn’t know who I was, I played the roles that had become all too familiar- the girl who knew how to do everyone else’s “right things.”
I was presented with another choice for life partner. I avoided him like the plague and I treated him awfully. I wasn’t aware at the time that my aversion to him was actually attraction. Yet, he still asked to marry me. I blew him off. Little did I know that the way I treated him was the manifestation of my sexual repression.
Consequently, today I am currently wading through the waters of trauma, the trauma that comes along with divorce and denying myself. In my desperate pursuit of others’ “right things,” I compromised what was right for me. I f*cked up. I was so concerned about being “right” that I ended up being wrong for my husband and myself.
Some years later, my church friends and I all came together as adults to say farewell to the youth minister who was so formative in our lives. Upon his departure to another city, he imparted these words to me, “Live,” he said.
The thing about life is you can’t live a life you’re scared to live. And you most certainly can’t get to know yourself if you’re scared of life.
Do I blame my family for teaching me how to behave appropriately? No. Do I blame the church? No. One thing I know for sure is that God is not at all concerned about me doing someone’s “right things.” In fact, God is interested in what’s best for me, and those can be two wildly different things.
No one is to blame here.
There is no universal “right thing.” There’s only what’s right for you. And finding out what that is takes a good mix of Divine wisdom and knowing who the hell you are…all things I’m madly pursuing today.
Has wanting to do ‘the right thing’ caused issues in your life?