I had a panic attack on our Honeymoon. I was finally married, finally with my husband. We’d been together since my Senior year of high school. We waited for our Wedding Night to have sex. And 4 days in, I was on the floor shaking and crying and unable to breathe. I’d promised him a “whole, pure, and perfect” Bride. A partner, a friend, and finally, a lover. Instead, it felt, I suddenly became a broken offering. Trying to grasp at some sense of repair, I came to him with my heart in my hands. As I opened my palms, it slipped through my fingers and crumbled into a pile at both of our feet. I looked at the pile- terrified, confused, devastated… this was not what I signed up for. How did this even happen?
“Man, you’re unfriendly,” he said as I started to pull away. I was at a promotion for the professional sports team I worked for, and though I was wearing a “less-than-modest” uniform, I didn’t like the way he’d tried to pull me in during the photo we’d just taken. His rough hand rubbed my waist as we stood there waiting for his friend to takethe picture, and without blinking or losing my smile, I turned my body so his only option was to touch my back. “What?!” I laughed awkwardly. “I’m the friendliest of them all!” I said, trying to make sure I didn’t offend a “fan”. That shit happened all the time. It was a constant pull between being proud of my body and what I’d trained for years to get it to do on the dance floor juxtaposed with the fact that some fans then thought I was another mascot for them to enjoy, or a prize to be handled and displayed at will.
“Where’s Prince Charming?” a dad would ask with a wink over the head of his wide-eyed child. They’d try to pull in close for a picture, ask if my seashells were comfortable, or wonder aloud if the Beast lived up to his name in the bedroom. “Smile and nod, pretend you didn’t hear, or say something darling” we were taught. Disney in no way supported it, and always affirmed they would always have our backs should we want to get out of a situation; but it was too hard to stop it. And I was living my dream- who was I to complain? That was the year I learned how to keep my eyes open when the camera flashed. “Who wants a picture of Cinderella blinking?” I’d explain. It also became an effective tool for staring down the photographer, especially when it was the person who’d just asked about my shells.
“It’s not like we even did that much,” he said, looking at me with sort of a pathetic gaze. I agreed to go out with him again, solely because I was embarrassed that I had completely freaked out two nights earlier, and I wanted to prove I wasn’t prude or immature. He was from a different high school, and he was older. Two nights earlier, I’d frozen. Lying on the couch with this guy I’d been set up with, he was aggressive and forceful. He did things and made me do things I didn’t want to. But I never said no. I couldn’t. It was as if my voice had left my body and was swirling above my head, like some kind of Ursula-induced spell had reached directly into my throat and ripped it out, then dangled it just above me as if to mock my desire for control. I laid there, starring at the Jerry Maguire credits until they faded to black. Finally we got up and he walked me to the door. As I began to drive away, the conch shell necklace holding my voice finally cracked, and all of the sounds I’d wanted to make came back. I drove directly to a friend’s house, collapsing on her front step. “Oh my gosh, what did he do to you?” she cried. I tried to explain. But as I started to say it out loud, I felt stupid. I didn’t say no. He didn’t “hurt” me. So I pulled myself together, said I was fine (even though my dear friend knew I wasn’t), and agreed to go out with him again. I did. He said he didn’t know why I’d freaked out. The hand came back for my voice… down my throat, into my chest. It happened again. That time it took another part of my heart with it.
“Do you even know how sex happens? You’re lucky I don’t show you,” he said. We were both sitting under our desks. The room was chaos- our class had just finished lunch, but our teacher wasn’t back yet. Kids were yelling and laughing and talking and running around, and somehow I was under my desk, face to face with a boy shaming me for not knowing how sex happens. We were 7. He was a me too, too. 7-year-olds aren’t supposed to know how to shame someone for not knowing how sex happens. It was the first time I remember feeling gross. My mom tried to help me talk through it. She was amazing. But I didn’t want to be supported. I wanted to hide.
“And this is just our game, special between you and me,” she said. My babysitter. The first. I was 4. I thought I was special and it was our little secret. Not a secret I had to hide necessarily, but not one I thought I had to tell. Until one night I had a different babysitter. I tried to show her the game. She pretended like she didn’t understand. She told my parents. She saved me. But at 4, I was already a #metoo before I even understood I’d been violated.
I’ve started having panic attacks again. They aren’t as frequent, though. I thought I was over it all. I thought I’d done my work. Years of therapy and processing and medication and more therapy; 10 years of marriage, 3 beautiful babies, a devoted and loving husband.
There has been healing, to be sure. Beautiful restoration of the voice out of the conch shell in ways I never dreamed possible. God is good, even when humans are not. I am a wickedly blessed woman.
And the panic attacks still come. #metoo