Last week I bought a new car. For most adults this can be an exciting, anxiety-producing, exhilarating and potentially intimidating experience. At least that is my response. It is a moment when I’m reminded of both the responsibilities and the pleasures of being a grown up. But more than that I realized how much our things have the power to anchor us to our past.
Right before Labor Day in 2006, we bought a 2004 Honda Pilot. I was in the prime of my life (and what I likewise feel was my sexual peak as well). I had been polyamorous for just over 2 years. I had a significant and engaged presence on LiveJournal. I was working in my dream job as a nonprofit lobbyist. I was partnered to two other men in addition to Husband.
A month later I had been outed and lost my job. I can’t adequately convey just how devastating that event was for our family. It wasn’t just that I lost my job and was unemployed for 8 months. It was the media calling my house and office to harass me into a statement that I refused to give. It was the violation of my personal and private thoughts and the public mockery of those thoughts. It was the exposure of my lifestyle without my consent or readiness. It was the depression that descended over the house that infected everyone I loved. It was the anxiety of turning on the news (Husband still can’t watch the local news). It was the imposition of not just judgment but the suggestion that my lifestyle made me an unsafe parent to my kids and a danger to everyone else’s kids.
A few days before I had been outed I attended a GOP fundraiser (yuk!) that had a hula theme (double yuk) in a big, fancy corporate office. I had to go as part of my job in order to get some face time with the republican gubernatorial candidate. It culminated with a Focus on the Family type republicans treating this fundraiser as an extended spring break with a very conservative lawmaker declaring from the podium after many innuendos and drinks that “Everyone gets lei’d” (triple yuk). So smugly amused was I that I grabbed an extra two cheap ass leis to remind me that even the most staunchly “family values” republican will gravitate toward a dirty mind if he thinks he is among his own tribe. Disgusted with the event, I left early and hung the leis around my rear view mirror.
Those leis have hung around my rear view mirror ever since. Like an albatross around my neck.
Owning that Pilot has been an exercise in healing my broken self. It took my shocked and shamed self home after I had been outed. It was the vehicle I tried using to commit suicide within a few months and a year later. Originally bought because we wanted something bigger for the 3rd child we never had, it also accumulated my broken dreams. No new kids, just transporting the children who likewise suffered consequences from my shame and self-hatred. That car saw it all. All the tears and heartache of broken relationships. All the anxiety and regret of a broken family. Too much shame.
I didn’t realize how much I resented that car until it was time to clean it out to trade in. Getting totaled by hail was not just a freak Colorado accident, but a blessing: permission to release the old and embrace the new.
As I removed the leis – broken, dirty and filled with dust – it finally hit me how much these things, this simple, cheap and insignificant things had been anchoring me to my shame, my hurt and my disappointment.
In that moment I finally -felt- it. I finally believed I didn’t deserve the shame. I was finally able to see things clearly. I had been engaging in non-monogamous releationships far more ethically than the people who had been in the room in that fundraiser. A few had hit on me earlier in the year bragging about their “discretion” and offering to trade votes for sex (I declined). Others had been openly flirting and playing house on the weekends with their wife for campaign events. It’s an ugly, deceptive world that works hard to maintain an outward image of sober, chaste nobility. To have lost my job for being honest about myself when they get to rise higher and higher in the realm of the powerful and elite is a disappointing reality. Keeping those leis in my car was a constant reminder of how I would always be held to a different standard.
My new car represents my new life as an adult. It is exactly what I wanted. And more than that it is exactly what I needed. It will cost me, almost all of what my raise has given me, but it is representative of the new me. It is shameless, both in the features I want and the experiences attached to it. It isn’t attached to hopes of a bigger family, but in the happiness of the family we have. It isn’t laden with the sins of the past, but is directed at celebrating the present.
Overcoming shame is about owning our choices. It is about deciding that even if others disapprove of our choices that they are ours to make. My decision to be poly isn’t a source of shame, it’s a source of joy. My choice to write about my life isn’t a shameful plea for attention, but rooted in the hope that my life examples can serve a purpose for someone else. My choice to be a sexually free and spiritually liberated woman isn’t something to be ashamed of but something to be celebrated and honored.
This new car – I named it Phasma’s Rebel – represents where I am in this new chapter. It is permission to let go of the shames of the past and move forward with a determination to defy expectations, to rise above the shame and judgment imposed on me, and to move forward confident that this shame chapter of my life is finally complete and a new era is emerging.