I read a post today at Behind The Mask Of Abuse that got me thinking about stigma. In the post, Ms. Zoe says, “I fear that if I share my history with him, he will see me differently. You know…the stigma thing. I want him to get to know me without that first.”
I can relate. When you are a former child prostitute, substance abusing, anorexic cutter who was molested as a child and in a violently abusive relationship as an adult, when is it appropriate to mention that? When do you tell people about your history?
“Hello, I’m Jason. Great party.”
“Hi, my name is Goldfish. Yes, it’s a great party. I have PTSD, Major Depressive Disorder, Anxiety Disorder and Body Dysmorphic Disorder as the result of child sexual trauma. I was a child prostitute and substance abuser. Don’t worry, I’m clean now. Would you like an hors d’oeuvre?”
Obviously, that’s a bit of hyperbole, but it’s really not too far from the truth. When is it appropriate to tell people about your past?
There are people I’ve known for years, coworkers and acquaintances mostly, who have no idea what I’ve gone through, while there are other people I’ve told when I first met them. It depends on context and the eyes. If people have had rough experiences in life, you can see it in their eyes. It’s a calling card. I can spot someone who’s gone through trauma almost immediately. It’s easier to talk to those people. They don’t judge as readily. They’re less apt to view you differently.
Some people do view you differently once you start talking about it. It’s not their fault. It’s not intentional. They just have no frame of reference for what it’s like to have someone kill your dogs out of spite or try to kill you to keep you from leaving. Their eyes widen or narrow and their mouths involuntarily curl up in mild disgust. Some people can’t handle it and walk away forever, while others see it as part of me. The past is the past and it is responsible for who I am now, so it can’t be all bad.
I don’t dwell on my past, but if I’m going to be involved with someone more than just as an acquaintance, I feel it’s my responsibility to tell them, not in detail, but at least, a big picture view. If people are going to run away, I’d rather they do it up front before there’s an emotional connection.
Especially, when it comes to intimate relationships, partners should probably know up front that I was once a drug addict prostitute. I’ve been tested and I’m clean, but still, men tend to freak out when you tell them that afterwards, as if I was trying to hide it or trick them. It’s best to get these things done with, but that is not an easy conversation to have. Plus, every once in a while, someone will run away. Some run away after, some before.
There is a stigma and it’s not pleasant. It’s not fun to have people recoil from you in horror as you matter-of-factly tell them about your past. Mental illness, domestic violence, child sexual abuse–each of these has a unique stigma, and I’m lucky enough to experience all of them. Yay me.
What’s your take on having to explain a sordid past to strangers? When is it appropriate to have that conversation? On a first date? Before you sleep with someone? Never? When?