Keeping My Goodies to Myself: Reflections on Celibacy and Self-Love

by C. Imani Williams

This January marks my fifth year of celibacy, something that I never considered, until I finally accepted the fact that I needed a break from physical sex in order to reclaim myself. Five years ago, setting boundaries was a new concept. And I had to admit that living without boundaries was not a good look. But I had spent most of my life living without them until that point.

An awkward tween, I had a hard time finding my fit. I lacked confidence and covered it up by using my love of words to make it through the world. In addition to talking (a lot), I spoke fast and kept a ready smile. These characteristics would carry me far, or so I believed. I spent so much time smiling, talking, and masking feelings of inadequacy that I didn't deal with the restlessness inside—choosing instead to ignore it.

It was 1975, when “he” moved on our block and I was in the first stages of a boy-crazy frenzy. He had sleepy, droopy eyes and a smile that suggested both mystery and fun. Yes, he was all that and a bag of chips. I was hooked. My twelve-year-old self felt something “magical” whenever our paths crossed. I HAD to know what that was about. I flirted, practicing the words to Patti LaBelle’s “Lady Marmalade.”

It took two years, but Sleepy Eyes and I had our moment. He was my first. I wish I could say that there were fireworks in his bedroom on his twin bed while his mama was at work. There were none. We were friends; he wasn't my boyfriend and I was fine with hooking up and exploring whenever his mama was out and I could get away from home unnoticed.

I settled, starting a pattern of broken relationships that fell way short—the kind of “fifty–fifty love” Teddy Pendergrass sang about. The pattern would last for the next thirty-six years, because I refused to sit still and get to know myself. I repeated the same mistakes over and over. (Ugh!)

In high school and college, I had serial relationships that all included sex. This did not strike me as odd or out of the ordinary. I also had never put much time between boyfriends for self-reflection, grieving, healing, or growth. I kept things moving, choosing not to focus on the negative.

This led to me eventually being married (and divorced) three times. As my daddy suggested when I was on my way into my second marriage, I was determined to do things my way instead of listening for God.

My first marriage was in my twenties, right out of undergrad. Although it didn’t last, the union did give me blessings in the form of my children.

My second marriage occurred due to my unwillingness to face my attraction to both men and women (I promptly stepped my newly-out self back in the closet). The second union lasted less than six months and was abusive. I didn't know him.

My third marriage was to a woman I thought I'd spend forever with, but it didn't work either. The common denominator in all three relationships was ME. I needed to stop, sit, and listen for God.

I started drinking when my youngest daughter was in the second grade. I remember her pointedly asking, “Mommy, are you an alcoholic?” as I slid two champagne bottles into the freezer to chill. She participated in D.A.R.E. at school and I fit the profile.

Around the same time, I discovered that drinking made sex even better (for me). I talked even more when I was drinking and in my mind, I became a Femme Fatale who would not be denied. Trust me when I tell you it is never a good feeling to shamefully run into the cashier at a grocery store, who also happens to be a former one-night, as you consider asking him to return your panties. Yeah, it had gotten that bad. Sober, I certainly would never have entertained him.

The hard truth of how much I was devaluing myself for the instant gratification of feel-good moments was staring me in the face. I was lonely, starved for sex and affection, and ready for action. These are the things that other unhealthy people are attracted to. We attract our own inventory. There are few things more sad than a needy person who is willing to accept less than their worth.

I came to understand through therapy how alcohol and sex worked together, keeping me on a quest for the next high. I had been using both quite recklessly, in some kind of haphazard way to deal with childhood sexual abuse. On top of that, I believed that sex was okay as long as I wanted it.

The end did not justify the means.

Anything that feels good to us can become an addiction. As a Gemini, I was able to find multiple addictions quite easily. Thoughts of sex came early. I believe that as an adult survivor of child abuse, I could have done better earlier on to promote healing. I get it now and can speak to the healing that exists in sitting still, releasing control to Spirit, and doing the hard work towards recovery and self-love. Above all, I thank God for not giving up on me.

I have a lot to be thankful for. I fell in love with myself and cannot go back to alcohol. In March, I will have eleven years sober. I don't miss alcohol nearly as much as I miss sex, but I'm dealing with both one day at a time. When the time is right, I know I will be ready to move into a physically and emotionally safe, healthy relationship. I'll know by the gentleness of the spirit who steps to me with righteous in their heart. I now accept my queer bisexualness, so whether it is a man or woman, I know they have a pure heart, compassion, and capacity to love that will draw me in. Until then, I'm preparing my mind, body, and spirit for love.

C. Imani Williams, is a freelance writer and human justice activist. She holds an MFA in Creative Non-Fiction Writing from Antioch University and a Masters in Guidance and Counseling from Eastern Michigan University. Her work has been published in Between the Lines, Tucson Weekly, and The Michigan.

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