For the longest time I have purposely avoided human touch. It’s pretty easy to do when you cut yourself off from current friends and do your best to avoid making new friends. I just didn’t want to go there. I have a bad habit of expecting that I will be trapped or suffocated by people if I allow them to get close. So I don’t. I build up walls and keep them away.
I don’t do hugs, or so I say. One the rare occasion that I could admit to needing a hug, I gave myself three options. Firstly, I have a good teddy bear who is very special to me (as you can read about in my book). Ted is a good size for a hug but if you’ve ever hugged a teddy bear you will notice that they are unable to squeeze back. And that squeeze back, to let you know that they are as into the hug as you are, is vital.
Secondly I had my cat Penny (who died six months ago). Penny was amazing for knowing when I needed her love, but I’m sure she would have met some DSM-IV diagnosis as amongst other things (like extreme anxiety) she didn’t do hugs either. She was more than happy to come and sit on my knee, or sit next to me but she needed to know she could escape when she was ready. Actually she sounds like me. Did I teach her this fear of getting close? I don’t know but we had our own way of being close that was acceptable to her. But yet again, it wasn’t quite enough.
The third option was to allow a hug from my Dad (he has also died now). He was the only one I would allow to touch me. It didn’t happen often (out of my choosing) but every so often his hug would tell me that he was on my side and he loved me. Every so often he would reach out and hold my hand to tell me he was there. Now that he has died I have somehow transferred the right to hug me occasionally to one of my brothers (the one who grows mushrooms). Again, the occasional hug I get from him tells me he is on my side, he loves me and he cares. My brother’s daughter L also gives me cuddles and somehow they don’t feel at all trapping and suffocating. I know she gives them because she wants to, rather than out of obligation and that means the world.
Really though, I don’t get much human touch, and it didn’t bother me. Actually it was a way to keep myself safe from some perceived threat. It’s funny now that I find myself longing for touch. Only a few days ago I read a post by my friend Frank at Shitegist about his own need for human touch. I was quite moved by what I read but I told myself that it wasn’t something I needed. I had conditioned myself away from this kind of contact. Only days later though, I find it is exactly what I need and exactly what I long for.
This week (and it’s only Thursday) has been tough. Actually it’s been very stressful and at times I have been completely devastated. A little of it I have shared with readers in To Earn Trust After Past Mistakes, but most of it I have kept to myself. For once I was lost for words (that doesn’t happen often), as well as not having the physical wellness to sit at my computer and type. I have felt very alone, although I acknowledge (and greatly appreciate) that I have been supported wonderfully by a few people who knew. At the end of the day though, I am alone and I simply wanted to be held. I simply wanted someone who loved me to whisper in my ear that I’m not alone and they will be with me. To know that I matter.
It is very weird for me to feel this way. A few weeks ago I found myself wanting friends. I don’t mean friends through the internet, and I should say I am very lucky to have some wonderful friends around the world. But I found myself wishing for real, flesh and blood friends. Cyber hugs are great, but they’re not anywhere near as great as the real thing. Cyber conversations are also great, but they’re not the same as sitting down in the same room with another and talking. While I have purposely distanced myself from friends because I was so afraid of being hurt again, I now find that actually I think it would be okay to take that risk again.
When I told my therapist this, a few weeks ago, I fully expected that he would fall off his chair in shock. He has heard me say so many times that I don’t need real people in my life. Somehow he didn’t fall, but he was surprised, as well as being happy, I had come to this stage. Now that I find myself wanting to be held, I am positively certain that he will fall off that chair. I’ll be sure to let you know.
I don’t for one minute think I am alone in my fear of human contact and I suspect many people with both mental illnesses and chronic physical ailments get to a point where it has been so long since someone reached out and touched them physically, that they don’t even realise they miss the human contact. Human touch is a form of communicating our feelings to another, but it’s also a form of healing. For so long I wasn’t going to let a single person near me. My Dad was allowed occasionally but only because in over 40 years he had proven to me that he actually did care and he really did love me. The last thing he wanted was to hurt me. He knew though that there were times when I couldn’t allow him that near, and he totally accepted that. Now though, I wish he was here.
This realisation of my need for human connection and human touch leaves a big aching in my heart, because I have built a wall around myself to purposely keep those things away. But I realise that it is part of the healing journey for me. I know it is still going to be weird to accept those things but I am determined to somehow break through my fear. This week I have had a taste of how alone I am. I knew I was alone but I hadn’t stopped to consider how physically removed I have let myself become from other humans. It leaves a deep longing, that doesn’t feel very comfortable or very nice. It is going to be a risk to let someone that close to me, but I know it is part of the process to win my life back.
“We do not believe in ourselves until someone reveals that deep inside us something is valuable, worth listening to, worthy of our trust, sacred to our touch. Once we believe in ourselves we can risk curiosity, wonder, spontaneous delight or any experience that reveals the human spirit.”
- E.E. Cummings