- Allison Vernon-Williams (Amy Locane) in Cry-Baby
From a very young age I have had an (entirely non-religious) association between confessing and absolution. For as long as I remember, I have felt that if I’ve done something that would make someone else feel - anything, not just bad - then I should share it with them, or confess, in order to achieve optimal personal growth, or some such shite.
My parents, who are wonderful, loving, compassionate people, and who - despite the inevitable minor fuck-ups - have done a pretty good job at producing a functioning human (…me), have had to bear the burden of my tiresome and troubled confessions over the years more than anyone else (except for myself).
Being a teenager fucking sucks. I’m not sorry to anyone who disagrees with this statement, because, basically, you’re wrong. What could possibly be good about an age where you must attempt to navigate: hormones, the world, your sense of self, and other teenagers, all at the same time? Lest we forget, the difficulty that is desperately seeking to become your own unique, incredible, powerful person, whilst you are still completely and utterly indebted to those who raised you, who will, most probably, fundamentally disagree with all your new found beliefs and modes of self-expression.
The first confession that defines my teenage years took the form of a text message to my mum. I was thirteen, and had spent a delightful evening sticking a sewing needle through my ear, followed by three gold studs. I had proudly worn my new piercings at school, internally revelling in my newly embellished ears, only to become wracked by guilt at the foreshadowing of my mum’s reaction. So I texted her. She was upset. I took the earrings out as soon as I got home from school, and cried from frustration at not sticking up for myself and valuing my mother’s feelings over my own. Confessing hadn’t made me feel better, it made me feel shit. And as the years have progressed and my number of piercings has increased, I wish more and more that I had had more conviction in my thirteen-year-old style.
The next confession that remains stamped onto my brain was of a less superficial nature. At somewhere around the age of sixteen, after several years struggling, I wrote my parents a letter to tell them that I was hurting myself. This was a literal attempt at asking for help that should not have taken so long, and should not have been necessary, but, so often, things are not as they should be. I left the handwritten letter on my parents bed, where it could not be missed, and cried myself to sleep. My confession was never addressed, and my self-harm never discussed. But this time, confessing did make me feel better. I felt safer in the knowledge that my parents knew about my self destruction, even though it probably made them feel terrible.
Post school, post early adolescence, my confessions continued, but took on a more practical turn, usually revolving around money (or lack thereof). One particular confession resonates with me still, because it morphed into my first panic attack. At roughly the age of nineteen and a half, I called my mum to tell her that I had maxed out my overdraft and needed bailing out. And that I’d also overslept on my first day of uni (due to nothing more than a broken alarm, alas). As my breathing became more difficult, interspersed with sobs, my confession gave way to hysteria. I felt a confusing combination of relief at being honest about my poor financial decisions, and despair at the hideous physical manifestation that stress had had on my body. My mum was just worried about me (obviously).
I would love to say that at the ripe old age of twenty-five and nine months, I have overcome my almost obsessive need to confess anything I feel vaguely guilty about to my parents or others, but, alas, no. The first time I got a tattoo on my arm (by no means my first, you understand) I told my mother over the phone so as to prepare her for seeing them in real life. I tried to normalise it - I have many others already, they are part of me, I love them, and they’re not going anywhere. Anyway, tears ensued (from her not me) and the phone conversation was followed by a ridiculously melodramatic text from my Dad. What followed was near a month of no communication between us - a phase I thought was long gone (I speak to my mum every other day at least now). I tried to remove my feelings from their reaction and remember that I am not responsible for my parents irrational emotional responses, but this, I have come to realise, is my Achilles heel.
My parents hold me back more than anything or anyone else in my life (except for myself). They also facilitate my hopes and dreams more than anything else ever could. People regularly express envy at the closeness I maintain with my family, and I know how lucky I am to have parents who continue to love each other, and that I consider to be my friends (most of the time) as well as family. The idea of ‘causing’ them distress upsets me more than anything else, and, although I am now good at remembering that people are responsible for their own emotions, I cannot help but burden myself with their feelings.
I’ve had some scars on my wrist covered with a new tattoo. It is a beautiful design made up of a stretching jaguar and a garland of pansies, and every time I look at it I am reminded of how much better I am now than I was at thirteen, sixteen, nineteen, or even twenty-five and six months. It is one of the most important and life-affirming things I have ever done for myself and has been years in the planning, yet I am weighed down by the knowledge that my parents will be upset about it.
This time, however, I am not going to confess. In fact, unless I get into some absolutely dire shit and need bailing out, I am never going to ‘confess’ again. Not to my parents, not to anyone. Because this ritual of confession stems from guilt. Guilt about who I choose to be, and what I choose to do. Sure, I make some bad decisions, and, sure, there have been times in the past where confessing has helped me. When sharing my problems with another person has helped me take the steps I’ve needed to to overcome them: self-harm, reckless spending, eating disorders, heartbreak, depression. But that was then, and this is now.
Now, I know myself better, and I understand that to get help I do not need to ‘confess’ I just need to ask for it. I do not need to feel guilty because I think my actions will cause someone to feel - that is not my priority or my responsibility. I love my parents, more than most other people, but I need to love myself more because I am my priority. I would apologise for sounding like a self-help guru, but I’m not going to, because self-love is really fucking important, and the sooner everyone realised that and got on with being who they want to be rather than who they think everyone around them wants them to be, the better.
- Writer -