Nine months prior to turning 28, I was living with my cousin-roommate in the Bay Area and working for a healthcare agency in a role that was slowly, but surely, draining my soul.
It had been three years since I graduated from grad school and, while I was grateful for this new set of circumstances, I knew that I wanted more. I was constantly being overworked and could no longer afford my apartment when I decided to move back home to Los Angeles. My hope was that I’d find something that aligned more closely with my purpose and passions. With a plan to live at home for about six months, I was sure I’d be able to find a fun gig that paid the bills and be able to move out in no time.
However, nine months later, I was still living with my parents and hadn’t really saved any money. I did have a job which I was grateful for, but I still felt like something was missing. So it was perfect timing when two of my closest friends made a point of helping me celebrate my 28th birthday over a swanky dinner and what felt like endless drinks. This wasn’t the first time that my family and/or friends went out of their way to make me feel special on my birthday. However, it was the first time that I challenged myself to be present in receiving their love.
It’s my personal belief that during my 28th year, I was still in my Saturn return, so spending time with friends was always a welcomed distraction. And up until that point, I’d gotten pretty good at using one thing to get over another. However, once I figured out that experiences could be their own individual moments, and that I could let go of sadness before searching for happiness, I started challenging myself to do so.
Sure, I wasn’t where I wanted to be personal life or career-wise — but I still had goals, dreams, worth, people who loved me, and love for myself (although that was still developing). So, after an incredible meal, several libations and enough laughs to last a lifetime, I decided to allow myself to enjoy everything to the fullest. And I knew I couldn’t do that unless I allowed myself to be present.
Being present requires us to let go of our thoughts, concerns and desires. It forces us to rethink expectations and it asks us to trust ourselves, God and/or the universe. It reminds us that we don’t have control over much anyway — and that’s the beauty of it all.
For me, I found myself even starting to catch myself anytime I wasn’t being present, and then asking myself what I needed to do to re-center. Sometimes that meant going through the laundry list of things on my mind, and other times it was letting it all go and driving to the beach; or letting it all go and spending time with friends; or letting it all go and writing in my notebook; or letting it all go and exploring my neighborhood.
Life was still moving a bit fast at that point, so I started to see the moments that I had to myself for what they were: time to re-center.
And in re-centering, I saw everyone and everything around me more clearly. The job that I was working while living at home with my parents was temporary. Even when it felt like it’d never end, I reminded myself that it was a stepping stone on the way to where I was meant to be. And in reminding myself of that, I realized that jobs paid the bills, but that’s not what life is all about. Living to work wasn’t what I wanted for myself. I wanted to be a writer in New York and I knew I had to do more if I wanted more.
So, I started freelancing as a writer and photographer while working full-time as a copywriter. I didn’t make much money on the side, but I got my name out there a few times. I knew that in prioritizing my career, I could hold onto my dreams and thus hold onto myself. Because what do we have if we don’t have ourselves or our dreams?
I was promoted a few times until the work got to be way too monotonous and the work environment became even more unbearable. I got to a point where I couldn’t balance it all and could barely get out of bed. To my “oldest sibling”, “young mom”, “nurse of over 30 years” mother, I was complaining. I was being ungrateful.
I wasn’t sticking out what I could to reap the benefits in the long run, but what she didn’t know was that I was losing myself and at a rapid speed. It’s like my soul was slipping out of my body and the more of it that left the less that I could feel myself or anything else.
This would be my second bout with depression. It lasted for a few weeks until I decided to quit. Some would call it naivete or immaturity and maybe even weakness, but I felt as if my job served no purpose and therefore neither did I. That’s when I knew I had to get out of there.
Within a week, I found another role – one that allowed me a bit more flexibility with my time and my creativity. I knew no job would be the cure all, but that if I continued to put myself first I could make better decisions and really take into consideration my needs and my wants.
In addition to my goals, my needs and wants have fueled me. Sometimes they motivate me to go harder and other times they help me to remember I have everything that I need inside of me. I took that leap because I felt like I needed to save myself and I’m not sure that it would’ve happened had I not been practicing being present and putting myself first.
As far as putting myself first, people always said to do it, but no one ever said how and they certainly didn’t lead by example. The women in my life had been virtually selfless in almost every memory that I recalled. They took care of their children, husbands and partners before even blinking an eye about their personal needs.
Between my maternal grandmother and my mom, I’d learn that being a matriarch was more important than anything else. And, while I’m sure that this was not their (entire) intention, their actions always spoke louder than their words.
Based on what I’d learned from their actions, our churchgoing and Southern-rooted, (Texacalifornian) culture, putting myself first felt selfish and so I suffered.
I suffered in many of my relationships with giving and receiving love along with expecting more of people than I could do/be for myself. This most recently manifested itself in a long term relationship that I decided to end. Struggling to put myself first was one of a few things that we were battling, but it’s ultimately what prompted me to choose myself.
As hard as I tried…with almost every attempt that I made to put myself first…they all failed. And it took me time to realize that I was choosing comfort over self-discovery. I was choosing to make a person my dream rather than chase that of my own. I was so wrapped up in how long we’d been together and marriage feeling like the only escape that I only saw us and him, never myself.
It’s still hard for me to think of myself outside of my work, my friends, the people I love, but I’m reminded by affirmations and meditation that I can only be as present as I allow myself to be. And that being present is connected to choosing myself. Choosing myself says I’m worthy of being chosen and maybe that’s been part of the root of my struggle(s) all along.
So, following the end of my relationship, and realizing that I was significantly decreasing the amount of intimacy I’d be experiencing anytime soon, I started researching about self-pleasure.
One of my close friends, one of the two who helped me celebrate my 28th birthday actually, suggested I look into toys. I was still living with my parents at the time and of course immediately thought of how mortified I’d feel to be exploring self-pleasure with either of them within earshot of me. Nonetheless, I was determined to step into my agency fully particularly in the area of my sexuality.
So I ordered a toy that resembled a really large lipstick (because I’m a freelance makeup artist and could not ignore how cute it was). Within days, it arrived at my parents’ house and because of how wonderful they are, they brought my package to my room while I was out and about. (LOL).
I returned home to find it in a brown box with a vague mailing label – perfect for my situation. When I opened it and saw the bright colors, gold trim and that it had over four power levels, I was in heaven. I was still a bit shy about trying it considering my living situation, but when I finally did – it was magical.
I had no idea that I could be the center of my own pleasure nor that I could be the catalyst. It was one of the more powerful feelings I’d ever felt in my life especially as someone who was encouraged my family/religion to wait until marriage to experience pleasure.
Now, I’m not here to say when or how people should seek pleasure — but I am here to remind you and myself that it’s no one’s responsibility, but yours, and my own.
This was a hard pill to swallow after realizing it and reading it in different sex education posts on Instagram. We aren’t taught to have much agency around our sexuality outside of protecting ourselves against assault. It’s sad honestly that our education, in schools and among guardians, is so limited. Nonetheless, there are so many ways and platforms through which we can learn so here we are.
I got to know my toy very well to the point of naming it and talking about her with friends. It was so freeing to enjoy it and to have this very new experience (for me) be celebrated by my friends and embraced myself. Even reflecting now, it forces me to step into my power and remember how far I’ve come in a short amount of time.
So of course, I packed her among my things that I brought with me to New York. I was sure she would be confiscated, but so grateful that she wasn’t. My friends also reminded me that I wouldn’t be the first or last person to travel with a sex toy. (LOL) Ever since moving to the East Coast, I’ve been on that same wave of sexual freedom which has been a bit challenging to manage during a pandemic.
Everyone’s down, but no one wants to get tested – of course. Or, even better, they say that they already get tested every week for work or to see their children. (A mess.) I say all of that to say that I’ve managed pretty well for myself both with and without my toy. Everything that I’ve learned about what I enjoy has been so eye opening and extremely impactful on helping me reclaim my sexuality.
Before these experiences I thought of my sexuality as something that could only be explored with a partner and a partner that had to be a life partner. Now, I know that even in being casual, I prefer to spend that kind of time with someone who cares about me and is looking to build something regardless of how long or short it lasts. It all rides on respect and love these days because I have so much more of it for myself now.
I know what I deserve and what I don’t. I also know what I’m ready for and what I need more time before I start exploring. In all of this, I’ve realized that where I am now, up until this point, always seemed like a dream. And the more of myself that I lost, the less unattainable it felt.
But I’m grateful to the women around me and to the woman I’ve been along for helping me see me and to realize that I was never that far gone. Moving forward, I won’t have any shame about where I am on my personal and sexual journeys (and I owe it to myself and the people that have taken care of me – in one way or another.)
Who knew that all of this was connected and that the first attempts that we make at being present and putting ourselves first frame how we approach our lives – sex and otherwise.
I hope that my realizations and journey will help you to explore being present, putting yourself first and reclaiming your sexuality if needed.