Pills and Potions: Sex, Pleasure, Substance Use,…And Other Things I Wish The Black Church & Family Told Me (Personal Essays)
“Genesis! Exodus! Leviticus!...Numbers!”
It was New Years Eve when my friends and I were gathered in the confines of an apartment living room, drunkenly singing the “Bible Song”- a song we learned ages ago in Children’s Church. This was only moments after attending “Night Watch” service at the church we all grew up in…and running into one of our fellow (adult) members right after service, as we stocked up on our libations for the evening. As food went into our stomachs and alcohol went down our throats, our spirits were lifted as we brought in…2019.
I have very fond memories like the aforementioned when I think of my upbringing with my grandparents and my adjacent life in the (black) Baptist and AME Zion church. Outside of school, my church was my playground. I made lifelong friends, lifelong memories, and a lifelong belief that somehow God loved me…that I was favored…and that no matter how far I stray…there’s always hope for me. Whether I was in church, in choir practice or ushering….or begging my grandmother to go home after the day long services at her home church in the South Carolina country, my church life offered me something then I wanted so desperately…but already had- a family.
My actual family story begins on a hot, summer day at the moment my mother was unaware her water had broken. Scheduled for a routine appointment, she sat across from her OB just to learn I was already coming. My grandmother grabbed one leg, my aunt grabbed the other…and in three pushes…as the Summer Olympics torch was being passed through the city of Columbia, South Carolina…at exactly 8:19pm on June 25th, 1996…I was here. One for the Father. One for the Son. One for the Holy Spirit.
As my mother laid on her back during her delivery…a 21-year old college student trying to figure out life in her 20’s, what in the hell was she going to do with a baby? She was going to do what was best for me…that’s what. So, she eventually agreed that my grandparents would raise me- “Nana and Papa”, as I call them- and nothing was ever the same.
With my grandparents, I grew up in a predominantly black community, shuffled through predominantly black schools, and navigated a lot of predominantly black things. Life provided by them afforded a number of opportunities that did not exist for my peers who had to choose between an education and gang-bangin’. While some were just simply trying to make it…step up at home…get free meals…take care of younger siblings…I was at Girl Scouts, piano lessons, swim meets, white-washed summer camps, or karate. My grandparents sacrificed for my childhood…and gave love and comfort to me…the best way they could.
I wouldn’t be where I am without them. I wouldn’t know who I am without my family. I wouldn’t know whose I am without my spirituality, influenced my grandmother’s upbringing.
So, it’s best to begin by stating…I did not write the following essays as an attack to those near to me…or to bash the black church…or admonish my upbringing. In fact, I wouldn’t trade either for the world. Because
it molded me…ordered my steps….built me differently...liberated me into my own freedom to pursue what kind of woman I want to be. I do, however, hope my words ignite a call to action for more open conversations.
While I value the warmth, security, and village provided to me by church and family, it’d be remiss of me to say everything was and is perfect. Nothing is. And here I am, a grown-ass woman, dissecting where imperfection got the best of me. Got the best of us. And where things could’ve been different.
Where there could’ve been space…
Where words could’ve been said…
Where secrets could’ve been shared…
Where I could’ve said “No”…
But, my past has gone. Never to be re-visited, re-done, or re-written. My future, however? Well, here we are…writing. Writing with transformation. Writing with my dreams. Writing with hope. Writing…with healing.
What are we transforming? What are we healing?
The black community. The black family. The black church…and all the other black things in between that tell us to “Stop acting white”….“Stop eating”…“Stop acting fast”…. “Stop talking back to me”…and “Don’t have sex too early”.
I could wish for no more devotion and loyalty from my church and my family….but sometimes…I do wish I had just a little more direction, room to speak, and non-judgmental communication.
So this is what I wish I knew then, and this…is what grinds my gears now.
Read my full personal essays "Pills and Potions: Sex, Pleasure, Substance Use,…And Other Things I Wish The Black Church & Family Told Me" at the attachment below.
I’ve got wounds that I didn’t consent to. Blades to my skin that made me bleed before passing into this hemisphere. Passing through my mother’s dysfunction, into a universe of corruption. Birthed with courage, into a narrative that preceded me. Free from leashes that bound me. Transformed by empathy…with a narcissist for my shadow, a bruised inner child, and boundaries for my soul.
We were once children being parented until we became adults forced to reparent ourselves… and unravel layers that no longer serve us. And understand that crossing oceans for ourselves is our task and our task alone. And our boundaries are not selfish, but instead the most pleasurable experience life can offer. Learning when “Yes” feels good and when “No” feels even better. And still…the greatest boundary lesson is in the losses we endure against ourselves.
Sometimes, it matters not if we’re able to peel back our bandages in Kleenex tissues and on therapy couches. Sometimes, it matters more if we have the courage to wear our scars out in the open….while they’re bleeding love. We will never find comfort in healing or some euphoria that our work is finished. Only colors of ourselves that we recognize in different seasons. And no matter how many leaves we shed….or how cold winter gets…a beautiful summer is always calling.
I think many of us will find there’s more to life than “securing the bag”. What about the hard work that goes into securing ourselves? Shedding anxious and insecure attachments to narratives and people that hurt us the most. Being vulnerable.
There’s a certain kind of violence and outer body experience that comes with wanting to be loved so much. Wanting. Wishing. Hoping. For magic. Lusting for validation from those that bring you pain. To aspire for a life that does not breed isolation in bubble baths, wine glasses, and Beyonce lyrics. To chase cycles of manipulation in fear that intimacy will degrade you, until you are no more. I’ve known these cycles all too well for much of my life. Maybe just like you…from abandonment, mother wounds, and trauma. Sometimes, it feels like I’d much rather bang on closed doors than walk through entrances already wide open…with love. But, no more.
We are not victims. We are not helpless. We are not damsels in distress. Nor, do we need a prince charming. We are political warfare. We are courage. We are…preserved. And I trust that doors will open with keys we never knew we possessed…if we let it.
So, spread your legs, your bosom, your wings…and fly. Break…what you thought was already broken.
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