1. the quality or state of being innocent; freedom from sin or moral wrong.
2. freedom from legal guilt of a particular crime or offense.
3. simplicity; absence of guile or cunning; naiveté.
4. lack of knowledge or understanding.
5. harmlessness; innocuousness.
What does it mean to lose your innocence? We use that phrase euphemistically to refer to having sex for the first time, and more broadly to refer to a loss of naivete about the world. Many of us probably never use that phrase at all. However, I’ve been tossing the idea around in my head for a few days now: I think I am amidst the process of grieving my innocence.
I have been contemplating the concept since having said to a friend something to the effect of “my innocence was stolen.” She disagreed with that assertion though, saying that while as a kid terrible things happened to me, I wasn’t complicit in them. Which isn’t really what I meant. Yes, I myself was not guilty. But I did lose my ability to see the world in a guiltless, innocent way. I was stripped of any sense that the world is a place of wonder, deprived of my sense of safety, bereaved of my naivete. So I was an innocent without my innocence.
A few days ago I overheard the following comment (which didn’t make any more sense in the context of the conversation, but that’s not my point anyway). I overheard a man say: “How this works: I’m gonna hand him his innocence back, and he’s going to hand me my cell phone.”
I am still laughing at that odd juxtaposition: innocence for a cell phone doesn’t seem like a fair trade. More seriously though, that statement made me wish innocence were such a tangible thing, a thing you could be handed back. I want my innocence returned to me.
What I traded my innocence for wasn’t even as fair of a trade as a cell phone. I traded it for shame and guilt. Which didn’t belong to me in the first place, but I owned them anyway. I own them still.
I carry shame in my bones, wear it deep, so deep I don’t know how to separate myself from it. So much so that I often don’t realize it is there, don’t know to put that name to it. At the same time, there is so much I love about myself, am proud of, am confident in. But at my core, I am seeing more and more that I am convinced of my own “wickedness.” It is not a matter of assuring me of all the wonderful things about myself -I see those too. But sometime, long ago, I determined that I am terrible, deep down. It has now become such a fixed, and often unconscious belief, that I am not fully aware of the extent of it much of the time.
I am ashamed of so many things: of being depressed, of being scared and overwhelmed, of needing too much, of needing anything at all, of wanting the things I want, of taking up space and saying the wrong things, of being difficult and broken, of making mistakes, of not being perfect, of asking questions, of not always knowing what to do. When it comes down to it, I feel shame for the very act of existing. I carry a sense of “dirtiness” and “wrongness” with me like it is a second skin. It fits around every curve of my body, and contains me like a prison.
It kills me now to look back and see how little I really was when I internalized this shame. It breaks my heart over and over for that little girl that hardly feels like a part of me. This is the stuff that is made for crushing tiny shoulders; but I stood up under it and survived. Which I suppose is an amazing thing in itself; someday I might see it that way. For now though I am in a wrestling match with myself and that little girl. And I’m not sure I really want either side to win the fight.
Honestly, I’m not sure I truly believe that I did survive those years. Part of me, maybe, but I survived what I survived by hiding. By steadily burying pieces of myself, avoiding attention as much as possible, and fervently trying to forget everything that made me feel like an awful little girl.
I did a damn good job of that. I buried myself, brushed the dirt off my palms and carried on. I am afraid I may have covered my tracks too well to be able to undo them now.
Today I experience waves of shame that come out of nowhere. It has been my habit since I was young to respond to these waves by pushing them deep and far away, telling myself not to think about it. Now I guess I am changing that habit; starting simply by acknowledging the debilitating shame when it engulfs me.
And it is terrifying and disorienting. I don’t want to breathe, and I cry. And I hate myself, fight urges to hurt myself: to tear my shameful self part. I hold my breath and wish to disappear, as I have so many times before. But the fighting part of myself is still holding on.
Yesterday, as I was digging through some of my craft supplies, I found a necklace pendant I had forgotten I bought some time ago. It is a small silver pendant, with the word “redeemed” stamped into it. I remember that I had bought it a few years ago with the intent of making a necklace for a friend. However, it seems an exceptionally fitting reminder for myself right now. So I strung it on a chain, and promptly wore it.
In so many ways, I do not feel redeemed. I do not feel restored or renewed. I am still going to need to go through the process of grieving the loss of my innocence, of grieving the hurts I wasn’t able to grieve as a little girl. In order the bear that process, I am going to need frequent reminders of the truth that I struggle to believe. I am going to wear necklaces that remind me I have been redeemed, I am going to listen to the beautiful people that tell me I am not bad and shameful, I am going to steadily and gently allow myself to be unburied.
1. to buy back
2. to free from what distresses or harms, such as:
to free from captivity by payment of ransom
to extricate from or help to overcome something detrimental
to release from blame or debt
to free from the consequences of sin
3. to change for the better; reform
4. to repair or restore
On a related note, I really appreciated this article a friend recently sent me:
Breaking Free of Silence and Shame