I was in my late 40's the first time I heard the term "touch-me-not". I was about to leave on a 4-week overseas business trip, just two weeks after 9/11. A caring coworker came up to me and said, "I know you're a touch-me-not, but I'm going to give you a hug anyway." After she hugged me, she told me to take good care of myself. The strange thing about that post-9/11 trip was that I felt safer in foreign countries than I did in my own country. But that's another story.
About 10 years later I met a woman - first a coworker, then (and now) a friend - who's a hugger. I'm surprised she didn't hug me farewell and give me another hug as a greeting every time I took a trip to the restroom. Spending time with her as the beneficiary of her many hugs finally got me comfortable with hugging.
My parents weren't demonstrative, so for a long time I assumed that's why I was a touch-me-not, but lately I've realized there's more to it than that. The "more" is this:
For an incest survivor (or for this one, anyway), there is no such thing as safe, loving, non-sexual touch. Every touch has the potential to inflict pain, shame, or both. Perhaps if I'd realized that earlier in my journey of growth and healing, my life would've been easier, happier, or more comfortable. I believe that many of the very stupid decisions I made about relationships arose from my confusion about the meaning of touch. I still feel ashamed about making so many mistakes, but get some comfort from understanding more about the thinking (or not thinking) that pushed me stumbling over rocky and dangerous roads.
To paraphrase a Bruce Springsteen song, life has been giving me some hard lessons lately, about pain, loss, disability and hope. Years of chronic pain, my mother's death, my hearing impairment and other serious medical problems have sorely tested me. When I finally found a doctor who took my pain seriously, he asked me why I had checked "suicidal thoughts" on my new patient questionnaire. I told him, "I have 30 years ahead of me if I live as long as my mother did. I refuse to live in pain for another 30 years."
In all that I've learned and written since then, the most surprising discovery has been my ability to remain optimistic about my life and my future. If you hear despair, anger, frustration and fear in what I post here, please don't turn away. All is not dark, and eventually a glimmer of hope will light the path ahead.