‘Women surrender sexually, and you’re not doing that.’ Twenty-something me stared at his fifty-something face. I felt heat rising in my throat. Perhaps he sensed it. He was a psychic counsellor after-all. ‘There’s so much power in feminine surrender, Simonne.’ Maybe it was the use of my name – too familiar, or the burgeoning radical feminist in me. Or maybe it was the sexual abuse survivor me, but I wanted to scream in his serene, smug face. I had absolutely no idea how surrender and power went together.

I was there because I was both promiscuous and frigid at the same time. I could have sex I didn’t like, but I could, under no circumstances, tolerate intimacy. My anxiety, fear, and (at this point undiagnosed) PTSD didn’t allow for screaming in men’s faces, so I nodded and chewed the inside of my cheek until the session was over. I never went back. But I also never forgot it.

Years later, I realised that counsellor wasn’t smug, or sexist – he was right. Those years weren’t easy ones. I didn’t equate what had happened to me as trauma and was unable to speak about it clearly, or at all. And the people I sought help from didn’t have the knowledge about trauma that exists today to recognise it or to properly help me. Surrender Guy was the closest I got to someone getting through. In reality, it took a diagnosis of endometriosis, polycystic ovarian disease, chronic migraines, fibromyalgia, infertility, six years of IVF, a divorce, and a new relationship for me to understand what the hell Surrender Guy was actually talking about. And all of that took twenty years.

I was 12 when my Mum took me to my first yoga class. That was followed by a crystal workshop, a kinesiology session, and a meditation class. Soon enough I was a massage, crystal, and Reiki practitioner myself. And in those years, immersed in the healing arts, one of the things I heard the most was the concept of ‘letting go’. It was everywhere. But I didn’t work out what that meant, or how to do it, until l was 44 years old. That’s an awful lot of holding on.

I experienced childhood sexual trauma when I was very young. The problem with trauma, particularly when young, is that it engenders shame. And shame follows us, convincing us we’re at fault – that there’s something wrong with us, not the people around us. Which means, on top of the abiding, unconscious belief that our life is at risk (fight/flight/freeze), we also believe it’s our fault. And if we are inherently bad, and the world around us is inherently fearful, then trust, of both ourselves and others, isn’t possible.

The problem is that the art of letting go, of surrender, is all about trust. And 12-year-old me, who was already deeply ensconced in shame and trust issues, had absolutely no idea I couldn’t do it – let go. I assumed letting go was a spiritual practice that was more a concept to strive for than an actual thing people did to enhance their spiritual, daily, and romantic life. Simply put, I was prevented from achieving it by anxiety and PTSD. And as I got older, I spent more and more time trying to let go and beating myself up – heaping on more and more shame – because for me to breathe deep, to sit still, to jump off the carousel of constant analysing, projecting, and over-thinking, literally felt like I was in grave danger.

After my marriage ended, I did something I’d never done before – I intentionally told my new partner my story. All of it. I’d simply exhausted every other option. I’d relentlessly pursued ‘letting go’ for decades and was still tightly bound; had still never experienced intimacy. What happened in the six months following, utterly changed me in every way. And I knew there was no chance I would feel comfortable as I rose. It was my catalytic, white whale moment.

Shame can’t survive authentic story telling. Shame is built on the inauthentic masks we create when trauma hits and shame takes over. But when you tell your story with intent and in a safe place, shame loses its footing, and the body and the spirit have a chance to break free.

It’s not a coincidence that I broke free when I did: found my partner when I did; took that first terrified, courageous breath; tentatively blew the dust from my voice. Collectively we are at a turning point – a moment – and that moment is now.

Our culture is comprised of its dominant stories and myths. And the Patriarchy-steeped stories we’ve all been living with for the past five thousand years are being challenged. The turning point we’re at now is one that is both incredibly challenging and hopeful. 

The Feminine power is rising on the planet, and we are collectively being called to tell our stories. To speak them, sing them, write them into being, as and from a fully embodied state. When we do this, we slough off the constraints of shame, we liberate our voices, we come to a new awakening and self-acceptance, and we begin, as a collective, a truly radical culture shift.

So how did I find trust and then true intimacy? I did actually, slowly, learn how to let go. I looked my partner in the eyes and I laid down my armour, piece by jagged piece. This letting go wasn’t the white-lighted, mountain-topped, Lennon-esque process I’d had in my head all those decades. It was a painful, slow, degloving of a huge part of myself – a part that had been in control all my life. A part of me that had been created to help me, save me, and so asking her to step out of the driver’s seat was an incredibly frightening process. I had little idea of who would remain once she did. I’d never had the space and safety to properly form or acknowledge my own authentic self.

My partner and I followed our intuition with the process, him especially. He tuned into me to work out what was the mask and what was real. That mask of protection had been there since I was four. To me, it was me. But he saw it. Every time he sensed a freeze, (mostly how my survival system showed up) he would stop, hold me, and tell me I was safe over and over. And I let myself freeze. That sounds counterintuitive to healing, and in a way it is, because to really heal from dissociation you need to move your body, but I’d always pushed through that freeze. I had always carried on doing whatever sexual thing my being was dissociating from – that utter hiding of the truth self. But with him, I would let that freeze take over. Sometimes I couldn’t remember any of it afterwards, I was so utterly not there. Thing is, I also wasn’t participating in something inherently traumatic to me either. And soon enough, the stopping, the being seen, the repeated incantation of safety, permeated that freeze and I slowly began to trust. I cried a lot. I cried all those tears I’d been frozen and un-present for. I cried because I felt safe, and because, in those moments, I felt free, and I’d never felt that either. Soon those tears of gratitude turned to something else – passionate surrender. I was a woman unleashed. A Queen with her King. And oh, how I moved my body then.

Simonne Michelle

Simonne Michelle is a Melbourne-based writer, philanthropy professional, and feminist. She has just started using Medium as a way of jotting down some of her musings on life, womanhood, and creativity. https://simonne-91050.medium.com, and can be found on Instagram at https://www.instagram.com/simonnemichellewriter/