Often, when the story is spoken out loud, it loses at least some — if not all — of its power.
Nothing is so humiliating that it cannot be shared: this is the lesson to be learned from Emma Phillips, the student who got a vibrator stuck up her backside during sex with boyfriend. Not only did she get a vibrator stuck up her butt, but she — well, her boyfriend, presumably (with her permission) — photographed the experience, and she shared it for all the world to see. According to Metro in the UK, Phillips spread the word because she wants to raise awareness and urge anyone in a similar predicament to seek medical attention.
"We weren’t going to do anything about it because of the embarrassment," she told the paper, "but we knew we needed help. There is a big taboo about this, but it really isn’t a big deal.”
Indeed, though we may not all have had objects stuck in our rectum, we’ve all been in a situation where we've thought NO ONE CAN EVER KNOW THAT THIS HAPPENED TO ME.
My favorite example is the time I threw a dinner party, and no one showed up. It’s a silly and far less consequential example than what happened to Emma Phillips but at least some of the feelings, I imagine, were the same. Blame technology and the fact that 40 people will RSVP yes to a Facebook event with no intention of actually going — or, you could do what I did and chalk it up to the fact that I have no friends and am thoroughly unlovable. As 8 pm crawled towards nine, I sat by myself watching 20 pounds of mole chicken dry out in my oven. No one coming to my party was confirmation of my worst fear about myself and my place in this world. Worse than wasted food and a night by myself was the sheer horror that other people might find out. Specifically, my now-husband, who I had just started dating at the time.
Do you know what happens when something terrible is happening to you, but you keep it to yourself out of embarrassment or fear? Nine times out of ten — in my experience — that something terrible only gets worse.
I remember precisely the moment my mind began scrambling to come up with an alibi — alternate facts, as they might be called today — to explain to Arran how the night I had been talking up for weeks went. In my mind, at that moment, I needed a cover story — anything to avoid having to cop to the fact that the party had been a bust. There I was, preparing a complicated lie to cover up the truth to someone I had just met who I hoped to impress.The second I realized that I was doing this, I called Arran to confess.
Instead of judging me, my new boyfriend and I had a laugh. He made me feel better. The experience brought us closer. We enjoyed mole chicken for the next week.
As a semi-professional experiential learner and maker of mistakes, NO ONE CAN EVER KNOW THAT THIS HAPPENED TO ME used to be something of my tagline. Do you know what happens when something terrible is happening to you, but you keep it to yourself out of embarrassment or fear? Nine times out of ten — in my experience — that something terrible only gets worse. When I ignored my problem drinking, the drinking problem escalated. Certainly, the unwanted pregnancy didn’t go away on its own. For years I covered up the fact that I had a shitty boyfriend who treated me like garbage, too ashamed to admit the predicament I was in. I kept his abuse to myself, and — surprise, surprise — it kept happening. Only when I told people I trusted about the trouble I was in could the situation improve.
To be fair, it’s easier to talk freely about something horrible once it’s over and all ends well.
Jokes aside, what happened to Phillips was really quite serious. Doctors told her that if the object couldn’t be extracted rectally, they’d have to go through the bowel and take some out, which would have resulted in six months on a colonoscopy bag. If her story had this alternate ending, I don’t know if we’d have seen the same silly photos of Phillips posing with a pink dildo. She might not have made a joke of it, but hopefully, Emma would have had the same courage to share what happened to help others, in spite of her fears of what some people might think.
As a writing teacher, I’m blessed to be on the receiving end of so many of these kind of first-person stories — everything from living with mental illness to having to put down a pet. Stories their narrators think too scandalous to speak aloud are often the sort of everyday shit that happens to the best of us. Often, when the story is spoken out loud, it loses at least some — if not all — of its power. It’s never as bad as we fear.