I grew up in a very strong, very Catholic Italian family. It was a boisterous, but tough upbringing. If you did something that was not part of the culture, you got hit with the wooden spoon or chased around the house with a broom. My parents and grandparents were loving but extremely strict; I once got smacked in the head when I was about 12 for looking at a pretty girl in the street. By the time I was out of my teens, I was fearful and a little jumpy. I would do almost anything not to attract attention or to make anyone angry.
I ended up going into computer programming. I still make a decent living as a coder. Long before the pandemic, I worked from home, locked in my room, isolated. I built a bubble to protect myself, to make sure that no one would yell at me or unload all their anger on me. The problem was that safe life was very boring. I worked, made money, went out to eat, went home. I very rarely saw friends. I was closed off for my protection, but I knew I needed more.
I started looking for experiences and opportunities to come out of my shell. I tried meditation, and found it helpful, but at times it just seemed like another locked room, confining you inside your own brain. I went to meetings for people who had grown up in families like mine, but I got tired of listening to people cry and complain. There was a lot of venting and talking, but very little action. I kept searching.
I found OM through a friend of a friend, who mentioned it in passing. Just the name piqued my interest, obviously. I went to an introductory class and was stunned by what happened there. Everyone talked so openly, not just about intimacy things, but about their feelings. Unlike in the recovery groups, they didn’t wail about being victims. They just spoke calmly but strongly about their lives and what they were doing to make those lives better. I remember sitting there, listening to everyone speak so frankly, and I felt my ears burning. I kept imagining someone from my family storming in and dragging me out, screaming at me for daring to be in such a “dirty place.”
What impressed me most was that these people didn’t lead lives of numbing routine. They didn’t go through their days trying to avoid being noticed or trying to prevent any conflict. They weren’t looking for fights, but they were willing to be authentic even if it rubbed others the wrong way. I wanted that confidence and that openness. I wanted to stop pretending to be someone I wasn’t. Gradually, I opened up in these groups. One day, I told everyone it was my birthday, and someone rushed to find a candle, even though they didn’t have a cake. When they asked me to blow it out, I felt this enormous rush of relief. It was like the air coming out of my lungs was me letting go of all that I had locked up inside. I hadn’t even OMed yet and I felt changed.
My first OM scared me. I was intimidated and needed a lot of encouragement. I thought I was prepared, but when the woman I was with started making noises, I panicked. They were noises of pleasure, not pain, but they brought up so much fear for me. I kept thinking, what if someone hears? What if someone I know walks in? It brought up so much anxiety to have her be so vocal. Obviously, I wasn’t angry at her; making noise is normal in an OM. It was just a reminder that I had a lot to learn.
As I kept OMing, I really enjoyed the adjustments. In my job, I work alone, and when I do work with others on projects, I tend to be in charge. I’m the boss. Now, I was getting clear direction about what to do and how to make someone else have the experience she needs. It made me feel competent with another person. It took a while, but I learned to be comfortable whether or not my strokee made noise, too. I finally trusted that my grandmother wasn’t going to run into the room and whack me in the head.
OM has made me much better at saying “no.” At first, the big changes were that I was getting better at saying “yes” to things that would have scared me before. What it took me longer to realize was that I was a people-pleaser who was scared of conflict. OM helped me find my voice and helped me set boundaries. At one point, I dated a woman who turned out to be verbally abusive. I was very passive at first, but one day she yelled at me and I turned to her and said, “No more. You cannot speak to me that way.” I calmly put up a boundary, and that confidence and clarity to say those words could only have come from OM. I was not like that before.
In that first OM, I was nervous because the woman made noise. I realize now it was because deep down, I needed to learn how to make noise too. And now, I can.