this is what a hug feels like…

It starts with a countdown.

You have three seconds.

You have two seconds.

You need to be ready!

The person moving in isn’t a stranger. It isn’t anyone who has hurt me. They are family. I love them. I know them. But, still…

Then comes the suffocation. I hold my breath. My arms are trapped. I am trapped. I can’t move. I’m frozen. It’s never just a quick embrace, it’s always this: the standing, the trying not to pull away, the tightening of their arms when I flinch.

“You can do this,” I tell myself. “It never lasts forever, it won’t last forever. Just stay still. You can do this.”

It ends with a countdown.

Five more seconds.

Five more seconds.

Five more seconds.

That five seconds does last forever.

It all comes down to choice. Real choice. I offer. You ask. You are okay with me saying no. Choice.

Social interaction comes with the weight of guilt. The weight of expectation. People expect me to hug them. If I don’t complete the ritual, then there is a gap of silence that is filled to the brim with fault. My fault. If I don’t want to hug you, it must mean there’s something wrong. With you. With me. I have failed to sign the contract.

Social interaction is a teeter-totter, but the balance always seems to shift the same way. My feet never touch the ground.

“I’ve been told you don’t like hugs, but I’m a hugger!” I didn’t know him. Yet he hugged me. He never stopped hugging me. I relive it every time I see him.

I walked into the room and was suddenly embraced. “People need ten hugs a day to be healthy!” She meant well, she did. But the rest of the evening was ruined for me. I couldn’t unfeel her squeeze, or my head pressed into her shoulder, or my arms trapped at my sides.

In this dance, I never get the chance to lead.

I get it. Most people like hugs. Most people also like sunshine. I prefer rain, and, most of the time, several inches of space.

I’ve been told I need therapy, and the people who tell me that are right, but here’s the kicker: they need it to. Because they think I need to be the one to change to make them feel better. I don’t fit into whatever scripts have been written on their brain, and the discomfort that causes must be fixed. By me. They shouldn’t have to refrain, I should have to participate. We all need therapy really.

It starts with a countdown, and it ends with a countdown, and it could all be avoided. If you let it.