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How Self-Esteem Transformed The Relationships In My Life

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I spent a lot of years thinking I was confident, mostly because I’ve always been outgoing, but it turns out I had pretty low self-esteem for a good portion of my young adult life. Throughout my teenage years and into my early 20s, I didn’t show myself the respect I deserve — that every person deserves. I’d often do things that I would regret in the morning, surround myself with people who brought out my bad habits, project my angst onto my family, and generally practice self-destruction at every turn.

Throughout my teenage years and into my early 20s, I spent a lot of time under the influence of alcohol. Not so much frequency, but under the effect of it, which went far beyond the time I spent with a drink in my hand. This led me to sleep with a lot of dudes I wouldn’t have slept with sober, and as a result, left me feeling very badly about myself. I’m sure I was overly sensitive because of the slut-shaming I dealt with in high school, but regardless, I wasn’t looking out for myself or taking care of myself, and it caused me a lot of internal pain. My relationship with alcohol was a relationship indeed, and an abusive one at that. It was no different than being in a tumultuous relationship with another person. In February 2016, shortly after my 25th birthday, I wrote a poem titled, “My Abusive Relationship with Alcohol” that I’ve only shared with my best friend...until now:

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My relationship with alcohol has been deceiving
It’s watered me down the same amount I’ve been breathing
My relationship with alcohol has had highs and lows
The highs menial
The lows extreme
There has been no in between
Moderation a misconception
A pleasant buzz
An intensified high
In reality it was a crutch
A means to escape into a place I felt free
Free to dance, free to fuck, free to speak
How could I not see?
It had power over me
A romanticized relationship
That inhibited my ability to grow
To think
To be
It was never really me
I was never really buzzed
I was never really free
Just stuck in an illusion
Oblivious and blind
And the highs were never high
And the lows ripped my soul

Pretty heavy, right? A 10-year relationship that dug me into the ground and was a catalyst for all the other unhealthy relationships in my life. Looking back, while I had a lot of sex, I never really "dated" guys. I used to joke about how I’d lived in NYC for three years and the only guy I’d gone on multiple dates with was my Dad (thanks for all the dinners in Little Italy, Pops). This feeling of inadequacy and constant cognitive dissonance (the state of having inconsistent attitudes and actions) ate away at my self-esteem so much more than I realized. The question, “Why do guys want to fuck me, but not want to date me?” haunted me like a dark, horrible spirit. I felt like guys didn’t take me seriously, that they liked me for my body, but had no interest in my thoughts. They enjoyed being around me, but not for too long.

I’ve since learned that one of the worst things you can do for your self-esteem is sit around and wonder why guys don’t like you.

When I turned 26, something happened. It was the first birthday I’d had in years that I wasn’t anxious or hung over. I spent the day with my mom and we had lunch, then went to the Museum of Sex, where we bounced around on inflatable boobs and learned about animal sex and the first vibrators ever created. It was perfect, and what made it even more epic is that I spent the day in my beloved Nana’s notorious leopard coat; she had passed away in October. I felt like I was in a state of euphoria. I was present and I found joy in the little things — that state of being "free" that I refer to multiple times in my poem, a reoccurring theme in most of my poems, I truly and wholeheartedly felt.

Around this time, I had also started focusing more on building my business, What’s In Your Box?. What’s In Your Box is a sex-positive monthly subscription box for women's sexual health, hygiene, pleasure and empowerment. Since I launched the service, WIYB has brought new meaning into my life in a way that I could have never imagined. It saved me from myself, which is why I feel so passionately about spreading empowerment to other women. WIYB is a service for a reason, designed to equip women with products and information to explore their sexuality free of stigma or shame. With proper education and resources for a healthy sex life, it’s a lot less likely that you’ll get into mishaps where sex leaves you feeling down. If you’re not having sex to make a baby, you’re having sex for pleasure, and as a result should experience satisfaction. With WIYB, I aim to remind my “box babes” to take care of themselves, to prioritize pleasure, and to be confident in decisions both in and outside of the bedroom.

My 26th birthday caused something inside of me to change. Granted, I’m still me, but I had a pivotal moment in which I realized my own worth and how far I had come, and it made me cry. It was a beautiful cry, like I was shedding a layer of myself — a layer consumed with self-criticism and self-doubt. I felt exhilarated, liberated, like a whole new wave of confidence and self-esteem was taking over me. I felt deeply proud of myself for starting a business I’d been dreaming about since college, for no longer sleeping with a man who took advantage of my sweetness and left me jaded for two years, for making genuine friends with whom I share passions and interests, who love and support me, and who I love, too. But most importantly, above everything else, for coming out of my abusive relationship with alcohol. I knew the change in itself directly correlated to all the other positives in my life, like starting What’s In Your Box?. It was a revelation that was truly an out of body experience and manifested in the form of some beautiful tears.

Twenty days after my birthday, I met somebody. He was a friend of a friend who saw a WIYB subscription box on the table at her apartment and was instantly intrigued. Being a past Student Health Advisor in college, he was curious to learn more about the box and started asking questions. My friend told him all about the monthly service and my background as an entrepreneur, to which he replied, “So you know the girl who started this? I want to meet her.” On February 27th, we did just that. I went into the meetup with the mindset of it being strictly about business, but in the hours leading up to it, got a funny feeling it was going to be something different than I had expected.

Collin and I spent the first two hours of knowing each other talking about my business, feminism, and the landscape of sex education today. I was shocked by how able I was to be completely myself around this new person. What a spectacular feeling it was — letting my guard down and being rewarded with good conversation. The time we spent hanging out in the weeks to come consisted mostly of drinking tea and continuing our talks — many of which revolved around WIYB. It was four weeks before Collin and I had sex (which was new to me — I usually have sex the same night I meet the person), and it was also the same night we confessed our love for each other. Four weeks — that’s all it took for me to experience the most honest progression of feelings I had experienced in my entire life.

Five months later, and here I am writing this essay on self-esteem, and how it changed my entire world. I believe that my Nana up in Heaven had something to do with all this, too, but mostly, it was my major life changes in reconciling my relationship with alcohol and launching my sex-positive business that were the catalysts for my newfound self-esteem. And with my newfound self-esteem, so many other aspects of my life have improved, too. Just as alcohol had directly impacted my potential, passions, relationships and confidence, the absence of using it as a crutch directly impacted those things, too.

My life is not perfect, nor do I ever expect it to be, but I am so happy today to have my business, my blog, my subscribers, my growing team, my family, my friends, my partner, my health, my hobbies, the community of empowered women in which I thrive, and productive relationships overall. For all of these things, I am eternally grateful.

Christine Long is the Founder of the sex positive monthly subscription box and social platform, What's In Your Box?. She is an advocate for healthy sexuality and self-empowerment, writing and curating content for her blog – Sex, Feels & Feminism – as well as providing women with an affordable, convenient and comfortable new means to explore their bodies freely without stigma or shame. Follow her on Instagram at @whatsinyourbox_ and @christinenlong.

Bianca Ng is a Brooklyn-based designer, illustrator, and writer who’s obsessed with typography, imperfections, and the female psyche. She frequently experiments with analog processes. When she's not getting her hands dirty, she's discovering the best cheap bites in NYC, in bed with a book, or working with The Design Kids. Her work was featured in the Type Directors Club. Check out her work at bianca-ng.com and shop at society6.com/biancang. You can find her on Instagram @bng.design.

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This essay is shared in collaboration with It's Not Personal, a growing anthology and collective that creates opportunities for women to share their dating experiences in a positive environment. The project aims to progress society's conversations around singlehood, relationships and everything in between. For more information, be sure to follow It's Not Personal on Instagram join the Facebook group, and send art and writing submissions to itsnotpersonalnyc@gmail.com. 

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