‘The church said no to women wearing pants. Makeup was frowned upon. At 13, there was no room for mistakes or mishaps.’: Woman battling ROCD, childhood trauma shares journey to healthy relationship

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“For as long as I remember, the need to always be perfect was very evident in my life. I was raised Christian, Pentecostal to be exact. Although I was never told to be perfect, I could feel it, even as a child. My mom and I moved to a small town when I was 3 years old. I remember when we arrived in the new town she didn’t have a car, so oftentimes we walked. We lived in a low-income area, and although I knew our circumstances, I still had my mom and that was enough for me.

Little girl sits in white whicker chair while wearing a white dress with white bows in her hair
Courtesy of Tequa Dunning

My father has been absent throughout my life, even now. I vaguely remember going to daycare and seeing little girls being picked up by their dads and asking myself, ‘Why doesn’t my dad pick me up?’ He was never there for daycare pick-ups, choir rehearsals, awards day at school or anything of the sort. He would send me presents and gifts on my birthday, but the gift I really needed was a present father. When I hit middle school, I was kind of awkward and still navigating my own thoughts. By this time my mom had gotten married and we had moved into a bigger and better neighborhood. I thought, ‘Finally, we have the perfect family, I have a father figure in my life, we have a nice house and everything is perfect.’

The church my family and I attended was strict. Having kids out of wedlock was forbidden, women wearing pants was an issue, and wearing makeup was frowned upon. Although my mom never told me I had to maintain an image, I felt like I had to. I felt like there was no room for cracks, mistakes or mishaps. Imagine as a 13-year-old feeling like you had no room for error. Therapy was frowned upon, needing antidepressants to help fight depression and other mental health issues was looked at as shameful. We were told to pray and read our bibles; while this was helpful, it certainly wasn’t the only thing that was needed. I never really felt like I could open up to my mom about much and when I would try, I felt dismissed or unheard, so over time, I just stopped trying.

When I hit 8th grade, my mom told me she was divorcing my stepdad. My idea of perfection was again distorted. My mom never really asked how I felt during this time, and I never divulged how I felt. Instead, I became my mom’s therapist at 14. She would tell me explicit details that at age I didn’t need to know. I knew at the time she just needed an outlet, but unfortunately her own projections of love and relationships coupled with my need for perfection altered my view on love and relationships – forever.

The older I got, the more I started feeling like the family therapist. Imagine being your family’s therapist while also being a teenager. My opinions weren’t my own; they were formed for me. Every time I would hear gossip about other family members, I would think to myself, ‘If I made a mistake, would I be talked about like this too?’ There was no safe place for me to let down my guard, so instead I maintained the ‘strong, perfect and unflawed church girl image,’ even though there was a battle looming between me and my mind.

In the Spring of 2015, I graduated from high school. I graduated in the top 15% of my class and with honors, just as perfect girls are supposed to. I went off to college and in 2018, I met my now husband, Matthew. We started dating and everything was perfect. From the start I could tell he was different, not like anyone I had met before. Very soft-hearted, nonjudgmental, giving, and everything I could have asked for – but still, my need for perfection was looming.

Young girl takes a photo in her graduation cap and gown with a white dress on underneath
Courtesy of Tequa Dunning

Looking back, I wanted everyone to think my relationship was perfect and the moment I felt like the perfection was slipping, I’d shut down. I didn’t know how to communicate, my communication was displayed as outbursts, no accountability and coldness. I knew something wasn’t right, but I didn’t care. Everyone else thought we were perfect and that’s all that mattered, even though I was broken and terrified of commitment. My fear of commitment was something I never dug into, I just swept it under the rug like everything else I was feeling. In December of 2020, he proposed and I accepted. I was beyond happy; everything was perfect again.

Man kisses his fiancé on the cheek while she shows off her engagement ring after he just proposed
Courtesy of Tequa Dunning
Newlyweds look happy as they show off their wedding rings while at their wedding reception
Courtesy of Tequa Dunning

The following January, I had a death in my family that rocked me to the core. My aunt was killed. The death was unexpected and it hit my family like a ton of bricks. I remember being there for my mom, who was taking the death pretty hard. I knew she needed me, so I became the person she could lean on, the therapist. During this time, I wasn’t saying much; I was colder, quieter and isolated. I remember Matthew pleading with me to tell him how I was feeling and to open up and I wouldn’t. Instead, I would find ways to control the narrative and make it his fault because in my mind, I was perfect and incapable of making mistakes.

Until 3 months later, when it all came crashing down. I broke and completely unraveled at the seams. ‘Perfect Tequa’ had a mental breakdown. The days and weeks after my mental break were terrible. No one knew of my mental breakdown besides Matthew and I continued to try to act like I was fine. This is when the compulsions started. I thought because I had a mental breakdown, it was a sign I was in the wrong relationship and there was no way anything could be wrong with me. In my mind there was no way I could have a mental disorder, there was no way I needed pills, there was just absolutely no way something was wrong with me because perfection was the standard. Inwardly, I was depressed, I was having episodes of anger and outbursts, I was crying everyday and not eating. My fear of commitment was at an all time high, my distorted belief of love was even more distorted and I was actively trying to sabotage my relationship because in my mind there was no way Matthew could love an imperfect Tequa.

Couple take candid photo of her wiping his face while taking engagement photos
Courtesy of Tequa Dunning

After months of depression, I made the choice to go to therapy. I didn’t tell anyone except Matthew. Going to therapy was unheard of in my family and it was shameful to do so, but I needed relief. I started therapy, and after a couple sessions, I was officially diagnosed with OCD, specifically ROCD (relationship obsessive compulsive disorder). ROCD is a subtype of OCD and deals with the fears and doubts of one’s romantic relationship. It felt good to get a diagnosis, but getting a diagnosis would mean I was imperfect and this was the hardest thing to accept.

Strangely, once I accepted it, I felt peace, calmness and stillness. I remember my therapist telling me, ‘Tequa, you don’t need to be perfect to be loved.’ This statement brought me to tears because it was true. My whole life I felt like I needed to maintain a perfect image in order to be loved by other people, but this wasn’t true. My fear of commitment was rooted in the absence of my father, unhealthy displays of relationships and love I saw growing up, my mom’s divorce and the projections of people around me. I needed to heal, deeply.

Woman takes selfie in the car while wearing black glasses and green long-sleeved shirt
Courtesy of Tequa Dunning

So I did, I started to heal. As difficult as it was, I knew it was needed. I began to open up to the idea of healthy love. Not what I thought love was but real, true and pure love. I began to realize love wasn’t perfect but it was a testament of raw, beautiful and all-consuming acceptance of one’s flaws. This was a feeling I had been chasing my whole life and I finally understood it and I could finally give it. I saw a quote by Lauren London that said, ‘Learn to roll with the river instead of fighting with the rocks.’ Oftentimes we’re fighting with unhealed trauma and imperfection; if we linger on those things, we will be stuck there forever. Give yourself the option of seeing the good and the beauty of the river. Here’s to healing unhealed trauma and not fighting with the rocks.”

Woman looks happy and blissful while walking in front of her house in a tan dress and orange cardigan
Courtesy of Tequa Dunning
Newly engaged couple take intimate photo during their engagement photoshoot
Courtesy of Tequa Dunning

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Tequa Dunning. You can follow her journey on Instagram and TikTok. Submit your own story here. Be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.

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