It’s my Monday therapy session with E. Today’s topic: how I’m feeling about starting sex therapy with Marie. I’ve had two sessions now, and E wants to know how I’m feeling about it.
“Good,” I say, “It goes well. I feel it’s all reasonable. This last time we talked some about my pelvic organ surgery how many medical practitioners lack experience with trauma-sensitive practices. We thought about how that might be affecting me, too. It was a decent session, and I left her office feeling centered and even hopeful. But before I finished the ride home, things were swirling around. I was already thinking that I should burn myself. Not a lot, but just a bit to calm things down.”
“Hm,” E is thoughtful. “And how would that help you?”
“Well, you know, it’s two things at once. It’s a release of the tension, and it’s a punishment, both at the same time. The moment I touch the iron to my skin–even though I haven’t done this for a while, I remember exactly–it feels like it opens up a little hole in my body, and some of the chaos and pain go flying out.”
“Tell me more about that chaos and pain. What is that about? Is it because of what you talked about with Marie?”
“No, I don’t think so,” I reply. “There’s nothing disturbing about what is happening there. I don’t feel threatened by the homework (identifying non-sexual sources of pleasure from my five senses). I think it’s about what I am moving toward. It’s the larger purpose. It’s the knowledge that we are moving toward bringing my husband into the therapy. That’s what is setting off the alarms.”
We keep on talking about this, and the conversation goes deeper than it has the past. It’s a bit of a blur right now–I’m finding I can’t reconstruct the conversation. But what I can say is that we were able to connect some dots more explicitly that we have done before, namely: in my head, becoming aroused is tied to being bad or being disgusting, so to protect myself from being disgusting, I check out and essentially leave my body the moment it becomes aroused.
And what happens when I check out? Someone else takes over. She’s doing me a favor. She doesn’t mind being disgusting; she’s used to it, or she’s come to accept it. She can handle the humiliation. Maybe she ignores it, or maybe she is a little stupid and doesn’t fully realize how much she’s been humiliated.
I can hardly talk about this part. It’s hard to write about it. I have let this draft post sit unfinished for almost a week because I am nervous about revealing it.
Naturally, E suggests I should be kind and even grateful to this part. She’s done a lot for me; she has allowed me to have sexual experiences and protected me from a lot of the conflicted emotions. Blah, blah, blah… I know all this, in my head. However, in my body, I only know shame. This part is all about shame, as far as I am concerned.
E takes a lot of notes, which is a good thing, because I don’t take any, uncharacteristically, and afterwards, I can hardly remember any of the words we said about this part.
When I see her again on Wednesday, she fills me in on the details on what I have said: I am very conflicted about trying to stay present in my body during sex with my husband. If I like it, I’m disgusting (because I have this old connection between arousal and being disgusting). If I don’t like it, I’m a cold and unloving wife. It’s too complicated, so it’s better just to not be there at all. I can let this other part, that doesn’t mind accepting everything, doesn’t mind being disgusting.
Furthermore, I hesitate to express myself about sex or to say what I want because that would mean I would have to take responsibility for what happens. And I don’t want to be responsible for being disgusting.
Writing it down, it doesn’t really make sense. In my emotional center, a place of considerable chaos, it makes perfect sense, however.
E says it would probably be helpful to share this information with Marie. I could share it, or if I wanted, she could share it.
“Well,” I say, “I’m okay with telling her about the way I have arousal and responsibility and disgustingness all tangled up in my head. That’s fine. But let’s not talk about this other part. I don’t want to share that.”
“What? But I think that’s exactly where you want to go. You are looking for more connection and authenticity in your relationship with your husband. So it seems like a pretty important thing to share.”
I’m shaking my head: no, no, no, no and no. Impossible.
“Think how sweet it will feel, to be past the hurdle of telling him, and knowing he loves you anyway.”
No, no, no. I start to feel a sense of panic. I tell her I can’t, there’s no way, it’s not necessary, I don’t want to.
She suggests I talk directly to the part of me that’s feeling so frightened: “Oh, frightened one, I see you are so stirred up! You are really scared. I want you to know that I care about your safety. I won’t risk your well-being. I’m wondering if you can trust that I have the skills now to protect you in new ways…”
I interrupt her. “No, that scared part can’t trust me. Look at what I’ve done. I’ve been complicit in my own wounding. Think about Stephen. I didn’t escape from his apartment when I still had the chance. I ignored all the warning signs. That was a long time ago, but the scared part remembers.”
E looks very serious. She says she is glad I brought that up, that she hadn’t really connected that part of my history to the rest of what I’m experiencing. I’m not that glad I brought it up; personally, I’m feeling like I want to throw up.
And suddenly, the session is about over. We have five minutes left, and we do what we can to contain the emotion: the fear, the confusion, the disorganized reactivity. But it’s hard to pack it up tightly enough. I am tense and agitated and tingly, anxious in my chest and my arms and my neck. It’s not until I go to cranio-sacral therapy on Friday that I finally quiet the noise and the chaos.
This is not fun. Healing from trauma is no walk in the park. It’s more like trying to swim in the ocean in the middle of a hurricane. It is time-consuming and terrifying and expensive and frustrating and painful, and it isn’t fair that I have to clean up the mess that I didn’t make in the beginning.
But I’m doing it anyway because I only get one life, and I want to live it as a real, live, awakened, feeling, engaged human being.
CREDIT: Photo by Arif Wahid on Unsplash