I’ll be honest. I miss my old Therapist. Jack the FNG (“friendly” New Guy) is so different. He’s a much younger PhD. He feels like a grad student. Yeah. That young. He’s growing a beard now. He’s really tall. Fit. And very subdued. In fact, this sort of looks like Jack the New Therapist:
He’s like a character in a romantica novel. And, Tuesday’s session felt like the beginning of a romantica novel.
Jack has asked me a few times if I’m comfortable having a male therapist. I’ve reassured him that I am. I’ve done my best work with male therapists. His predecessor was a guy. They were colleagues. Of course, both of my male therapists were older than I and very quirky. I like quirky therapists. They always seem to be less constrained by social mores and public opinion. This makes for great therapy sessions because the therapist is often willing to go with compassion over protocol under pressure, and that lays the foundation for a quickened healing process. I have observed over the years that traumatized people can usually discern when they are being “handled”. In other words, we usually know when protocol is being whipped out because someone feels like we are “too much to handle”. That just wrecks me when this happens. I have so often felt like a hot mess in my life. People talking to me using objectifying, distancing language reinforces that fear and negative core belief. Compassion, on the other hand, takes it apart. That’s the point of therapy.
As our sessions have unfolded, Jack sometimes seems to be the one who appears uncomfortable with being the man in the room. His consistent inquiry implies that. Yesterday, as I sat across from him trying to be open while once again observing his somewhat defensive listening posture, he brought up dating and whether or not I was doing it. Dating?!
Dating. Like…speed dating? Online dating? Blind dating? Have-a-friend-set-you-up-dating? I stared at him and repeated, “Dating?!”
“Yes, dating. You’re a….you know….ahem…::cough:: woman with a lot to offer. I’d really be curious to see how things go for you…”
“In fact,” he continued, “how is your libido?”
This is where it started to feel like a romantica novel. Handsome, young therapist asks wounded divorcée about her dating life and whether or not she’s having sex in veiled terms. What happens next?
I’ll tell you what happened next. Another epic eye roll from me or, rather, a smirk. I smirked at him, and he pointed it out.
“Jules, you’re smirking.”
“I am? I’m…smirking?” I asked incredulously.
“Why are you smirking?” he asked starting to smirk at me.
This is the point in the beginning of a therapeutic relationship where you get to establish that relationship. I have a sense of humor, and I use it in therapy. It tempers the hard moments and eases the pain of the work. I have, however, never discussed my dating status in therapy! Never. It’s not why I’m in therapy. Also, I’ve been married for most of my therapeutic career. Dating has been irrelevant.
It’s funny to me because one reason people often avoid therapy is because they don’t want to disclose all their private stuff. They’ll say, “I don’t want to go sit with some stranger and tell ’em all my personal shit.” You know what? People don’t go to therapy to air their dirty laundry so to speak. My past therapists only knew what I wanted them to know, and my past therapist never knew how I spent most of my time. He only knew about the issues that I had which I wanted addressed. Dating? Sex? Are you kidding? No. We did not discuss that. So, yes, I did start to feel a little weird with Jack on Tuesday, and when I feel weird I’ll usually whip out humor.
There I sat. Smirking apparently. Looking at Jack. Pretending to ponder my libido for his sake because he had presupposed that I was living in a social desert. A weird word, by the way. Libeeeeeedo. Libido.
“My libido is fine,” I answered somewhat curtly.
Do you know what he said?
“Do you know what FINE means? Feelings Inside Never Explained.”
“That’s clever. Okay. My libido is good. It’s healthy.”
Then we stared at each other.
“I think, at some point, I’d like to see you think about dating.”
For the love of….oh my sweet Lord…
“Jack, I am dating! I have been seeing someone. For quite some time now,” I admitted with a small huff.
That’s when he finally sat forward and rested his elbows on his knees.
“Oh! Well, I hope I didn’t force a disclosure there. I just think that it’s time to view yourself as something other than mother or ex-wife or through the lens of a role. You are a woman with a lot to offer. It would be good for you to meet men who see you as a woman first so that you can experience something other than only knowing what you have had which is, as I’m learning, not good at all. And sex is just such an important part of our lives, but we don’t talk about it much.”
And then he stared at me. Again.
At this point, I don’t feel comfortable talking sex with Jack. I have other people in my life for that. As a society, we don’t talk about sex very much at all, and I think that we should. Oh, we portray sex in all manner of ways, but we do not engage in helpful, healthy, healing dialogues in which people come together and experience appropriate vulnerability that will cultivate growth. Big difference.
I think that many of us would heal a lot faster if we felt emancipated in that way. Sexual victimization steals so much from us, and one of the first things to go is our voice–our physical ability to use our voice in any situation that could be perceived as sexual. Many of us can’t use it in real ways in sexual situations for a variety of reasons. Societal pressure and shame are real factors that smother us. Religious models have tremendous influence over past and present sexual development. And, some of the last people we talk about sex with is our partners. Frankly, it is stinkin’ hard.
The primary reason I won’t discuss sexuality with Jack is because I don’t know him. The foundational trust for sexual discussion isn’t there. Plus, he just looks somewhat uncomfortable, but he presents as not wanting to be. There is some kind of dissonance there even if only affectual. I also know that everyone brings their own sexual baggage with them–even professionals. Projection comes in many forms, and bad advice is, in my experience, one of the most common.
Healing is holistic or it should be. What does that mean? When we talk about trauma of any kind, it means that it touches all of us from DNA to neuron. We, therefore, want our healing work to do the same. This includes our sexuality. What is sexuality? Boy, that’s a question. My off the cuff definition might go something like this: Your sexuality includes your expression of your sexual identity (orientation), but it also includes your sexual personality meaning what your sexual preferences are, how you express your sexual preferences, how they manifest, how you feel and experience your own sexual feelings, your capacity for sexual feelings, and how you would like to weave your sexuality into how you live your life. Based upon that definition (which is written out very quickly so be kind), it’s not too difficult to see how trauma infiltrates and corrupts it and why it’s so hard to even “go there” in meaningful ways that affect lasting change. You need the resources to do that work and access to safe people is one of those resources.
I feel overly vulnerable and unsafe when discussing anything related to my sexuality or past trauma that has affected my sexuality with people I don’t trust enough because judgment, shame, and sexuality go together like chocolate and peanut butter. Identity work of any kind is very hard. Sexual identity work? Oh, that’s a whole other ballgame, isn’t it? And when judgment and shame are aimed at your developing and healing sexuality, they are aimed at your healing and developing identity, too. In the midst of deep trauma work, it is practically impossible to separate the two. This is why safe, validating environments coupled with safe, validating people are so important. I think this gets missed. I think that this is why it is so hard. The identity piece.
So, how do you do it?
In my experience, the first step to take is to begin thinking about it–the state of your sexuality. That’s it. For some people, it is a repugnant thought, and there are myriad reasons why. Self-loathing is a big theme in trauma as is fear. Those two don’t mix well with sexuality. It’s a nasty cocktail, but, as with any healing process, it all starts with what we’re thinking about, and it usually ends there, too.
So, begin to think about it. What do you think about yourself in relation to that definition of sexuality? What’s in that “sexuality” box inside yourself? That is a good place to start. That is where I started.
As a somewhat humorous aside, one of my cats insists on sitting by the bathroom door every time someone closes the door. She sits there just like this for as long as the door is closed as if she’s in queue. It is both adorable and annoying at once. Once the door opens, she immediately scolds you for having even been in the bathroom! It’s as if she is saying, “I was waiting for it, and you cut in line!”