That Which Does Make You Stronger

I had an interesting therapy experience yesterday.  Jack is a very different therapist from my previous therapist.  The gap is growing wider forming a gulf that is coming to represent their differences, and I’m missing my former therapist more and more.  Alas, change is good.  Perhaps I was growing too comfortable.  I don’t know.  I don’t know what kind of work is going to be done with Jack.  I find myself feeling disdainful.  Unusually rigid.  Clinging to my own stubbornness.

He wants to discuss my sex life.  He wants to discuss my “getting out there” and dating.  I’ve got a lot to offer the world of men so he says.

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Uh huuuuuuuuh.  He wanted to emphasize that his office was a space for discussing difficult topics that may feel taboo.  Like sex and all the nuances therein.  Like…men and getting with them (my words not his).  You know that I’m uncomfortable when I increase the sarcasm.

“It might be hard for you to even think of having sex.  With everything that you’ve been through…but, we can talk about it.  I’ve had clients come to me who can’t masturbate or even have sex at all.  That’s okay.  I want you to know that we can talk about that.  I’m here for you.  This is my job.”

I didn’t know how to tell him at that moment, when he was staring at me like I was sexually constipated and frigid, that I have a boyfriend.

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“It’s okay.  You can tell me.  This is a safe space.”

I started trying to imagine walking in one day for a session with the intent to ask him about masturbation or a difficult nuance regarding having sex.  I ended up here in my head.

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I’ll tell you why.  If I want to talk sex, then I either talk to a close girlfriend with whom I’ve been talking sex for years.  Or, I’ll talk to the person with whom I’m having sex! It was a fair question for him to check in with me regarding sexuality particularly now that I’m not married.  He doesn’t know that I’m in a relationship.  I haven’t disclosed that to him, but he also hasn’t asked me if I feel competent sexually.  He made an assumption about me.  No, no, no, Jack.  Never assume anything about your clients.  It isn’t really fair to the one sitting in the Hot Seat.  He assumes that because I have past sexual injuries and traumas that I’m presently fearful, incompetent or deficient.  Whether he knows it or not, he was stereotyping me.

That being said, I will say that it is very important to discuss sex, but you have to do it with someone you like and with whom you have an established rapport.  A person you trust.  Someone who will have good insight.  A good listener.  And, a person who will not view you through the lens of past experiences because, if you’re anything like me, then you’re already doing that to yourself.  You want to share this aspect of yourself with someone who has a healthy view of sexuality and brings something complete and relatively unmarred to the table.  Someone who can see you in the present tense and imagine you in future tense, too.  This encourages you to be open.  Sex is one of the harder topics to discuss because there is so much shame and embarrassment tied up in it mixed with social pressures and judgment along with messages from our families of origin and religious upbringing.  We never have sex without bringing a slew of people with us it seems.  You want to talk to someone who likes themselves and likes sex.  That really matters, too.  And, you really want to talk to someone who wholeheartedly believes that recovery and healing from past trauma is possible for you.  Particularly when you do not.

For roughly two and half years, I wrote a blog about sex.  It wasn’t what one would call a “sex blog”.  It was a blog about sexual development and healing in the context of PTSD and the recovery of one’s own sexual health in a long-term relationship.  I really liked that blog and writing it.  For what it was, it was a successful blog.  It also marked the beginning of the end of my marriage.  My ex-husband used to put me in double-bind situations–no win situations.  He would complain about not having sex enough or my not seeming to enjoy sex.  I took his observations to heart and decided that I was done with allowing past traumatic events determine my sexual health and enjoyment.  I process quite well through the written word.  So, I decided to blog about the experience anticipating that no one would find the blog.  I was wrong.

Everything I learned, tried, failed at, succeeded at, and the effects it was having on my relationship I recorded.  How I felt, how it was affecting me in terms of trauma recovery, whether or not I could be present, how post-modern culture and religion were affecting my experiences of my sexuality, all of it–I wrote about it.  What I discovered was that I started to get better, and my ex-husband no longer wanted me.  He changed his stance.  He then complained that I was too demanding.  I was showing up for sex, and he didn’t like it.  He was angry that he was “required” to have sex with me.  Perhaps we could schedule sex once a month.  By the end of our marriage, we had had sex 18 times in two years, and it was all terrible.  And painful.  And somewhat violent.  I didn’t know if I hated myself or him.  After twenty years of marriage, I had never had one orgasm.  He blamed me for that.  I was tired of blaming anyone.  I just wanted answers.  I just wanted to be happy.  I just wanted something better.  And, I clung to a stubborn belief that I could get better regardless of what I had experienced in terms of sexual trauma–and, believe me, there was a boatload the size of the Titanic.

What I can say now is that all the time and effort I spent churning through resources on women’s health, sexual recovery, erotic intelligence, how-to guides on masturbation, reading the epic tomes of Dr. David Schnarch, and the hours I spent talking to the very few people willing to be open and honest about sexuality with me were not wasted.  I did experience a recovery and healing in a kind of isolation.  A very private and personal integration.  And, it was challenged in every way when I met James, the man in my life.

You don’t know just how solid you are until it goes live.  Will your foundations hold? Will all the work support you? There was a lot of room for self-doubt and fear.  My ex-husband’s voice was in my head, but James was in front of me.  One was real.  The other felt real enough, but was it? I learned that I had to choose.  One small choice after one small choice.  Consistently.  Who would I believe? The past or the present? On paper, it sounds easy.  The present, duh.  In practice though? I can’t tell you how hard it was and continues to be on the bad days.  Yes, there are bad days.  Days when I just want to, as Liz Lemon sang, “work on my night cheese” and hide in a hole.  That’s okay.  The sun rises.  You will always have another day to try again.  And another.  And another.

There is no substitute for the kind patience of a person who really likes you and finds you to be utterly fascinating and beautiful.  When that kindness and admiration–nay attraction–grows into love, you have a foundation for something exhilarating, healing, and, yes, very scary.

And that is one of the secrets to healing from almost anything.  To fully heal you must fully risk again.  And, everything in us reels at that.  That sounds counterintuitive.  Why would we put ourselves into a situation in which we could be decimated…again? Are you familiar with that tired, old cliché “That which doesn’t kill us makes us stronger?” To be frank, I think it’s a stupid thing to say.  There is no comfort in being told that you didn’t die at the hands of some evil thing, thereby, the evil instilling you with strength.  Nope.  I don’t buy it.

I think there is a different meaning here.  I’m going to change it.  “That (good love) which did not kill you makes you stronger.”  Do you see it? “That which didn’t kill you makes you stronger.”  Perhaps you survived a terrible reality like domestic violence or a really horrible family involving extremes that are not mentionable in “polite” society.  Maybe you survived a stranger assault, war, tragic car accident, terrible grief, difficult and prolonged illness, mental illness that won’t give way–I could go on.  It’s all trauma in one way or another.  To me, it’s all “bad love”.  Why? Because we end up loathing someone.  Most likely, it’s ourselves that we blame or hate the most.  I’m not making light or being pithy.  Toxic love in all its forms drives some of the worst behaviors known to humankind.  Even war.  Love of country…Love of ideology…Love of God used to exterminate and Otherize.

It is integrous, kind, honest, true, patient, loyal, and consistent love that makes us stronger–“That (good love) which did not kill you will make you stronger.”  A true and honest love only makes us stronger.  And, for better or worse, to experience that, you must risk your heart.  You must make yourself vulnerable to someone.  You must try trusting someone, and if the thought of trusting someone makes your stomach turn, then you aren’t alone.  It is one of the hardest things to do.  I know all about that.  I’ve spent the past two years feeling as if I’m living in a K Drama.  Thrilling? Yes.  Terrifying? Yes.

There are many paths to take should you desire more.  None are fast.  None are easy.  There are no shortcuts, but if you keep going you just never know what’s around the corner.  Your traumatized brain might think, “Something terrible probably,” but if you allow yourself to wonder beyond that for a moment maybe not.  Maybe something better.

So, keep going.

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4 thoughts on “That Which Does Make You Stronger

  1. ooooh I don’t like that phrase ‘I’ve got a lot to offer the world of men so he says.’. Maybe he should, as your therapist, be considering what the world of men can offer you!

  2. It is inspiring story. I love it, it is a story about resilience and being human. It shows our capacity for change and new beginnings. The fact that Jack was not even suspecting that you have a man in your life shows your recovery to trust and love again despite circumstance is a miracle. Well done for that.

    The article made me very optimistic about my life. Thanks

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