Flirting with Confusion
Ice contains no future, just the past, sealed away. As if they’re alive, everything in the world is sealed up inside, clear and distinct. Ice can preserve all kinds of things that way – cleanly, clearly. That’s the essence of ice, the role it plays.
― Haruki Murakami, Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman
There are places I remain frozen in the past.
An outcome of my marriage and the last several relationships is I feel as if I am sexually wrecked. I feel frozen between desire and doubt, analysis and paralysis, ambition and silence.
I struggle to stay in the moment, deeply aware of the impact of my choices on others and not desiring to wound another. Profoundly aware of patterns in past relationships and the wounds I carried into, and out of those moments. Today I maintain an intense commitment to making conscious choices about intimacy, vulnerability, and sex moving forward.
I often don’t know what that means in practice.
I struggle to connect in a vulnerable way with my emotional, physical, and sexual ambitions. A reality that leaves me floundering in a space that once was full of confidence and pleasure is now full of questions and confusion as I work to articulate internal traumas, disharmonies, and dissonance.
While still clothed, I confront the conflicts of my unconscious and mindful desires. I am frustrated by my seeming inability to articulate my ambitions to the most patient and loving lover, leaving us confused as to where I stand–or lay–in the moment.
Is it an innate inability to express “me”? A loss of sexual creativity? Am I avoiding trauma and unwilling to be vulnerable? Do I subconsciously pine away for unrequited love?
I’m sure this is due in part to age. I’m not 25 anymore and do not want to pursue people, places, and things I wanted at 25 or 35 or 45.
A dizzying array of questions fuel my curiosity and confusion.
Based on previous choices am I monogamous or simply avoidant? Should I be open to polyamory? Non-monogamy? Kink? Are my partners? Do I want a blow job, to lick her pussy, or to fuck her?
And her? What are her needs? Where is she emotionally? Sexually? What’s her pleasure?
Now I wonder if sex is transactional, pre-negotiated, or merely chemical, biological. Why did I sleep with this woman or that one? Was it passion? Convenience? Coercive? Love? Boredom? Loneliness?
Why am I here? Is there love? Is love what I think it is, or was? Where do her needs begin and my end? What are the rules?
Why am I restless living with a partner offering secure attachment and an emotionally stable relationship?
I wonder if I’m diving into a sexual and relational rabbit hole of FOMO? Hedonistically feeding the ego too much tea and cake until I need a nap.
All of these thoughts, questions, and confusion before I even get my socks off. Am I overthinking this moment?
As a result, the only thing getting fucked is spontaneity and passion.
However, I realize most of what is happening is me freezing out vulnerability. Will I sound stupid? Vain? Needy? Selfish? What will they hear? Will they laugh? Reject me? Judge me? Spread rumors?
Do I smell of woodfire or garlic?
Do I need a shower?
The sparrow is sorry for the peacock at the burden of its tail.
― Tagore, Amitendranath
Yes, but what can the sparrow know of the peacock’s burden?
For over three years I have trudged a path of fact-checking my intentions and motivations. I continue digest the postmortem examination of the relationship and the impact of my actions on myself and others. The goal is insight, not self-flagellation or martyrdom.
I knew lying and secret-keeping is not acceptable if I want to build a relationship with a willing partner. I did it anyway because it made sense when I did it. It was never malicious.
Given the cost of losing love because of my actions versus not being loved and abandoned, lying and secret keeping make perfect sense based on the calculus I knew. Not right, but a reasonable outcome based on the sum of my life to that moment.
I won’t go back to that math.
The objective of my work is to advance my intimacy skills and address where past traumas unconsciously and neurologically hijacked my willingness to fully participate in my own life. This commitment requires time and intention, patience and compassion. Lots and lots of compassion.
Frankly, my commitment to this process is borne from pain, not nobility. I loved my X and it anniliated me when it ended. I never went into my marriage with a plan to leave and I carry a great deal of regret and sadness over the loss and her pain.
I recoginize I made mistakes. Often those choices were limited by an unconscious neurological attempt to avoid pain.
They made mistakes. Probably their choices were limited by an unconscious neurological attempt to avoid pain, too.
Like me, they have traumas that define their lives. People do not show up divorced in their 50’s without trauma of some sort. Securely attached people with minimal traumas tend to navigate their relationships with more finesse that those that bolt to avoid traumas only to reexperience the trauma elsewhere.
I remind myself, I am only responsible for gaining insight into my actions, not theirs. Their mistakes are not justification for mine.
Sidebar: If you recognize the impact of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) you understand the impact of extensive childhood trauma on adults. If you don’t, that is unfortunate and I hope you will take a look. I’ve posted ACEs resources below.
However, the patterns have impact and relationships do not happen in a vacuum. Identifying patterns matter to the well being of the relationship while fault and blame matter only to those individuals avoiding responsibility.
Too often I see people confuse discussions of patterns as attempts to shift blame. This perspective is unfortunate because if we cannot discuss patterns together we cannot come to terms about how to change the patterns for the better. People make the discomfort personal and respond aggressively. As a result, people get trapped in roles and are left to deal with the problems in isolation from support.
Done with integrity my fact-checking is focused on owning the ways I feel crazy, lonely, unstable, avoidant, and anxious. Fact-checking highlights how I respond to feelings emotionally, neurologically, biologically, mentally, and behaviorally. In the past I have unknowingly allowed these trauma responses to hold my life hostage and define my choices.
I want that to stop. I want to better learn the skills of emotional agility and intelligence. Skills that will better guide me in the latter half of my life.
For example, when my ex-wife said she wanted a divorce what motivated my responses? When my X couldn’t pay her expenses what motivated me to pay her mortgage for over three years?
What is the pattern and how is it defined by my traumas?
In my experience infidelity is a trauma based coping mechanism. The real story isn’t about infidelity, its about the coping mechanisms. Diving into the coping mechanism and why it exists is how I hold myself accountable to ending my avoidant motivated infidelities.
The post-relationship autopsy is about patterns and not personalities. It isn’t about blame or avoidance. For this reason, growth requires a willingness to talk, write, listen, and work through the discomfort and sit patiently and compassionately with the feelings of grief. There is nothing comfortable about talking about intimacy, vulnerability, and sex with a therapist, friend, or partner.
Translating the conversations to action is the act of being accountable and can be even more uncomfortable for me. However, I’m not being accountabe if I am unwilling to practice the lessons learned regardless of the discomfort. There is discomfort inherent to learning new skills.
There is a universe wide ocean between swim or drown. I didn’t understand that and often simply avoided the ocean of life or justified the abuse of others and let myself drown. My learned helplessness left me floundering in space instead of simply reaching for the bottom and standing. In my discomfort I was avoiding distress and let myself drown.
In some ways I believe my infidelities were about trying to find a safe space for me to explore my identity without being vulnerable to the very traumas that helped justify the betrayals.
The discomfort is why it is human to pursue change and not growth. I see people change jobs, lovers, politics, and channels in pursuit of comfort but meaningful growth is never comfortable. Growth requires looking inward and asking myself questions including, “Is this important or avoidant?”
Often I didn’t even pause to ask, I simply took my feelings as directives and plunged myself down the rabbit holes. Stories of curiosity provide cover to the impulsive, an arctic fox pursuing snow hares across a frozen emotional tundra ending face first into the rabbit’s den.
Romancing the Ugly
“Ice burns, and it is hard to the warm-skinned to distinguish one sensation, fire, from the other, frost.”
― A.S. Byatt, Elementals: Stories of Fire and Ice
There are so many parts to intimacy I thought I understood. I didn’t.
I still don’t, but I’m learning.
For example, I once had a lover in my life who needed stoned and, or drunk to be sexual. I imagined that behavior was about me.
I once had a partner in my life that hid her face and covered her eyes before we could fuck. I imagined that behavior was about me too.
I once had a darling in my life that when she wanted sex she would start a fight. This too I imagined was about me.
I once had a dame in my life that reached out to me only when she was lonely and wanted attention but wouldn’t return phone calls. This I definitely imagined was about me.
My decision to imagine meaning about these behaviors, and my attempts to care for their needs, reflects how I perceived my role in those moments and those relationships. It never occurred to me in the moment that these women were struggling with their own issues around body image, sexual confusion, attachment dysfunctions, and vulnerability and intimacy traumas.
After three years of trauma counseling, I recognize some of the trauma underlining my choices–and maybe their choices as well. As much as we want to believe we are different and unique, we aren’t.
There are a lot of layers to the cake my partners and I baked around sex. Blindfolds, stoned, power dynamics, or makeup sex can be fun but like too much chocolate cake, eventually everything lose its flavor.
I too have my quirks.
For example, I’m the lover that until my partner orgasms, I cannot move forward. I want to care for their needs first before I can address my own. I imagine meaning about this role too.
As a result, too often, sex becomes a project and not a passion. As a mistresss said to me as I explored her body, “I feel like a science project.”
Without a doubt, I repeatedly tried to discuss the sexual choices, needs, ambitions, and wants of my partners with curiosity & compassion. Asking questions, offering alternatives, and trying to be vulnerable first, hoping my vulnerabilities would make them more sexually intimate, open, and playful.
Their unwillingness or inability to share sexual ambitions is one reason I found it so easy to make it about me. “I’ll do more. I’ll ask for less,” being my assumptive Heroing approach to intimacy—anything to prove my value to others. An approach that benefited them either overtly or covertly in both healthy and Ugly ways.
Part of the Ugly in my most recent breakup is how my attempts at vulnerability and intimacy during our relationship were weaponized, ridiculed, and selectively edited for public distribution resulting in maximum carnage afterwards. What happened post-relationship isn’t revenge porn as much as simple revenge. Culturally it is easy to think of beautiful woman as victims but they are just as likely to be perpetrators.
Beauty has it’s power too. In a world with a misogynistic masculinity at the helm, I imagine women learn to use what they have for leverage.
As Esther Perel writes in The State of Affairs, “Vengence is a lazy form of grieving.” As such, my betray simply opened the door for venging. My X chose to walk through it.
Is it mature and healthy? No.
Is it understandable and can I have compassion for her choices? Of course. I don’t have to pretend to enjoy it. I have an obligation to defend my life when it spills into harassment, smears, and abuse.
However, I recognize these are the consequences to covering up humiliation in one segment of my life while leaving myself open to vulnerability in another. Together the outcome results in a life half lived, half loved, but always full up of rumors.
It’s taken a lot of therapy to accept the behaviors and choices of others were never about me. I realize none of those partners knew enough about themselves to articulate an answer or choose differently. We all live in our own silos of entitlement.
This statement brings me back to the point: I see I’ve invested in the needs, wants, feelings, ambitions, and desires of others to the extent I am confused about my knowing my own. I recognize now that my lack of skills at exploring my needs and wants to unlocks the door to betrayals.
I struggle with discerning what I want versus what they want. In this case it has left me sexually frozen at times as I mentally rehearse instead of experience.
I feel cold because I am.
Loving the Burn
“I freeze and burn, love is bitter and sweet, my sighs are tempests and my tears are floods, I am in ecstasy and agony, I am possessed by memories of her and I am in exile from myself.”
― Francesco Petrarca, Canzoniere: Selected Poems
I’ve spent much of my life avoiding the unconscious Traumas that froze one meaningful relationship after another. The approach resulted in relationships driven by the fickle winds of the Pursuing-Distancing dynamics, defined by the rigid narratives of Victim-Villain-Hero roles, powered by meaningfully unconscious Shadows, and hijacked by other chaotic emotional and neurological dynamics. The result is relationships attached to flashes of heat followed by freezer burns.
I’m learning how to venture outside those cold relationships.
For over three years, I have been deep-diving into my life, and through self-compassion and understanding, making peace with who I am, how I got here. I have unflinchingly sought to make the shadows of Pain, Loneliness, Trauma, Shame, and Grief my friends.
I feel great about where We are today. Many days We have a great relationship with Ourselves. Don’t misunderstand, there are moments I still romance the lost possibilities. I’m will occasionally still grieve the losses.
This has happened because I have committed to making friends with my Shadows. As a result, my Shadows drive less of my decisions and define less of my identity. “Feelings are data,” says Dr. Susan David, “not directives.” Allowing Pain, Loneliness, Trauma, Shame, and Grief to be my confidantes and not the drivers of my life, I have choices now I never had before.
Historically, many of my life choices were defined by anxiously avoiding perceived future traumas of abandonment, violence, and shame at the hands of abusive partners. In a deeply flawed and oversimplified narrative, the result is my choices being limited by the feelings and actions of others. Essentially, the typical oldest child of abusive, neglectful, and violent alcoholism trauma intertwined with poor parenting.
As a result, too often my choices were defined by treating emotions as directives. My low emotional intelligence and agility resulting in habituation of responses overrunning boundaries as I ran from Shadows to the shadows.
As such, I didn’t know about myself or what I imagined others wanted. Without my Shadows driving my Sense of Self, so much appears new, including sexually. For example, in past relationships, I spent much of my emotional and financial resources, caring for others.
As such, I never learned who I am and what that means to me. Much of my identity has been buried under an avalanche of expectations and perceptions. Therapy, my writings, and my practices are about seeking the opportunities to dig myself out of the emotional blizzards of other people and my own choices,
Snow is a bath frozen. As I thaw my life and heart, I will wash Myself of myself.
Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs). (2020a). Retrieved December 25, 2020, from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website: https://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/aces/
Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs). (2020b). Retrieved December 27, 2020, from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website: https://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/aces/index.html
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2019). CDC Vital Signs: Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) – Preventing early trauma to improve adult health. In Center for Disease Control and Prevention (p. Newsletter). Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/vitalsigns/aces/pdf/vs-1105-aces-H.pdf
Dr. Andrew Rosen. (2017, September 16). Complex Trauma Disorder – The Center for Treatment of Anxiety and Mood Disorders. Retrieved December 25, 2020, from The Center for Treatment of Anxiety and Mood Disorders website: https://centerforanxietydisorders.com/complex-trauma-disorder/
Therapist Uncensored. (2017, June 16). Adverse Childhood Experiences: A Roadmap To Understanding. Retrieved December 25, 2020, from Therapist Uncensored website: https://therapistuncensored.com/episodes/tu33-adverse-childhood-experiences-a-roadmap-to-understanding-and-treatment/#
White, C. (2016, July 11). The single best medical appointment of my life was when a nurse practitioner asked me about my adverse childhood experiences. Retrieved December 25, 2020, from Center for Health Journalism website: https://centerforhealthjournalism.org/2016/07/10/single-best-medical-appointment-my-life-was-when-nurse-practitioner-asked-me-about-my