emotional disconnection, sex and loneliness

Extreme fatigue makes me very thin-skinned. I become even more indecisive and I second-guess myself terribly. I revert to my deep programming, which makes me profoundly critical of everything and everyone (including myself), and I tend to become unable to see anything positive, whether that’s noticing beauty around me or remembering anything I’ve learned on my journey into sex positivity. I don’t much like myself while this is going on, but at least when this happened the other day due to the rigours of travel I was still aware that once I recovered I’d probably feel better emotionally. And I that’s what happened. Luckily, Jaime has the patience of a saint.

Despite the epiphany I had about sexual shame almost 5 years ago now, and the subsequent realisation that I also have difficulty with trust, I find I’m still struggling with a lot of the same sexual issues that I did before the epiphany.

Confession time: I’ve not had partnered sex in a year, and not because of lack of opportunity. Although things heated up for a while after the shame epiphany, I haven’t been able to sustain that. My libido is low, I don’t get turned on, and my only strategy to address this issue is to continue to read any book I come across that seems relevant. I know that it’s possible to enjoy and want and seek sex but I haven’t figured out how to make that happen for me.

This is, to put it mildly, deeply frustrating. As a child I was taught to be self-critical. I’ve been frustrated about my sexuality not being what I wanted (or what thought it should be, which is different) for pretty much my entire adult life, and it’s very easy for me to interpret this as meaning that there’s something wrong with me, which makes me frustrated with myself.

I haven’t known how to deal with that so I’ve either simply said the no that I felt (a more recent approach), or pushed myself to do the thing (my default). But I see now that, for my issues, pushing myself doesn’t work. In fact, I think it actively causes me harm. It’s comparable to the way that men are typically taught to keep pushing things forward (through a woman’s “I don’t really want this but I can live with it”) until they hear a no, but in my case both Wolf and Jaime are keen to give me pleasure (whatever that actually looks like for me) and I’m putting all the pressure on myself. If I don’t respect my own no, I’m vitiating my own consent. In other words, I am to some extent victimising myself — a sobering thought.

A few months ago I listened to a podcast about procrastination as a writing issue and one point stuck with me: shitting on yourself for perceived problematic behaviour not only doesn’t stop the behaviour, it can actually reinforce the very habit you’re trying to change. This is the harm of perfectionism. So to change the habit I need to be kind and generous to myself, which I find challenging. I also need to spend time figuring out what I like and what I want because, honestly, I don’t really know. (I do have a strategy for this but I haven’t done much work on it yet.)

The other day with Jaime I discovered a new factor that I’d never been aware of before. During a spanking he checked in with me from time to time to ask how I was feeling and what I was experiencing emotionally. He was asking for information but this was also a cue to be mindful of my emotions, which I found really useful. I told him I was experiencing the spanking physically but I wasn’t aware of any emotions that went with any of what he was doing and I felt completely disconnected from his feeling of being loving toward me, taking care of me, being invested in my pleasure, or anything else of that nature.

The next day, he was giving me oral, and when I checked in with myself regarding my emotions I found that I was experiencing it in an exclusively physical way as well. On top of that, I also felt the profound vulnerability that I feel with sex. Jaime takes good care of me and I know he’s seriously invested in pleasing me but I couldn’t perceive it. I just felt disconnected and lonely.

Why? My first belief about sex was that it’s a man taking something from a woman, and despite everything I’ve learned or taught myself, remnants of this view are still entrenched deep in my psyche. The mind has a tendency to use all evidence to confirm its deeply held beliefs (aka self-image or self-schema), and if any evidence can only be understood as contradicting that paradigm, it’s typically ignored.

In addition to this incorrect paradigm, I also have some sub-optimal general emotional wiring: my parents didn’t connect with me in a healthy and loving emotional way as I was growing up, and I’ve recently realised that I’ve always felt emotionally orphaned and fundamentally lonely. (If that rings any bells for you, you might be interested to read Jonice Webb, Running on Empty: Overcome Your Childhood Emotional Neglect.) In the context of sex, it feels as though I lack the emotional sensors to detect warmth and caring and love.

As often happens for me, I wasn’t really aware of the intensity of my feelings during the encounter until I started thinking about them consciously, and in this case discussing them with Jaime (and weeping throughout — this shit is fucking difficult). I let him know about the isolation I was feeling and asked him to try to create an emotional connection with me verbally.

And you know, it actually seemed to work. Hearing explicitly that I am loved made me feel it in a way that physical affection has never been able to successfully communicate because of those generally incorrect messages about what being physical and sexual with another person actually means. And I enjoyed myself more, which from a rational perspective is unsurprising, but to actually feel it as an experience felt a little bit like magic.

The vulnerable feeling generated by that first sexual encounter felt similar to the thin-skinned feeling from fatigue in the way it brought my deep programming to the surface. But what if it doesn’t just bring up the ugly? What if the whole package of programming is summoned up to the surface and can be communicated with directly instead of through the layers of learning and rationality that usually muffle it? If so, this could represent a shortcut in the process from knowing something intellectually to actually feeling it. Our initial experiment suggests that this might be true.

Sex for me is still fraught and likely will continue to be for some time. The epiphany about sexual shame and the realisation that I have difficulty trusting are both essential elements but the fact that I’m still having the same kind of difficulties as before proves that they aren’t the whole story. I feel like I’ve just stumbled upon another key and I’m feeling optimistic again, for the first time in a long time.

Dark Ages 3a: digging up buried emotion?

For the last few days I’ve noticed tension in my neck and jaw, and sometimes even in the root of my tongue. This is a familiar pattern of tension: in recent months I’ve realized that it’s the way I tend to physically experience stress and difficult emotions. And yet I’ve otherwise been feeling fairly relaxed lately: the holidays were a net win with less than the usual amount of work stress, and minimal holiday/family stress. So where is the tension coming from?

I went looking for other possible stressors and the only thing I can find is my “Dark Ages” posts (posted, drafted or merely outlined). I originally dismissed this as an unlikely stressor, but now I’m not so sure.

Sometimes when I’m reading (something on personal growth, for instance), I read a passage and — before any specific thought coalesces — I experience an emotional reaction in the form of sudden feeling of tension (usually the jaw), or being choked up (throat), or even full-blown tears. It’s like a tiny emotional landmine. Then I have to stop and think about it if I want to figure out what I’m feeling and what provoked it. It usually only takes a few moments: I usually have good idea of what it might be, so I just think on that for a moment to see if the thought stings or not. If it stings, that’s the issue. Sometimes the feeling might be uncomfortable but a bit hazy, as though this is part of it but not the biggest part, in which case I work through the other possibilities until I locate the sting.

My theory is that my recent neck and jaw tension may be a similar physical experience of emotion, but more vague and spread over a longer period of time — perhaps because the emotion is complex and/or deeply buried. I’ve had a few ideas about the possible underlying issues, but none of them give that sting when I’ve thought on them.

The fact that this exercise in revisiting the past seems to be unearthing some kind of emotion suggests that there is still some emotional work to be done here, as opposed to just pointless bitching about exes. I’m optimistic that I’ll be able to figure it out eventually and that I’ll feel better when I do.