Validate Me! (Edited)

Over the past seven years I was involved in a consensual Total Power Exchange relationship (TPE), sometimes referred to as Master/slave relationship. Last week I asked, “What kind of self respecting feminist dyke does that?!?!?” The book I have been reading this week has helped me consider this question carefully and to feel a certain kind of gratitude for the experience.
————–
[Since first posting I’ve realized that the book discussed here can be purchased electronically after all. The publishers have changed the name to “Passionate Marriage”, updated the cover art and kept the content the same. 
I have also added some points about “differentiation” which I neglected to speak of specifically in the first post. This should provide more clarity.]
————–

Before I set off on my journey this summer, my therapist suggested a book for me to read: “Passionate Couples-Sex, Love and Intimacy in Emotionally Committed Relationships, by David Schnarch, Ph.D.. I dutifully went to Amazon to download the book onto my Kindle but it was not available in that format. Further searching revealed that the only copies of the book to be found are used. I got my hard copy in the mail a few days later. The cover art was laughable. It looked to me like a scene from a low-budget, late-night, soft-porn feature; featuring a straight white couple, no less! It appeared to be some kind of 80’s sex therapy self-help book with a target audience that was far removed from me.  I opened the book randomly to a page that was using the term masochist in a suspiciously derogatory manner. I forged ahead and started from the beginning; for the first fifty pages I wondered what in the world she had been thinking. The couples featured in the book were facing crises such as a woman being reticent to suck her husband’s cock and being totally squicked out by sucking it after it had been inside her. I thought, “Hello?!? What on earth does this vanilla shit have to do with ME?” I was beginning to consider the possibility that she had recommended the book in a befuddled moment, forgetting what the gist of the book was about. (My thoughts can jump to arrogant places with embarrassing speed.) After those first fifty pages the book begins to talk about “differentiation”, family legacies of differentiation, “taking care of your own feelings” and promises “an active way to work on your past and present simultaneously”. I begin to feel sheepish. By the time the author begins to discuss communication issues and says, “We love the fantasy that we can ‘understand’ and ‘express’ our way out of our dilemmas”, I laugh out loud and decide my therapist rocks. (That is such a lesbian issue; oh dear goddess how we do love to process!)  When I read the epigraph for Chapter II, I sink to my knees in order to worship Dr. Lisa as my new Therapeutic Savior.

 “Marriage, n. The state or condition of a community consisting of a master, a mistress and two slaves, making in all, two.” Ambrose Beirce, The Devils Dictionary

Even if that quote had lacked profundity the irony alone would have hooked me. A good therapist is worth their weight in gold. The persistent and gripping pain in my gut when I heard, or worse, uttered the phrase “master/slave” was a critical symptom that I failed to acknowledge for far too long. I’ve realized that this last relationship was a grand caricature of every long term relationship I’ve ever been in. (6+years) “Gosh, why do I seem to attract such controlling assholes?” Apparently I need extremes in my life to get the message. (Not surprising coming from a woman who enjoys being whipped or caned until she’s black and blue-but I digress.)

Part of this “Broken Door Awakening” has been opening my eyes to the causes behind some of my ex’s behavior. Coming to some kind of understanding of what had really been going on between us has allowed me to begin to get my feet back under me, to see what is “real”, to remember what is was like to be “me” before I handed that person over on a silver platter. I have come to understand that s/he was not seeing me but seeing a projection of the feminine within her that s/he could not accept. S/he saw me through the lens of her dream woman; in the beginning I was perfect, I was all she ever longed for in a partner. Then as soon as we passed some marker that made her feel more secure in her possession of me, s/he incorporated that dream girl into herself. * We became “as one”; her romantic view of the perfect relationship. The danger in that for me was when I said something that she disagreed with, through differentiating myself in that way, I inadvertently attacked her. It felt that way to her! When I disagreed with her it felt as if a part of her very own being was betraying her. That of course triggered a reaction from her and, Ta Da, the verbal/physical abuse began. (Read “The Verbally Abusive Relationship”, by Patricia Evans)

The book by Dr. Schnarch has encouraged me to see my part in that disfunction with more clarity. I know that I struggle with co-dependent behavior and that said behavior has caused me great suffering in this life. If a couple has not been able to differentiate from each other appropriately then they become- you guessed it- co-dependent! In my own way I was as much a creator of the disfunction in our relationship as s/he was. (this does not mean that I caused her to be abusive to me)

The author reminds the reader that sex and intimacy in long term committed relationships are powerful tools to be used for emotional and spiritual growth. That has been my belief for many years. I was one of those sex-positive feminists who organized tantric workshops and taught women how to look at their own cervices. Perhaps in some subconscious way I understood that although sex and intimacy had been used to damage me as a child, it would be sex and intimacy that would someday heal me.

Dr. Schnarch warns that “Intimacy is not for the Faint of Heart” and he does not hold back in explaining why:

“Sexual potential is a lifelong pursuit. Like heroes and heroines on mythic quests, we have to master ourselves in situations that frighten us: struggling with the mythic dragon-our partner- to become fully human and transcending ourselves in the process.”

I believe that if we are lucky we chose the heavy people, the dragons that will teach us the specific lessons we need to learn. My dragon is made up of sex/intimacy/co-dependency and she is a scary demon! Facing her is not pretty.

The most important theme running through this book is that of differentiation. The word used in this context comes from the magic of physiology. Every cell of every living being starts it’s life exactly the same. It is not until the new cell continues to develop and divide that a specialized cell with a specific task appears; that process of becoming is called differentiation. Each cell maintains it’s differences and special traits while continuing to work together with all of the other cells in the system it lives within; in this way we walk through the world doing and thinking all of the spectacular things that we do.

I learned from our culture, as did you, that intimacy is created by “joining two people as one”, through trust in each other, reciprocal transparency, and validation from your partner. You’ve done it! You know you have, think back:
Dream sequence with music and muted colors: We expose our inner selves…I’ll tell you mine and you tell me yours, we are open, we are honest… we create trust….we accept the other as they are and we ALWAYS validate what the other is wanting, saying or feeling. This…This is communication my child…
Ahhhhhh….. dreamy…. stars, hearts and puppies…

“Ironically, intimacy seems to develop through conflict, self-validation, and unilateral disclosure.” 

What?!?!?! Conflict!??!?!? SELF-validation?!?!?!?WTF?!?!?

Calm down; if a person looks to “the other” for validation in order to “know themselves” things can go bad fast. When “the other” doesn’t give the validation that we are looking for, when we want it, our world falls apart or it’s war!
The book points out that “other-validated intimacy” is weak intimacy; it just isn’t going to stand up to the storms of life. If we are waiting for our “other-half” to tell us how wonderful we are, or how right we are in order to feel good and/or at peace, tension will rise as soon as our “other-half” needs to concentrate on themselves for some reason. On the other hand, “self-validated intimacy” is always going to be there for us when we need it as long as we have a strong sense of self. That necessitates that we feel comfortable being distinct from our partner and sure of ourselves (here’s the kicker) no matter what they are thinking, feeling or doing. Whoa! I don’t know about you but-Not the tools I got in my toolbox.

In this TPE relationship that I was in, I was trained (seriously) to work as one with her. Our goal as a couple was to blend completely into one person; most specifically her person.  I was to know what she wanted before she wanted it and to do it immediately. I was trained (seriously) to gain my sense of fulfillment by serving her and taking care of her needs, by putting her needs before my own. Incidentally, this is what my mother taught me too. The Master/slave relationship is based on a fusion fantasy. Schnarch refers to these couples as “Emotional Siamese Twins”.

Think about how you would have to treat a Siamese Twin…Reciprocity would be the golden rule. Empathy wouldn’t be a choice. You’d be constantly aware of the tremendous impact your partner could have on you, even by doing self destructive things. … In an emotionally fused relationship, when one partner starts to hold onto him or herself, the other partner feels controlled!

When I read the above paragraph, I am stunned by how well it describes how I have always been in relationships. This last one was the same thing-on steroids. I can tell you, after having come up from the depths for a breath of air, that level of dependence (fusion) is a very dark place to be.
The author points out that many couple’s therapists recommend “other validated intimacy” as a fix for couples in trouble. This can patch things up for a moment or two but he points out four drawbacks.
1. Each partner becomes more dependent on the other’s whims and less capable of true intimacy in times of stress.  Basically- it’s just not sustainable. It’s exhausting being expected to hold another person up for life. Although it is important to remember that supporting someone by choice, rather than as a mandatory part of an exchange agreement, is a gift for both people.
2. Other validated intimacy leads you to hope your partner has his/her act together- at the same time it leads you to hope that he/she doesn’t. As we play the game “I’ll disclose mine, if you disclose yours” we build up ammunition of sorts to use against our partner if they “go against us” or we just hold onto the faults because, if we are looking to them for validation of who we are, doesn’t it make us feel better to see that they have faults worse than ours?
3.Other-validated intimacy is inherently limiting because it leads to self presentation rather than self-disclosure. When you need a reflected sense of yourself and acceptance/validation from your partner, your most important priority becomes getting the response you want. To accomplish this less than virtuous goal, you start misrepresenting, omitting and shading information about who you are.
4. Other validated intimacy allows one partner to manipulate the other’s sense of reality. 
For example: you’ve just finished fucking each other’s brains out (or whatever your version of that is), within a few minutes you role over and ask “did you come? Wasn’t that the best sex we’ve ever had? Wasn’t that amazing?” Think about that, what if you don’t get the response you are looking for? What if your partner’s experience wasn’t the same as yours? (maybe he had a mild headache) If he tells you the truth, is that going to make your memory of the amazing sex less delicious? If you are relying on other-validated intimacy- the answer is yes. Your reality is your reality, it shouldn’t rely on someone else’s experience.

Lack of differentiation in couples or families creates the kind of co-dependency that says “Your experience is my experience.” “Your anxiety is my anxiety.” From cowering in the backseat because my dad was having a panic attack about traffic, to resting my well being solely on that of someone else, I’ve been the picture perfect Co-De for a long time. Perhaps it took seeing my pattern performed with excruciating over-dramatization and blown up the size of an I-MAX screen, but maybe now I see the problems clearly enough to make progress.

Last week I wrote about my struggle to remain present and be who I am in each moment. Attaining that mindset allows me to remember the essence of who I am and to see the current consequences of past actions. When I am calm, when I acknowledge myself, when I am content to stay with that self even in the face of opposition or loneliness: footlights illuminate spontaneously, guiding me down a path I need to follow. Recently I’ve done just that; I’ve taken care of myself and so it followed that my astute and awesome therapist happened to recommend this book, I miraculously took the initiative to track it down, and I am finally mature enough to absorb it’s wisdom.
Vision Quest-52, it’s my own personal Heroine’s Journey.

Read more

Advertisements

A Flood of Loneliness

Loneliness has replaced the depression and anxiety that filled me when I was still enmeshed in that most recent abusive relationship. Depression and anxiety are sharp and dangerous pains that make my body feel ill. Right now, loneliness is a dull ache that hovers around me and seeps inside when I am completely unaware. Loneliness doesn’t crowd out all other emotion and thought as depression and anxiety do. It is soft and pliable, moving aside to make room for wonder at nature or sudden bursts of joy. For me loneliness, like a gray cloudy day, walks hand in hand with creativity. It takes an easy pace, remaining soft and open, maintaining a willingness to settle into itself, resistance free. Loneliness doesn’t feel like a disease.

The depression and anxiety that come of loosing one’s sense of self is a cancer that will grow without notice until it suddenly takes your life away. I saw my mother, who was so full of light and love grow weary, lost, and heavy with depression; by the end of her life she had literally turned gray. I watched my father suck the life out of her, bit-by-bit, day-by-day. That was my perception of a “relationship” as I grew up.  On some level this became my normal and so I’ve mimicked my mother’s choices without consciousness by creating such experiences as: having my sense of self and power stolen at penis point or having it quietly pick pocketed away, but this last time I’ve just handed it over on a silver platter, with a flourish, while I groveled upon my knees. What kind of self respecting feminist dyke does that?!?!?

Earlier this week I had typed up a long diatribe about the many fucked up reasons I did such a “crazy” thing, complete with thoughtful justifications and deep regrets. Today however I picked up a book I have been intending to read, “Parami-Ways to Cross Life’s Floods”*. What I found in those pages lead me to a more constructive way to look at the past actions I’ve been pondering and the consequences they’ve brought upon what I hesitantly call “me”.

First, from the book:
“The term ‘floods’ speaks for itself; the overwhelmed, swept-along feeling that comes as we get plunged into stress and suffering. In the Buddhist texts, the word is sometimes used in the broad sense of…being overwhelmed by sorrow, lamentation and despair…  In their most specific use…the floods refer to four currents, also called ‘outflows’, that run underneath the bubbling stream of mental activity. There they remain unseen yet direct the flow of the stream.”

That wily creature known as the subconscious mind, rather than excuses about what is already done, is the important concept to examine.

The floods are the constant babble that go on in my mind; the assumptions, regrets, worries and general gnashing of teeth. Why did my mother put up with my dad? Why in the HELL have I subsequently put up with the assholes I’ve put up with? Why did I say yes? Why did I say no? What should I have done differently? Am I going to do it again and again? If you have ever made the effort to sit quiet in “meditation” you too will have heard this flood of thought turned up to volume 11 on your internal amplifier.
“We have little, if any, control over it and the stream is so usual that it’s difficult to imagine how we would sense ourselves without it.”
Again, the idea again that my “usual or normal” could have such a profound and lasting effect on me grabbed my attention. Now- I’ve been aware of the evil deeds of my “wile e subconscious” for decades but I’ve been stuck on that first step of awareness for a loonngg time. The great thing about this line of discussion is that it does not lead to pointless self-flagellation (which is fine if you like that kind of thing) but to action that creates change.

The Buddha apparently pointed out four specific floods (or currents of subconscious thought) that we need to watch out for: 1. the flood of sensuality 2. the flood of becoming 3. the flood of views and 4. the flood of ignorance. It is immediately clear to me that as I beat myself up about things I have done or the choices I’ve made, as I feel hopeless about who I am and who I might be, as I am overcome with the fear of depression, anxiety or eternal loneliness I am being swept away by the flood of becoming“The flood that carries time and identity.”

The concept of time and identity is a familiar one for me. I struggle to “remain present” to “accept what is”, “who I am” and all those new age clichés; I’ve done that for years. What is comforting to me is that, according to these teachings, I don’t have to fight this or any other flood. I am a human being and this rambling stream of consciousness is part of who I am; nothing is going to make that go away in a *poof* of smoke. I can only practice more productive ways of being. All I have to do is gently remind myself on a regular basis that my memories are happening right now, my thoughts and worries about the future are happening now, even my current actions, whose results I will see in the future, are happening right now. The past me, the future me, she’s not real. It’s all happening right now, the past doesn’t exist; the future doesn’t exist. Nothing I can do will change the past or see into the future.

Yet I must continue to gently remind myself of this “now” concept for the rest of my life because within the ‘flood of becoming’ is this current of ‘wile e subconscious’ thought that tells me that: thoughts about who I was and might be are real. Therefore, I am terrorized by brooding conceits such as “I made another stupid mistake, got in another abusive relationship and so at 52 I’m destined to repeat this pattern again and again or just be lonely for the rest of my life. What’s more, I deserve it.” That- is not a helpful thing to say to myself. Yet if I can remember that there is only “now” I can step out of the ‘flood of becoming’. When I can do that, I am sidestepping my wile e subconscious and avoiding that anvil coming straight for my head.

One more quote:
“There’s a lot of drama and suffering and stress in this flood (of becoming)– so much so that we fail to question, ‘who is this character?’ Since I have only pictures of what I was and stories of what I might or will be, can I be clear about who I am now?”

If I do pull my head out of the muck, ask that question and really think before answering then I find myself feeling rather foolish as a made up image of “me” crumbles in my hands. Who I am now is all I’ve got in this moment and all the mental anguish about the past or future will not change that. If I stop wasting energy on berating myself then, in this moment, I have the energy and where-with-all to ask the really important questions that the Big B has encouraged us to ask: ‘Does this behavior cause me and/or others long-term harm, suffering, indignity or stress? Does it lead to my welfare, the welfare of others and to peace?’ 

Gosh- I wonder how things would be different if I had thought to stop and ask myself those important questions 30, 20, or even 7 short years ago?
Crap! There I go again…

* The book can be downloaded here, for free!  http://ajahnsucitto.org/books/

WHAT DOES YOUR SPIKE SAY?

(I said I would be on the road last week and I think the operative words were “out in the wilderness”. I had no internet connection at all. Not a bad thing but I apologize for the missing post.)

From July 6th through July 13th I drove towards a healing haven into which I will burrow for a few weeks. I took the back roads and camped along the way. The old highways were riddled with zigzagging asphalt scars, growths like my grandmother’s barnacles, corns, callouses and wrinkles; the very same marks that are beginning to appear on me. I did not listen to books on tape or play music to distract my mind. I forced myself to be present as I stared at the hours and miles of travel ahead. If I could not keep my thoughts focused on each moment as it passed I would begin to talk out loud to myself, describing the scenery, animals or people I was quickly brushing past. In and out, front of the pack, first or last, falling behind; the dance of the highway is endless and soothing. Sinking into boredom rather than fighting it back I found that emotions and thoughts flowed freely through my mind. Whether they were profound revelations or hilarious inside jokes with myself I remained completely entertained and discovered once again what good company I could be.
As the distance between “us” grew I felt tight anxiety that had been boiling inside my chest for seven years slowly drain away. I shifted into a state of lightness that ranged from fluffy down feathers floating beside me to the manic giddiness of helium soaring out of control inside me.

The healing has begun and over the next months or years I will work diligently to examine how and why I allowed abuse to enter my life again. Eight years ago I experienced the very darkest of times; my kind uncle and then my mother died, I lost a ten year relationship, a business which had existed equally long and the use of my body from the neck down. Over that short 6 month period, I experienced a terrifying loss of control over every aspect of my being; nothing walked away unscathed from that biblical plague. I didn’t know who I was anymore, I didn’t know what was real. Did I then call out to be controlled or did my vulnerable state act as a psychological pheromone to attract the first abuser that wandered by?  In pondering that question I realized that my “scent of vulnerability” began to hover around me long before then. As I look back from a distance with aging eyes opened wide I ask myself, “How could I possibly be any different than I am?” That simple question eases my mind.  If the pain and confusion in life comes with a dose of reason or explanation it seems to settle inside my gut with less guilt and shame. There is hope that I will have the power to jam the cycle if it ever enters my life again.

The subtle messages from the beginning of my life started with a father wishing I hadn’t been born, then a grandfather’s groping (never acknowledged), a dreamy memory of an uncle just back from Vietnam crawling into bed with me in the middle of the night then taking me out to a brightly lit pancake house before dawn. It didn’t feel right but I wasn’t sure. As always the world around me said that “it” was normal, or that “it” didn’t exist. So I didn’t know what was real. I’m not sure what happened to me that night but what that same Uncle did to my older sister is clear. She finally shared her secret shame with me when she was half a century old. All of these experiences groomed me for Allen who ripped my hymen and my world apart then told me forcefully that I “had nothing to cry about”, I “asked for it”, I “wanted it”. I didn’t think it was so, but who was I to know? Like all the others before, he defined me, so I didn’t know what was real.  Blended in gently with all of those experiences were the words my mother used to bolster my self esteem; words that told me that I was strong, creative and beautiful but when I walked through heavy doors into the man made world, that wasn’t what I heard. So I didn’t know what was real.

All those messages from the time I was a little girl have been pounded into my head by the patriarchal chain gang that presumptively lays down the tracks of my life. Definitions that are hammered into my brain like a railroad spike, over and over and over again. While on the road last week an image came to me of women, all over the world, walking through life with a bloody railroad spike through their head. I wondered, “What do other women’s rail road spikes say?”

Mine screams,
You aren’t real, you don’t exist and so you are worth nothing at all.”

The affirmation for the week of my road trip was:
“I am part of all. I belong.”
Miraculously last week, driving cross the country all alone, I was part of all and I did belong.
Those Vision Quest lessons and enlightenments coming up next week.
___________________________________________________

      Impostor Song (1999)

Each moment’s reality
has always evaded me
lite evaporation
in the crisp spring wind

What you think you see before you
a happy red haired child
is really just a shell of a
magic girl that died
struggling so bravely
moving so carefully
lest any one discover
the impostor kid

Each moment’s reality
has always evaded me
slipping past my shoulder
in the crisp spring wind

The curse of the impostor
it never goes away
impostors are impostors
to their dying day
impostor child, impostor teen
pretend hetero, impostor queer
impostor mother, impostor artist
with a pretend career!
impostor thoughts, pretend serenity
impostor laughter, impostor tears.
eventual unveiling is an all consuming fear!

Each moment’s reality
has always evaded me
dancing away
in the crisp spring air

What you think you see before you
it’s just

        never

                 really

                         there

Thursday’s Child-Defined

(As I write of my experiences, much of the time I will be regurgitating the wisdom of Patricia Evans. I have been devouring her books at an unseemly pace for the last six weeks. Her work has literally saved my sanity and I want nothing more than to grab the attention of another person who may need just these words at this very moment. I am simply struggling along finding myself again and I will be honored to share my experience with you. I must tell you that if anything I say rings true, Google her name and buy her books. No, I don’t own stock; not wall street stock anyway. I do have stock in saving another woman, child or (less frequently) man from the cold dark void of verbal abuse.)

Monday’s child is fair of face, Tuesday’s child is full of grace, Wednesdays child is full of woe, Thursday’s child has far to go, Friday’s child is loving and giving, Saturday’s child works hard for a living, But the child that is born on the Sabbath day is bonnie and blithe and good and gay.

A number of those week days would have been an appropriate description of me but I happened to have been born on a Thursday. The fact that I was foretold to be a child who has far to go is ringing particularly true these days. That is why I chose Thursdays to post my “bloggings”. I remember my mother teaching me this little nursery rhyme; it seems a fairly benign form of defining a person as far as that practice goes. It has a catchy rhythm and simple, easy to remember rhymes. No one takes it seriously; right? Yet we dish out and receive a mind boggling bombardment of defining statements every day. This is crazy making behavior. No one can know any other person, what they are thinking, feeling; what they need, want or plan. To think you can is delusional. Once you become aware of this most insidious human habit you will begin to see it everywhere you look. You will even catch yourself in the act.

The definition of verbal abuse, as I understand Patricia Evan’s teachings, is a relentless barrage of “you” statements, actions or insinuations whose single goal is to gain control over another by eroding that person’s sense of self. I believe that I was placed in that particular tepid pot of verbal abuse as a tadpole. How could I have noticed? What other reality did I have to base my experience on? I grew up in a house that was so thick with covert and overt verbal abuse that we all gasped for air like little asthmatics without even realizing why we couldn’t breathe. My father verbally abused my mother every day and her entire life’s energy was spent on trying to protect her children and raise them to be happy loving people. She did her best; but if there is verbal abuse going on in a home, no one is immune.

That was the way that life was and so that was the way my life continued. Over forty five plus years I chose abusive friends and partners. They were of all socio-economic status, educational levels and genders; I covered it all. At the end of 2014 I had reached a boiling point where my very being was sloughing away and I felt that I was completely losing my mind. Not a cute little “driving me nuts” kind of crazy, but completely insane. I had no other explanation for the dense fog I was desperately trying to navigate through. I literally did not know what was real. Please read that last sentence again. There is no horror greater than a complete loss of self.

I am currently reading “Victory over Verbal Abuse” by Evans. Today I read the first affirmation of 52 that I will be focusing on for the next year; I am self-defining.  I wish I had the software to animate those words.

It is 10:46 at night. I have to post this if I’m going to keep my promise of something new every Thursday. The exciting news is that I haven’t had time to think about writing or to actually write because I am packing for my escape. I leave in three days on a journey to begin the process of finding and defining myself. Next week I’ll be posting from the wilderness somewhere and I will have had lots of time to think. Stay with me. Until then if you want or need more information go to http://www.verbalabuse.com You will find the power of information there along with thousands of other people who thought they were crazy, just like you. The good news- we aren’t the crazy ones!!

I am self-defining.