Working on this project, uncovering the reasons I feel far from a happy sexuality, I’ve often gotten discouraged. The reasons seem so stubborn, so resistant to my attempts to heal them.
My conditioning as a victim is so profound that not only do I shut down when Jesse yells at me; even if he’s just irritable I get anxious. My gut starts twisting into knots. I cringe, and automatically try to placate him.
Jesse and I differ so much in our styles of communication, and in what we need for intimacy. We have tried couples therapy, on several occasions. Maybe it helped some, but I know on more than one occasion it also made things worse. At this point I feel these fundamental differences are not resolveable. Can we learn to cope with that dissonance? By many standards, we’re doing poorly.
Mainly what we do to cope, is live separate lives. We each hide out in our office, in our separate activities, and avoid coming together. We have also made good rituals for sharing some activities, but it’s an effort, for each of us, to keep those dates.
Looking more at all of this is hard. When I try to write about it, my mind shies away, I fall asleep, I find more urgent things to do, I sit and stare at the screen and feel totally blocked. When I try to do something about it, I hear myself find reason after reason to avoid sex. Some of them are quite reasonable, but I notice when they come up I always feel relieved, too.
Despair is tempting. But I find it’s possible to simply refuse to despair, even without having a reason to hope.1 Despair is destructive in itself. To refuse to engage in that is to wait and see, to accept the limits of the mind and be open to unimagined possibility. Jesse learns in a way that’s different from my way. Suddenly one day I hear him say something new.
Equanimity doesn’t come from hope, anyway. It comes from learning to balance, gaining one’s sea legs, riding the shifting winds of experience. This balance, this centeredness — what I have learned of it — is the one thing that has enabled me to feel the pull of my conditioning, or even succumb to it … and still step back, recover a useful perspective, and act to heal.
Age bestows a mixed blessing. On the one hand, having accumulated more experience with this struggle, more lessons in it … means I am more aware, know how to handle it. On the other hand, it’s also easy to feel the accumulation as burden, an opportunity to indulge in disappointment and discouragement. If I can hold both sides of the paradox in compassion, the dynamic tension between them generates useful energy: I am empowered to act with wisdom.
Confidence comes from accepting my Fear. Not believing its story, not getting swept away by it, not thinking it is what I essentially — or “really” — am. Just accepting that it happens, understanding it as part of me, knowing it as Shadow, holding it in compassion. Smiling wryly at the irony of its gifts.
1 Thank you Stephen R. Donaldson, who showed me refusing to despair in his ten-volume series The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant. (Penguin Random House, 1977-2013)