Opening our hearts to embrace our less than perfect selves with generosity and compassion, knowing that this is what will grow us, open us to deeper knowing and help us to heal our woundedness.
Not Berating Yourself
No matter what you have or haven't done, or how you are or aren't
being… You never deserve to be berated or "beat-up-on" by your self or
anyone else! If that's happening, remember to remind your self, and
anyone else, that you are a tender, delicate being truly doing
everything you can in this moment to grow your self into sanity and
realness in the midst of this crazy-making world!
I can remember the earliest days of my conscious sensual awakening in my fourteenth year. My body recalls the lush feelings that rose up and blossomed in me whenever I was being touched, the eddies and ripples of delight set in motion by the sensitivity of every inch of my skin's surface.
I remember, too, repeated dialogues with my 20-year-old boyfriend about not yet feeling ready to go all the way to intercourse. I felt too young to handle the sensory overload I imagined would come with going beyond the erotic intensity of our necking, petting and oral sex.
And, I remember the summer weekend when, at fifteen and a half, I finally agreed we could go ahead and have intercourse. I gave up my virginity in my own bed while my parents were out of town and my younger sister was staying at her friend's house. It was such a ho-hum crasher for me. Despite my anticipation of over-the-top arousal, I actually felt very little sensation, pleasurable or otherwise during penetration. I seemed not to have a hymen: there was no pain, no bleeding. I remember feeling quite disappointed afterward, asking him "Is that really all there is to it?" Of course, in the way of such things in the middle 1950s (and perhaps in every era), once intercourse became part of the agenda, my young man became less available for all the sensual touching in which, before then, I had reveled. Penetration was now always his focus. There seemed to be nothing I could do or say to bring back the earlier, slower, more interesting (to me) flow.
I wondered why intercourse was so unexciting to me. I began to worry that there might be something wrong with me. Already more sexually precocious than my peers and unwilling to reveal this new secret, I had only the book hidden in my parents' dresser to consult. Unlike the later (1980s) Hite Report that reported the prevalence of this experience in women, Love Without Fear offered little to dissuade me from my sense that there was something awry with me. What I read there led me to start pretending that intercourse was more pleasurable to me than it was.
When I went off to college a year later, (the avant-garde, notoriously sexually liberated Bennington College) a rather insidious process took shape in me. Hating what I saw as the disempowerment of the traditional woman's role as the one seduced, I chose to seduce-before-I-was-seduced. Adopting the persona of a sexually aggressive and sophisticated woman, I readily began engaging with many different male partners. An avid observer/learner, I quickly became adept at pleasing men sexually. I fancied my self a courtesan.
My sexuality became a mental game of power and control. There was little in what I did that had any of the embodied sensuality of my earliest experiences. My pleasure, such as it was, came from the sense of being in control of the sexual program; from feeling superior to the sex-hungry, unaware young men with whom I toyed.
This focus eclipsed my earlier concern that there was something wrong with me. Though my sexual experiences were (for me) disembodied and devoid of any physical pleasure, I continued this repetitive, unhealthy behavior with men through most of my years in college and graduate school.
In graduate school my horizons expanded to include many senior professors in my field. With only two exceptions (both of them adjunct professors), these men were from universities other than the one in which I was enrolled. Most of these were brief, short-lived encounters. Most were, as body experiences for me, joyless. Rather, I enjoyed the power I felt over these men who were so unaware (of anything but their own need) that they never realized how absent I was from the experience.
In my last year of graduate school, I did meet a special man with whom I actually developed a personal relationship. As we dated, then lived together and later married for a time, my sexual life became for a while more embodied, more sensual – no longer a power/control game.
We had married in the early days of the era of open marriage: the then new wave of non-monogamy and swinging (intentional, episodic partner swapping). Not long after we began our brief marriage, I agreed to his wish to become involved in sexual adventuring. For me, it was yet another season of disembodied sexuality. (This, even as our dialogues about the adventuring seemed, uncannily, to deepen our emotional intimacy with each other.)
The adventures were mentally rather than physically stimulating. Again I was living out a persona that was far from what was real inside of me. Sometimes we wound up in scary, unpleasant or vaguely unsavory situations. In the end, I opted out, first of the adventuring, then of the marriage.
In the years that followed, I dedicated my self to reclaiming and re-inhabiting my body. The work I did brought me to healing experiences with two different men, each of them able to love a woman and delight in making slow, voluptuous love to her. The work also brought me to claiming my identity first as a bisexual woman then, later, as a woman-identified woman. Ultimately, the path has led me, for the past more than 27 years, to honoring the comfort my being-in-a-body experiences from choosing to be partner-celibate, to be in sensual/erotic relationship only with my self and the natural world.
Some dozen or so years ago, after long ignoring those earlier painful eras of my sexual history, my inner travels brought me to looking back on all of this from my now embodied, more conscious self. I was mortified and devastated to realize how terribly I had misused my being-in-a-body. I could barely take in the extent to which I had violated and degraded my precious self. I was flooded with memories that filled me with disgust and self-loathing.
All my practice of being loving and tender with my self went out the window. I raged at my self: "How could you do such unconscionable, disgusting things to/with your self?" "What on earth were you thinking?" "How could you give those people permission to use and abuse you?" "How could you even believe that you were in control?"
I would feel nauseated, filled with revulsion. I could hardly tolerate the remembering, the flashbacks. I couldn't stop hating the me I had been that had let all of that happen. I felt flayed. It was so awful to feel it all, I had to push it back and away, had to try to close the door on it. Of course, the door wouldn't stay closed: visual or body memories continued to pop out periodically and swamp me with despair and disgust.
Slowly, as I continued deepening my practice of embracing my self all the ways that I might be, I could bring the loving Mommy into those awful moments of remembering. The Mommy-Inside held me compassionately in the midst of the memories. She reminded me that I had done the best I could with the consciousness available to me in those difficult times; that what I did then – regardless of how it felt to my now-embodied self, regardless of how misguided it was – I had done in an effort to help my self heal the woundedness in me.
The Mommy-Inside helped me to feel how confused and damaged that poor young woman had been, how much pain she had lived with for so long. I could begin to feel how much she needed my caring and compassion to help her heal from her terrible wounds; how alone and abandoned she had been for so long. Gradually I opened my heart to that broken me, feeling sorrow for her pain, forgiving her for what she did, reminding her and my self that we truly did the best we could at those earlier times.
As I could hold my younger self caringly, I found room to consider what the source of her woundedness and self-wounding behaviors might be. There is certainly a lot in all of the particulars that speaks to my having had sexual abuse in my history. The one vivid conscious memory I do have of being molested is of being finger-penetrated by a stranger in the back hallway of our apartment building when I was between 4 and 5 years old. Remembering how I dealt with it at the time (first crossing my legs then pushing him away, telling him "Don't do that!" and walking away from him) leaves me uncertain that it in itself was enough to account for what followed. Still, no other memories have surfaced. So perhaps it was enough.
I hold that brave, strong and smart little 4 1/2-year-old close to my heart. I wrap her in all the love, celebration of her feisty courage and protection that she didn't have back then when she needed it.
And, these days when those painful flashes of remembering occasionally come up again, I'm able to soothe and gentle my self. I acknowledge how terribly hurtful and sad it was to have subjected my self to such dishonoring of my precious body. I remind my self that I won't ever do that to me again.
As always, I find the power in opening our hearts to our selves awesome and compelling. It is in finding the generosity to embrace our less than perfect selves that we grow our selves; that we open our selves to deeper knowing; that we begin to heal our selves.
Closing our hearts to our selves – hating, disowning and distancing our selves from that which offends us about our selves (the generally accepted cultural prescription) – only stunts us, deepens our woundedness and stifles all opportunity to heal.
Consider being more loving, generous and compassionate with your delicate, less than perfect self.