Fearless Friday: Living on Timelines

Part of what made my birthday really difficult last year was my subconscious was very much aware I was hitting a milestone. Both my sisters were married by the time they turned 26. And there I was on my 26th birthday and married I was not.

At the time I was happily partnered, but unfortunately when you’re unaware of a belief/story that you’ve formed (that you should be married by 26), it’s hard to stay mindful and present. That was not a skill I had cultivated at that time.

When I became aware of the pressure I had been putting on myself, I worked on it. I processed it. I let it go.

But I think a lot of us have a tendency to live on timelines.

I remember in high school when my friends outlined what they hoped their lives would look like by 30. I have friends who have decided how many kids they want to have before they turn 30. I have coworkers who have decided that they want to reach a certain level of management before they turn 31.

30 seems to be a magic number.

And it scares me.

It scares me that instead of getting rid of my 26 cut off date for a normal wedding, I just pushed it back. My brother got married when he was 33. What’ll happen on my 33rd birthday if I am still unmarried?

I don’t really have answers to this.

I realize on my 26th birthday I was not mindful, and now that is something I’m cultivating. That makes me think 33 won’t be a big deal.

More importantly, I realize I’m happy not knowing my future. Not in the I feel trapped when I do kind of way. I generally feel very safe when I think things are chugging along just fine and I’ll be in the same place in a year that I am now (not that I’m one for staying in the same place for very long).

I’m happy not knowing my future because that sense of safety was false. Nobody knows their future. But I’m just now starting to realize that. I’m just now starting to look at that with love and faith instead of fear and nausea-level anxiety. It took losing a future I thought was locked down to realize just how scared I was, just how in control I felt I needed to be.

This year I challenged myself to surrender. To surrender that need to control everything and everyone. To surrender a need to know exactly where I’ll be in a year, or five, or ten. I  was scared surrendering would leave me powerless. That in surrender I will wither away doing nothing. But surrendering has freed me. It’s allowed me to try things without getting attached to a certain outcome – or at least to try.

I hope I’m done with timelines. But knowing myself, knowing human nature, knowing recovery from anything is never linear, I have a feeling timelines will come back into my life. Maybe when I turn 30, or 33, or 40. I hope by then I will have this mindfulness and surrender stuff down. I hope by then I can recognize it more quickly than I did last year. I hope but I’m not sure. I’m just doing my best for now.

 

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Fearless Friday: Shame and Sex

Writing this, I am in the midst of what I’ve heard described as a vulnerability hangover.

Yesterday, I had a post-therapy dinner with a close friend, and eventually we got on the topic of sex.

This wasn’t new for us. We had talked about sex before. We had even talked about how I felt the sex in my previous relationship was impacted by shame.

But yesterday for the first time we really got into the nitty gritty of it. Into how I felt my parents had shamed me any time they found me masturbating. And also, at the same time, how I often felt shamed for being a prude. Into how, in college when I mostly had one night stands, I felt the shame of being sexual in an unacceptable way. Into how shame, by the nature of it, doesn’t allow us to talk about the topic of shame and so it grows impenetrable layers around itself. Into how ashamed I felt that I couldn’t orgasm during sex.

We talked about his different experience. About how he talks about sex all the time with most (if not all) of his friends. About how different parenting styles played a role, but also how the timing of PCs and the internet might have played a role. He described the first time someone in a group of friends found porn and they would all gather and see things and learn things. I asked him if he felt this happened with girls as well and he said he knew girls in his school did the same. The first time one of them stumbled upon a site, and they all learned things from it. He said they did this in middle school.

I had my own computer by then too, but it never crossed my mind to look for that stuff. And none of my friends ever made this discovery and told me about it. I was never a part of a group like this. I don’t know how much of this has to do with my own shame that I already had built around sex. And how much of it had to do with different locations, different cultural norms, different friends we had.

It wasn’t until after college that I turned to the internet to learn more about sex. And even then, it was a while after that before I started asking helpful questions. It was only about a year ago that, thanks to the internet, that I found out about prone masturbation, and that other women masturbated this way too, and that they also struggled with experiencing orgasm during sex.

A lot of my struggle came from a duality. I was and still am so fascinated by sex. But I was (and still am, though working on it) so ashamed of that fascination and so ashamed around sex. I had to keep my fascination hidden. I couldn’t leave evidence. No one could know.

When I woke up this morning, I felt dread, relief, and frustration. I didn’t want to face the day. But I was relieved that I was finally really able to talk about all of this. And then I was frustrated. Ok, so I was vulnerable, now what?! I keep looking for instant fixes. I keep getting frustrated that things require work.

It is true that vulnerability and empathy are the cures for shame. It is also true that shame, by its nature, by creating the fear of talking about the shamed topic, builds layers and layers upon itself.

So I guess in the very least, I’m am working my way through the shame. Two weeks after this conversation, this vulnerability hangover, one of the groups I attend in Portland had a discussion about sex and sexuality as well. I challenged myself to be open both to the group and in our one-on-one break out sessions. I challenged myself to stay late and keep talking to people. I woke up with another vulnerability hangover, and it was totally worth it.

I don’t think these two conversations have someone turned me into someone else, someone who feels no shame around sex. They were definitely a good place to start though.

Fearless Friday: A Sad Fantasy

I can’t remember the first time I had this fantasy, but it was when I was younger, much younger. I can’t really guess beyond that. It would be a guess based on nothing.

I used to fantasize, at first when I’d be flying back and forth to Israel, that something would happen to me. That I would be hurt in a freak accident either when I was in the country or on the plane.

I call this my semi-suicidal fantasy, because I feel some strange need to label it.

I never fantasized about taking my own life. And usually I only fantasized about getting hurt, not getting killed.

But really, all these fantasies were rooted in something totally different, I wanted to know who would show up. Who would show up to my hospital room or to my funeral. I wanted to know who loved me.

When I read Hunger by Roxane Gay last week, I was floored when she wrote, “When I broke my ankle, love was no longer an abstraction.”

I suddenly had a realization, not that I was seeking proof of love, I knew that all along, but that I wasn’t necessarily alone in this doubt of the love around me.

I want you all to know that I am seeing a therapist, that she knows about this fantasy, that I’m working through it. I feel a need to tell you all that it doesn’t happen as often now. That when it does, I know what to do, who to turn to. I wish I could tell you that I’m healed, that I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that I am loved now. But healing is work, and I’m still working.

I mostly just want you to know you’re not alone. I was very confused by this fantasy when I was younger. I was scared of it. And I was also ashamed of it. Sure that something was wrong with me that I was thinking this way. So I told no one about it. Now I’m telling you, on the off chance one of you reads it and feels less alone, less ashamed.