Touching the Taboo

What is the point of going to therapy if not to talk about the most difficult things?

I’ve decided, as much as possible, that I’m going to use my therapy sessions with E to go to the scariest places and to talk about the things I think I can’t talk about. I’m pushing myself. At this point, after being in therapy so long, I feel I have to.

It’s not an easy conversation to start, talking about not being present during sex. I’ve brought it up a couple of times over the years, before but never effectively; I’d say something, she wouldn’t quite get it, and I’d shut down.

So on Monday evening, I start with that, telling her, “I’ve said to you before that I’m not really present during sex. And I feel like you didn’t understand what I meant–which doesn’t mean it’s your fault. It’s hard to talk about, so maybe I wasn’t very clear.”

E wants to know what she got wrong, so she doesn’t repeat the mistake. But that feels like an unnecessary trip down a pointless path, so we decide to just keep going, checking on her understanding as we go.

I explain to her, slowly, uncomfortably, that at a certain point when I’m aroused, I disappear. It’s like a light switch is flipped and presto, there’s no more me.

At one point she says, “I’m sorry if I missed something, but I thought you weren’t being sexual with [husband] these days.”

“Well, not that often,” I say, “but sometimes.”

“Because you feel like you should? Does he ask you?”

“He doesn’t ask, no. He doesn’t want to pressure me.”

“So it’s only if you initiate it?” she asks. She seems surprised.

“Right,” I say, a little defensive. Does she think that’s strange?

“And you do this because you feel like you owe this to him? Or why?”

Here we are getting close to another misunderstanding. I’m wondering why she’s so surprised and there is some judgment there. But I don’t want to just shut everything down again, so I try to explain.

“Well, I feel like it sometimes. I mean, it feels good. That’s normal, right? And I love him. So I start something, and that’s fine, and then I’ll get more aroused, and then at some point, I disappear.” I’m talking with long pauses between every few words. It’s awkward and uncomfortable.

E asks a few questions. I explain that sometimes I try not to disappear, but it doesn’t work. And sometimes I avoid sex because I’m afraid I’ll disappear, and that’s wrong, so better not to even start anything.

This is when she says the most useful thing: “Maybe you could give yourself permission to disappear, if you need to. You could trust that this is something that developed for a reason, and instead of avoiding it, you could accept it.”

Such relief. In retrospect, it seems so obvious, but I hadn’t thought of it that way. I think I had seen the mental and emotional disappearance as something strange and embarrassing. It was evidence I was broken, or even worse, it was a way in which I was lying to my husband. But if it’s not something wrong with me, that opens up everything. It opens up the possibility of exploring it, in my journal and in therapy. It means I don’t have to hide or avoid or deny or pretend or force myself to change.

(Realistically, I do want to change. I’d like to be present for our most physically intimate moments.)

As I write this up, I feel like there’s nothing here to report. I tell E that I dissociate during sex with my husband; she tells me that this can be a normal reaction to sexual abuse. That shouldn’t be surprising, should it? We all know dissociation is a coping mechanism. Yet it felt momentous to me. It felt different. Perhaps it was the first time that I heard about the connection between dissociation and sexual abuse and believed it applied to me.

 

 

 

 

 

12 thoughts on “Touching the Taboo

  1. Hey! I wrote the same thing as you a few months ago. That sometimes I find my mind has gone somehwere else and it takes me a while to “catch” myself and try and come back to the present. Like you I then feel bad and guilty and feel like I’m being out of order to my lovely other half who has no idea… it’s worried me before because I panic that he can tell and that must feel pretty shit for him right?

    I figured it was related to dissociating because of sexual abuse but I’ve not spoken to my T. I think maybe she’s on to something…. maybe it is worth accepting it and allowing yourself to be gone…. not something I’ve thought of either!

    Thank you for writing this x

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    • Thanks for sharing that you recognize this experience, too. It’s so encouraging to know that others can relate. I have worried too about my husband noticing, but he doesn’t seem to. Not to say he’s oblivious or anything. It’s just that we can both get caught up in the physicality of the moment and not necessarily think about what’s in the other person’s head at the moment, something like that.

      By giving me permission to dissociate, E has essentially told me to stop repressing it. And that makes sense, because things that we try to repress just bubble up in another way, often a more troubling way. Instead, she says I can accept it as a behavior that I developed. Over time, I can choose to change it… or not… no pressure. I like the no pressure part. 🙂

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  2. Sounds like very good advice, to allow that we have these coping mechanisms and there is nothing wrong with that. There is nothing worse than the “pull yourself together and act normal” school of “therapy” (and what is “normal”, and is it even desirable?).

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  3. Wow Q, you are so brave. Hope that doesn’t sound trite because I really mean it. Your very first sentence is something I struggle with! I am glad you were brave so she could help you with it, help you give yourself permission to be where you are. Lovely.

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    • It’s so funny–I also tell people they are brave to confront things in therapy. But I never feel like I am being brave. I feel like I’m a weak and cowardly thing, creeping towards a topic that shouldn’t be so hard, stumbling along and getting it all mixed up. But maybe that is just how therapy is. After all, if we could just walk in, talk about our most intimate fears, process them straightforwardly, and walk out again, well, we wouldn’t exactly need therapy, would we?

      My husband actually says that anyone who goes to therapy to work on their illness / fear / grief is brave. The problems, he says, come when we are unwilling to work on anything, unable to admit there’s even an issue. So perhaps we are all brave, after all.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. q, it sounds as though you just needed to be able to normalise it, you needed the reassurance that you weren’t broken, you were normal, this was a normal reaction to what you’d gone through. I’m glad you recognise that now. xxx

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