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.