Holding Myself

I’ve been practicing mindfulness daily for the past three months, largely thanks to accountability provided by my domme. Sometimes, it’s a chore–my mind just whirs and buzzes while I sit there, and I finish the practice feeling frustrated by my lack of focus. Often, it’s a time for me to recognize and tend to my feelings, to remind myself that they’re okay. That’s uncomfortable but valuable, especially now, in the midst of a pandemic that has no clear end. Occasionally, my practice leads to unexpected catharsis and insight. Tuesday’s session was one of those times. It involved a heartfelt conversation with a pillow. That will make sense later. 

You see, I’ve been coping with the stirring of dormant anxieties recently, now that my dominant and I are doing a bit of sexual exploration (remotely). As a queer woman with chronic pelvic pain and perfectionism issues, sex can be a source of anxiety and overanalysis for me. (I’m not alone in that, and I’ll elaborate on it in a future post.) One thing I’m realizing, especially as I grudgingly share my anxieties with my partners, is that I have an old fear that confiding in my partners will ‘infect’ them with my anxiety. In other words, I fear that hearing my worries will make them worry, and then my worries will overwhelm them and become real as they pull away. And then, if they can’t handle my anxiety, it’s my fault for sharing or for not framing it in the [helpful] way possible. Frankly, that’s a lot of pressure. 

I think I know when these beliefs solidified in my psyche. I experienced a lot of anxiety in my first romantic relationship over six years ago, particularly wondering what I was ‘supposed’ to be feeling and not wanting to hurt my partner. As I explained to my therapist this week, I told her about what I was experiencing, and two weeks later, she broke up with me, citing similar anxieties to the ones that I had brought to her (which, incidentally, she had not disclosed until that point). Now, there’s no way of knowing how much I actually influenced her behavior. As my therapist pointed out, I’m not superhuman. I was only twenty, and she wasn’t much older. I’ve learned so much since I was twenty (I can verify that by rereading my old journal entries from that time–such overwrought prose!). But I think that part of me has carried the assumption for years that I somehow turned the breakup that I feared into reality by confiding my worries, that it’ll happen again. 

At times, I’ve assumed that my anxiety isn’t something that my partners can hold without taking it on. I’m learning that that’s an assumption based on incomplete (and frankly, outdated) information. I’ve grown in my ability to notice, understand, and communicate my feelings, and if my partners start to feel like they’re drowning in what I’m saying, they can tell me. I know this. 

But I still need to attend to the younger self who feels ashamed. This week, I did that through mindfulness. In the middle of a practice that invited me to openness, I found myself inspired to talk to and hold my twenty-year-old self, the one who blames herself for so much. So I laid a bed pillow across my lap and imagined that it was a younger version of me. I cradled her like the Virgin Mary cradles Jesus in Michelangelo’s Pietà. Mentally, I felt around for the most tender and wounded places, speaking aloud the affirmations that would be hard for her to hear (and hard for me to believe). 

I told her that she did the [helpful] she could. I told her that she was brave and kind. I told her that I had learned so much from her, that I admired her. The tears started when I said “I’m proud of you.” I held her, marveling at how young and small she seemed in my arms. “You are part of me, and I will always hold you,” I said to her. I whispered these things over and over, letting myself weep for that heartbroken twenty-year-old who just wanted to do the right thing. ‘We’ stayed like that for a while. I wasn’t sure how to wrap it up, but when my stomach started growling, I decided to rise and let her rest in my psyche. The pillow became just a pillow again, and I went about my day. 

I don’t know how this cathartic time will affect the way that I approach my behavior now, but it was much needed. As I move forward, other ‘past selves’ will visit–I’m sure my inner five-year-old will tug at my sleeve one of these days. I will learn from them, affirm them, and hold them.

*Note: Insight Timer is the [helpful] free meditation app.

*Image: Photograph of Michelangelo’s Pietà from Wikimedia Commons

Post linked to the Sex Bloggers for Mental Health blog meme.

Be Whoever You Are – An Epistle on Feelings

[Image description: Photo is of a glorious sunset silhouetting trees, buildings, and light poles.]

Note: This post deals with some difficult feelings and anxieties related to sexual orientation. If it hits you hard, remember the Resources page! 

Greetings, Beloved!

After yesterday’s bear of a post, I thought I’d make today’s a short one, inspired by a recent conversation with a friend about sexual attraction and identity. My friend shared that they felt some anxiety about how to define their sexuality (essentially because their feelings don’t appear to fit neatly into a particular box). It reminded me of a worry that I used to have that sometimes crops back up (thanks, brain). 

In college, I experienced a lot of anxiety about whether the sexual orientation label I used matched what I thought I should be feeling (it didn’t help that I was very aware of the social and political consequences of identifying as queer and bisexual). At the end of my first romantic relationship, an ill-timed long-distance relationship with another woman, I worried that I had deceived myself into thinking that I was attracted to women at all. I read every resource I could find, trying to make sense of my experience. Internally, I cycled through a host of possible labels, even flirting with the idea of asexuality before eventually concluding that ‘bisexual’ still suited me. 

I struggled that year with a cocktail of hard thoughts and feelings: guilt and shame about my apparent inability to just get over the relationship, worries that I would never love again, and the nagging fear that I could be lying to myself about this whole thing. I thought that I couldn’t enter a sexual relationship without harming my partner(s) because my feelings seemed all wrong. Can you tell I was a perfectionist? Seriously, bless my heart!

Perfectionism can turn feelings (in themselves neutral) into reasons for self-judgment and shame. In hindsight, I was so busy measuring and judging my feelings that I couldn’t fully live my beautiful queer life. I had to get help. Fortunately, my college had a free counseling center.  

Through therapy, the support of great friends, some true tea from Brené Brown, and the healing influence of time, I gradually began to make peace with the fact that feelings are weird and finicky–including those related to sexuality and attraction–because people are weird and finicky. 

Here’s some informal advice that I gave my friend about attraction:

  • Attraction Is fluid and complicated.
  • It may change and expand…but you can’t force it to change.
  • You get to choose how you identify. 
  • You don’t have to force yourself into any label or situation that you don’t feel right about. 

So, feelings don’t come from nowhere, and it can be worthwhile to reflect on “why,” but at the end of the day, you feel what you feel. Your feelings might not be what you expected. They might not fit the mold. They might change. That’s all fine. What you choose to do with them is a more complicated matter, but whatever your feelings are, they’re okay. Let’s start with that. 🙂 Music for your consideration: “Be Wherever You Are” by Rebecca Sugar