Sunday, April 13, 2014

I'm Right Here

I've been thinking a lot about sex lately.


How, for some, it's this thing that enables us to create life, but also this thing that creates intimacy and love.

How it's a definite part of my life, but when someone asks, "What did you do last night?", we all know instinctively to skip over that part of the narrative. So instead, we just kinda talk about it with our best buds and sisters.

How it's considered to be so simple to some and yet it's incredibly complex to others.

How it both elevates us and wounds us.

How none of us come to it without baggage (or at the very least expectations of how we thought it would go).

And how I'm certainly no expert on the topic being that my sexual history is pretty short and yet we all have stories, don't we?

(If you have no stories and/or don't prefer to read the stories of others, I give you permission to stop reading)

Not surprisingly my struggles in life and in the bedroom are one in the same: 
feelings of absolute shame surrounding my body.

(And if immediately this notion feels simple or insignificant to you, you obviously don't regularly interact with women on a deeper level, because I can tell you right now, I am the majority. We are the majority. It will be downright difficult for you to find a woman who does not, quite often, feel dissatisfied with her body.)

It's the same struggle that made me into a chronic perfectionist.
It's the same struggle that had me laying in tanning beds and counting calories when I was 13.
It's the same struggle that led me into the arms of anorexia and bulimia.
It's the same struggle that makes me question my worth with my husband.

As if my only value is my appearance.
As if my only purpose is to be attractive.
As if that's all men want.
As if that's all he wants.
As if it's that simple.

I can easily trace back my initial feelings of shame to 5th grade. Middle-shool boys. One encounter after another of sexual harassment, inappropriate touching, and unwanted attention. I get why I feel this way, but, at times, I have absolutely no idea what to do about it. How to "get over it." How to stop believing the things I've spent years believing. How to move forward.

I recently finished reading Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar by Cheryl Strayed. It's a collection of inquiries and responses conducted online. My favorite correspondence was the chapter called, "Tiny Revolutions."

The letter is from a woman in her mid-fifties who, after decades of marriage, is separating from her husband. She's at peace with the divorce and both eager and anxious to move forward with new relationships. She wants intimacy but she's scared that--at her age--it will be difficult to find a partner who will accept her body as it is. The letter is signed: Wanting.

Here are a few of my favorite excerpts from Sugar's eight-page response (Warning to sensitive readers, Sugar likes bad words, but I'm not editing them because, I think they work. I warned you):

"My impulse is to...pretend that droopy-fleshed women in deep middle-age are lusted after by droves of men for their original and seasoned beauty. 'Looks don't matter!' I want to shout in a giddy, you-go-girl tone. It wouldn't be a lie. Looks really don't matter. You know they don't. I know they don't...And yet. But still. We know it's not entirely true."

Sugar talks about how the values and principles we apply to our emotional lives, must be translated to our bodies: "Yours. Mine. Droopy and ugly and fat and thing and marred and wretched as they are. We have to be as fearless about our bellies as we are with our hearts. There isn't a shortcut around this. The answer to your conundrum isn't finding a way to make your future lover believe you look like Angelina Jolie. It's coming to terms with the fact that you don't and never will (a fact, I'd like to note, that Angelina Jolie herself will also have to come to terms with someday and probably already struggles with now)."  

"Real change happens on the level of the gesture...It's you and me standing naked before our lovers, even if it makes us feel kind of squirmy in a bad way when we do. The work is there. It's our task. Doing it will give us strength and clarity. It will bring us closer to who we hope to be."

"You don't have to be young. You don't have to be thin. You don't have to be "hot" in a way that some dumbfuckedly narrow mindset has construed that word. You don't have to have taut flesh or a tight ass or an eternally upright set of tits. You have to find a way to inhabit your body while enacting your deepest desires. You have to be brave enough to build the intimacy you deserve. You have to take off all your clothes and say, 'I'm right here.' "

If I've learned anything about bravery and sexuality in the last one year and eleven months of marriage, it is this: perhaps some of greatest moments of courage involve taking our clothes off and saying, "I'm right here." 

Not, "Please don't look."
Or, "Let's turn the lights off. Again."
Or, "Don't look at my _____."

Not apologizing. Not backpedaling. Not simmering in the shame.

Simply saying: I'm. Right. Here.


Carley Brown said...

Heather, seriously, this was the best post I've read in so long. I've been thinking about this very thing lately. It's ridiculous the things we become self conscious of. I think I'll get that book on my kindle. I like Cheryl Strayed. Thanks for sharing, and quoting, and being so awesome. I always love to visit your blog.

Emma Lavern said...

Your honest and faithful story has been inspiring, as all your blog posts continue to be; and your speech at SWAU was a huge stepping stone for me years ago. I wish I could have spoken with you but I was too choked up with tears. Anyways, a belated thank you.

I wish there was a way for a Wordpress author to follow a Blogger author.

Heather said...

Thanks, Emma for letting me know this. It is quite amazing how we have the opportunity to share our stories and learn from each other. Blessings.