My mother had an extensive collection of table decorations. A hope chest in the dining room held stacks of linens including tablecloths, lace overlays, placemats and napkins. There was also an absurd amount of napkin rings. At least one variety for every major holiday, and several seasonal selections as well. She adored this collection and I can’t ever remember seeing her six-seat dining room table bare. She justified her ever growing collection by her insistence upon hosting all holiday family dinners. For these occasions, the best of the best adorned the table along with copious amounts of artery-clogging food. My mother never ate much other than meat, prefering to chew on everyone’s left over bones and smoke her Virginia Slims on the back patio.
Setting up for these occasions caused a lot of stress in her home. More often than not a screaming match would ensue in which my mother would threaten Julie, her partner, and I with violence if we “wouldn’t get off our lazy asses to help.” I can remember one Easter Sunday when she wanted the extra folding chairs taken down from the attic immediately. When both Julie and I showed little urgency over the matter, my mother retrieved her .38 pistol and began wildly waving it around. Needless to say we got the chairs from the attic, whispering to one another about how crazy she was, but never taking it very seriously. It’s strange how quickly we normalized such irrational behavior.
It’s been a few weeks since my last experimental session with MDMA and the insights are still continuing to unfold. Life hasn’t been all rainbows and cupcakes no matter how much I wish this were the case at times. There is more balance though, and I’ve noticed that my reactions to situations aren’t as immediate as they have been in the past. I’ve been actively trying to maintain a state of openness. I keep reminding myself of the limitation of expectation. As much as I discovered and processed during the experimental sessions, things are continuing to be revealed to me.
For the last few years I’ve struggled with an ongoing uncomfortable situation. It’s hard for me to pinpoint exactly when it started but it’s become a daily struggle. I love dogs. I’ve always had a dog as a pet, and usually more than one. I have rescued several dogs off the streets here in New Orleans and helped them to find homes. We currently have three of these rescue dogs. Our dogs are well behaved for the most part although the youngest has a lot of energy. When I get home, especially if I am by myself, the youngest of the dogs is extremely excited to greet me. I can often hear her nails (along with the other two) hitting the wooden floors inside as I approach the door. Occasionally she will bark with excited frenzy upon my arrival. This creates a horrible trepidation inside of me. I cannot stand the feeling I experience. If I know that Andy will be home soon, I will often drive around the neighborhood waiting for him to get inside before I go home. It has become a strange reaction that I’ve normalized enough to live with.
I had a talk with Andy a few weeks ago about this situation. Now that I’m more aware and present to my physical reactions, I’ve taken note of the ones that feel uncomfortable. I was heavy-hearted and confused as to why I was having these feelings towards our dogs. I asked him what I could do about it, admitting that sometimes I hate to come home. I couldn’t understand or explain why I have this reaction. He listened but there was no solution. I tried not to dwell upon it and instead opted to give it some space.
Coming home from the gym the other morning, I had a revelation. If that word seems dramatic that’s because it is fitting. As I was approaching the front door of my house I could hear the dogs on the other side, and along with the feeling of fear/anxiety I had a loud thought which was “don’t forget about the dogs.” Accompanying this thought was the immediate remembrance that my mother had two miniature dachshunds at her home on the day I found the bodies. These dogs were confined to a room adjacent to the the kitchen in which the floor was tile. When I discovered my mother, Julie and Lark’s bodies the background noise was that of two excited dogs tip-tapping their claws on the floor and barking with frantic energy. I had completely forgotten about them being there. I had no recollection of the sounds they were making until the very moment I was approaching my own door just days ago. I have told the story of what happened that day many, many times and not once can I ever recall mentioning the dogs. What a complete and utter mind fuck.
My beautiful brain has been gracious with these disclosures lately. I spent an afternoon under the influence of a lovely substance with a few close friends of mine. At one point I asked one of them about their childhood which opened up a space for us to talk about past traumas. In listening to this person talk so openly with me about the things they had encountered I was able to feel such immense empathy because I saw so much of my own experience in theirs. In that moment they had become a living mirror to me. I saw how the things that we both suffered forced us to develop certain coping mechanisms that worked as suits of armor against the unpredictability of pain. I also saw how as time progressed in both our lives these suits of armor became cloaks of oppression, holding us back from our own potential and happiness. It was such an honor to share those feelings for someone I love. This is the kind of intimacy that transcends some sexual experiences. I still want to fuck, but I also want to get high and get real.
That same evening while relaxing in my bathtub eating strawberries, I contemplated some of my actions and motivations. I recognized that I have a strong desire to be desired and to feel power and control over some of my relationships. I asked myself why I seem to be so attached to this. I came to the conclusion that because I rapidly lost many of the people that I loved very unpredictably, I find a false sense of power in the belief that I can somehow control the love that others feel for me. That by controlling this desire and these relationships, I won’t have to feel the pain of loss. I had to laugh at myself. Staring at my fingers as they danced on the waters edge, I felt completely relaxed in the knowledge that the whole thing was futile, as I would surely eventually lose every single thing that I love. The people I love will grow and change, as will I. Death will happen to all of us eventually and we have no real way of knowing when. By trying so hard to cultivate and maintain certain states of permanency, I am missing out on precious moments. And any of those moments could potentially be the last. Cliff notes version: attachments equal pain and suffering.
I am immensely thankful that throughout these discoveries, one lovely thought has grown — I am no longer afraid of what is in my brain.
I want you to think about the times you feel uncomfortable. What are you telling yourself then? Is the way you are perceiving a situation truly the way it is, or is it drastically shaped by your own past experiences? I want you to think about the times you feel wonderful. What are you telling yourself then? Or are you telling yourself anything at all? I think that those of us who have experienced trauma (nearly all of us) don’t necessarily understand just how much it has affected the way in which we see our worlds. For years I had normalized feelings of fear and anxiety so much that I denied the strangeness of hating entering my own home. That’s incredible. Now that I understand why I have these feelings, I am allowing myself to be open to the hopeful shift in my reaction. Once we can acknowledge something, we no longer have to simply react to it, we can recognize it and change the narrative. We won’t forget about the dogs.
Fourteen years ago today Andy ended our relationship for the first time. It was messy and he said a lot of cruel things. “We have nothing in common and if I wasn’t fucking you I wouldn’t want to be your friend.” Oh, and my personal favorite “The first time we had sex was a ten and all the other times have been like five’s.” I was devastated but also relieved as I had expected things to fall apart. I remember even after he said all of this and assured me that we were done, I still gave him a blow job. It was on the rear balcony of my uptown home and it was raining outside. While on my knees I could hear the droplets hitting the metal overhang. Today, this same man who my therapist at the time said was “uncaring, completely immature and emotionally unavailable” put rose petals in with the snack I brought to work. He has no idea that today is our weird “first breakup and farewell bj” anniversary. Women tend to have a better memory for these occasions. Still there were petals with the snack that he prepared with the same care as our son’s school lunch. He is an amazing father, partner and even after all these years much better than a five as a lover. I’m not mad at all about what happened fourteen years ago. I can actually find so much hilarity in it. We were immensely different then. Some would say that just wasn’t our time. I might say that my bj’s are just that good.
Timing is everything. Part of me has always hated to admit this because in it’s acceptance there is also a sense of our own powerlessness. Months before I even had an inkling that I would be participating in an FDA clinical trial for MDMA- Assisted Psychotherapy, I kept fixating on the idea of being in the right place at the right time and it’s unfortunate opposite. It bothered me that a person’s complete life experience could be altered simply by timing, beginning with the precariousness of our existence based on the design of ovulation. I’ve had to balance out my fearfulness of poor timing with my inherited belief in luck. My father would regale me with tales of his youth in which he would often just barely avoid a terrible circumstance by sheer luck. He told me that he was lucky, and he believed I was as well. A productive placebo perhaps, but reassuring regardless. Occasionally though we all need a little more than luck.
Here’s the thing. Before I began this trial I didn’t truly believe that I had PTSD. I understand how ludicrous this sounds when the tragedies I’ve experienced are put into context. Nevertheless when told by my current therapist whom I trust very much I would nod my head in agreeance but not accept what she was saying inwardly. It wasn’t until I went through the first battery of psychometric testing did I realize that I was really fucked up. Before then the timing hadn’t been right. Even if someone I loved and trusted had told me “Hey the way you view the world isn’t really the way the world is,” I would have been incapable of believing them because I had made the world the way I truly believed it was. I now understand that no one would have had any luck in challenging my convictions. I needed to see, absorb and understand the truth that I had come to believe so intensely was not the truth at all. I needed to also understand that I had been powerless in this mode of thinking and reacting. I wasn’t choosing to be the person I had become.
The disconnect that I had developed over years between my mind and my body, became the disconnect between me and the world. I used to sit in therapy and cry. I would tell my therapist of how incredibly lonely I felt. I would explain that losing my nuclear birth family left me feeling desolate and untethered. I would question – if I was less intelligent, would I be happier? I felt exhausted all the time from either suppressing my sadness and discontent or faking my joy and happiness. I had been working so hard to give everyone the reaction they expected that I had forgotten that my reactions were mostly fabrications, straw men. I was going through the motions and believed I was holding it all together. But now I know I wasn’t. Now I realize just how close I was to the edge. I had spent years pretending. Years of thinking that what I was experiencing was reality. Years with very little truth and understanding. My mind was in control – planning, protecting, diligently on guard – and my body was dangling flesh. My body felt nothing but occasional sadness and pain. Tiny bits of emotion that would make their way past the high guard. At the time I didn’t know or understand any of this. I just knew I was different, alone and incredibly unsatisfied with all that I had worked so hard to attain.
Being a part of this trial has allowed me intense introspection that I feel would have been possible through therapy, but would have taken decades. Andy’s analogy of the trilogy is actually quite fitting. In my first experimental drug session, I was figuring out what was available to me. My trust was being built, not just with Shari and Ray, but my trust for myself. In that first session I was able to recall memories that were not necessarily related to a specific trauma but memories that allowed me to feel things in a way that I had forgotten I could feel. This set a precedent for the second experimental drug session. In the second session I was open to a lot more of what was coming up. The dosage of the drug was higher so I felt more of the effects of the drug, but more importantly I was able to access more feelings than before. Most of those feelings were sorrowful and after that session I was no doubt depressed. In reconnecting with my body, I was riddled with fear and anxiety including: lack of self-worth, guilt over the past, projection into the future, and the quiet desperation of loneliness. Thankfully I made it through which proved to me that the darkest wasn’t nearly as terrifying and defeating as I had believed it would be for years. This gave me hope and strength and moving into the third session my team and I devised an intention.
I knew there were specific things that I wanted to focus on including the death of my mother and my rape. In regards to my mother and the circumstances surrounding her death I had always been able to discuss the tragic events that occurred with a feeling of removal from the situation. It was as if I was telling the story of something that happened to someone else. I had always been able to remember a good amount of specific details but I had never been able to connect to my feelings. While on 180 mg of pharmaceutical-grade MDMA, I placed myself into the memory of that day. I replayed the tragedy and not only did I remain present in my brain, but I also allowed myself to feel what I didn’t allow myself to feel that day. As one can imagine, it was very sorrowful and the sheer terror of the truth reverberated through me. Incredibly though, in the experience I was able to find shocking amounts of empathy for my mother. I considered how terrified she must have been once she had killed Julie and Lark and felt that she could only end things by killing herself. It was a profound experience to mentally go back into that space and remain present to my feelings and not just my thoughts. It has significantly changed me.
Shari and Ray were my support system. They held the space for me to go into these memories and allowed me the safety to do so wholeheartedly. Reminiscent of the scene in Poltergeist where the mother has to rescue Carol Ann and the family and psychic tie a rope around her, Shari and Ray were my rope. I knew if things got too intense, I could tap out. That they would be there to pull me back if I needed them to. They did not need to. Thankfully. After I went through the traumatic event of my mother’s death with the loving support of my team, I decided to tackle the trauma of my rape.
For the first time in over a decade, I told the story of my rape aloud to two individuals who actively listened and showed incredible amounts of empathy. When I finished they were both struck with how dejected I had sounded and had physically presented. I had discussed with them how my rape has continued to affect me specifically by causing a visceral, unpredictable reaction in my body during times of intense arousal. I have described these reactions as feelings of being smothered, suffocated and silenced. In order to process this tragedy, Shari and Ray implored me, asking about triggers that elicited that feeling of panic within my body. I had admitted to them before, and did so again during the session that certain yoga poses immediately cause that reaction within my body. These poses being shoulder stand and plow. For over a decade I have avoided doing these poses even when I was teaching yoga. So there I was, high as fuck, and I suggested that I put myself into a physical posture that I knew would make me feel completely terrible. I had to find the levity in the situation in which then after deciding I would go into the poses, I came up with the short list of things I needed to do beforehand. Hello avoidance. I needed to blow my nose, have a drink of water, eat a mint, have another drink of water. I was like a child avoiding bedtime. Finally I made my way to the mat and after some simple stretches I carefully got into plow pose.
Immediately I felt intense panic, fear, shame and sadness. I struggled for my breath, from the panic as much as from my tears. Shari and Ray were right there with me holding the space for me. Even so, I felt terrified and paralyzed. Shari calmly and lovingly asked me, “What does that feeling need?” So I asked the feeling, and simple enough it just wanted to be heard. I just wanted to be heard. Me, Lori Tipton, lying on a mat in a building on the campus of a mental hospital, high on MDMA, just wanted to be heard, believed and empathized with. Bada bing, bada boom. There are so many circumstances surrounding my rape that caused me to be silenced at the time. I never realized how toxic that silence has been. Being in that miserable pose and allowing myself to feel everything, and being seen and heard by people who I have grown to trust and care for immensely was incredibly healing. I stayed in that first plow pose for a few minutes. Then I came out of it and relished every moment of easy breath. I went back into the pose two more times. And by the end of the third time, it was uncomfortable, but it wasn’t unbearable. For me that’s no short of a miracle.
I am still processing all that has happened to me. I feel like I’m standing on the shore of openness and action. Part of me wants to feel the tug of the waves and allow them to take me wherever I am supposed to be. To trust in the pull, the process. The other part of me wants to dive into them. To thrash against them and feel the power of myself, my desires, my volition. I’m walking that shoreline like a tightrope. This walk is the integration, the practice.
To reconnect with my body has been one of the most harrowing and rewarding experiences of my life. I have had to mourn the loss of myself, my time and my potential. I have had to accept the parts of Wilder’s life that I was physically there for but not emotionally available for. I have had to treat myself with kindness and patience, which have taken time to cultivate. It has been a reconnection lubricated by immense sorrow and a plethora of tears. But it has also left me with something more beautiful than I could have imagined. Feeling. Presence. Awareness. My truth has released me from the guilt of my past and allowed me to acknowledge that great things are still available for me. Right now. In this very moment. Andy confessed that over the last few weeks he has found immense satisfaction in silently watching me experience mundane things as if for the first time. And that is how so many things are feeling right now. Awkwardly delightful.
I am falling more in love with my life every day. I am finding it so much easier to laugh the way I used to years ago. I feel lighter, calmer and less agitated. This is not to say that I’m now free of all fear and anxiety. I still have that voice that so badly wants to question everything and constantly self-criticize. Thankfully, it’s not nearly as loud. I have a new, small fear that I’m listening to but limiting its growth. This fear worries that I’ll wake up one day just as crippled by my PTSD as I once was. I hold this little fear close to my heart and whisper soothingly “that’s impossible, because you can never unknow the things you’ve learned.” And when it wants to sweep me away to that oxymoronic comfortable place of feeling bad, I bring myself back to the moment. My son’s laughter, the tenderness of my husband, the taste of my lover’s skin, the love of my community. These moments are where the magic happens. And I want to be open to all of them.
“What if I’m no longer myself when all this is over with?” This question persistently troubled me when I first began my participation in the current FDA clinical trial for MDMA- Assisted Psychotherapy. As I have progressed in this study, it has transformed from a serious inquiry to a meek whisper. I have nearly altogether dismissed it due to the realization that before beginning this treatment, I really didn’t know myself. I mean I thought I did, in fact, I was sure I did. But as revelations occured and contemplations followed, I found that the identity that I was so afraid of losing was not at all the true essence of who I am. Both my therapist and my tarot card reader answered my initial question with the same words, “When this is over you will be more of yourself.” I am finally understanding what they meant.
If parts of my story have mirrored yours, that’s because we aren’t that altogether different. Now that I’ve made it through some of my most intense personal moments and felt the reward of sheer survival, I have returned with some remarkable knowledge. The discoveries I’ve made have been both monumental and at the same time incredibly simplistic. It’s a similar feeling to when you’ve finally been shown the proper way to do something you’ve been doing wrong for a very long time. Perhaps the proper way is even incredibly easier than what you’ve been doing and while there is a joy in finding a better way of doing this thing, there is also a bit of guilt and frustration in the acknowledgement of the time you’ve wasted doing it wrong.
Here’s a very abbreviated synopsis of what I’ve learned about myself thus far. I experienced a severely traumatic childhood. My mother was mentally ill, and because of her illness she was incredibly unpredictable. Before I even had words, my interactions with her often left me feeling afraid. This fear began and continues to manifest in issues of abandonment, and doubts of self-worth. Specifically because my mother had a very dualistic personality and was able to present to the majority of people in her life as a sane person, I was left feeling not only sad but also extremely frustrated. My child mind reasoned that she must have had a choice in her actions and that something that I was doing wrong was the cause for the often bad times I experienced with her. As I grew older and her illness progressed, her interactions only served to continue to feed my fears of abandonment and my lack of self-worth. Perhaps if these interactions had been all that occurred, through therapy and through having a very loving and respectful relationship with my father, I would have been able to understand, empathize, and not internalize my mother’s mental illness. Unfortunately, that is not how things played out. The traumas that occurred during my adult life only worked to solidify my fears and my beliefs that I am not worthy or lovable. Beginning with the tragic loss of my brother and my guilt over being unable to help him. Continuing with my mother murdering two people and herself, followed by a natural disaster of magnificent proportions. And further progressing when I was raped by someone I loved and trusted which ended in pregnancy and abortion. As slowly and as steadily as Pangaea’s separation, each one of these events helped to solidify and reinforce my fears and beliefs. Slowly building them silently inside of me, allowing them to rob me of my ability to feel, to be in my body comfortably, and to accept what had happened to me.
Seems simple enough, doesn’t it? Most of us suffer from some fears of abandonment or doubts of self-worth. I believe that most people reading this will be able to relate. So it seems nearly ludicrous to me that I am only now able to draw the parallels between these circumstances and my PTSD. I have come to believe that my ability to deny what was happening to me was partly due to the vast separation between my mind and body. Something that I have become consciously aware of.
While working at the bar a few weeks ago I was visited by a friend who works nearby. He has a quiet, caring demeanor not unlike a trusted priest or a favored school nurse. He provides an easy intimacy in which I’ve felt a security in telling him things. Even secrets I normally wouldn’t discuss have had a way of easily rolling off my tongue. His response is always one of tender indifference, as if to reassure me that he values what I’m saying but he’s not disturbed or even attached to it. I’m not quite sure how it had come up one day but I blatantly told him, “You know I really love sex but I’ve faked a considerable amount of orgasms.” He continued listening unfazed and the conversation progressed. Later when discussing my thoughts on non-monogamy I joked with him stating, “I really don’t care how many lovers a person has, as long as I’m the best.” He smiled back and with the nonchalance of Yoda replied, “Well, that’s why you fake it. You’re too worried about giving an experience to someone else that you don’t allow yourself to enjoy your own experience.” After stating this he hustled out quickly to make an appointment leaving me the rest of the shift to consider what he had said.
I brought this up in therapy because I believe my faked orgasms are the perfect analogy for how I’ve been moving through my life. So often I have chosen to sacrifice my own complete fulfillment which I know I am capable of, for some smaller representation of that experience that at times is a complete mockery. I have faked something that I was perfectly capable of actually achieving, and at the prompting of no one but myself. I think at first this faking “it” was a necessity for life. In the aftermath of several horrific experiences I tricked myself into believing that I was just fine. As I have written about in the past, I locked my feelings deeply inside of myself, and just as my mother mastered her dualistic nature, I also presented one side of myself to most of the world. In doing this I greatly increased the chasm between my mind and body. Not allowing myself to experience my feelings and suffering the intense destruction of them when they would find a way out (generally during periods of intoxication or overwhelming depression.) My own denial of my experience and the emotive response to it, was no doubt a factor in the development of my PTSD. Once this disorder began to manifest, the subsequent changes in my brain structure and my interactions with the world only furthered my desire to upkeep the farce. While at first it seemed like the easy thing to do, and the thing that would allow me to persevere and survive, it has proven to be exhausting and unfulfilling. Much like a relationship built on disingenuous pleasure. If I have to fake it to make it, I don’t want it anymore.
I’m truly invested in authenticity. I am devoted to allowing myself the time and energy to be present to all the things that are coming up. With an incredibly hectic life this hasn’t been easy, but it has been rewarding beyond measure. I have had to evaluate some of my automatic reactions. I have had to acknowledge my triggers and be present to the horrible insecurities they often manifest. I have had to let go of relationships that I hoped would blossom. I have had to be open and willing to let love change me. I have had to accept that I’m still learning who I am. I have had to trust that all of this will be worth it in the end.
On Saturday I will attend my third and final experimental drug session. I’m ready to go all in for this one. I have discussed with Shari and Ray my intentions, and they are loving supporters. There are still portions of my mother’s death that I have an inability to recall. I can remember in vivid detail the events leading up to and even most of the aspects of the discovery of the bodies, but there is something integral that is still missing. I continue to be able to talk about these occurrences as if they happened to someone else. I feel as if I witnessed them (which I most certainly did) but that I was completely emotionally removed from what I was experiencing. Even my 911 call from the house that day is calm, considering what I had discovered. I am hoping that by revisiting this experience while under the influence of the drug, I will be able to emotionally access things I have been unable to in the twelve years since this happened. Either that or it’ll be the worst roll ever.
I am also interested in processing my rape. I have talked very little about this trauma and it took me a decade to write about it (https://medium.com/@LoriTipton/one-decade-down-2383c81f446f)I know that it still affects me though, as I often have unwanted physical and physiological reactions to certain types of touch or intimate situations. It has been the trauma that has caused me to feel the most shame and in turn the one that I have been most reluctant to work through. It has often been eclipsed by the larger, perhaps more significant tragic events that have occurred in my life, but I know it needs to be acknowledged. Regardless of the level of pain, I am apt to recognize the effect it has had on me.
Saturday sounds like it’s going to be a riot, doesn’t it? The most exceptional aspect to these plans is that I’m no longer afraid. I know that this work isn’t going to be easy and it might not even be fruitful, but at this moment I don’t fear it will kill me. And that alone is worth whatever happens this weekend. I’ll report back from the other side.
As always, thank you for your continued support.
“Baby, if I don’t feel it I ain’t faking no no.” – Rihanna
On Mardi Gras day I found myself at a bar standing next to a pulchritudinous woman who was clutching a bottle of champagne. She looked over at me and bemoaned, “I’ve been holding on to this for so long.” I tapped the bar and said, “Put it down, take a rest.” As she sat the champagne on the bar her face flooded with instant relief and she glanced past me at a group sitting by the window. “Oh,” she cooed, “look at her headpiece, it’s so beautiful, she’s so beautiful.” I glanced over my shoulder in agreeance, and as we both turned our focus back to the champagne in front of us, she caught a glimpse of her own reflection in the mirrors behind the bar’s liquor selection. She gasped, reaching her hand up to her head, “I’m wearing a headpiece too. And I’m beautiful.” It was as if she was just noticing these things for the first time ever, and her sense of delight and wonder were enchanting. I smiled, “Yes, you are. Isn’t is funny but that’s how it works, we forget how beautiful we are.” She laughed grabbing my arm tenderly, “Yes! We often just need someone else to be our mirror, and then maybe an actual mirror.” We laughed together as I intimately said to this stranger, “I really needed that reminder, not to get too deep but I’ve been going through it.” She grabbed my hand and said, “Go deep. Fuck the weather, THIS is what I always want.” And in that instant, I realized it’s what I want as well.
After my last MDMA experimental session I began to integrate the severity of the separation between my mind and my body. It seems rather ludicrous that someone who has completed yoga teacher training and even has an online account with the website “mindbody” would be so dualistic, but I’ve been. So much of my trauma has been sequestered to my brain/thinking self and the avoidance of feeling my body’s reactions that it’s as if the bridge between the two was deconstructed over time. I was given an abundance of opportunities to get in touch with my physical feelings, all of which seemed to be incredibly uncomfortable, leading up to Mardi Gras.
I found myself at times overcome with profound sadness. Beyond this sadness, lurking in the shadows were my old friends self-doubt and fear of abandonment. Now that I’m not in what I lovingly referred to as “the bog of despair” it’s difficult to convey the hold it had on me. I was significantly struggling with immense insecurities. My mind was playing every failed relationship over and over in my head, like a 24 hour projection of my inadequacies. I was dreaming about past friendships and love affairs that I haven’t thought of in years. If we have ever fucked, please note I was thinking of you a few weeks ago. Things bordered on obsession, as my mind was fixated on proving to me that I was indeed unlovable. I understand how bizarre this sounds. As Patanjali says in the Yoga Sutra, “Vitarka Badhane Pratipaksha Bhavanam” meaning when disturbed by disturbing thoughts, think the opposite. But sometimes, this just isn’t an option. My mind was racing, my sleep was broken and I was existing in a cycle of insecurity, sadness and shame.
I felt as though I needed a vacation from my brain. I wanted a drink, a fight or a fuck. Instead I stayed with these thoughts and tried my hardest to be present to the feelings they would manifest in my body as I desperately tried to remind myself that this was just a temporary state. I made it through several shifts at work, although I’m not entirely sure how. After one of my shifts I completely broke down in the locker room. A friend walked in and I lost it, ugly crying into her shoulder, broken sentences escaping between sobs. Definitely not my finest hour. And this wasn’t a solitary occurrence. I cried so hard one night that I broke blood vessels in my eyes. I must admit in the midst of these tortuous circumstances I did question if my participation in this trial was worth it. I had to wonder if this breaking down was going to be fruitful or if this was all one big mistake. It’s easy to have these misgivings when you’ve reached a twist in the tunnel and you can no longer see the light at the end.
After several days and nights of these fears and anxieties building, I finally talked to Andy about them. “I feel so irrelevant and unlovable. I don’t love myself so as RuPaul says, how can anyone love me?” He was so incredibly kind to me that he didn’t even point out my misquote. We talked for a few hours in which I regalled him with all the evidence as to why I am not deserving of love. He listened patiently and then presented his theory. “Your mind has been fighting some really big, heavy shit for a very long time. Because of that you have this mental army that’s prepared for the end of days. And maybe now you’re starting to see the end of days might not be coming, so your army is scrambling for something to attack. Now your mental army is doing what everyone’s does, its focusing on regular insecurities of relevance and worthiness. You’re not alone in these thoughts and fears. You’ve just been fighting the bigger stuff for so long, you’ve forgotten what normal stress is like. And your army is stronger than most, so it wants a bigger fight.” I don’t know if there’s any truth to this, but it was so much more eloquent than saying “You’re fucking nuts.”
Andy wasn’t the only person to assure me in my time of despair. Nothing short of a miracle occurred when a dear friend from out of town found the time to have dinner with me during Carnival. We met up and immediately I felt truly seen by her. I was overcome with gratitude for the relief I felt by having someone to discuss my innermost fears and anxieties with, who has also shared in these miseries. We sat for a few hours taking turns talking, me crying nearly the entire time. My tears felt incredibly productive though and I can hardly remember a time when I have felt so close to another person, outside of my relationships with Wilder and Andy. She showed me immense compassion and understanding, as well as the acknowledgement of where I currently am in this process. By the time we parted ways, I could feel the knot starting to loosen. I am immensely grateful for her love and support and hope to move through this world with the same care and honor that she does.
After that meeting, things drastically improved and I have to say that this past Mardi Gras day may have been my favorite of all time. I was able to wander around freely, thoroughly enjoying the company of several different groups of people, laughing, dancing and falling in love over and over again. It was a truly magical day, punctuated by the love of my family, lovers and close friends. I surprisingly found myself in the company of strangers in a beautiful home that overlooked the gardens of St. Louis Cathedral. The view was breathtaking, and the company was delightful. I was reminded of the amount of beauty, magic and open-mindedness that is a normal part of our culture. I had some great conversations and plenty of delicious kisses. It was the perfect day to be in touch with my body, as well as the bodies of others.
Speaking of, there has been one significant benefit to bridging the mind/body gap, and that is the magnitude of my orgasms. You know when you think you’ve had good coffee and then someone makes you really good coffee and you think, “Jesus, this is what I’ve been missing out on!” Well, that’s how it’s been for me these last few weeks. Praise be to ones who’ve helped. Perhaps this is the cosmos giving me a very well-deserved break. Tears do make decent lube after all and Heaven knows I’ve had enough to spare. If the motto is there can be no pleasure without pain, then I’m ready for all the pleasure. Bring it.
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Thanks to all of you for the support, especially to Andy & Angel, my darlings.
During my second experimental MDMA session on Saturday there were moments when I felt I had solved some of the mysteries of my universe, and yesterday I could barely get out of the bathtub. I was exhausted, feeling immense sorrow and hopelessness to the point I had to skip my favorite parade because I accidentally napped for over three hours. A few weeks ago I looked across the room at Andy and asked him how he was feeling. He replied, “You know when you feel like all the fun is gone, like it’s all been used up and will never return? That’s how I feel.” We both laughed that day because the idea was both ludicrous and acceptable. Right now I’m finding it hard to laugh, and I can’t wait until the day when the humor returns. I know it will, so I’m holding out.
On Saturday I received a total of 180 mg of MDMA. The days leading up to this session were punctuated with anxiety, fear and sorrow. My nephew, whom I love very much and who is also a heroin addict popped back into my life. He arrived on the Greyhound bus at 7 am on Thursday and told me that he had been clean for the last few weeks. It felt so good to hug him, but I could feel that he was holding back. I know the sad predictability of loving an addict and I’m never truly surprised when it is eventually revealed that he has been dishonest to me, but that understanding doesn’t negate my sorrow. I have been consciously trying to allow myself to experience my emotions, instead of distracting myself or trying to rationalize them. It has been a devoted effort to allow myself to be with my feelings, even when I fear that they will destroy me. My nephew’s return provided an opportunity to work on this practice.
That Thursday afternoon after he was no longer with me, I received a phone call that confirmed my fears and suspicions, he had indeed once again lied to me. This phone call occurred fifteen minutes before my scheduled Skype date with an independent rater for the MDMA study. Because of the protocol, I understood that rescheduling this interview would completely disrupt the schedule of the experiment. I did my best to pull myself together and then endured nearly two hours of discussion and questions in which I was asked to describe and consider the most traumatic event in my life. It took everything not to simply burst into tears and slam my computer into the wall. As one can imagine, I was not in a good mental state when we finished.
As soon as I logged off, I broke down. I felt desperate and hopeless. I cried profusely, but my tears didn’t provide any relief. I felt as if I was drowning in this helplessness, and that there was no way out of this darkness. I believed that my pain was futile. This is the danger zone. This is when I know that isolation can become deadly. It is hard to describe this mental state to those who have never contemplated suicide. There is a moment when death feels like the only option that makes sense. I was in abject misery, and I considered what it would be like to kill myself. My handgun was a mere three feet from me at that point. I imagined punching in the code, removing the gun from the safe. I thought about the taste of the cold metal in my mouth, and how Andy would find me. My blood and bits of brain splattered across my art collection that I loved so dearly. And in these thoughts I saw my son. That is when I texted a friend. Just the action of typing the words of my despair helped to pull me out of it. A balloon, a life preserver, a weak tether to sanity, but a tether nonetheless. I tricked myself into getting up. I told myself that I couldn’t die in an unvacuumed house, and decided I would vacuum the entire house and then see if the feeling persisted. By the time I finished I wanted a bath and it was in this more relaxed state that I asked my friend to come over because I knew I shouldn’t be alone.
This is an important development. After being with this feeling and not acting upon it, I didn’t turn to my normal routes of distraction. I did not go fuck someone, I did not start drinking or take something to calm me down, I did not instigate a text or telephone conversation with the purpose of avoiding my current mental state. I texted someone who was able to provide me with what I most needed- empathetic, active listening. He arrived not long after I asked him to come and we sat for a few hours on opposite ends of the couch. He drank apple juice while I cried and talked. He listened, only commenting when necessary to help me process what I was going through. If this had been a date, it would have been the worst date ever. I felt ashamed that I had been so weak. It was a challenge to allow myself to be that vulnerable in person, as this has always been hard for me. I am eternally grateful to him for his willingness to support me and in turn potentially saving my life. It’s true that we often don’t understand the magnitude of our compassion.
I met with the doctors the following day and was able to further examine my feelings toward my nephew. The truth is I don’t see much difference between the two of us. We have both chosen means to distract ourselves and avoid our pain. Over time I was able to cultivate techniques that are more socially acceptable, whereas he is younger and turned to opiods and became addicted. My nephew lost both his parents to drug overdoses and then suffered the same pain caused by the loss of my mother and the women she killed. Instead of society understanding that his addiction has been a means of survival, he has been labeled an addict and criminal. He has served time in extremely violent prisons for non-violent offences and has discovered there are little to no social services available that can offer effective help to him. I feel disgusted and guilty that this is his reality. While I am incredibly grateful to be a part of this study and I do believe it has already caused some changes within me, I feel at times that it is pointless. What’s the benefit to feeling better if my counterpart is still stuck in the same cycle of pain? My nephew has been my lifeline at times. He has been the one who “gets it.” I am terrified when imagining a life without him. There is also guilt mixed in my intense love because needing someone desperately is not a burden I want to place upon them. I feel as if he and I have gone to war together. Not against one another but with one another. We can tell other people about the battle but they can’t truly know what it was like, because they weren’t there. I have to admire him for everyday that he chooses to live. As fucked up as he is, he’s still here. And that is more than the rest of them. Maybe he will read this and it’s meaning will be more than a paragraph in this essay. Regardless, his random arrival created an intense emotional environment for my second experimental session.
This time around, things were a lot more profound. I was given more of the drug which I think helped to facilitate the process more quickly. It’s difficult to recall all that I spoke about and to find words for the things that I can aptly remember. I believe the drug helped to place me in a state of well-being where I was more easily able to be open to my feelings and create a space between them and my ego. I was able to witness more of my thoughts and emotions instead of feeling tied to them. The process felt similar to descriptions I have read of deep meditation, although I’ve never experienced anything like this. The environment, including the Shari and Ray were conducive to a sense of safety and openness. I did not feel as though there was an agenda, so the possibilities of my thoughts and reactions were endless. The session was approximately eight hours and I would say that I cried for five to six of those hours. I also urinated a lot. I joked at the end that I had probably lost over ten pounds in water weight. The crying was cathartic though, and at times mixed in with joy and not just sorrow. I spoke a lot of my family and my perceptions and beliefs as a young child. I talked about some of the people and animals I had lost through the years, pulling out my phone at one point to make everyone look at pictures of Brando. I experienced memories that I hadn’t thought about in years. I was able to witness situations and events from a different perspective. While a lot of it was very hard work, there were a few moments of levity where we all found laughter.
I had put on the headphones for a while and was listening to music when all of a sudden I had an epiphany. I asked for a notebook and pen and began scribbling madly. I wrote for quite a few minutes and then took my headphones off. In my memory I said something to the effect, “Ok y’all, hear me out, I think I’m onto something now.” In reality, who the fuck knows how I prefaced it, or how this knowledge came out, but I’m going to try to explain it. In my first session I talked about my experience with a local medium in which I had been so depressed afterward because it was presented that my mother and the other people she had contacted were still stuck in the same mental state as when they had died. She claimed that my mother’s energy was unpredictable and sickly, and that no enlightenment had occured after her passing. This had been a real bummer, and I wrote about that experience. So in this heightened state of awareness in my second session I wrote the following statement: “Perhaps the way we hold space for the memories of people, keeps them locked in that state of energy.” Meaning that the medium had not been reading my mother’s energy from the afterlife, but that she had been reading my perception of my mother from within my own energy. The current question for me in the session was, how had that perception affected me over years of harboring it? It’s about to get even deeper. Next I had written, “Liberation comes from the ability to respect and accept the memory without allowing it to create the same reality.” There’s truly so much going on here in the ways I’ve recently been able to draw specific parallels to trauma experienced as a young child and my current PTSD manifestations including lack of self-empathy and crippling fears of abandonment. I’m trying to allow space for these thoughts to develop, without judgement or impatience. I understand that these thoughts may not seem profound at all, but for me they were like peeking behind the curtain.
I feel like I’ve viewed the world through dirty lenses for years, and in these moments, the glass has been wiped clean. I also was once again able to be in my feelings and experience them fully without fear or judgement. And while the session only lasted for a quarter of a day, the effects no doubt continue to manifest. That evening after Shari and Ray left and my night sitter and I ate some food and watched horror movie trailers (which is a brilliant thing to do when you are sleeping on the campus of a mental hospital), I checked my phone as I lied down to go to bed. I had received a text, and upon reading it I immediately felt a sudden sense of despair in my solar plexus. This text had triggered my fear of abandonment, and I was able to come to that realization by staying within my body and allowing myself to explore what I was feeling. It was certainly uncomfortable, but as I stayed with it, and continued to breath, I felt it slowly dissipate. I was reminded that I am not just my feelings or just my thoughts, and that there are reactions that are sometimes beyond my control. I refused to distract myself by either waking my night sitter, or engaging in a conversation via text. I allowed myself some time to witness what was occurring, and in those moments I realized the reaction had nothing to do with the text at all. My limbic brain just did what it has done for years, but this time I acknowledged it and asked it to politely shut the fuck up.
On Sunday before I was released into Andy’s care, I had a follow up session with Shari and Ray. I explained that I was feeling extremely exhausted and that I hoped this was partly due to catharsis. I told them about feeling triggered the night before and the visceral reaction I had to such a non-threatening occurrence. I also talked with them about how I feel somewhat defeated that my brain can do this to me whenever it wants to. We discussed how in the past my reaction would have been to latch ahold of the trigger and try to “fix” it with little acknowledgment of how it is tied to the deeper issue of abandonment. Meaning as hopeless as it feels at times, I am making baby steps. I explained how frustrated I am with myself for not being able to figure out the puzzle that is my brain. They explained that the paradox is that there isn’t anything to actually figure out. You just have to be the witness.
When Andy got home on Sunday evening he found me in the recliner where I had been for hours. When he asked how I was doing, I began to cry. I can’t help but admit that since I’ve been allowing myself to feel things, I have found myself incredibly sorrowful. I looked at him through teary eyes and said, “I hate to say it, but honestly I feel hopeless.” I was partly afraid of his reaction, as my instinct has been to protect him from my vulnerability. He quickly responded, “Of course you do! This is a trilogy and you’ve just finished part two, you’re going to get to Return of the Jedi and then it will make a lot more sense.” I thanked him for a perspective that I had not been able to find. In order to build something new sometimes you have to destroy what is there, down to the slab. My slab is in a million pieces presently, so please handle me with care.
“Don’t ever put yourself in the position where you have to swing on a man’s dick to get what you want or need.” I heard these words from my father countless times. While other parents were teaching their daughters chastity and the value of marriage my father was was offering different advice. “Don’t be in rush to grow up, settle down or get a real job. Enjoy the freedom of youth while you can.” Spending the majority of my adolescence predominantly under my father’s care in a small New Mexico town set an interesting stage for such progressive thinking, all of which has significantly affected my sexuality and relationship dynamics.
I must have been very young the first time I gave myself an orgasm. I can’t recall the circumstances of the beginning, but I do remember masturbating in the bathtub using a hand held attachment that connected to the main faucet. This started way before my period which began when I turned eleven years old. I was given honest sex education by my parents. I understood that sex was a function of procreation, but knew that this was controllable. I also understood that it involved the use of my vulva/vagina. Through my experimentation I found that my vulva/vagina had the capacity to bring me incredible pleasure. I was in a rush to have sex, as I thought it would surely be an immensely pleasurable experience.
I was significantly disappointed and quietly confused the first time I had sexual intercourse with a man. I lost my virginity when I was thirteen years old in my mother’s bedroom to a twenty two year old on the fourth of July. Leading up to this experience, I had definitely participated in some heavy petting with both boys and girls. I was fascinated with erections, and can remember giving pseudo handjobs to my same aged crushes in the one room movie house of my small town. But the majority of my young sexual experiences occurred in New Orleans. My mother was a cocktail waitress who worked long overnight hours which left my brother and I to our own devices. My first true sexual connection was with my best girlfriend at the time. I can remember we would massage each others naked bodies. Our finger exploring with a sense of understanding due to having the same anatomy. She’s the one who “popped my cherry,” who I had my first shared orgasm with, and I truly loved her. We had some rivalries as most young girls do, but we also had an incredible bond.
It was such a stark difference having sex with a man. There was no concern as to my pleasure and I remember basically enduring the experience thinking that at some point it would surely have to be enjoyable. My first sexual relationship with a man was predatory and dysfunctional. I kept my experience a secret from everyone but my female best friend. And although I knew on some level that I wasn’t enjoying my relationship with this man, I was helpless to exit. He manipulated me by telling me repeatedly that if I wouldn’t give him what he wanted, he would easily get it from someone else. He would make comments about other women’s bodies in front of me, comparing my barely pubescent shape to those of women his age, making me feel as though something was wrong with me. In retrospect, I don’t know how I so easily fell under his control, but I convinced myself that I was in love with him.
That same summer, I had two separate threesomes with this man. The first involved my best friend and I still feel guilty over this occurrence. I can remember her not being into it and me begging her saying, “Please just do this for me.” This had been his suggestion. The realization of how this occurred has always made me feel intense shame and sadness. As you can probably imagine, there was no true pleasure to be had in this equation and I began faking my pleasure, to please him and to fool myself into thinking that I was doing what I wanted to. Our second threesome was with another man, at his direction. That one wasn’t as bad, since I wasn’t carrying the guilt of having convinced someone to do something they didn’t want to do. I don’t know how I survived these circumstances as I can remember feeling incredibly depressed and desperate during these times. My mother was too busy working to know what was happening and our relationship was extremely unhealthy in general. My father was across the country and I was too ashamed to admit to him what was going on. The mixture of sex with manipulation and deception set an unfortunate precedent for my future experiences. I have rarely talked or written about these times as I have not wanted to think about them. But there is freedom in acknowledging what happened. All three of these first sexual partners are now dead. My female friend died in the bathtub after overdosing on heroin years later, she left behind a young son. The man who took my virginity overdosed on pills and our male threesome partner died in a car wreck while under the influence.
After those experiences, I had a few more lovers in New Orleans before heading back to New Mexico. These trysts were more tender but still not physically satisfying. I remember feeling desperate to stay with these men, but also understanding that I was not receiving actual pleasure. Through my solo sexual experiences along with those I had shared with my female friend I knew that pleasure was available, but none of these men had the skill or desire to provide it to me. I was confused and honestly depressed in wondering if this was what adult sex was truly comprised of.
When I returned to New Mexico I was not as sexualy active. I had fulfilled my curiosity and therefore was not in a huge rush to add more names to the list. I also lived in a small town where the words “slut” and “whore” were extremely shameful labels. I was still somewhat sexually adventurous though, and had my fair share of giving handjobs and blowjobs. Most of these were by my own volition. A few were not. Once a friend of my older brother came by with his new sports car and my brother wasn’t home. He asked if I wanted to go for a ride. I believe I was fourteen years old at the time. He drove us a few miles from our house, back behind the Rio Grande River. He pulled over and parked the car. He then told me that I needed to jerk him off. He said if I refused, he would leave me there. I was hesitant, not out of fear as much as out of confusion. I jerked him off reluctantly and when he brought me home he said, “If you tell anyone what I made you do, I’ll tell everyone you loved it and that you’re a filthy whore.” These situations were not uncommon. I had other less tragic experiences but was reluctant to trust most men.
When I finally did settle into a real high school sexual romance, I of course picked a boy who was physically abusive. I didn’t know this at first and the progression of abuse happened so naturally that I am still shocked at how long it lasted. He was also extremely manipulative, using lies and verbal attacks to keep me feeling powerless. The first time he hit me I was driving my car. He had put a CD into the player that I didn’t like so I angrily removed it. He slapped me across the face so hard that I had to slam on the breaks. I was speechless and afraid. I kept my abuse hidden from most people although a few figured it out on their own. One evening I was at dinner with a group of friends when one of my closest male friends came rushing into the restaurant and up to the table. He pulled me to the bathroom and told me to leave through the kitchen because my boyfriend was on the way in a blind rage. As I went to the table to get my purse, he walked in. I knew I had no choice but to go with him. He had read my journal in which I had written about a past sexual experience with another man. He made me drive us home in silence and once we were there he proceeded to beat the shit out of me and make me burn my journal in front of him. After these particularly violent episodes, he would generally initiate sex those nights. I would reluctantly participate, mostly out of fear — of him hurting me, and more tragically fear of him leaving me. I honestly don’t know if I ever had a real orgasm with him. I think I faked every single one. I wonder how many women I know have had a sexual encounter or faked an orgasm just to appease a man. I never told my father what was going on because I know he would have killed my boyfriend. I have no doubt about it.
I was offered a full four year scholarship to college in New Mexico and I declined it in order to move back to New Orleans to attend Tulane University. I knew that I needed to move away from my abusive boyfriend if I wanted to have a chance at freedom. It was one of the best decisions I’ve made. I survived for a little while in New Orleans as a single college student, but eventually fell in love. This boyfriend was the opposite of my last. Incredibly caring and attentive. Honest and kind. But he was insecure and jealous. He would go through my school bag and always ask me who I was talking with on the phone. He had a hard time trusting me and as time progressed having to reassure him grew exhausting. He was also present when my brother overdosed in my house and that tragedy robbed us both of our joy. We sadly parted ways not long afterwards and it was a very hard breakup. I am still grateful for my relationship with him, as he was the first man that I loved who made me feel as safe and secure as my father had.
I know that if I had not been raised predominantly by my father, these sexually formative years would have been completely different. Thankfully he thought the mainstream ideas of female purity and the equation of virginity and sex as worthiness were complete bullshit. He was an atheist and felt that the morality of religion should not be forced upon people’s sexuality. I thankfully was not brought up to believe that I should wait to have sex after marriage, or that I should do whatever it took to make things work with someone if I had slept with them. I can imagine how terrible my life would have been, had I survived it, if I had tried to make a true commitment to any of the men who comprised my first sexual encounters. I believe the self-confidence my father helped me attain, provided me the strength to get out of these relationships once I realized how toxic they were.
Many of the women I went to college with were using sex as currency and once I was single, I was giving it away. This is when I truly began to come into my own sexuality. The time when I became certain that I would always need some form of clitoral stimulation to have an orgasm. I had a variety of lovers and in being open with them I realized that in every serious romantic relationship I had been in, I had always cheated. This was not something I was proud of, but it was the truth. As much as I had nearly always experienced a desperation to not lose the person I was having sex with, there was also a desperation to not feel owned by the individual as well. At this time I enjoyed lots of consensual, varied sex with both men and women. I began working in a gentlemans club which only further empowered me to create my own sexual identity. I definitely struggled with feelings of jealousy and comparison but also found a freedom in being truthful about what I wanted. I wasn’t faking all my orgasms anymore. The list of lovers grew to fill notebook pages. I wanted to be single forever. This only lasted a few years.
I fell in love in college and I thought he was “the one.” We had incredible conversations, and really great sex. We would watch pornography together and he would indulge my exhibitionist side. At first things were open and fun but over time they took a more serious turn. He was an alcoholic, to the degree I had yet to experience in my life up to that point. I was certainly someone who enjoyed both drinking and drugs, but I wasn’t a habitual user of either at this point (that would come later). He would get blackout drunk several times a week, and often do dangerous things while in this state. As much as I loved him and had felt incredibly invested in our future together, I had to leave him. It broke my heart and soured me on romance for a long time. I pulled myself together with the assistance of my friends, whom I continued to explore drugs, music, art and sex with.
The next few years were comprised with a variety of tragedies. But within this time I did have a few rewarding sexual relationships. I learned a lot about my desires and expectations. I also determined what my hard boundaries were. I thought I had my relationship goals figured out and then I met Andy, who I am now married to fourteen years later. Andy was and remains the best sexual partner I have ever been with. There are many reasons for this, but his confidence played a large role in our early relationship. The first time we had sex, Andy made me feel like I was the most beautiful woman in the entire world (something he continues to do). We had insane sexual chemistry and electric lust. I was completely smitten and wanted to be his girl. There was just one issue, he was a proponent of open relationships. Up until this time I had never met a person who was in an open relationship. I immediately thought it was stupid idea, and a cop-out for true commitment and intimacy. It took quite a few years and a lot of personal growth for me to change my mind.
I reluctantly tried to embrace being in an open relationship but my jealousy was hard to control. I realize now that had less to do with actual envy and more to do with poor communication. By the end of 2007, I had convinced Andy that the only way I would continue to be involved with him was if we were in a monogamous relationship. He agreed to give it a try. Less than a month later I found myself flying into New York City for New Years Eve. I was in the city for a mere twenty seven hours and in that time I fucked another guy, more than once. I’ll never forget what a mess I was the day of my flight home. I was hungover and completely racked with guilt, to the point I was fully searched by airport security because I looked like a criminal. I was waiting on my flight, throwing up in the airport bathroom when I called Andy. Before he could get a hello out, I confessed I had cheated on him. He calmly replied, “I hope what I say next doesn’t upset you any more than you already are, but I don’t care. Do you love me any less now that you had sex with someone else? No. Sometimes sex can simply be a fun activity you that do with someone that you enjoy. Like bowling. It doesn’t have to mean you’re making a life decision. I’m not at all worried or mad about it, so you shouldn’t be either. I’ll see you tonight.” I trusted him and when he met me at the airport he had brought me flowers. I knew then that I needed to rethink my stance on monogamy.
Nowadays I often find myself at a loss for the proper word to describe my sexual relationships. I have to admit I’m not fond of the term “polyamory” and “consensual non-monogamy” doesn’t roll easily off the tongue. I generally just default to explaining that Andy and I are in a fluid relationship, meaning simply that there are very few rules and boundaries that are set in stone. This isn’t a lifestyle that we’ve chosen because it is deemed trendy or because it is easier than traditional monogamy. It is a lifestyle that we believe is most in tune with our authentic selves. We are dynamic people and there might be a day when even this aspect of our lives changes. It has taken years for each of us to understand who we are as lovers, to ourselves and to each other. It is also an honor for me to have a partner who is so willing to question traditional gender roles.
I believe that it is impossible and unfair to expect that one person will be able to provide another with all the things they desire in a relationship. This is why I see monogamy as a social construct that sets individuals up for failure. I think that intimate exploration is healthy and natural, and if there are clear boundaries and good communication, monogamy is exposed as archaic. Think of how you personally define cheating. It can be very different for each individual. Some define cheating as participation in a sexual act. Some consider pornography as cheating. Some consider having very close friends as cheating. Many of the things that we have collectively defined as cheating are simply things that threaten us. As blase as it may sound, I do believe that there is the capacity to find joy in your partner’s joy, even when it doesn’t necessarily involve you.
Cultivating and maintaining a fluid relationship has had incredible benefits for myself and my loved ones. It has transcended sexual relationships and made room for other intimacies including the co-parenting that allowed me to have our son. It has given both Andy and I the freedom to have close friendships and to fall in love with a variety of individuals, most of whom have enriched our lives. Once a regular of Andy’s commented to him, “It’s awesome that you and Lori can fuck whoever you want without having to be in love with them.” Andy replied, “Actually Lori loves nearly everyone she fucks, and I love that about her.” While I have been known to enjoy the occasional completely no strings attached fling, I prefer a balance of mental and physical arousal which comes from getting to know a person well. This is why it is hard for me when a lover drops out of life with little explanation. Just because I have a primary relationship, it doesn’t mean that I need or deserve less from other people I am being intimate with.
Navigating this open sexuality as a female has had its challenges. It is not uncommon for people to assume that I must be a swinger, whore or always down to fuck. These description aren’t completely false but they don’t mean I’m not selective about who I choose to be with. That being said, it is also not my job to police other people’s relationships. I do not run a background check or credit check on someone whose dick I am going to suck. There have been times when I have been made into the culprit of failed relationships because I did not “do my homework” when someone pursued me. I think it’s ridiculous that because I’m a woman this should be my responsibility. It is also ridiculous, although not surprising that some women who tout themselves as feminist are the first to call me a whore if their significant other finds me attractive or pursues me, even if I have no desire for the person in question. My vagina alone is not going to destroy a relationship. Just as my vagina is not a band-aid, it isn’t going to fix anyone’s problems.
Being a liberated sexual being doesn’t mean I’ve reached some stage of advanced enlightenment. I often fall into the trap of comparison. This is something that society has conditioned women to do since before they were aware of it. And it is so defeating. I have worked hard to change my perspective and acknowledge that most women are not my competition, but actually my ally. It’s bothersome and tragic that we have been primed to be distrustful and envious of one another, instead of celebrating what each of us can bring to a relationship. I think jealousy is natural, but when these thoughts begin to dominate the mind they can become counterproductive. Nearly every woman I know has gone through a stage of debating whether or not she should talk to her friend, lover, boyfriend, partner, husband about the insecurities she is feeling. It is bizarre that we fear we are not worthy enough to speak our hard truths. If I find myself falling back into the sticky trap of insatiable jealousy, then I’m aware that the person I’m having these feelings towards is not cultivating the trust that I need in order to feel safe in our relationship. All lasting relationships require a tremendous amount of communication and work. Some are completely worth it.
I feel incredibly honored to have had so many enduring, loving relationships. I have learned so much from the people who have trusted me enough to open their hearts (and sometimes their pants) to me. I am fortunate that although I had an incredibly flawed introduction to sex with a partner, I was able to understand the capacity for pleasure and intimacy sex can allow. I am thankful to all my lovers who have shown me empathy and understanding along with physical satisfaction. I am grateful to those who continue to check in with me, who know that I am as much invested in them as they are in me. I am currently navigating a few relationships and continue to be surprised by the lessons they afford me. I cannot go without saying I am immensely indebted to my father for supporting my individuality and allowing me the freedom to be myself without judgement. When I told him in college that I was sexually involved with several people he simply laughed, “well, in your case, as with most things, one is just not enough.”
Today makes five years since my father died. I wish I could say that as time has passed, I have begun to miss him less, but that isn’t the case. I think at this moment I miss him with such ferocity that if I allowed myself to feel it, my heart would burst. And so I am crying, but also laughing, because that was what was best about my father, he had an impeccable sense of humor. The more dire the situation, the more reason to find something to laugh about.
This past week I tried to find enlightenment and instead I nearly threw a vacuum at my partner. Up the stairs no less, not down, and a canister vacuum not an upright. It would have been a feat of intense violence that would have taken mighty strength to defy the laws of gravity. But I believe I could have done it, I rarely shy from a challenge. It all started on the first day of the freeze here in New Orleans. I have a daily schedule which includes going to the gym every morning when I wake up. I do this because not only am I incredibly vain, but I also wake everyday with a ton of nervous energy. In order to get through a full day of saying, “Yes, we do have Tito’s vodka” without it completely crushing my soul, I like to sweat it out in the morning. On this particular day, there was no option to go to the gym as it was not only closed but the roads were an icy disaster. I knew that since my job takes place in a hotel I wouldn’t be given the luxury of staying home. I decided I would wake up at my regular time and practice yoga for an hour and a half before my partner and son woke.
This decision to practice yoga is not a foreign concept. Having become a certified yoga teacher nearly a decade ago, I often incorporate yoga into my exercise routine. But in all honesty, I rarely give myself a ninety minute focused practice of my own. In my current introspective quest, I had made the decision to give my yoga and meditation practices some legitimate effort. And look at that, the universe was providing me with the perfect chance. I brushed my teeth and changed into my workout clothes, grabbed an outline for a class on foundations and the root chakra that I had written years ago and headed downstairs. Everything seemed alright, except for one thing – the fucking dog hair.
We have three dogs. Yes, you read that correctly, three dogs. Truth be told technically only one is mine, but I coerced my partner into rescuing the other two, years ago when we didn’t have any plans of living together. So now we have half a canine Brady Bunch, who are all female pitbull iterations that look alike although are not related. They are predominantly white with brown spots and they are for the most part good dogs. But like all animals they shed, so there is often white dog hairs here and there, even though we vacuum often. Now on this particular morning as I was making my dissent down the stairs I noticed the dog hair. How could I not, my lululemon yoga mat is black after all. I knew that it would be impossible for me to reach a state of samadhi if I was surrounded by dog hair. I understood that it would be a futile practice if I did not vacuum the floor. So I begrudgingly plugged in the vacuum, calculating the minutes of my practice I was subtracting by beginning this menial task. I finished the living room, but then I couldn’t stop. See, this is how my compulsions work. I then vacuumed the kitchen, moving on to the stairs. As I was vacuuming the stairs, my partner addressed me. Now I must note that at this point, I had worked myself into a full mental frenzy. The oxymoronic state of the situation is not lost on me. I had the intention of practicing yoga in order to provide myself time for introspection and a sense of inner peace, and in reality I was currently at the foot of the stairs, looking angrily up at my partner having exhausted myself with an inner dialog of frustration. When he kindly suggested that my vacuuming might wake our son, I contemplated throwing said vacuum toward him. Thankfully I didn’t. I did however have a few choice words that were surely not a good representation of my highest self.
I feel like it takes much less effort for the yogi to reach the state of enlightenment when they are alone meditating in a peaceful retreat. But how simple does this come when they are in the midst of the real world. Which for me this past week included having two parents out of town, a significant freeze which busted pipes across the city and made the roads deadly, a child with an ear infection whose school was closed for days, a regular work schedule, a near epidemic flu outbreak and don’t forget nearly 48 hours of a boil water advisory. Isn’t this how The Stand started?
I felt like a fucking failure. The Sunday immediately following my MDMA session I remember eating pizza and thinking it was seriously some of the most delicious pizza I had ever tasted. I remember hearing a bird tweet outside my bathroom window while I was showering and thinking the sound was so beautiful. I had gone from those moments of significant presence and contentment to feeling personally affronted by a few stray dog hairs. What the fuck. And along with this failure, my brain grabbed ahold of its familiar dialog. I started to worry, obsess and “try to figure it all out.” I found myself feeling nervous, angry and hopeless. I thought to myself, “If this is how it is going to be, then what is the point. Why keep trying?”
An old acquaintance of mine passed away last week as well. He ran in the same circles as I did while growing up in Truth or Consequences, New Mexico. Having always been the archivist, I have hundreds of pictures of those years and the people who comprised my social network. I’m still close friends with a handful of them. In an attempt to find photographs that I have yet to scan and upload, I began looking in boxes in my closet. I did not find the photographs because my search was suspended when I opened the first box. This box contained my sporadic journals from roughly 2004-2008. It is a bit idiosyncratic that I would happen upon these writings considering this is the timeframe that involves two of my most significant traumatic events – my mothers murders/death and my rape. It is also a time where my memories are fuzzy, no doubt due in part to my PTSD. This would have been a perfect time to allow myself the space to work on feeling the emotions I have locked up for so long. I had found the original piece I wrote right after I was raped, which I beleived had been lost forever. I didn’t give myself the chance to be in that moment, and instead I skimmed the writing and then hurried to answer my son’s calls for me from his room.
I don’t know when or if I will allow myself the time to read those journals. I contemplated doing it last night when I had the whole house to myself for the first time in weeks, and instead I opted to watch Flatliners (the original 1990 version) while I laid in the bathtub. I know that my life is insanely busy, a lot of it by my own design. I have begun to recognize the situations and even the people that I have allowed to become distractions for me. I know all about wasted moments. I have also found a good portion of my free time is recently commandeered by my writing. I had mentally worked myself into a frenzy the other day, post vacuum, thinking about a few of my relationships.This was prompted by my empathetic responses to three separate friends who are recently going through significant issues. I had to give myself time to write about my relationships, in order to get my mind to stop trying to solve all of the problems all at once. My introspection doesn’t just stop at myself, it forces me to think about others that are involved in my life and how my relationships with them affect not just the two of us, but also how they might be reinforcing negative thought patterns that I have internalized and foolishly identified as my true self. I wrote a lot, and it eased my discomfort somewhat and helped me to identify what I felt I needed to communicate. It also forced me out of the unhealthy cycle of wonderment and comparison, in which I begin to feel isolated and alone in my fear and panic. While I might not be reading, I am still writing. I just worry that this also exemplifies the separation between my heart and my head. It’s all exhausting and I have to admit that during these times I’m envious of my friends who can have a few drinks or smoke marijuana and not think about these things.
I have also been experiencing waves of inspiration followed by waves of hopelessness. I understand how incredible it is for me to be a part of this study and to have a chance to experience its potential. I have found my interest in neuroscience re-kindled and I have been awed and comforted by not knowing how this will end. But I have also felt so incredibly trapped and saddened by what I feel is my arrested talent. I’m 38 years old and the most inquisitive thing that occurs for me on a normal work day is when I can turn someone on to a new bourbon. Not that bartending isn’t a legitimate career, but it’s not what brings me a sense of accomplishment. I’m trying to figure out if I need to change the way I feel about my job or if I need to change my actual job. Some days this is exciting and others it is terrifying. I can’t help but wonder how much my PTSD has held me back. Do I need to place myself in an environment that challenges and excites me, or do I just need to change my state of mind, so I can find the joy in the perfect sazerac?
These are the moments when I wish my father were here. These are the moments when I feel most alone. When I am desperately trying to figure out who I am at my core and what would serve me best. When I want more than anything for someone who has known me all my life to give me advice and to comfort me. I understand that I am extremely fortunate to have the support system that I have, but this does not negate my loneliness. I often feel so untethered and while this has been immensely freeing at moments, it has also been incredibly isolating. And as time has passed, it has become harder for me to remember how it felt to physically be in the presence of my parents. I can only imagine how excited my father would be for me, if he were here to witness this ordeal. He would surely have had a good laugh over the vacuum situation, no doubt suggesting that I try not to be so uptight. And he would remind me, as he always did “don’t let the bastards grind you down.” I wish I could hear his laugh in moments like this when things seem so fucking serious and heavy. Because sometimes true laughter feels like the difference between life and death.
Billy Tipton, audio recording 2004:
The next thing I want to discuss is peyote. Peyote is a cactus, which is a plant, and it is used by the Indians in the Southwest and other places in their religions. I have experienced it myself when I was able to buy it from Nuevo Laredo for what I think was $38.00 for fifty of the peyote cactuses. They’re almost like a tube except they’re round on top and narrow into single root going down into the ground. The way we finally figured out how to ingest them was to peel it and put it in a blender. Then we would pour the juice and the pulp into a shot glass. We’d wind up with about a shot glass if we did around 5 cactuses at that one time. I figured that out by experimentation. And I also found out that the thing you’d want to do is drink orange juice or grapefruit juice or something. Because the taste of peyote is so obnoxious that you can not even in your minds deepest eye, imagine what it tastes like until you actually taste it. When I actually tasted it, it was horrible. And I think the first time I did taste it I threw up. But once it hit my stomach and came back up, I experienced a feeling of intense movement. The thing I wanted to do was lay down. I laid down and I closed my eyes and I felt like I was zooming through space at a speed that I couldn’t even imagine because it was so fast. It was just like I was constantly moving as fast as it seemed like my mind could experience. So I went through that several times and after I let it settle in my stomach and I got used to it, then it was very introspective. I could see myself in a light I had never experienced before. I saw deeper into my psyche. I saw deeper into how I was really conducting my life and I could see other people that were doing peyote with me and people who were just around me. I felt I could see into their character and know how they really were, and even experience a person – a man or a woman. I felt I was having a true look at them and in moments seeing their faces contort into a sign of anger, a sign of hate, a sign of love. There were many signs I could see there and some were pleasant and some weren’t. And it seemed to me that this was reality that I was seeing. I was experiencing and realizing what I had gone into as being indoctrinated into life through my parents, situations, acquaintances, people who were really good to me, people who weren’t good. I experienced all these things coming up. It seemed like to me when I was loaded, I’ll guess I’ll say loaded… under the influence of peyote, I could see. I could see even back, back, way back. At the time I didn’t realize what was going on, but with the reflection into my past through peyote I could see things that in ways I had never imagined before. To me it really was a cleansing. It was like stepping out of one universe and stepping into another universe. And this new one that you stepped into was very appealing in most ways to me. I never saw what other people say they saw. People said they saw themselves turn into monsters, they saw themselves looking over their dead body and all kinds of things. So, I’m not saying that my experience was the way that peyote would affect everybody, but it will have some affect, it seems like to me. From all of the people around me that took it and all the things that I had heard about it, I experienced that it had the potential to show you yourself in a greater light than you ever imagined and that it wasn’t all good. It wasn’t all bad, but it was different from what I had in my mind before I did partake of peyote. There you go. My minds a steel trap.