SlutsUnlimited

Just a dirty girl from the dirty south…co-parenting a baby boy in New Orleans.

The Show Must Go On

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.

2.4.18
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One is not enough

“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.”

One millimeter forward, two miles back

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.

 

Is That All There Is

It’s almost 6:30 pm on Saturday January 13th. My jaw hurts. My head is pounding, but I think that’s because I haven’t eaten anything in nearly twenty-two hours. Part of my shirt is still damp from tears and the light in the room is making it hard to fully focus my eyes. When I recall these circumstances later that night, while lying a few feet from my night sitter, I will conclude that the description sounds like something from a torture scene. And truly I can’t deny that parts of the experience felt tortuous, but in a therapeutic way. I’ll explain.

I think back to my youth growing up in Truth or Consequences, New Mexico where my friends and I experienced with a variety of drugs. My favorite was LSD which at the time came generally in blotter paper (Felix the Cat, White Jesus Christ, to name a few) and the ever elusive gel tab (Black Pyramid). My typical reaction to LSD was a heightened sense of humor, I would laugh at just about anything. I also found that it made me think more highly of myself and others, that it amplified the bonds I had with my friends. I personally never had a “bad trip” on LSD but I was witness to quite a few others experiences. Even back then I saw the therapeutic value in psychedelics and would wax poetically about this, my face alight with campfire to my friends who were smoking Marlboro Reds and too stoned to walk away. These experiences shaped my decision to study psychopharmacology in college. If someone would have said to me, “In the future you’re going to meet some doctors who are going to give you a drug that has psychedelic properties with the goal of working through trauma.” I would have probably thought, “Well, duh.”

My experience this past weekend was unlike any LSD or psilocybin mushroom trip I have ever had. The main way it differed was that there was less psychedelic properties- no real visual differences (outside of a sensitivity to light) or synesthesia, both of which I’ve experienced before on other trips. I also did not experience the heightened sense of humor that I’ve often felt on LSD but perhaps this was more because of the circumstances.

The day started as we had planned and by 10 am I was holding a small white dish that displayed two 40 mg capsules of MDMA. I took the capsules and settled into a supine position with an eye mask and headphones on. A playlist had been developed for this experience using data from past psilocybin research. The playlist contained some cerebral classical songs as well as tribal music. None of the songs had lyrics although there were a few hindu chants that I picked up on. The songs themselves were unrecognizable, I would assume to avoid any unwanted triggers. The first thing I felt was cold. Like really fucking cold. The room wasn’t really at a low temperature but it had been a chilly day and I tend to get cold anytime I stay still for more than a few minutes. Coldness is also a side effect of the drug. I was under two blankets, fully dressed and my hands were still like ice. I also had an overactive bladder as a result of my chill. I must have gotten up four times in the first hour to urinate. Needless to say, I was having a hard time finding my calm, or trip, or whatever I was waiting to unfold.

About an hour into the experience I began to feel something. I had been playing tug of war with my inner thoughts. My mind was doing the thing it always does when I try to meditate. Where it begins to wander, to make lists and ask questions over and over. It had become an exercise in trying to bring it back to letting ideas and thoughts flow through me. At some point I succumbed and I began to think in depth about a Prospect Four exhibition that my friend and I had seen last week. This exhibition had been at the Ogden Museum and it was a film about the coronet player Buddy Bolden (link at bottom). The film had been visually striking and was exceptionally beautiful. Buddy Bolden was a key figure in the lignage of New Orleans jazz, who tragically suffered an early mental decline and was committed to the Louisiana State Insane Asylum in the early 1900’s at the age of thirty. He remained there until he died. I don’t know if it was because the film had been so moving, or because at the time I was located on the campus of a mental hospital but I sat up, took off my eyeshade and headphones and I started talking about it.

Shari and Ray (the duo who are executing this study) were sitting there. I have to admit it was a bit eerie to take off the isolating devices and see them just a few feet from me. Thankfully I feel the three of us have developed a good relationship thus far, I truly do trust them fully. Apparently it wasn’t too strange as to stifle my need to tell them about Buddy Bolden and a brief history of New Orleans jazz as it related to Storyville. When I got to the part about the mental institution I found myself talking about my mother. Note that none of this has been prompted by them. In fact, throughout the entire eight plus hour experience, I do not recall them prompting or redirecting me at anytime. The only slight disruptions were when I was offered the supplemental dose (an additional 40 mg I eagerly took) and when they had to check my vital signs as part of the protocol. Even these were not extreme disruptions as I knew they were going to happen beforehand.

Once I started talking, I didn’t stop for a long time. I don’t know how long to be exact, but I would guess that I spent at least 75% of the session sitting up and engaging versus lying down in the cocoon of music and darkness. I spoke about myself and my family. I regalled them with memories and tales about my brother Davin, his son Jonathan, my mother, my father, and the women my mother murdered — Lark and Julie. Things weren’t sequential and not everything was pertinent to my traumatic experiences. I can’t recall all that I said, but it doesn’t matter because what I can recall is how I felt. I felt everything. For the first time in what seems like a lifetime, I felt it all. It was all there — the sadness, guilt, loss, anger, joy, surprise, fear, confusion, understanding and love. Everything and nothing. An experience that in itself transcends words. My eyes were constantly leaking tears, but they weren’t simply from sadness, but from an overwhelming feeling of love and loss, of happiness and fear, from the guilt of being the sole survivor. Even now as I type this, I can feel it again in a lesser sense and I am crying.

I came to some self-realizations. When I experienced my first traumatic event beyond the chronic trauma of growing up with a mentally unstable mother, I never allowed myself to really feel the pain of that loss. This loss being the death of my brother on his twenty-second birthday. I was twenty at the time, and I suppressed my feelings in order to take care of my mother. The immediate responsibility placed upon me at the time of his death gave me an unhealthy purpose and I smothered any attempt to feel or deal with my grief. When my mother finally succumbed to her mental illness and took the lives of both Julie and Lark before turning the gun on herself, I once again fell into the role of having to handle things immediately. At this point I used my ego and intelligence to justify not addressing my grief. I told myself that I was stronger than these events and that I had plenty of things that needed to be taken care of. I locked all the feelings of pain, loss, sadness, guilt and remorse away. What I didn’t realize was by locking them up, I also inadvertently locked up joy, happiness, contentment and forgiveness.

I refused to let myself feel these things and over time they became bigger, stronger and too scary to let loose. In my past, in moments of intoxication or under extreme stress, these emotions would be set free. This was always disastrous. These are the times when I would engage in serious risk taking behaviors or even go so far as to contemplate suicide. The overwhelming anxiety and fear induced by these moments only worked to convince me to keep these emotions at bay. What then developed was the mask of anger and rage. Instead of allowing myself to feel sadness, loss or vulnerability, I would simply feel anger. It provided me with a false sense of control. Over time this too became damaging and I began to believe that I had an anger management problem because anger was the emotion that most easily came to me. It has taken years of therapy and introspection to understand where my anger comes from. And in it’s truest form, its nearly always a distraction technique. If in my moments of rage I had procured the mental awareness and space to ask myself, “Are you really angry or are you actually sad?” Who knows how differently things would have turned out.

I have conditioned myself to not feel things. I have convinced myself that if I open that box, I won’t survive the contents. I have embodied the life of the thinker and not the feeler. I have faked it until I’ve made it, or so I’ve thought. But the truth is, I’m still faking it. I have sacrificed my own capacity for feeling the full spectrum of human emotion for the long-con of safety I’ve sold myself.My brain is now wired differently. My go-to trusted mental path is one that slyly uses distraction and false-happiness along with constant anxiety punctuated by panic. It tells me, “Stay here, you know this road, it’s not perfect, but it’s safe.” What this experience with MDMA has done is it has shined a flashlight and reminded me that there is another path that I had somehow forgotten. This path is overgrown and scary because I don’t know where it leads, but it’s there and it’s a choice. I have been reminded that within all of us there is a pool that exists that contains all of the emotions and none of the emotions. That within this pool I can experience everything and nothing. The pool has been hidden for years by a cycle of anxiety, panic, distraction, false happiness and misunderstanding. But now I know it exists, and I hope to be able to find it again.

The session ended with a sense of confusion. I had surely experienced something incredible but at the same time it felt somehow anticlimactic. This was not a magic pill. I didn’t feel miraculously cured. By the time Shari and Ray left, I was exhausted but not depressed. My night sitter was a med student named Elaine and I immediately fucked with her by asking, “Are you ready to stay up with me tonight and watch the entire season of Black Mirror?” She quickly caught on to my sense of humor. She and I ate together and then we chatted which mostly consisted of me talking. The topics included: Scientology, L. Ron Hubbard, Jack Parsons, OTO, cults in general, guru worship, oh and throw in a few shark stories for good measure. She opted to stay in the same room as me since the building was really spooky embodying every creepy abandoned hospital in every horror movie ever made. Regardless we both slept well. I woke up with my regular bout of insomnia, but at least it’s predictable.

I had a follow up session with Shari and Ray the next morning to which they immediately asked if I had any regret in participating. I wholeheartedly don’t. Being a part of this trial has already changed me. It’s impossible for the experience to not have some effect. I like to think of this whole thing like dipping the corner of a towel in water. It takes a while for that water to make its way up the towel, but it eventually will. I have patience. I’m going to greet the next session (where I’ll get a higher dose of MDMA) with an open mind. I’m not going to allow myself to predict how this will end, because I honestly think that I don’t have the capacity yet to know. My greatest sorrow would be that at the end of this trial I would be left incredibly underwhelmed. I recall the end of the opening night for my the play I wrote, directed and produced “The Shotgun.” I was sitting alone in the audience after everyone had left on what was an incredibly successful night. I was staring at the stage, knowing I should be elated, but all I could hear in my head was Peggy Lee’s song “Is That All There Is.” Here’s hoping there isn’t an encore.

Is That All There Is:

I remember when I was a very little girl, our house caught on fire
I’ll never forget the look on my father’s face as he gathered me up
in his arms and raced through the burning building out to the pavement
I stood there shivering in my pajamas and watched the whole world go up in flames
And when it was all over I said to myself, is that all there is to a fire
Is that all there is, is that all there is
If that’s all there is my friends, then let’s keep dancing
Let’s break out the booze and have a ball
If that’s all there is

And when I was twelve years old, my father took me to a circus, the greatest show on earth
There were clowns and elephants and dancing bears
And a beautiful lady in pink tights flew high above our heads
And so I sat there watching the marvelous spectacle
I had the feeling that something was missing
I don’t know what, but when it was over
I said to myself, “is that all there is to a circus?
Is that all there is, is that all there is
If that’s all there is my friends, then let’s keep dancing
Let’s break out the booze and have a ball
If that’s all there is

Then I fell in love, head over heels in love, with the most wonderful boy in the world
We would take long walks by the river or just sit for hours gazing into each other’s eyes
We were so very much in love
Then one day he went away and I thought I’d die, but I didn’t
and when I didn’t I said to myself, is that all there is to love?
Is that all there is, is that all there is
If that’s all there is my friends, then let’s keep dancing

I know what you must be saying to yourselves
if that’s the way she feels about it why doesn’t she just end it all?
Oh, no, not me I’m in no hurry for that final disappointment
for I know just as well as I’m standing here talking to you
when that final moment comes and I’m breathing my first breath, I’ll be saying to myself
Is that all there is, is that all there is
If that’s all there is my friends, then let’s keep dancing
Let’s break out the booze and have a ball
If that’s all there is

Prospect 4 exhibition:

https://www.lissongallery.com/news/john-akomfrah-debuts-new-film-precarity-at-prospect-4-in-new-orleans

Rave School

I’m crying in my car. Thankfully, I’m alone and not driving. The car has become a container for my tears. A movable sanctuary of sorts. I’ll put my iPhone on shuffle and a song will play that forcibly draws the tears from my eyes. For a second I will contemplate the meaning of this and then I’ll remember a question I encountered during recent psychometric testing: “Do you ever hear a song and think it has either a hidden meaning or a meaning directed specifically at you?” Then, I will contemplate my level of sanity.

I don’t believe that I am insane. I do believe that my brain has been significantly altered as a result of traumatic events that have occured over the course of my life. This concept is surprisingly one that has only recently fully presented itself to me. But now its like a Magic Eye poster, the image has formed, and I can no longer doubt its reality. It seems rather simple in retrospect. Shit happened and my view of the world changed. But it’s not that easy. This trauma and the effects are like a onion. The minute I peel off one layer, there’s another just waiting.

How often have you said either to yourself or others, “Well, that’s just the way I am.” I tell myself this all the time. I’ve been saying it for so long, that I’ve somehow convinced myself that the Lori that exists today is the same Lori that’s always been here. That this current Lori who has a hypervigilant, anxiety-addled, constant-questioning mind is the true Lori. I just assumed this is how I was, who I was, and placed no correlation on how these attributes have slowly continued to develop and become more prominent as a function of PTSD.

The first time I was diagnosed by a medical professional with PTSD, was in a shitty office on Elysian Fields by a psychiatrist I was seeing for free right after Hurricane Katrina. I honestly can’t remember now if it was a man or a woman but I do remember them asking me about my mental health history and when I got to the part of my mother’s death they replied, “I’m shocked you haven’t just killed yourself.” I was disgusted by the statement. Something in it hit my ego and I left the office to never return. This was the fall of 2005 and everyone returning from displacement was given a bucket by the red cross, snacks by local churches and a diagnosis of PTSD by anyone who held any type of medical certification. Needless to say I didn’t take the diagnosis very seriously.

I also thought I was stronger than these events which at the time encompassed my brother’s suicide, my mother murdering two people and herself and Hurricane Katrina. I had studied psychology at Tulane. I specialized in neuroscience. I believed that I could work through the stages of grief — albeit mine were more like, vodka, xanax, vicodin, nicotine and methamphetamine. Nevertheless, I felt that I was in control of me. That I could figure it out and if I didn’t kill myself, generally more through risk-taking behaviors than through actual suicidal attempts, that I was still winning. I didn’t want to be defined by these tragedies. And even as they kept unfolding in my life, I denied them by refusing to talk about them.

I was raped in 2006 and subsequently had an abortion after the rape left me pregnant. I wrote an essay in 2016 about this incident and some of my best friends from that time were shocked to learn that this had happened. I hid it, as it made me feel weak, ashamed and vulnerable. I have done that repeatedly with these traumatic events. I’ve endured, focused on what needed to happen in the immediate aftermath, then I’ve wrapped them up like a beautiful necklace from Tiffany’s and stored them in what I thought were the recesses of my mind. I’m here to tell you it doesn’t work that way. The boxes have always been leaking. And while the mess appears that it can be wiped up, the true damage is irreparable.

When trauma occurs there are areas of the brain that are significantly affected. The three most impacted places are the amygdala, the hippocampus, and the ventromedial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC). Traumatic events can cause the amygdala to go into overdrive. This change in my reptilian brain has manifested in my body in the following ways: negative mood alterations, heightened startle response, intrusive traumatic memories, panic attacks (including increased heart rate, perspiration, difficulty breathing), insomnia, avoidance behaviors and hypervigilance (which on its own can elevate the level of stress hormones causing a whole other list of bodily problems.) The hippocampus is responsible for memory. Think of it as a file cabinet for your memories and unfortunately people who suffer from PTSD tend to lose volume in this portion of the brain. “Hippocampus lite”, as I enjoy calling it, causes confusion in trying to discern between past and present experiences. Because of this, I have felt uncontrollable panic, fear and terror in environments that have even slightly resembled those of past traumatic events. Because my brain can’t understand that there is no actual threat, my body remains physiologically in a reactive, hypervigilant mode. Substantial loss of volume also takes place in the vmPFC. This is our emotional control center. With damage to my vmPFC, I have found that over time it has become much harder for me to control my emotional behavior, especially in situations where I am perceiving a threat.

If that sounds like a lot of awful shit is happening, you’re absolutely correct. I feel like my brain is akin to a smart phone and it’s always running at least a half-dozen apps or more. The main app that cannot be force-closed is the one of panic and hypervigilance. Unfortunately, most of my other information is processed through this app. This has dramatically shaped the way I view the world and also the way I react in day-to-day situations. I have tried to hide this from others, which has been incredibly exhausting. I feel that most people understand that I suffer from some level of anxiety, as most of us do, but they are unaware of the severity and the constant feelings of fear and self-doubt that I struggle with. I’ve imagined in horrible detail everyway my child could die. I’ve convinced myself that Andy’s bike rides will end in his demise. I “just know” that if someone stops communicating with me that something terrible has happened to them. I am constantly waiting for the other shoe to drop. I also have a hard time feeling true joy. I’ve become very good at faking it. And I know that my life is truly a rather charmed one. I have a beautiful family, a loving partner, a magnificent son, an incredible group of friends, generous lovers — and yet something is still missing. I feel like my brain comes to the stop sign in the road where fear/anxiety/self-doubt are to the left and happiness/joy are to the right. My brain will ALWAYS turn left first. On my own wedding night I struggled with panic and fear after Andy fell asleep. It was nearly unbearable, and so devastating to me that it occured on a night where I had felt so loved. These are not conscious choices, and that is why it has become so defeating. I don’t want to be this way. I just am. This is where avoidance behaviors enter the picture.

Let’s return to the idea of knowing oneself. Of feeling that “this is who I am” security. What if, all of a sudden, you realize that not only your perception of the world but also nearly all your behaviors have been affected by these changes in your brain? Now we’re talking true existential crisis. Which is the authentic me? Which behaviors have been complex avoidance techniques? Some seem straightforward, some not so much: alcohol, drugs, sex, exercise, career-focused drive, competition, writing, love, travel, intimacy, work, photography, yoga, meditation, reading, conflict, seduction, nurturing. It’s as if I’m uncertain about everything at the moment. Have I fully wanted all the things I’ve pursued — family, love, lust — or have I simply been using these things as a way to avoid feeling this pain? Do I really prefer to sleep alone, as I’ve done for over a decade, or is this something I conditioned myself to believe I preferred because persistent intimate touch is hard for me after my rape? Do I have an intolerance for alcohol, or is it simply the “shameover” affect which causes me to nearly always spiral into a pit of self-doubt and fear? Do I have genuine feelings for my lovers, or am I simply fucking them to create an outlet to fulfill my need for self-worth? These conundrums are weighing heavy on my mind. I’d like to believe that I know my intentions, but at this time I can’t be sure.

While my introspection has become severely focused, these problems aren’t new and I’ve tried nearly every legal thing in the book short of electroshock therapy. I’ve been on antidepressants and antianxiety medications. I’ve seen psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers and therapists. I’ve seen internist, dieticians, endocrinologists and ayurvedic doctors. I’ve been to physical therapy, seen an acupuncturist, a massage therapist, a rolfer, and even a witch doctor. I’ve taken pills and serums and drank teas and elixirs. I’ve spit into collection vials and offered samples of urine, fecal matter and menstrual blood. I became a certified yoga teacher and went on retreats and practiced meditation til my legs went numb. I even prayed. I’m still fucked up. If I know the problem is my brain, and these methods have been unsuccessful, how do I fix that?

Tomorrow morning I will be driven to the office of two psychiatrists, with the intention of arriving at 9:00 am. We will have a brief discussion in which we will review our expectations for the day. At 10:00 am I will be given my first dose of pharmaceutical grade MDMA. Ninety minutes later I will be offered a second dose. I will then spend 8 hours in their presence, while I go inward with the intention of healing. When they depart sometime after 5:00 pm, I will have a night sitter in an adjacent area in case I need her. On Sunday morning, the doctors will return and we will have a session before I am picked up. This is a portion of the protocol that has been created by the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies for their FDA clinical trial for MDMA- Assisted Psychotherapy. I feel honored to be a part of this trial.

I have purposefully limited my exposure to the results of the previous clinical trials as well as other information available on the internet. I am equal parts frightened and hopeful, but my intent is to greet the experience with an open mind. My questioning brain has been tortuous over the past few months of preparation for tomorrow’s events. I have twisted every scenario in my brain like a rubix cube. I have tried to determine all possible outcomes. Will it work? If it does, will I still be “me”? Will I finally be able to remember the parts of my past I simply cannot pull into my mind? Will I finally discover what I’ve been avoiding all these years? Am I strong enough? If I can allow myself to feel that ultimate, overwhelming pain of loss, will I also be able to feel ultimate, overwhelming joy? If I can find some contentment will I become less driven? What will fill the hours that I currently have filled with avoidance behaviors? Will I still be as desirable if I’m no longer faking it? Will I still be loved? What if it doesn’t work? What will I do then?

The few people I’ve confided in have been extremely supportive. A dear friend allowed me a get-away for NYE in which we talked about this experience. He said, “You keep thinking it’s going to be this or that, but I think it’s going to be something you can’t even fathom right now. That’s how much it’s going to change things.” And another helped me keep my sense of humor. I told him that I was scared. He replied, “Of what, rave school?”

It’s going to be near freezing tomorrow night. I’ll be sure to pack my Vicks Vapor Rub.

I’ll see y’all on the other side.

A great morning to die in the bathtub

Long before my brother would die of an overdose in my house, and my mother would kill two people and herself, I remember my father talking about suicide. He was always brutally honest even about things that he wasn’t proud of doing. He held the truth as the most important aspect of any relationship. He thought suicide was a cowardly way of ending one’s life and he told a story of how unempathetic he was concerning it.

Billy Tipton New Orleans 1950’s

I started running around with this girl named Toni Martinez who was a lesbian contortionist. She was an emcee at a place on Canal street called “The Cabaret.” The two of us, we’d really have a good time. When I would close up the bar at night I would go down by her club and we would go by this place where we’d get scrambled eggs with shallots and onions cut up in them and we really liked that. And we stayed around in different hot pillow motels and things like that. And she swore that she didn’t want to be with anymore women, she wanted to be with me, she loved me. So, that was alright. I told her “I’m not going to go for you running around with women and me at the same time.” And she promised, oh, she wouldn’t do that.

So, we got together. She’d been using a cab driver to take her different places when she got off from work and the cab driver had fallen in love with her. Now I’m there one morning to pick her up and she’s sitting with me at the bar and she looks over my shoulder and says “Look out!” When she said look, I took a look. I turned around and looked and this cab driver was on a dead run with a roll of dimes in his fist. And he hit me in the nose. Well, as you can imagine, it really messed up my nose. Blood went everywhere. Blood got in my eyes and I couldn’t see, and we had fallen over four or five bar stools. And I knew I had a hold of him, up around his collar area. And I also could tell that if I let go he would have the advantage. So, I got a hold of him and I hollered at Toni “Get this son of a bitch, Toni!”

Well, she picked up this big ole square ashtray, I mean a heavy ashtray. And she started working on his head with it. After a while, which wasn’t too long, he went limp. I was holding him and his body just went limp and I said “You got him, Toni.” After that, they took him to the hospital and I went to the emergency room to get my nose sewed up and the doctor who did it said “Boy, you couldn’t have gotten a better job on your nose if you had gone to a plastic surgeon.” I had a beak before that and it just kind of pushed my beak into my face. So, it really didn’t hurt my looks at all. It was a good, clean, straight nose now.

About this same time Sonny and Joanne had a baby girl and they wanted me to name her because I was going to be the godfather. So I named her Toni, after Toni Martinez. And her last name was Bennett, so it was Toni Bennett and that’s how Toni, my godchild, got her name. Now we’re together right and one night Toni Martinez and I go out with this guy Ralph and his girl. He lived with her, and I think they might of even been married. We’re out all night. It’s about 4 or 5 o’clock in the morning. We’re pretty inebriated by that time. Well me and Ralph were going to go down and see a guy at another bar that he knew. His wife and Toni stayed up in her apartment, which was a bedroom. Ralph and I stayed at the barroom quite a while because he was talking and talking to this guy. Finally, we go up to Toni’s room, we open the door and there’s Toni right down in his old lady’s crotch, licking away.

Ralph took his old lady. He knocked her down the stairs. He knocked her out in the street, because she’d gone to bed with Toni. And I stayed there and I listened to all this shit going on and I said “Toni look, I’m gonna tell you baby, it’s over. I told you. I can’t cut that. It’s too big a blow to my ego.”

So, I left. Well, Mr Heckman, who owned the Heckman Hotel, I forget what street it was on in the quarter. Anyway, he calls me. “Billy, she tried to kill herself. There was blood all over the place. In the bathroom, out in the hall. She damn near was dead by the time the ambulance came to get her. They took her up to Touro Infirmary.”

So the next day I went up to visit her but before I went up to visit her I went to the drug store and bought a pack of razor blades. And went up in her room and there she was all bandaged up. She had cut her wrists and all that. And I just walked in the room and I said “Toni, listen to me now. I told you I don’t want anymore. Now here’s some razor blades. The next time you cut your arms do a good fucking job. I’ll never see you again as far as I’m concerned.”

Well that was pretty cold, I’d have to admit upon thinking about it. She moved on to Galveston, Texas and it was some time later I found out that she had been murdered over there. Someone had stabbed her 18 times with a butcher knife. So that was my rendezvous with Toni Martinez.

Lori Tipton New Orleans 2005

One morning post-Katrina my best friend and neighbor at the time found me unconscious in my clawfoot bathtub on Rampart Street in the Marigny. The details are still a little foggy but I had apparently unsuccessfully tried to end my life. These were in my binge alcoholism days. When I would go nearly a week without drinking much and then fall asleep with a handle of vodka in the bed. I am not sure if there was a particular incident that sparked this desire to die, or just the anxiety that I was so desperately trying to supress overpowering my will.

It’s hard to find the words for these bouts of anxiety. I suppose they are akin to panic attacks but with a delicious existential crisis topping. When I start to spiral into the depths of what I now know is my PTSD, I feel completely worthless. Beyond the normal feelings of failure. I have intrusive thoughts that remind me of all the ways I’ve failed the people I love and how I have failed myself. I know that no one can possibly really love me. That any professed love is just a mean trick to be ripped from me when I need it most. I feel like I can’t really breathe, that my heart is going to stop, and most times I pray that it does. At this time in my life, I felt incredibly abandoned and afraid. I understood that a mother could only do what my mother had done to me, if the child deserved it. I had yet to develop the depth of my own parental failings as it would be nearly a decade before I myself had a child. In the midst of these feelings there is one hidden thought and it is something so incredibly terrifying that I won’t let myself think it. I will do anything to avoid that confrontation because I’m afraid it will destroy me.

Many times I have nearly destroyed myself in attempting to numb this pain. My grief and anxiety are like a cobra sleeping in my belly and the snake charmer wears a thousand different masks. Sometimes I know when I am more apt to have an episode, but other times these reactions come out of nowhere. The unpredictability is its own cause for concern. I have lived in an unknown state of fear for so long that the way I see and interact with the world has been slowly warped over time. I’m the alligator in the bathtub, I can only grow so much.

But on this day I was not an alligator but a very intoxicated woman who had polished off a handful of Atarax, which isn’t even exciting, it’s an antihistamine. It should not be taken in large quantities with alcohol though as it might kill you. I was in the bathtub and I was crying. And I called my best friend on my cell phone, which was a flip phone with the game snake. I was incoherent and I have no recollection of what was said. I simply remember that not long afterwards I felt so warm and lovely and ready to sleep. In the tub, of course. Years later, others will refer to this incident as when I tried to “Whitney” myself.

I was pulled from my slumber by my best friend who was crying and shaking me. Her boyfriend pulled me from the bathtub, I think. I climbed into my bed, pulling some clothes on my damp wrinkled skin. My best friend was in hysterics. I kept telling her to relax. Then she told me she had called 911. I lost it. Some buried reserve of adrenaline hit my system and I started yelling. Aggressively threatening her, telling her if an ambulance came she would have to send it away. That I hated her for calling 911. That I had to work that night and she knew that (we worked together). I crawled under the covers and continued yelling until the ambulance arrived. She let them in the house. From my bed, with all the eloquence I could muster, I greeted them with the cheerful demeanor of Grandpa Joe from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

I started to explain it had all been a big mistake. I had gotten home from work and drank a nightcap and had accidentally taken a few Atarax but I was perfectly fine. I pointed out that it had been a few hours since ingestion and if I was going to die, I would’ve already. I was charming and well-spoken. I was sure I had them believing me. I exited the bed to walk them to the door, apologizing for wasting their time. The male EMT stopped me saying, “Miss Tipton, you make a very convincing argument and while I would love to take you seriously, it’s hard for me to do so when you aren’t wearing anything from the waist down.” Oops.

They let me put on my underwear and pants and allowed me to walk down my front steps with their assistance before I was loaded into the ambulance. I was taken to Touro Infirmary, the same place Toni Martinez had been taken to. My best friend was still crying a little and promised to come see me. I joked with the EMTs on the ride over about my pantsless soliloquy. I had to laugh because I couldn’t cry anymore. They said I was a refreshing break from the usual calls. When they brought me in, they told me not to be so hard on myself. Easier said than done.

I was given a Dixie cup with charcoal. I didn’t want to drink it but with the authoritative threat of having my stomach pumped, I tapped the tray in the triage room and slammed it like a shot of Jameson. I waited and waited and never threw up but I shit black for days. I was eventually moved to a hospital room where I spent the first night under 24 hour watch. My nurse kept dozing off though, and at one point I made my way out of the room and brought us both back coffee. When she woke and saw the cup sitting by her, she never said a thing. The next morning I was moved to an isolation/observation room, which is where I was originally scheduled to be placed but it had been taken. There was a bed which consisted of a solid, hard plastic base and an attached plastic mattress on top. No sheets, nothing else in the room at all. No books allowed. No socks either. Nothing that a person might use to kill themselves. I started to get rather upset. I explained how ludicrous this process was, and how I wanted to leave immediately. I was told I would have to be released by the psychiatrist. I wanted to see them immediately. I was told I might get to see them, but if not I would have to wait until tomorrow. I then explained my insurance had lapsed. I saw the psychiatrist within the hour.

The psychiatrist spent about seven minutes with me. He asked me if I wanted to kill myself, and I told him that the room we were in would make just about anyone suicidal. He told me that I’d be shocked to know just how many people had been in that room since Katrina. He looked smug and said, “People you’d never believe.”

“Try me.” I said as he signed my release papers.

Darlings I cried.

I’ve had a few days to process all of the phantasmagoria that was our wedding and it’s still hard for me to believe that we pulled it off. The entire process was a labor of love, and not one that could have been done alone. There are so many people that I would like to thank for their help, support and love all of which was necessary to make the evening as magical as it turned out to be. It was truly a spectacle, and I am incredibly grateful to everyone who participated.

First off, none of this would have been possible without my partner Andy. When I asked him to marry me and then told him exactly the type of wedding that I wanted, he not only supported me but shared in my excitement. He was the one who decided that he would take my last name. I believe this is a testament to the importance of equality of our relationship. It was easy for me to write our vows, because the truth of Andy and I, while it’s not always easy, is quite beautiful. He is no doubt, the absolute love of my life.

Secondly, I must give immense gratitude to my dear friend Gabrielle Chapin. She was not only the photographer for the event, but also the person who tended to me so dearly, taking care of my physical and emotional needs throughout the rehearsal and the wedding day. She is also the person who assisted me in trying on wedding dresses in my bedroom and helped me choose what I consider to be the perfect gown. Although our wedding was very far from traditional, planning the event surely brought up some sadness over my lack of family. Gabby mothered me exactly when I needed it and for this I will forever be grateful.

There are so many other people who were  instrumental in making Darlings Don’t Cry come to life. So much love to my dearest friend Trixie Minx who was my cheerleader from the beginning. She assisted me in gathering all the talent for this magnificent show. Her parents, Lori and Woody are what I consider my adoptive parents. Her mother has been a second mother to me. She has always been willing to listen and give advice, as well as show me and my family constant love and support. I am completely indebted to Trixie for so generously sharing her incredible family with me.

Chris Lane, who hosted the spectacular is one of the funniest, most talented individuals I know. He knows both Andy and I well enough to really sock it to us. I couldn’t fathom having another emcee. He has been such a constant supporter of my creative works, and I have learned so much from him. I am lucky to have such an amazing creative mentor.

I cannot express enough my gratitude for all the performers who were kind enough to perform for us and our friends. I had chosen their music and given them direction, and they all accepted this with excitement and love. Thank you: Ron Rona, Eureeka Starfish, Joe Witkowski, Nari Tomasetti, Trixie Minx, Ooops the Clown, Niki Frisky, Diem Dangerous Rose, Piper Marie, Splendora Gabor, Bella Blue, Nicole Lynn Foxx, GoGo McGregor, Vinsantos, Liza Rose, Stevie Poundcake, Darling Darla James, and Brandy Bonet. So much love to Marcy and Ryan who treated all of us like family and gave us a stage to perform on.

Behind the scenes there were so many others who were instrumental in making shit happen. Andrea Heming, who stepped in as my wedding planner, was a saint with a megaphone. This event would have been a shit show without her. Her assistant Lady Walker also made sure things ran as planned. My heart, my dearest love, Daphne Loney painted the beautiful backdrop for the photobooth (which Andy fabricated) and together they made my moonbeam dreams come true. Daphne also provided snacks for the entertainers and helped to stage manage along with Rebecca Frank and Franki Salerno. Rebecca ran the show with a level of professionalism that was appreciated by all the performers. Franki killed it backstage, without her we would have been screwed. Shelley Nicholson handled my dozens of last minute revisions to the seating chart without killing me. And the queen of them all is Candice Lamb who helped to coordinate everything at One Eyed Jacks with tender loving care.

Evan Spigelman was our wonderful lighting caretaker. And I still love Jonathan Parish even if he fucked up my processional music. David White recorded the entire thing, so many thanks to him for the lasting memories. Trevor Ekanger was Gabrielle Chapin’s gracious second shooter. And Sarrah Danziger of Deep Fried Photo captured all our photo booth moon dreams. Special thanks also to all the bartenders and support staff at One Eyed Jacks who handled the hoards of bunnies with friendliness and delight.

I wouldn’t have felt as beautiful and so loved without the staff of Fifi Mahony’s. Nikki McCoy made my face not only gorgeous, but also water (and other fluid) proof. Brooklyn Shaffer created both of my beautiful headpieces, which are truly works of art. Jamie Gandy gave me so much more than just beautiful hair. All of the girls there played a special role in the evening by showering me with laughter and affection. Thank you Leah, Brittain, Sadey, Cherry, Erica, Jade & Dara.

I must mention my handlers for the evening. Amanda Mitzel, who wrote a damn book on mindfulness was there not only to hold my hand but also to hold my dresses while I urinated. She is one of my most precious friends and I am so lucky to have had her by my side. Jamie Gandy, who took care of all the little details, along with Marcy Von Hesseling  who handled me with such immense love and concern, are my two champions. I choke up when I think of how wonderful these three women were and how much kindness and concern they showered me with. Also must add Cody Van Voorhis, who was the last man to see me in my last wedding gown as he helped me into my monogrammed bunny suit at the end of the night. You’ll always be my number one bunny Cody.

Respect and thanks to Andy’s sister Dawn who performed our vows with such loving sincerity. And to both Lee Kyle and Clint Bowie, Wilder’s fathers who were incredibly supportive and helpful during the entire process. And all the love in all the galaxies in all the universes in all of the space/time continuum to our son Wilder James Rue Tipton, who is the brightest star in all our skies.

And of course, we couldn’t have done it without all of our esteemed guests. Thanks to each and every one of you who dressed up and came out. It was exquisite to feel so surrounded by your love and might I mention that looking out onto a sea of bunny ears was one of the best moments of my life. Thank you to everyone who traveled from far away, those of you who took off a busy Friday night of work and especially those of you who may not have made it in right away. (I still can’t believe we reached capacity – that’s a lot of love). Thank you co-workers, friends and lovers. It was a night of incredible delight – all because of you. There were certainly a few people that I missed dearly, those who are no longer with us, and a few who couldn’t make it – but don’t worry I had a drink (or three) in your honor. We are also incredibly thankful for all the gifts we received, y’alls generosity is acknowledged and appreciated.  

Life is fleeting and it will be over before we know it. Thank you all for giving me the most precious of gifts, a night to revel in my love for Andy and my love for all of you.

P.S. I’m sorry if I forgot anyone. I’ll blow you to make up for it.

Xoxo

L.

24831510_1965275760156940_9027866608231766863_oPhoto by Gabrielle Chapin