An Open Letter to the Possibility of Radical Love
This weekend, I attended a polyamory/non-monogamy caucus at the 21st Annual Creating Change Conference in Denver, CO. I attended because, theoretically, I believe that a single human being can have multiple partners and multiple loves. I also believe that an individual can have a sexual connection with another human being, outsides the confines of his or her primary relationship, that do not take away from what is being built with a life partner. I am also a slut. I came out and was raised by a queer youth community, at the end of 1990s, that was politically and sexual radical, embracing polyamory, non-monogamy, and ethical sluttishness as celebrations and re-articulation of what it means to be sex positive.
I also, for the first time in my life, find myself in an open relationship. And all of the practiced rhetoric around sex positivity, all of my confessed beliefs around the possibility of multiple loves, and all of my talk about the beauty and raw sexual connection inside and outside of my relationship have come screaming up against the reality of my past. I grew up desperately abused. I grew up mentally hammered by parents that were working out their own hurts on their children. I survived sexual assault in college. I have a Father that could not be there for me, a Father that could have been there but instead beat me and then left, and a Father that could not survive the recession of the mid-80s and when things got difficult--abandoned our family. The three men that I called Father have all contributed, in their way, to a very real blockage in my ability to embrace the life that I know is right and true for me.
So the question becomes, how do I stay true to myself? True to the beautiful slut and openly loving human being that I am and that has chosen to live a life that embraces the ways in which sensual and sexual pleasure can enhance ones life instead of being a secret shame force within it.
To begin with, I have a ridiculously patient partner. He is older than I am, and he has had a decade more time to deal with his own issues in this particular area. He is careful to maintain his boundaries of terms of being able to exercise his right to have some fun now and again outside of our relationship, but he balances that with making sure that the fun he is having is not causing undue harm with us. We don’t always agree. There are very real limits that I draw in my play and in my flirting with other people that are not there for him. They are a grey area where neither of our approach is right or wrong. He puts me first and as long as that remains true, then those grey areas become less important to define. And this coming from the queen of rules, regulations, and clearly defined borders. There are and will be areas that will need definition in our relationship. Communication is one of our strong points, and it is something that we need to continue to work at. But, the truth remains that there is only so much he can do when it is clear that the real work is internal to me.
A strategy that I have chosen is to externalize my thoughts, feelings, and struggles as much as possible (while still respecting the intense need for privacy of my partner---something that I, obviously, do not share. My friends call me IRA: I Require Attention). I have found that when I am faced with feelings of jealousy, with feelings of insecurity, with feeling threatened, if I stop the moment and say out loud what it is that I am thinking and feeling. If I just put it out in the air, then I am able to look at it and let it go. The emotions can run their course and I come out the other side feeling fine. When the emotions arise, and I ride them. When I let them work their way into my psyche unchecked that is when knee jerk and deeply programmed self-protection behaviors kick in that served a very real purpose in literally keeping me alive and safe as a child but that now hinder my advancement as an adult.
There’s the kicker. The ability to recognize potential threats is intensely heightened in abuse survivors. It was once at the core of our ability to know when to exit a scene, (room, car, park, home) in order to reduce our chance of mental or physical harm. As an adult, that has translated for me into subconscious reactions designed to distance me from any and all individuals that would otherwise have the power to deeply wound me as my emotions and feelings for them grew. In the context of a deeply loving and supportive relationship, particularly one in which safety and feelings of support are freely given and nurtured, the threat of losing that is sometimes overwhelming and short circuits any and all attempts to cut off the deeply ingrained protectionist mechanisms of the past.
I am also going to therapy---what I can’t figure out how to fix on my own--I am unashamed to turn over to a professional. Also, zoloft helps ;-).
The one area where I need to give myself grace, and also ask for more grace from my partner, is that I am attempting to heal and reverse what amounts to roughly 28-31 years of abuse (self inflicted and otherwise). I am asking myself to unlearn and dissect almost three decades of behavior and feelings and ways of being. And I am foolish if I believe (and lately I have been trying to make myself believe) that after roughly eight months in a loving relationship, I should have or even could have moved any further along than I am and have with this process of healing and renewal.
Patience with oneself while at the same time pushing oneself ever forward and onward is the key to unlearning and letting go of those things that once served a purpose but now serve only to keep you from being loved and loving in return in the way that you so choose. In the way that I so choose: in a committed, deeply loving, beautiful open relationship with a partner that is lover and friend. I am doing this not for us, but for me. And by doing this for me, I make us stronger.