I haven’t had sex since 2002. And I don’t miss it.
Gods above alone know how I could have survived so much sexual abuse, assault, and harassment and yet ended up with a sex-positive view. I love sex. I love intimacy. I was fortunate to have, on the whole, good lovers. But then, something went Terribly Awry. This story is not an invitation for you to invite me to have sex with you. Please pay attention.
My last lover was impatient and our relationship was completely fucked up. I knew we shouldn’t be together after our first night but he wore me down with arguments until he finally found my Achilles’ Heel: “Think how old you are now. How many more chances are you going to get?” Good basis for a relationship, eh?
The last time we slept together he might as well have been masturbating for all the difference it made that I was there. I knew he didn’t like my more creative style so I swallowed my disappointment and just endured. Gods. Wretched. It’s hard to know if I was just responding to patriarchal conditioning and submitting to my man or if I genuinely felt the poor guy should get a break. But it sucked for me. And he broke up with me shortly thereafter.
I spiraled into a depression. No surprise there. But the fucked-up-edness of our relationship didn’t stop when he broke up with me. He still rang me three or four times a day. I went to his condo several times a week to take his dog for long walks and cry into his ruff. And I’ll admit, once I suspected my ex was seeing someone new, I went through his drawers until I found the condoms I’d bought for him when we were together and took them all away. Childish, but devilishly satisfying. Why should I pay for his sex?
Did I mention things were fucked up? I would drag myself to my computer in the mornings to check for work email, sobbing, then crawl back to my bed and watch Lord of the Rings on my laptop, sobbing. As 11am approached my anxiety would shoot through the roof and my heart would pound and my chest contract and my hands sweat and my mind run as I desperately tried to think of how I could entertain him. And sure enough, at 11 on the dot he would ring and say lackadaisically, “So what’s going on?” Then I would try to delight him with trivia or gossip and play the sexy fetch. I was terrified he’d find me boring. I performed. Terrified. Until the phone call ended and I would collapse back on my bed sobbing. This would be repeated at 4 and 6 and sometimes 9. Every day. And if he was road-tripping, he would ring me at the start and expect me to talk him all the way home from Fort Wayne. So I did.
At the same time I was executing A Plan I’d devised in the week after we broke up. I am excellent with plans. I am a Capricorn. I live for plans. And this fabulous plan was that I’d take 3 months to get my head together, 3 months to build a wider circle of friends, and then I would try blind dating. At this point I could tell a hilarious story about the only blind date I’ve ever been on, but let’s stay focused on how screwed up I was. Surely if I got a new therapist I could be well in 3 months, right? And another 3 months is plenty of time to make friends in! And no, I don’t “date” in the traditional sense, I only have relationships, but just because it’s a really bad idea doesn’t mean it won’t build character! C’mon! Execute plan!
So I found a new therapist but my behavior didn’t change. My depression got worse. My anxiety got worse. Every time I expressed concern that I didn’t seem to be getting better she’d have some Buddhist maxim for me. I’m not a Buddhist. How were these things relevant? They weren’t. But I couldn’t see that. I thought that if I just tried harder, I would understand more, that I would feel better.
The first 3 months flew by. Then I hit Match.com to meet prospective friends. I didn’t put a picture up because I’m instantly recognizable and I didn’t want that vulnerability. So even though I said in my profile I was ONLY looking for friends, almost all the men who contacted me badgered me for a photo and when can we meet when when how’s now what’s your problem why not NOW? Tedious men.
I met up with about seven people ultimately from different walks of life, some male and some female. I seemed to hit it off with several but I was being very calculating in how I presented myself. I still spent most of my time sobbing but when I connected with these people I was oh so diverting. Funny, smart, sarcastic, deep, shallow, whatever the occasion demanded. But I wasn’t real. And I think they saw through that. So one by one I lost them.
As the months went by I became increasingly mentally ill. This is still with 3-4 phone calls a day from the ex, by the way. I was screaming a lot. Throwing things, hitting things. Not cutting, surprisingly. But seriously ill. I told my therapist I no longer felt like I had a self and she told me how great it was, that I was having a Buddhist enlightenment experience. Looking back, I know I was going insane. But in the moment all I wanted to do was try harder to be what she wanted.
Lots of things happened. Bad things. I fell.
There was a morning where somehow I ended up on the floor in a fetal position, babbling away, perhaps in gibberish. I say this now because I lived through it. At the time there was only unconsciousness. At some point a pinprick of light appeared along with the words, “This is not rational” across my black internal mindscape. It went away immediately. An indeterminate amount of time passed, me babbling away in total mental darkness, and the light and words came again. This happened repeatedly until the light held on long enough for me to realize where I was and what was going on. And that light was right, this was definitely not rational.
I lost my mind. Not in a metaphorical way. Not in an exaggerated way. I went insane. All conception of “I,” of “me,” of “Cairril” was lost. It was not an abyss. If there’s an abyss, there’s a you to observe the abyss. There was no me. There was nothing. And that’s not all that was happening. It was, however, the worst.
I fear only two things in life: rape and insanity. And while technically I’ve never been raped I had now gone insane. I can’t explain the terror. The vulnerability. The realization that at any moment you can lose all that makes you you. You think you can control it. You’re reading these words, you’re perhaps thinking, “Well, if that happened to me, I’d [fill in the blank].” I tell you that you don’t know what you’re talking about. This is so far beyond most people’s experience that they can’t comprehend what it even means.
My great-aunt Mary was made a ward of the state and put into an insane asylum in the early 1920s after a fever caused brain damage. I never knew she existed until one day when I was about 15 my parents said, “We’re going to see Aunt Mary.” I’m like, “Who’s Aunt Mary?” They just said she was in a nursing home and would probably be speaking in German. When we got there I saw a little old lady hunched over in a chair babbling in some kind of language, but it sure as hell wasn’t English. We left. And we didn’t talk about it. She died about a year later and we went to her funeral. And we didn’t talk about it. It was like it never happened.
Aunt Mary’s father, my great-grandfather, went insane on his 60th birthday the year after Mary was put away. The family tried to care for him but soon he, too, became a ward of the state. Mary spent 60 years in asylums. Great-grandpa Ruth spent his last 13 years in the Longcliff Asylum for the Insane in Logansport. And no one talked about him. My mom, his granddaughter, didn’t know anything about this until her sister told me in the 1990s. He’d been disappeared.
And as if that wasn’t enough tragedy for that family, Mary’s brother, my great-uncle Leo, loved a girl in Wisconsin. He proposed. She turned him down. So he drove his 1938 Mercury coupe down a back rode and shot himself in the heart. It was front-page news in Wisconsin and in Indiana. The family tried to deny the story because of the shame involved but all the evidence pointed to suicide. So he got disappeared, too.
I learned this stuff from my Aunt Dolores, who didn’t speak in hushed tones behind her hand. She just talked about it the same way she talked about playing Canasta. She wasn’t afraid of it. But my parents were. My mother had been told by her mother, “Don’t ever tell anyone about Aunt Mary or you’ll never get married.” That was totally a product of society, not a character flaw of my grandma’s. It was a terrible scandal to have mental illness in the family. We live with that prejudice still.
That morning on the floor made me realize that no, this was not a Buddhist enlightenment experience, this was insanity. And something must be done. Insurance was actually helpful for once and they got me into a couple places to be evaluated. At Bloomington Hospital the bored doctor asked, “Do you want to stay?” I said, “Should I? You’re the doctor!” He just said, “Well, if you’re a danger to yourself or others…. No? All right, sign here.” When I pulled my car out of my parking spot and headed down the garage ramp I pressed the gas to the floor, my eyes glued to the concrete wall in front of me. At the last minute I remembered that I was going to be evaluated by a different hospital, so I slammed on the brakes.
At Meadows Hospital they didn’t want me to leave at the end of the evaluation. They were practically strapping me to a stretcher (not really, but that’s what I was afraid of). By this point I had stepped outside my brain and Great-grandpa Ruth had walked in and was doing the talking to them. I was having his flashbacks. At one point someone stepped in and, without a word, snapped my picture. I started screaming. I have the photo Longcliff took of August Ruth when he was admitted. And he looks like a crazy man. So here I was in an asylum having my own experience of being photographed and simultaneously having his experience of being photographed.
I was psychotic. Also suicidal, but that was so common with me it seemed normal. But my brain no longer functioned the way it was supposed to. I remember when the nurse was going through my stuff to pull out anything potentially harmful. I’d ask him, “Why are you taking that out?” and he’d tell me why. Before the first word was out of his mouth I’d forget it so I’d repeat the question. Over and over. I just couldn’t hold onto the English language anymore. Bless him, he was perfectly patient. But it was terrifying to be unable to communicate. It was terrifying to keep slipping out and having Great-grandpa slip in. It was terrifying to think they’d drug me up or give me electroshock treatments or, Gods above, wall me away so my family could pretend like I didn’t exist. I was terrified of being disappeared. I still am.
This is a long story. A lot happened. The happy-happy-joy-joy part is I got diagnosed and was put on meds that actually stabilized me. I continued to have psychotic episodes for three years after Meadows but slowly clawed my way back to sanity with the help of good doctors and therapists. But let me tell you, the whole experience put me off the idea of having relationships.
Remember sex? Where we started? This is my point: in my mind, being in an intimate relationship and having sex became connected with psychosis in my mind. To even start a friendship is to risk madness. And in the maelstrom before I went into Meadows, on some deep level of my self I swore I would never go through that again. I’d kill myself first. So to go on a date or even to start a friendship means I’m taking both my sanity and my life into my hands.
Is it any wonder I don’t miss it?
At the same time:
I believe in intimacy. I believe in sex. I believe that such things can make you a better person. They can make you stretch, make you grow. They are fun. Like when your lover puts their cold feet on your warm ones and laughs hysterically as you shriek and pound on their chest.
How wonderful is it to be held when you feel happy? When you feel grief? When you feel lonely? I don’t get held anymore. I get hello and goodbye hugs sometimes, and with my sister there’s the communication of “I love you so much I don’t want to let you go” but for the most part my life has become a touch-free zone. It’s hard for me to believe that most of my life was spent as a puppy cuddling up with other puppies. I love touch. But now it’s dangerous.
No one tickles the inside of my elbow anymore to make the side of my tongue itch (it’s true!). No one pets my back. No one breaths my name in my ear.
I was raised a good Catholic girl and was not going to have sex until I got married. After I stopped believing in God I still wanted to wait to have sex until I was in love. But time passed. And passed. And passed. And while I was having relationships, I was not having love. So I got tired of waiting. My first sexual experience was with my best male friend. I highly recommend it. No pressure. Total comfort. Easy conversation. Tenderness and compassion and laughter. A different way of saying, “I love you.” It was a wonderful introduction.
I have been very fortunate to have had lovers who were on the whole kind, passionate, sensitive, respectful, and fun. People with the breadth of styles so at times you just throw the other against the wall and at other times you take all night. (Ah, the joys of sex with young men—stamina!)
And with my almost-husband, I was able to explore the power and magic of spiritual sexuality. Some of the most profound experiences of my life happened while making love with him. Our bed was sacred space. I didn’t have to invoke the Goddess, I was the Goddess. I was pure love taken form. So was he. And we gave and took equally, generating a golden helix between our hearts. Pulsing with the deep, deep love that fuels the universe. Love that infused every atom of our beings and bound us more deeply than any external cord. Our bodies were love. Our spirits were love. And there was no separation anywhere.
I haven’t had sex since 2002. And I miss it.