I remember the first time I made love, as well. I was dating a beautiful loser, the sort of boy put on the earth entirely to provide teenage girls with their first summer romance, and we experimented together as teenagers do, whenever and wherever the opportunity arose.
I was sober both times. Alcohol had entered my life, but it was a party drug, not a pre-requisite for living. We were far too broke back then for alcohol to be anything but occasional; most days we chose nicotine over food, let alone contemplating a luxury like wine.
I’m not sure when sex and alcohol became inextricably linked, but I don’t think I’m alone in that association. Even without getting into the murky issues around teenage sex, consent and exploitation, there is a very strong societal link between alcohol and intimacy. Expensive wine on a date, the licentious names given to cocktails, the word cocktail, alcohol marketing – the message is very clear that if you want to get laid, you need to open a bottle.
And it’s not surprising. Drinking with somebody is an excellent way to create a false sense of intimacy, as well as lowering inhibitions and enhancing our desire for others – the famed ‘beer goggles’ are true, it appears. If you’re not sure if somebody fancies you enough to take their clothes off in front of you, getting them drunk is an effective way of stacking the cards in your favour.
But if you always drink before having sex, then you come to rely on it. Just as we become convinced that alcohol gives us courage or sparkle or confidence in social situations, we come to think of it as necessary for creating intimacy.
When we strip away the alcohol, we have to re-learn the skill without it. Most of us have blogged about finding ourselves perfectly able to hold our own at a party drinking only Perrier, or our discovery that herbal tea and a scented bath are better at relaxing us than a Chardonnay ever was.
But I absolutely refuse to believe that I’m the only one who ever felt a moment of anxiety at the prospect of sober sex.
Sex is an act of trust, every time. We strip away our defences with our clothes, and stand before our partners with our flaws on show. Good sex, in fact, demands that we don’t self-censor; nobody can properly enjoy sex if they’re worrying that their moans sound odd or their tummy fat bulges in certain positions. You can have sex with your clothes on, but you still have to be naked underneath.
Alcohol is custom-designed to help with all of this. If you’ve ever been the loud tactless person closing down the bar, you already know all too well how alcohol overrides social inhibition. If you’ve ever snogged someone you’d ordinarily shun, you know the ease of attraction that it lends. Drunkenness is an abrogation of self, and sex demands that self gets out of the way.
So. Sober sex. What a daunting prospect, right? Suddenly there’s nothing shutting down the millions of thoughts going through your head, no blurry edges obscuring your self-view. Your limbs are suddenly all present instead of melting into your partner, and oh, goodness, you can’t seriously be expected to … say … or do … those things, surely? Not sober!
Enough generalities. You want to know how it is for me. And here is where I wish I could tell you that it’s a million times better, because finally we’re conjoining our true, authentic selves without barrier or artifice. And to some extent, that’s true. Often, that’s true.
But there are differences, and – you know, I’m figuring out why nobody blogs about this now, because, well, yeesh – sometimes those differences don’t leave everyone as happy as before. And this does come back to consent, in a way. What I have found is that there are some things that I am no longer comfortable with. Things that I used to drink in order to feel comfortable with. This isn’t a matter of consent in an awful, sordid way, whereby one partner is pressuring and the other is numbing themselves to get through an ordeal. Nothing like that. But sometimes, in an intimate relationship, there are things that you know might make your partner very happy, but which are a little tiny bit over your comfort line. But you love and trust your partner, so what you do is you blur that line a little bit, so that you can meet them where they are, enthusiastically and willingly. And that’s great where there’s no power issues or abuse going on. I think everyone pushes their comfort levels a little bit where intimate relationships are involved, sometimes; agreeing despite being tired, making the effort to enjoy something new, maybe pulling on some frilly knickers that aren’t that comfortable. But because this stuff is so intimate and so integral to bodily autonomy, it’s not so easy to just talk yourself into it – for it to work, you have to feel it too. And wine, for me, answered that tension.
I can tell myself all I want that it’s about boundaries and self-respect and authenticity, but at the end of the day, sober sex is not the same. It’s better, and it’s worse, and it’s definitely more frequent. But it’s not the same.
In 2009 I discovered that PTSD had controlled my life for over 60 years. Yikes! I learned to not have flashbacks by not living my life. I kind of checked in and out for short periods of time. I am a loner, read a lot, and am also a writer which requires solitude. Not that I am complaining. I like being with me. I am a lot of fun and have a rich inner creative life. We each have four emotional energies: grounding, creative, logic, and relationship. I am almost zippo on the relationship energy but I work at it because I know how good I feel when I feel connected to another person. Nothing like it.
I gave up my antidepressant 6 weeks ago (October 2012) after 20 years. Wow. What a new world. For a while I felt that I was in the body of an 18 year old male. All I thought about was sex and/or food. And I am 72. Thank God. Best of both worlds. So I am learning how to live with PTSD and handle all my emotions as they come. And they do. But the emotions are like a river. They don’t stay—they move on.
I love reading about PTSD survivors and how they live. I learn so much from them.
1. From Michael Bailey: “PTSD Can Turn One Thing You Love Into the One Thing That Scares You to Death”:
The hardest thing to cope with is the things that you don’t expect. The smells of burning diesel, or cooking pig, the sound of distant gunfire, or pops that sound like them. These things can pop up at random. Even movies that you once enjoyed may remind you a little too strongly of events that happened. I used to love the film “Midway”, unfortunately there is a scene where Charlton Heston’s son (in the movie) gets hit, and his plane catches on fire. I can tell you those screams are a little too real for me to deal with. Getting pulled over by police is also a hazard. I have learned that the flashing lights do not bode well for me. I usually cover my eyes as much as possible, but if I’ve had a few, and the Designated Driver (DD) gets pulled over, the effect is crippling, and I feel the urge to run. This has happened to me twice. Both times did not end well. I understand why they have the flashing lights, but there is just something about them at night that really disturbs me.
If you are a Combat Veteran with post traumatic stress, I would tell you figure out what your triggers are. What makes the experiences come back, and find some coping strategies that work for you. Keep a journal, and track your progress. You would be amazed how far you come in just a few short months. Remember life will not be the same as it was before the war. You need to deal with that. You’re not crippled, or infirmed, you’re just going to have to deal with this. Life is worth fighting for. Don’t give up because the days seem hard, and the nights endless. You are not alone, and you can get through this.
2. From Havi Brooks: “Friday Chicken #226”:
Hey. So. Those of you who can read between the lines have probably figured out that this has been a rough year for me, with the past few months getting progressively more rough.
I can’t talk about it here, partly because I’m not at liberty to discuss most of it and partly for other reasons. So I apologize for being cryptic, and yes, things have been pretty hellish for me, and I am waiting for a lot of different situations to resolve themselves.
In the meantime, I am using — and living by — the stuff that we practice and play with here. And that’s what is helping me with this challenging experience. So thank you for playing with me and being here while I go through this.
I canceled everything this week and was a hermit!
This was good. I didn’t even know how much I would need this, just acting on a hunch. Past-me is a genius. Again.
Using the things that I taught at my Crossing the Line retreat. Over and over again.
Going to the cafe. Getting my pot of harmony. Sitting in the same chair.
This was steadying and grounding.
Bouncing it up.
I kept dancing. When in doubt, dance dance dance and then dance some more.
This is not the right thing for everyone, but it is very much the right thing for me.
Next time I might…
Change the setting. Have even more snacks stockpiled.
3. From Michele Rosenthal: “Let’s Talk about PTSD and Triggers“:
This past weekend I was required to put myself in a situation that has been extremely triggering for me since my trauma. Not only did it always invoke enormous anxiety and rage, it also forced me to dissociate as I learned that was the only way to manage the feelings that this trigger brought up.
Now, here I was, years into my PTSD freedom and finding myself dreading this triggering situation with no way out. What to do?
It was an emotionally charged week. Here’s how it went:
First, I was hit with enormous emotion over the idea of being forced into a situation that has been historically uncomfortable for me. My response: I did what I’ve learned to do throughout my PTSD recovery, which is this:
I took a step back and viewed the intense emotion as a messenger, a part of myself wanting me to know something. I asked that part two questions:
1.”What is this emotion trying to tell me?”
2. “Why is this information important?”
Getting some distance and clarity allowed me to see what was really bothering me. On the surface we experience emotions (and their feeling-out-of-control intensity) and we can feel undone by them. When we take a step back, however, and treat them the way we would a friend who blew into the room all in a tizzy, we learn to look below the surface of emotion and see what the message is. Doing this gives us ideas about what choices to make and actions to take.
Second, by looking at the emotion from a little distance I saw that beneath it all what I really felt was fear. I have made it a point to avoid this situation for over 20 years; this was a coping mechanism put in place when I was dealing with extreme PTSD symptoms. Last week, I was afraid of going back into that situation and feeling not only all of the memories it conjures, but also the PTSD pain that is tied to it as well. Afraid because I didn’t want to have to feel all of that again. I felt sorry for that younger self who felt so lost and overwhelmend. I felt saddened for her struggle and despair. Now, what used to be simply a trigger also contains memories of PTSD pain. Who wants to go back and get close to all of that??
Continuing what I learned from my PTSD recovery, I asked myself questions about what I need. Since avoiding the situation was not an option, I made the determination to move into it from a place of strength. I made a list of things – attitude, people, choices, actions – that would make me feel strong and supported throughout the experience. I made a plan of alternatives so that I felt freedom in moving forward instead of boxed in to one scenario.
Was I still apprehensive about moving ahead? You bet! But by taking control of the situation, recognizing what I found triggering and why, I took back control so that I felt powerful instead of powerless.
The outcome? I sailed through the weekend and the situation without a hitch. More than that, I stayed present, fully engaged and was able to participate in a meaningful family event without allowing memories or the past to intrude on my present.
Yes, a lot of this success can be attributed to the fact that I am PTSD-free. Meaning, the internal conflicts that my trauma put in place, and the way this trigger evoked them, have been resolved. I am at peace. And you know the funny part? As I considered going into this situation I temporarily forgot that. I forgot that as I have changed (as do you) my trigger responses have changed, too. That is, I’ve been in other previously triggering situations and not even thought twice about it because all of that baggage and assocations has been dealt with, the conflicts resolved and the past laid to rest. For a moment last week I forgot to trust myself that I could handle this. It was a good reminder that even though my PTSD recovery journey has ended and I live free of symptoms of post-traumatic stress, the work of staying in touch with myself, deepening my self-trust and believing in my ability to handle things continues, as it would for anyone who has experienced something that rocked the foundation of that self-connection.
Being on the PTSD recovery journey – no matter where you are, beginning, middle or end – doesn’t mean you’ll always be perfect. And it doesn’t mean you won’t have thoughts, feelings and emotions that feel intense or remind you of less comfortable times. Being on the journey means you learn from every situation, you grow in your resilience and creativity, you trust yourself to reclaim control, and you access more of your strong self in the present and future so that the things that used to bother you remain behind, as they should, in the past.