I’ve been single for about a year, and have recently started dating someone new. It’s lovely and joyful and I’m happy. I’m pleased with how easy connection is, but I’m still as survivor with a home-built, diy sense of security and self-love, so I need some maintenance.
I’ve been getting a lot in recent years from the work of Brene Brown. I like the practical how to, and the how to get through to the other side information.
Recently I noticed that I’m quite wary. She and I see one another once a week, with little contact in between, which felt unusual. My brain was all – this could be a problem – remember the person you dated who…. The thing is, it actually suits me really well. She’s very attentive and our time together is intimate and intense, and a week in between to let the dust settle is just perfect right now. It’s not a problem.
I haven’t given her the gory details of my past, although I think she can put it together, as I’ve told her about the focus of my research back when I was a therapist (childhood sexual assault) and that I’m a trauma survivor. I’m afraid that knowing these details will change how she sees me, less the confident, happy, well adjusted human I mostly am and more some kind of dramatic tragedy. I mean, it is kind of a heroic journey through tragedy, and that’s how I frame it, but I’m just really afraid it will turn her off. My most recent ex couldn’t deal with any ptsd related needs – the one time in three years I had a flashback, she got angry at me for not doing the damn dishes because I left the room to deal with my own feelings. When I told my ex and now friend about how I was holding back on telling my story, she said good idea, and don’t talk about your marriage either. She shamed me about it.
I am being sexual, so my vaginal injuries are indirectly a topic of conversation. I have to manage the skin soreness and muscle spasms. In recent years, I’ve taken to just giving only the most relevant facts – these muscles spasm, here’s how to release them, and this area is more tender than the rest so be gentle. No need to get into why, right?
I told her that I’m proud of how I handled my childhood, but I don’t want to lead with that story. I feel wierd not telling her too – I always have before, and it makes me seem evasive, which I hate in other people. I’m trying to be open about not wanting to talk about it yet.
Anyhow, all this was going through my mind the other day during a date which was going really well, and it was getting in the way being present and enjoying her and how we are together. And then, of course, I’m all getting on my own case for being gummed up about it, which is my fault for being a survivor.
After she left, I did all the things I do when I feel messed up about something (singing, writing, praying), I realized that what was really happening was foreboding joy. Foreboding joy is when you feel joy, and joy feels vulnerable, so you guard yourself against loss by envisioning how it could all go to hell. Brown gives the example of looking down at her sleeping children and feeling joy and then immediately her brain goes to all the terrible things that could happen to them.
This, as you can imagine is not at all helpful or useful.
Luckily, Brown is super practical. She provides the kryptonite antidote for this defence. It’s simple. Just express gratitude. So I went through my memory of the date and the points at which I felt joy and felt grateful for it.
It worked so so well. It transformed my fear into a full body feeling of joy, that has my heart cracked open like a walnut (but in a nice way).
So I took a risk and emailed her and told her about the foreboding joy and some of the things that had inspired the joy. This is another thing I am doing – choosing not to assume that me being a normal person and just expressing my feelings to someone I care about would be unwelcome, that closeness is safe and okay, and it will all be well. And you know, today, I really believe it. And if it’s not, then anticipating it will not make that any better, but it can dampen the joy I feel now. I have to tell you, joy unfettered feels pretty damn good.