Pleasure for the People: Trauma and Revolution

Feel more pleasure with Emancipating Sexuality

It’s good to talk about the nuances of a pleasure revolution, in particular for those of us with sexual trauma.

It seems like pleasure should be the most effortless of human experiences, yes? After all, it’s the state or sensation we are taught to pursue relentlessly. The abatement of pain, and the enjoyment of pleasure is the promise of all marketing, no matter what the product being sold.

And yet pleasure can be complicated. Or maybe it always is.

What is pleasure? How do you know it when you feel it? What’s your capacity for staying with it? Can you bear it for hours? Do you let pleasure absorb deeply inside you, defining your embodied existence? Does pleasure validate your worthiness? Or, like most of us, do you gulp down the delicious meal, rush towards orgasm, or in other ways try to escape from feeling sustained pleasure?

I work with many folks with sexual trauma. I struggle to not let their heartbreaking stories become my normal; to allow myself to feel the impact of each and every violation of each client, without becoming swamped in despair.

The suck-ass truth is that for those of us with sexual trauma, we bear the burden of working through it. It’s not fair. It’s so not fair. And yet, without our own personal work navigating towards sexual freedom, we remain stuck in a sexuality that is not our full expression. And this is of course an okay choice, but it is not the one I nor my clients are making. We want pleasure.

For folks with sexual trauma history, pleasure isn’t always easy to feel. There may be numbness, lack of sensation, pain. Not only that, pleasure can be triggering to feel.
Pleasure can feel not good; it can be uncomfortable, unbearable, or the bodily sensations of pleasure may cause folks to disassociate away from their bodies. Sometimes it’s easily felt, but remorse, shame and guilt are lying in wait in the wings, as soon as pleasure is done. Sometimes pleasure brings up unwanted thoughts, memories or associations.
I sit with my clients through the weeks and months and sometimes years as they fight for their right to feel pleasure, and as they build their capacity to stay with it
Recently I went to hear the band Alabama Shakes at the Greek Theater in Berkeley. Brittany Howard belted out song after soul-wrenching song, no holds barred. This woman is so full-on, you just know she is born to sing, is here on Earth to bring this particular musical brilliance through her body and into the world. Holy fuck. Listen to this before you read the rest of this post, to have an embodied understanding of what I’m talking about.

While listening, it raised a question I’ve been feeling into ever since.  What is it to live in the world, completely dedicated to expressing the thing you are here to express? To give yourself completely to that thing? That even trembling with fear, flooded with overwhelm and suffering pain you just throw yourself into yourself, and pour yourself out again? To allow inspiration to have its way with you, and to focus focus focus your expression in the way that only you could ever do?

I am committed to developing my full erotic expression in this lifetime. There are moments when I am able to allow pleasure to completely ride me,  moments when my body exists inside of me!

But more often are the complicated pleasure moments. The times I’m using my strategies to stay present, to explore what’s possible in this body in this moment. The days where my libido caught a train to Detroit, or I’m distracted by the books I need to read for my lit review. Or I’d rather just get off quick and nap, than do the work of feeling deep pleasure.

My erotic practice is about practice. My erotic practice is about Practice. Like learning to shape a voice made for rock and roll, or hone muscles that can powerlift heavy weight, or learning the art of feeling the trauma of my clients and letting it move through me instead of getting stuck, I am devoted to my art of subtle, nuanced erotic feeling.

This is my pleasure revolution; to develop sensitivity to sensation, to develop the capacity for feeling, in the face of trauma that says ‘No, don’t feel. You don’t deserve it!’ or ‘It’s not safe to feel that!’

Through practice I’ve learned to fuck harder when shame strikes. To remain soft and open to receiving pleasurable touch when tears come. To speak hard-to-say truths in the middle of beautiful moments. To continue erotic energy when my partner is triggered. To receive erotic energy while I’m triggered. To pause, reset, and continue. To explore how to hold pleasure for a long, long time, through all the bullshit that comes up.

Almost all of my clients long for easy pleasure. Pleasure without tears at the end, or having to stop in the middle. Pleasure that doesn’t require explaining to one’s partner that the reason they can’t touch your left thigh has nothing to do with them, but could they please try and not? Pleasure that is just simple. However, that’s not the hand they are holding. Instead , erotic expression involves work and practice and willingness to experience the grief/rage/anger/sadness/numbness, again and again beyond boredom, ad nauseum. Trauma legacy.

And yet. I’m not totally convinced that complicated, hard-earned pleasure isn’t just a tiny bit more worthwhile. I’m not actually convinced that ‘easy pleasure’ and ‘deep pleasure’ ever coexist. It’s a revolution because it’s an overturning of the false dichotomy of the ‘haves’ who get pleasure and the ‘have-nots’ who don’t. Pleasure for the People!  Committing to full erotic expression after trauma is a seizing of personal power in the face of hegemony and shame.

That said, choosing full erotic expression as a trauma survivor takes the time it takes, and maybe that time is never. I’m not the pleasure police. It is a valid choice to focus self-expression in totally different arenas. There is no ‘should’ about feeling anything. Just choices about where we choose to place the limited resource of our attention. Living a life of hedonism and pleasure happens to be where I choose to rebel in the face of my trauma and upbringing.

Would I have committed my life to this personal and professional exploration of reclaiming pleasure without sexual trauma? I’ll never know, but I doubt it. My pleasure is earned, hard-won. It’s my art. It’s my practice. It’s my connection with self and partner and the Divine.

And truly, not today, but some days, pleasure really is effortless

If this speaks to you, please leave a comment below.

Journey to the Inner Lands

Emergence from trauma
Return to Radiance

A teacher told me once that we get to make three major descents into the Underworld of our lives.  Perhaps, at the outer edge of age in this body, I will delineate in that way.  But for now, every visit to Persephone’s Land counts.  And it feels important to say it publicly that this is where I have been.

It’s the time of year for it; that spiraling, labyrinthine walk into the depths of the heart and mind.  Our mythology calls for it, as the days grow shorter here in the Northern Hemisphere.  We get a little freaked about that still, and fill our time with lights and shopping to stave off what lurks in that darkness.  We celebrate the return of the Sun/Son.

Another teacher said to trust the re-emergence.  This feels true; I give myself permission for the journey, because I know I can come back.  And come back with treasure.  Today I want to share with you a little of those jewels… tis the season, right?

Descent can look like this for me; a quieting and slowing of external engagements.  Moving away from my connections and contacts in the outer world, to focus my gaze on my inner landscape.  To do the bare minimum of work, housework, connecting with others.  I spend time in bed, cocooned in warmth.  I take a lot of baths. I don’t return phone calls or emails.  I miss commitments or bail on them. I don’t reach out for support, or let anybody know what’s going on. This year, because of all the somatic awareness I’ve been working so hard to develop, I was also blessed with the guidance of my body.  My body was all about releasing trauma.

While trauma held in the body may seem like a mysterious, looming and unbeatable foe, it is my experience that once accessed, it can quickly move through the body towards release.  The more you’ve got, the longer the release process will take, but it’s do-able.  The thing about it is that even if you’ve dealt with the issue that caused it in the first place in talk therapy, and it’s no longer a trigger, the trauma can still be there stored in the tissues of the body.  It’s gotta come out.  In my studies of Somatic Experiencing, one of the best ways to help it release is to shake the body vigorously.

My body guided me through the process, and it was indeed a bit messy, but end result is emergence, so stay tuned for that.  Not only emergence, but coming back with a new level of embodiment and understanding.  This time, part of my process included a sleep disorder.  Night after night, I awoke ten to fifteen times.  I would wake with a start, be fully alert, and in my body feel something like urgency.  After trying all the usual stuff people try for sleeping, and nothing working, and with exhaustion and sleep deprivation impacting my life, I started shaking.  It was more like feeling compelled to it; I would wake, stand, and shake my entire body for several minutes, and then feel the discharge and be able to quickly return to sleep.  Wash, rinse, and repeat.  Night after night, for six weeks or so.   It was pretty brutal.

The other component that was happening was a lot of moral inventory taking.  Looking deeply within to determine the accountability I have in one of the relationships that created much of the trauma.  And here’s where the treasures come in.  Although I didn’t feel like a victim, I was pretty in love with my blame story.  And I learned that blame is a hook, that it always attaches to a victim story at the other end.  Blaming and victiming are always about power.

I learned that I get to choose my hooks, and I can learn to release them. (It’s a lot of work!)  Family of origin is full of hooks. Relationships are full of hooks. To be free and untethered, I have to remove those hooks.

Removing the hooks is about forgiveness.  Forgiveness is a verb, not a noun.  It’s an active process of sending good or neutral thoughts and energy to the person you are working with forgiving.  Every time the story replays, noticing it and gently removing the hook.  Finding compassion for the hooks, and the way they keep us connected, albeit dysfunctionally.  Loving the body and the Self enough to risk unhooking.  Seeing what the relationship is beyond the hooks.

I think there are other hooks besides blame as well.  A working definition of a “hook” would be any situation that blocks our highest consciousness, and keeps us trapped in stories of hurt, anger or fear.

(I realize this is long and rambly, and I’m not going to edit it very much for the realness factor.)

The shift for me into re-emergence came in the hot water of Sierra Hot Springs, where I’ve had several life-altering revelations over the years.  You might want to go there if you haven’t.  It’s this: I could choose to forgive.  Just let it go.  Be like “Yeah, okay, that was hard, and I lived through it.” I could choose to recognize that we are all hanging on by a thread, and doing our very best, and no one is EVER going to be able to get it right.  We are all fucked up, human, imperfect and yet it’s okay.  That that person is just another struggling human, not the Dark Lord.  There was this moment in my body where I GOT it on a somatic level, what just letting go would feel like.  I haven’t done it yet, but I’m much closer than I was before.

And that was kind of it.  I released a bunch of trauma.  I did a shitload of moral inventory. I got on a body level the connection between blaming and victiming.  I had a revelation about forgiveness.  And now I’m back online.

I re-emerge to find: There are shifts in that particular relationship already. I have more space in my body for new things. My dreams are powerful again. I’m having more pleasure in my body. Magick is happening all around me. My friends are annoyed with me. I feel excited about the end of the world, and the birthing of the new one.

I pray my explanation of my process serves you in some small way.  Blessings on the return of the Light, and Safe Home on your own inner journeying.