Intimacy & Consent

Intimacy and consent don’t just apply to the bedroom. In fact, in order to make it into the bedroom, they first have to manifest in the rest of your life.

My life is devoted to recovery.
My recovery is my top priority.
A mentor who recently had a child said this to me of parenthood:

It’s the only project you hope will outlast you.

I have not experienced parenthood.
I make no claims to understand it.

But those words still struck a chord with me, because they reflect precisely how I feel about my recovery.

Even the part about outlasting me.

My recovery won’t die when I do.
It is the legacy I want to leave.

It is why I do solo performance work.
It is why I write this blog.
For that reason (and that reason alone) I’m glad the Internet is forever.

My recovery is my life’s work.
And it’s not only for my sake:

When we commit to our own recoveries, we tell those around us that they can do the same.

It doesn’t have to be from an eating disorder:

Recovery is from whatever it is that keeps you from your purpose in life. 

D i s e a s e.
D i s — e a s e.

When you break it down, it’s pretty simple.
Lack of ease is familiar to all of us.
What is the source of yours?

Yet for all of the commitment I make to my recovery, I still struggle to articulate boundaries around it.
I can hardly articulate for myself what they are.

How can I possibly engage a sexual partner, give someone direct access to my body, if I can’t even talk about this fundamental aspect of my life?

My openness about my recovery [i.e., on this blog] has created the false conception that I am willing and able to share my recovery with any person at any time.

As we’re learning from “Me Too,” no one has a right to anyone else’s body, and here we have uncanny parallels:

Just as a person’s display of flesh is not an invitation to touch them, a person’s display of vulnerability is not an invitation to pry.

It does not matter how we present in public.
Privacy is our right.

To obtain intimacy with anyone, be it emotional or physical, we must first obtain consent.

When we open our hearts and share our truths, we give something sacred. And if these gifts are not handled with compassion and care by those who receive them, we can feel unsafe. The physical world is unsafe as is; why add fuel to the fire?

In new relationships, choosing when to disclose our history is deeply personal. Because of my blog, my history is largely public, but I still reserve the right to choose when I talk about it face to face.

The fact that I share my story does not make me a spectacle.
It does not make me a public display.
I may be on display when I perform, but that display only lasts a moment. Eventually, the curtain does close.

It’s exactly the same with sex.
Consent does not last forever.
Saying yes tonight does not require you to say yes tomorrow.
Regardless of where you are in “the process,” you can say no at any time.

We always have the right to change our mind.

Consent may cause intimacy, but what does intimacy affect? How do we manage the resulting vulnerability?

I fear speaking too freely about my recovery will cause it to be taken for granted, and I can’t stomach that, because my recovery is the most sacred part of me.

This fear holds me back in my personal life. Because of it, I have inadvertently created a wall between myself and the people in my life. One person in particular. And it breaks my heart.

I don’t know how to go about healing this; I am powerless over relationships and powerless over intimacy.
But that is my mountain to climb.

Then there’s the fear of being looked at, of being damned to a state of perpetual vulnerability. An acting coach once said to me that when it comes to heavy material, you can do it 8 times a week, and then shake it off and go get a coffee. But even after I shake it off, I fear being stared at.

Vulnerability doesn’t have to mean victimhood or weakness, but admittedly it’s easy to feel stuck that way.

Perhaps we’d be more comfortable sharing if we knew that afterwards, people would look at us with respect rather than pity. From what I can tell, most of us want to simply be treated normally. But if we want it to, vulnerability can transition us to a state of increased joy. We simply have to let it.

So how do we respond to another person’s expression of vulnerability?

The answer isn’t black or white, but “I love you” and “I witness you” are a great place to start.
I feel unsafe when people ask me about my weight or comment on my appearance. Any observations about my food intake or body make me feel awkward and uncomfortable.

On the other hand, I feel safe and loved when people say, “I read your post.” I feel safe and loved and exhilarated when people say, “I read your post, and I relate.” I love the words, “I resonate.” I particularly love, “I resonate: here’s how.”
And it’s okay to go deeper—just as long as you ask.

A few weeks ago, I made what in 12-step we call a “program call” to another member. I described a situation that had come up in my personal life which had triggered me. When I finished talking, before they responded, they asked, “Do you want some feedback?”

Before I could answer, they added, “that question has been a key ingredient in my recovery. Because sometimes we don’t want feedback. Sometimes we just want someone to listen. It’s helped me to voice my needs and practice saying no.”

Wow.
Talk about consent.

Most often, when I reach out to a friend, I’m only looking for love. I want to be heard; I don’t want to be fixed. But I struggle to voice this, because I don’t want to drive people away, and I wind up taking advice I don’t want.

Am I confusing?
Am I a hypocrite?

Do I want to be left alone one moment but openly celebrate the fact that I ate dessert on Christmas the next?
Yes.

Am I entitled to that fluidity?
Yes. And I choose now to embrace that.

So long, guilt. So long, shame.
I am human, hear me roar.
[And hear me squeak.

And hear me roar.
Hear me shift back and forth.]

Pictured: Intimacy, hopefully with consent.

In closing, I would like to say that the opinions expressed here are entirely my own and may not resonate with everyone; take what you like and leave the rest. If you liked what you read here, I invite you to share it, as these messages are for all.

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