A revolution is the solution.
Sex is not the enemy.
~Garbage, Sex is not the enemy
If you want to break through to the multi-orgasmic level, you have to be willing to kind of push through something that feels like discomfort the first few times.
~adrienne maree brown, Pleasure Activism
A couple weeks ago I wrote you about learning to tolerate enjoyable emotions as well as uncomfortable ones. Today I want to hone in on the feelings – emotions and sensations – of pleasure and how it does take work to learn to enjoy them.
A little over a week ago I wrote this on IG:
For the last couple years I’ve been unraveling, exploring, and reclaiming the idea, emotions, and sensations of pleasure. This started with my own personal therapy, coming into my body, learning to tolerate all the different feelings that swirl within and throughout me.
It hasn’t all been about sex, though that’s been a part of it most definitely. It’s also been about resting (and taking naps) when I not only need it, but also when I simply want it. It has been about reading and writing. It’s been about watching shows and movies I enjoy. It’s been about being in environments that are calming and soothing or if my mood wants it energizing. It’s been about being around people who feed me: emotionally, intellectually, physically. It’s been about allowing myself to experience, on a deep and visceral level, happiness.
There have actually been times that I have been so overwhelmed with happiness that I cried, sobbed. Learning to regulate “positive” emotions is just as intense as learning to regulate the generally less desirable ones. We can use the same tools, and it also takes practice either way.
We aren’t taught how to tolerate pleasure, let alone enjoy it, anymore than we are taught to tolerate grief, anxiety, or anger. It is something we need to choose to learn. And learning to tolerate pleasure is as uncomfortable initially as learning to tolerate grief or sadness.
When I started this journey of coming home to my body over a decade ago I never imagined I’d come to a place of enjoying some of the sensations and emotions this life as a human has to offer. I just wanted to be a better mom and not yell as much. Now, while I still continue my work in part so I can be the mom I never had for my kids, it is at least equally if not more true I am doing this now for me, so I can thrive in my life and truly enjoy it.
I share this all to say, it doesn’t matter why we enter into this work. And we never know where it will lead us. What is important, I believe, is simply that we enter into it.
Pleasure isn’t only about sex and sexuality. Pleasure is also about joy. Pleasure is also about love. Pleasure is also about contentment, happiness, satisfaction. Pleasure is about feeling good in our own skin, in our work, in our relationships, in the world and in our lives. Pleasure is about feeling alive.
Part of our cultural conditioning and socialization is the demonizing of pleasure or those who seek and enjoy pleasure. In Christianity the Seven Deadly Sins are almost entirely about pleasure; specifically::
- sloth (resting, going slow, enjoying the moment)
- greed (wanting to be satiated, satisfied)
- lust (sexual pleasure)
- gluttony (satiating oneself, taking in until we feel ful(filled))
- pride (feeling good in your own skin, feeling good about your accomplishments)
The other two, wrath and envy, can also be about pleasure, in that they show up when we chronically deny ourselves pleasure.
For those of us with complex trauma, any type of body sensation – even ones that are “normally” pleasurable – can feel uncomfortable, even gross or “icky”. Living outside our bodies is a matter of survival, and so feeling any type of sensation or emotion, be it painful or pleasurable, can overwhelm our systems.
Just as we need to learn to tolerate uncomfortable sensations and emotions in order to recalibrate our nervous system and fight/flight response, we also need to learn how to tolerate and enjoy pleasurable sensations so we can not just survive, but also thrive in our lives.
Another aspect of all this is allowing ourselves to slow down and enjoy our lives. We live in a culture that is all about busy-ness, that does not celebrate the slowing down, the doing nothing. If we aren’t accomplishing something, if we aren’t producing something, we are taught we then have little to no value or worth.
Many of us also have a need to “prove” our value and worth, due to the abuse and or neglect we experienced as children. We do this by hyper-performing; being the best at All The Things, and if we aren’t The Best then the thing isn’t worth doing. We constantly strive for approval and validation from others, be they “superiors” or peers, and in this striving we also do not allow ourselves rest or enjoy who and where we are now.
So not only are we not able to enjoy pleasure because we are unable to tolerate sensations in our body, we also have a generations old narrative about how pleasure is bad and if we partake in pleasurable experiences then we are also bad.
As we come into our bodies we can also begin to unravel these narratives and do a bit of rewiring in our brains. It is true that I strongly believe in the importance of body-centered trauma work; and it is also true that in tandem we need to use cognitive and verbal ways to reinforce new messaging.
I often encourage my clients to argue with themselves. When they have a “negative” or harmful thought about themselves to fight back and remind themselves that no, that is not true and this helpful statement IS true. Then after a minute or two of the back and forth to move onto something else – be it a nervous system exercise to focus on or any other task to disrupt that thought that is causing us harm.
We can do this with any of the non-helpful narratives we have within our psyches, including those around pleasure. Yes, we need to also be learning how to tolerate the physicality of the emotions and sensations that go with these narratives; and we also need to grow some new neuropathways, and the only way to do that is through our actual thought process.
I am learning the importance of pleasure in my own life, for myself and for those who matter most to me. The importance of doing what feels good to us, be that the food we eat or the clothes we wear or the ways we move our bodies or explore our creativity or yes, experience our sexuality. It is a shift from just getting through each day to actually enjoying my days – perhaps not every single moment because life, but enjoying more and more moments nonetheless. It is the difference between surviving and thriving.
I highly recommend we all find our ways to thriving and including more pleasure in our lives, whatever that may look like for each of individually. It is a process, it takes time and practice and patience, and I so deeply believe it is worth it.
This was originally written for my weekly newsletter 5, May 2019. It has been edited for publication here.
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