Pleasure is the point. Feeling good is not frivolous, it is freedom. ~Adrienne Maree Brown, Pleasure Activism: The Politics of Feeling Good
There is no way to repress pleasure and expect liberation, satisfaction, or joy. ~Adrienne Maree Brown, Pleasure Activism: The Politics of Feeling Good
Trauma victims cannot recover until they become familiar with and befriend the sensations in their bodies. Being frightened means that you live in a body that is always on guard. Angry people live in angry bodies. The bodies of child-abuse victims are tense and defensive until they find a way to relax and feel safe. In order to change, people need to become aware of their sensations and the way that their bodies interact with the world around them. Physical self-awareness is the first step in releasing the tyranny of the past. ~Bessel A. van der Kolk, The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma
Living with complex trauma in our bodies is not an easy or fun experience. Many of us dissociate from our bodies entirely, not feeling the various sensations that are part of every day life. Some of us dissociate and live with chronic pain or anxiety (or both) and only are able to feel painful and uncomfortable sensations. Living in a state of constant pain and anxiety, or not being present at all in our bodies, is a cage many of us have felt, or still do feel, trapped in. We can feel there is no escape from the discomfort and so will find even more ways to numb, to escape.
And those other ways of numbing may work for a while. I’m all for pain relief. I’m also fully aware that some pain is more about trapped trauma than anything else and no amount of medication is going to help in the short or long runs.
When our only experience with our body and its sensations is that of discomfort or pain or not feeling it at all, it’s challenging to imagine what pleasure is, what it could possibly feel like.
We also assume that pleasure should actually be pleasurable. It’s a relatively reasonable expectation, right? Except when we’ve lived a good portion of our lives outside our bodies, feeling any type of body sensation is strange and uncomfortable at first. This includes pleasure.
So, if pleasure initially is uncomfortable, why bother?
Well, because with patience, intention, and practice, pleasure can become pleasurable – and a life without pleasure is not us living our best lives, it is not thriving, it is merely surviving.
To feel pleasure we need to come back home into our bodies. Or for some of us be in our bodies for essentially the first time in our lives. And this means feeling all the sensations of our body – pain, anxiety, discomfort and pleasure, peace, and comfort. We can’t experience one without the other. We can’t pick and choose which sensations we are going to allow ourselves to feel and which we aren’t. It’s an all or nothing type of deal.
And in order to really feel pleasure, peace, and comfort in our bodies, we need to first go through the initial discomfort of beginning to feel them. This may seem like an oxymoron, and yet it is part of the process.
Complex trauma impacts our whole body. It impacts our nervous systems; our brain and the neuro pathways within it; our sensory receptors and how we notice sensations. When trauma occurs at a young age it sets our minds and bodies on a course of constant survival. Being aware of pain is an important part of our survival as a species.
Feeling pleasure on the other hand, is not necessary for our survival as a species nor as individuals.
I would argue however that feeling pleasure is necessary for us to thrive in our lives, to find joy, to live and enjoy our lives to fullest. I’m not only talking about sexual pleasure here. I’m also talking about the pleasure of eating certain foods, of wearing certain fabrics, of being hugged by and hugging those we love, of appreciating art in its many forms, listening to and feeling music and how it lights us up.
Moving from a place of surviving, where many of us have lived most of our lives, to a place of thriving, a place that is wholly unknown and foreign, is a process in an of itself. It is a part of our trauma processing work, in fact I believe it is the entire point of our trauma processing work.
Of course it takes time, patience, intention, and most importantly practice.
And as I have said many a time before, and will say many more times in the future, I believe all the work involved to move from surviving to thriving is totally worth it.