Mental Health Matters: Sex as Escapism

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The day my father asked me to leave home, I awoke to three or four trash bags filled with my belongings. They slouched in the middle of my bedroom floor. The day before, I’d thrown myself a seventeenth birthday party surrounded by family. But I’d also just gotten in trouble at school for forging a tardy pass.

“You’re moving to Covert with your grandmother,” my father announced. “You walked around here frontin’ yesterday, like everything is okay. YOU’RE SUSPENDED!” he yelled.

I was baffled. I thought that was protocol…walking around and pretending everything was okay when it wasn’t. I’d pretended my mother’s death hadn’t bothered me the previous nine months, and no one berated me about that. Why was having a party while suspended an issue?

But it was too late to argue. My father’s mind was made up. I moved as soon as school ended in June.

By September, my grandmother had convinced my father that he needed to relinquish his parental rights so that she could “legally take me to the hospital,” if necessary. So, the three of us drove to a small Michigan court, where a judge bestowed my grandmother with the title, legal guardian.

My father droned on about the court appointment being a “formality.” He’d “always be my dad,” he said. I wished I had an appropriate response. A tear or a lip quiver would’ve added affect. But I was dead to his speech and to mounting situations outside of my control. Life had finally completely numbed me. During his soliloquy, I zoned out and devised a simple plan for my new existence: befriend no one, complete senior year, and leave as soon as I crossed the graduation stage.

That was the plan, until I went to a computer class called, Basic and met a boy.

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He was a year younger. He played football, ran track, blew the saxophone in band, and was his class’s president. He made time for me and he made me laugh. More importantly, he made me forget about my mother’s death and my father’s abandonment. He made me forget that I wouldn’t finish high school with friends I’d known since the first grade.

Initially, we talked on the phone for several hours. He lived five minutes away from my grandparents’ home and his house was on the way to my work-study job, which made stopping by convenient. Soon we traded phone conversations for sitting on his mother’s couch, where we watched their floor-model television and kissed. Our time together quickly turned to sex. I enjoyed it. It was liberating in the most poetic way. When we were together, my pent-up emotions floated free like colorful balloons toward a bright blue sky. I repeatedly chased the euphoria.

I was so in love with the idea that he loved and wanted me that I wrapped myself around him. I mattered. He and I ebbed and flowed through teenage love. There was no way I would let him go. To do so would mean returning to earth to face the reality of my circumstances, which were outside of my control, and I wasn’t ready.

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Instead, I (unconsciously) learned men, sex, and relationships could temporarily fill a void. All three helped me escape to a place where I temporarily felt better about myself. As long as I had one, then I knew I was worth something to someone, even if the moment was fleeting. Either of the three were easy to attain, especially in undergrad, where my deeper issue flowed with a sea of everyone else’s rampant hormones and fluid identities. Throughout my life, there were times when I had all three simultaneously in different faces, constantly seeking a high, never quite reaching bliss, still feeling shitty about myself. It would take years before I’d understand one thing about trying to fill an empty space with men. You can’t. There were never enough to make me feel whole. Ever. It was always an impossible endeavor.

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Parts of this piece were first published on PULP, a sex/uality and reproductive rights publication celebrating this human coil.

This blogger’s poem aptly describes what I’ve experienced.

Elizabeth Fitzgerald explains how escapism is a part of the fight, flight, or freeze group, which can manifest in codependent ways, including addiction.

34 thoughts on “Mental Health Matters: Sex as Escapism

    1. Thank you Felicia! And Ha! In some ways yes, and in more obvious other ways, not so much lol

      I will share this. I had a birth chart reading last year and the guy said something like, “when you were a child you knew what the adults in your life were saying wasn’t true.” I was like, “yes sir, yes I did” lol

      Liked by 2 people

  1. Love your insight, honesty and the clarity of your writing. This is so helpful. I especially love the paragraph where you’re questioning why the house party was a big deal. I have a parallel paragraph in my book when my eating disorder was killing me. My attitude was like: NBD. I didn’t understand why people were upset. I was like: remember that stalker pedophile and no one did anything?! 😂 (dark humor)

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks E! You know. My teenage self really was like what…is…his…problem??? Lol Adult me now recognizes he wasn’t doing well either and didn’t know how to cope. And yes, let’s not even get into other people’s responses to our self destruction and our own deflection lol

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Ooh I see myself in that one. Abandonment sends a lot of women in that direction from a young age. For many years I had the “take what I can get” philosophy in relationships, never realizing the fact that I was told I was lucky to see my dad once a year was such garbage while he was raising his “real” family in another state. So my views of men were always reminiscent of that, and I gave freely of myself without ever setting proper boundaries. then of course like many women I married someone as dysfunctional as my father with a huge set of addictions and put me right into the caretaker mentality I had for my father. It was an interesting thing because when my father died it freed me just like I always heard the loss of a parent would do. I had already divorced my now ex-husband and his death had brought about the start of my blog, which help me find myself. 12 years later I still struggle with being a caretaker with my husband (who was a reader of my blog many years ago) but my awareness is so much greater. Thank you as always for sharing…

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks for sharing your experience with this. It’s important. I really wish we would be more open about our backgrounds and how these things affect (and effect) us because it’s such an important part of healing, recognizing one’s self in another’s story (hence the Me Too movement).

      And yes…I know exactly what you mean about death. When my father died, I became a totally different person! It’s amazing how those energetic bonds hold us in an unhealthy space and cause us to attract more of the same BS.

      Here’s to healthier versions of ourselves ❤

      Liked by 2 people

  3. The way you were able to move past the abuse you have suffered in order to create a good life for yourself, including a heart that reaches out to others and a mind that is able to craft posts that are so deeply touching is nothing short of a miracle. But it’s a miracle I’m very grateful for.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. I really appreciate your writing, Katherin. I feel like in many ways we are similar with our style – you are very brave to write about your personal experiences. When I share things other might not, it is very much part of my healing.
    Thank you. Just reading about your life has given me a lot of insight and understanding – it is a blessing and a gift.

    Liked by 3 people

  5. thanks for the many-eth time, for your lovely wise candor, Kathy — it’s a wonder any female makes it out halfway sane — in addition to stuff from the people directly around us, there’s all the depictions on tv & movies of sex as something that always has to be ‘passionate’ (aka all body & no brain), & that yucky guys need only persist & persist & persist… don’t get me started…

    Liked by 2 people

  6. To say I have co-dependent tendencies is an understatement. I find myself, all too often, finding some sort of superficial happiness in the things external to myself – sex among those – I’ve never actually had a relationship with a man, but I am not sure if I ever will. God knows I have certainly struggled in relationships with women. My hope, is to someday come to the action needed to love myself and embrace my own well-being as being of the highest importance.

    Liked by 3 people

  7. Your openness – opens us up – to reflect on how many ways we have all escaped from the pain. Your Mental Health Matters Column – really really matters. As I reflect on all the ways that I have escaped from the pain in my younger years especially. Not knowing how built in the mechanism of fight, flight, or freeze is a human survival condition. I also love how you’ve integrated the links of so many different mediums, from your interview with Elizabeth to the poetry. Thank you for this and for continuing to be a voice of strength and compassion. Grateful for your words Dr. G!

    Liked by 5 people

  8. I’m heartened to read an account where filling a void with a man wasn’t healthy but (hopefully) didn’t cause destruction.

    I’m learning to build myself and find my strength instead of escaping into the arms of the next man I thought would protect me.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Oh…there was destruction. At some point, I was married while going through all of this. It wasn’t until about six years ago that I had to sit down and look at myself in the mirror and be accountable.

      Thanks for sharing your experience. I promise once you know that last part for sure, you will no longer even need external validation in any form ❤

      Liked by 2 people

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