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.

Lesa from The Unhappy Wife book

unhappy-wifeI revealed that I had a story in this book during the pre-release stage. I’ve also written 3 Ways to Avoid being an Unhappy Wife, where I describe my struggles with marriage. I wrote my own story somewhere in between the third and fourth wife’s interview. It didn’t seem authentic of me to ask women to trust me to re-tell a story about their lives if I wasn’t going to do the same. The difference was that I wasn’t trying to hide many details. What you read is pretty much how things happened.

I knew I was a detached wife way before I created the section. Some of this blog’s content has shown how I became a detached human being. Adoption, my adopted mother’s death, and my adopted father giving up parental rights all shaped me to be the type of wife I was to Dwight.

When the slightest things changed in our relationship, I detached. Sometimes that leaves an opening for infidelity.

Concept and Commentary: Before I found myself in this situation, I thought emotional affairs were the most ludicrous thing I’d heard of. I remember watching an episode of In the Bedroom with Dr. Laura Berman, where the husband was confiding a lot in a female co-worker. It seemed so silly and harmless to me, until I found myself in a similar situation.

What I wanted to show in my firsthand account was how quick and easy it is to slip into a barrage of texts or instant messages that mirror infidelity, especially nowadays. The advent of Smartphones, tablets and apps have made it easier than ever to create communication outside of your marriage to fulfill whatever needs your spouse won’t. It produces an even deeper illusion than a “traditional” affair because there is usually little physical contact. You can portray whoever you want to the person on the other side of the screen.

The other concept I wanted to show is the idea of consciousness. On page 42, I wrote, “What was happening? Why was this happening? How did I allow this to happen?” Of course when I re-tell the story, it’s obvious how it happened. I was attracted to the guy and then used our text messages as an escape. Duh. But at the time, I was really baffled.

That’s when I learned this: Things don’t just happen to us. We are constantly co-creating, whether we believe it, or not. This situation pushed me to pay more attention to the life I wanted to create and the person I wanted to be. I had to be attentive to not only the energy I was putting out, but also the words and actions associated with that energy. I became more mindful about who I wanted to be so that everything was aligned.

unhappy-wifeWelp, that’s where I was going with Lesa. Let me know what came to mind when you read this story.

Still haven’t ordered and read your copy? Order here.

Sofia from The Unhappy Wife book

unhappy-wifeSofia was the first wife that I’d interviewed. Her story is interesting for two reasons. The first is because I wanted ethnic diversity. She identifies as Latina and her ex-husband is part African. It was great to be able to show that marital challenges are cross-cultural. This story was also interesting because there are not many women who are willing to share details about intimacy with the world.

Concept: At the crux of this narrative is a sexless marriage. Sofia and Leo didn’t have sex for years. What caused the lack of sex was Leo’s infertility. This was the one story where I was able to show the husband’s innermost feelings. Leo’s reaction to his inability to produce sperm affected how he interacted for the remainder of their marriage. He once told Sofia, “If I would’ve found out it was you who was infertile, I would’ve left.” This is a direct quote. Whether it was because of gender or ethnicity, not being able to have sex and procreate was a big deal to Leo. It seemed to be what being a man and marriage was about for him.

But Leo wasn’t the only one who had a view of how marriage was supposed to go. Sofia did too. Another central part of the story was how much she enjoyed taking care of Leo’s needs. Because he was career military, he was always coming and going. Sofia enjoyed this. She helped him pack out to leave, and she helped him unpack when he returned. She cooked and assumed other duties that some of us might deem “old-fashioned.”

Commentary: I wanted to show how both Sofia and Leo had developed a societal stereotype about wives, husbands and marriage, and then lived out those ideas. Leo believed a husband was someone who could give his wife a baby, and if he couldn’t do that, then what was the point of being married, much less having sex? Is this the truth? I’m not a man and I’ve never been infertile, but I suppose if my gender identity was inextricably linked to my fertility, then where would that leave me? What would that make me?

The fact that Sofia stayed with Leo for years, even after his insensitive comment also struck me as odd. She explained that she was fine because she continued to do the part of marriage she liked: taking care of Leo. That was her focus. I suppose that can be marriage, but I’m not sure it’s a relationship. I’m not sure that a husband and wife can sleep separately, have no sex and be 100% happy. This is also why I categorized her experience as part of the “Detached Wife” section. It seemed that she was separated from the reality of her relationship.

unhappy-wifeWhat do you think?

What else stood out for you in this story? Do you think she should’ve been in another category? Is sex important for a marriage and/or relationship? Or am I trippin?

It’s not too late to order The Unhappy Wife here, so you can catch up. Next month, we have to skip Rhadiya, because she also signed a waiver that doesn’t allow me to discuss her story in public. And if you read the book, then you probably understand why! So we’ll move on to everyone’s second favorite wife, Miss Sharlene 😉