How’s your life? Is it in vibrant color or kind of greyed-out? Are you filled with so much body shame and shame for who you are that you’re living as if you’re carrying a big, cement weight around?
I know the feeling because I’ve been in both turned on and turned off mode. And what’s so awful about being in turned off mode is that you probably don’t even know it. You’re living a sort of grey life, you may feel like a victim, and you just don’t have the energy and vibrancy that you desire. You wish you felt better but you have no idea how to get there.
I was inspired to write this after my dear friend Kendall shared her story with me. She had almost completely shut down after a two-year relationship with a verbally abusive boyfriend in her early 20s. This is her journey from being a young woman filled with body shame and living in turned off mode, to living fully in her feminine power and energy today. Here’s her story:
I was a normal teenager with a normal sex drive – not high and not low, but probably fairly normal.
I had been in a two-year relationship in my early 20s with a boyfriend who I consider was verbally abusive, and during that relationship, I subconsciously shut down. A lot of the abuse was directed towards my sexuality and my body. He thought I was too fat, and that came out all of the time in his comments and his actions. Often he would directly tell me, “You shouldn’t eat that.” Or it would come out in his actions like buying clothes for me a size too small, hoping that I would “shrink” into them.
He was also critical of my sexual path and called me a whore. I think I had slept with three people before him.
These were just examples and at the time, I had never met anyone who was abusive, so I didn’t really know what was going on. Plus, I was so young that I internalized a lot of it and then I shut down. I believed the things he said to me.
Fortunately, I met my husband Mark soon after I ended that relationship, and Mark has always been completely supportive, always patient, and unconditionally loving. He helped me undo a lot of the body image issues that I had. After the previous boyfriend was so hard on me, I had developed eating disorders where I’d eat because I was upset and lonely.
I remember one incident that marked the beginning of my healing. When Mark and I first got married, we were stocking our new kitchen. Mark said, “Let’s get some peanut butter.” I said, “No, we can’t have peanut butter in the house or I’ll eat the whole thing if I need comfort!” He said, “I don’t care if you eat the whole jar!”
His statement was such a gift. Before that, I had been telling myself I was only worthy if I was skinny, if I could control my eating, and if I could keep my secrets, such as not telling anyone that I could eat a whole jar of peanut butter in one sitting.
That was the start of healing my body issues. It wasn’t just Mark’s comment that healed me – it took me a long time to come to acceptance about my body and I’m still working on it. But the real eating disorder part fell away after I knew I had my husband’s unconditional acceptance.
I didn’t realize I had turned myself off
Healing my sexual issues took longer. Because of that boyfriend, I had turned that whole part of me off because it was so hurtful, unsatisfying and laden with control, emotional abuse and manipulation. I had unconsciously turned myself off and didn’t even realize it.
On the outside, everything seemed normal. During the first eight years of my marriage to Mark, you could look at our sex life and say, “Oh they’re a pretty normal couple.” We had sex periodically – but it was vanilla and normal and fine.
But it wan’t fine for Mark, being in his mid 20s at that time. He wanted lots more sex and less vanilla and more diversity.
Then we had our first child and I turned off even further because I was working full time, had an infant, and my body was no longer mine. That can really be a tough time when you have small kids. The early years of child raising when we were trying to do it all were exhausting.
We discovered Tantra
So Mark presented me with a lot of different ideas of things we could try and learn and experiment with to improve our sex life, and I agreed to try some things. The only item on his list that had any interest for me was Tantra because it had a spiritual side – it wasn’t just, “Let’s go to a strip club or whatever.” It was the bigger picture view of Tantra that appealed to me.
I was also attracted by the intellectual part of Tantra – I could learn something new, which is very much using my head. At that point, I didn’t realize how disconnected I was from my body so it makes sense that something where head-based learning was involved was the most appealing to me.
So we found a local Tantra teacher and started having regular appointments with her. But what was surprising was that even though we learned some Tantra techniques such as breathing in sync, eye gazing and sensory play – what it most revealed to us was that we were having communication breakdowns.
For one, Mark said he didn’t realize how much he would talk for me, and I realized that was true and how little I was talking for myself. For instance, the Tantra teacher would ask us a question and Mark would say, “We think this, or we want to do that….”
I learned to pay attention to what I wanted
From that realization, I learned that not only was I not paying attention to what I wanted but I didn’t have the skills to ask for what I wanted, either. Those two things have to go hand in hand. I’m referring to exchanges both in and out of bed, but it was definitely harder for me around sexual topics. It was hard for me to say, “I’m not sexually satisfied,” or “I don’t want to do this or that.”
But as we started using the Tantra techniques, the sexual part of me that I had turned off began to get reignited. All of a sudden I realized “Oh, my body can feel pleasure and my body can enjoy this.” My body had been shut down for so long that I was like a lot of women who don’t even know where to start.
My light is on all of the time now
I have met women who say they could never have sex again and be totally fine with it. I know that’s common because when you get turned off, it’s hard to get turned on. In some ways, it’s easier to live in turned off mode.
But once I started learning Tantra, I learned that once the light goes back on, you don’t want it to go back off. Now that it’s on, I’m more aware and more present with my pleasure, my sexual power, my sensuality, my sexual desires, and also my non-sexual desires.
My light is on all of the time now, even with everyday tasks like doing the dishes. Rather than just doing the dishes and being grumpy or annoyed, I’ll come to it with this other energy – maybe I’ll daydream about something I want to write, or maybe I’ll fantasize about how I want to meet Mark when he comes home from a business trip.
There’s this life-force energy running through my body that wasn’t there before. And to get here has been a decade of focus on my pleasure.
I’m embracing my wildness and my life-force energy
Learning Tantra lit the pilot light and it started as a teeny, tiny flame. But that was enough to wake me up. I had to add the gas and fuel to it, and that’s what I’ve been exploring and playing with ever since. Here are some of the things that I do:
Ecstatic Dance: I go to Ecstatic Dance because I can use my body and get out of my head. I can dance sensually, dance with anger – it allows me to express my full emotional range – my wildness. I’ve been doing that for the last six years or so – going once or twice a week.
Because of going regularly to Ecstatic Dance, I’ve developed some deep friendships with women who are living their feminine, authentic, wild selves the way that I aspire to do. That’s also been really helpful to me, and has helped me grow my fire from a medium simmer to high heat.
I’ve also had the opportunity to dance with men who allow me to express myself fully, to bring my sensual energy to the dance. Men who adore me and miss me if I skip a dance, and who are totally respectful and supportive of my marriage. I grow so much in the space they hold for me to explore my wildness and my pleasure.
Nonviolent Communication. I also keep working on communication because that’s an important element of living your life in pleasure. I learned Nonviolent Communication (NVC), which is all about needs, wants and making requests. As I began learning, I realized that in order to use NVC, I had to know what my needs and wants are, and that has really helped me refine my self-awareness.
Ecstatic Dance is self awareness for the body and NVC is self awareness for the mind. Mark and I continue to use NVC and we also use it with our kids. It’s an important tool in the toolbox.
Generative Council. I did this for two years. The sponsoring organization, The Center for Nature and Leadership, offers this nature based leadership for women, pulling women together to go out into nature and develop ourselves as leaders in the world and in our lives. They are not at all based on sexuality, but it became another surprise awakening for me because I discovered such an aliveness in my body being out on the land. I have carried that with me ever since.
Mama Gena’s School of Womanly Arts. Mama Gena is named after the founder, Regena Thomashauer. She teaches women to wake up to their pleasure through her books and workshops. She says “It is so easy to live a miserable life, and it takes great skill to live a pleasured life.” I never attended her workshops but I read her books and did her “Holy Trinity” challenge with a friend for about a year almost every day. The “Holy Trinity” challenge is to find a pleasure buddy and every day send your brags, gratitudes and desires.
Reading. Reading added even more fuel to my fire. I started reading a lot of really helpful books about goddesses, feminine embodiment, and self help books for woman and their spirituality. One book that had a profound impact on me is, The More Beautiful World Our Hearts Know is Possible, by Charles Eisenstein. While the book looks broadly at a new way of thinking about the world, I really picked up on a section in it that refocused my attention on pleasure.
I learned that it wasn’t just sexual pleasure for pleasure’s sake, but pleasure became almost a political act. Charles Eisenstein talks about how the current story of the world, the one that is creating such environmental and social destruction fundamentally requires us to deny or postpone our pleasure. He says it is “because most of the tasks that we must do to keep the world-devouring machine operating do not feel very good at all.”
The world-devouring tasks that come to mind are strip mining our mountains, burning fossil fuels that pollute our air, pillaging rainforests and lands of other cultures to gather materials needed to make our disposable products. And there are personal-level examples of world-devouring tasks as well: throwing away a giant plastic box that was only used once to transport some lettuce, sitting in rush hour traffic, or having the alarm go off early every morning because school and work have regimented start times. Charles believes that for the individual and the world to keep doing all these things, “we must be trained to deny pleasure.”
So if I pay attention to where I am denying my pleasure, and make different choices (buying lettuce from the farmer’s market sans box; riding my bike more; dedicating more time in my week to having sensual connections with others), then I am not only walking-the-talk for the world I want to live in, but I am also undermining a foundational requirement that keeps the machine devouring.
Learning from sex experts. I took it a step further and started learning from sex experts – two are Jaiya and Kim Anami. I also go to local events and I’ll find out that there are things we can do sexually that I never thought were possible. When I learn about new things, all of a sudden these things become possible for me. One example is being multi-orgasmic. Before, nobody told me I could do it, so learning has became this fun discovery process of, how good can this get?
Kim Anami talks about being in a state where you feel alive and in your pleasure, where you’re content, and totally and completely satisfied as you go through the mundane stuff of life.
I’m tapped into my pleasure, equipping myself with skills, and asking for what I want, and Mark is showing up and matching me step-for-step along this journey. Before this, I imagine that I could have met the most skilled lover, but if I wasn’t open and ready and stoking my own fire, it wouldn’t have mattered.
Simplifying our life. All through this process my flame just keeps getting bigger, but I’ve also had a fierce commitment to not letting my flame go out again. I was deep into it a few years ago when we had a lot of stress at home, but I refused to shut down because of it. At the time, we had two pre-school age kids, my husband was under-employed for a period of time, we were running out of money, and I was working a lot. We made the decision to sell our house and simplify our life. Looking back, I had every excuse to be a victim and go back to being shut off. I had a lot of things that were going on that would make it very easy to shut off and not be focused on my own pleasure and aliveness.
But because I had started coming alive at that point, I continued to speak up for what I wanted and needed. I was not going to go back to being turned off. So we sold our house, moved and downsized – we moved into half the square footage, sold half of our stuff, and cut our living expenses by half.
Moving lightened everything. There was less pressure, less stress, less time spent driving in the car because we moved to a pedestrian neighborhood, and there was less work to be done. But it wasn’t easy to get there. The move was ill-timed for Mark’s work which added even more stress to the situation. It was a big challenge, but we stuck together and made the change. The stress reduced immediately. And it allowed me to identify others areas in my life that were not bringing me pleasure—the more I lived in pleasure, the more that displeasurable things became unbearable. One of these was my job. Fortunately, our reduced expenses meant that I was able to quit working. I dedicated the free time I had while the kids were in school to continuing my exploration into pleasure.
I want my daughters to be powerful and self-expressed
One of the pieces of my motivation for doing this has always been my two daughters. I knew that children learn not by what you tell them but by the example you lead. I really wanted them to grow up to be authentic, self expressed, powerful women with healthy sex lives and healthy communication. I realized I couldn’t teach them that unless I embodied and lived that way myself.
Through this process I realized that women in particular are often rewarded for denying themselves. We are taught to put ourselves last and put everyone else first. We’re supposed to be the giver who asks for nothing in return. Our job is to be the sacrificial lamb and we totally deplete ourselves.
I like the thought of, what if we say no to the story that says life should about sacrifice, and what if we say yes to the story that life should be about pleasure? The more pleasurable the world is, the more sustainable it is. It becomes a happier place to live – people riding bikes, walking, shopping at farmers markets – all those things that bring us pleasure.
So I made that my focus and continued to research what pleasure looks like for me, and how it shows up for other people.
I’ve gone so far that now the tables at home have changed. Because this work has been my continual focus, I now have more of a sexual appetite than even Mark has, and our marriage is a lot more fun and more fulfilling for both of us. And Mark also feels satisfied in the rest of his life. I don’t mean that life is just about sex – it’s about enjoying work and all of the other pieces that come alive when you pay attention to your pleasure.
It’s funny that I started the first Tantra class ten years ago doing it for Mark, and at the time I was turned off. My attitude was, “OK, fine. I’ll go.” But now, my attitude is, “Let’s do this, let’s try that, and when is he getting home???
I went from being shut down to saying, “This is great and it just keeps getting better and how much better can it get?”
Are your lights out? Too much grey? Too much overwhelm to even know where to start? Check out my class, Simplify Your Whole Life in 11 Weeks and begin right now reclaiming your time, money and yourself. You deserve it. Please take the first step here.
Books that changed Kendall’s life:
Soulcraft- Bill Plotkin
Women Who Run with Wolves– Clarissa Pinkola Estes
The More Beautiful World Our Hearts Know Is Possible– Charles Eisenstein
The 15 Commitments of Conscious Leadership– Jim Dethmer and Diana Chapman
Subjects she studied:
Mama Gena’s School of Womanly Arts
My natal chart
Byron Katie’s “The Work”