t was the last time we hooked up. Like a final “goodbye” even though it had been two months since we broke things off. The last time we’d been together we had been angry, distant — this time, it was just to be close. He initiated, I invited him over, and there we were, in new lives with old baggage.
Rushed foreplay followed by a timely coming on his end and numbness for me that echoed the last few times we attempted to “make love.” I hadn’t been able to connect with him in a while now and it wasn’t just intimately. A wall went up one day and no matter how we tried, I couldn’t see over or around it. I smiled, attempting confirmation that I was there with him.
But he’d been looking at my face for nearly a year now — he knew when I was telling a lie. Go get your vibrator, I want to make you come. I felt embarrassed, ashamed.
This had become an infatuation for him. Why I couldn’t.
It had started a few months earlier when things weren’t great, but before things got really bad. Mostly it was the standard stress that gets to any couple. A sarcastic comment here, a passive-aggressive text there. But bigger things were weighing in too. Things that my brain ran through in the background on constant replay as I tried to forget them and move on. Things that challenged my own way of living, my beliefs, my vision of what partnership was for me.
He accused me of faking it in bed. I denied it at first to appease his ego. He continued to persist — I got angry. How dare you tell me what I’m feeling in my own body! I couldn’t admit it. I know what I’m doing and not doing when I’m coming.
Love-making had turned to hate-fucking and I couldn’t get off to save my life.
I felt nothing. As these memories resurfaced, the rage I thought I let go of when we split bubbled up too.
In a moment that is supposed to be about sex — maybe even about us — he has the audacity to bring It up. To humiliate me one last time? To win somehow?
So I lie naked with his manhood hovering over me — I sigh and cave in. I grab my vibrator and place it in his hands. He smiles smugly and turns it on staring me in the face. It’s okay, he says, before lowering it to my body.
For nearly ten minutes we silently challenge the other to do something different. Stared into each other’s eyes until I got tired of it all and gently pushed him away. I’m just not going to today, okay?
This was the smallest I’d felt in a while. He left shortly after our combined dissatisfaction of my inability to climax, but I didn’t cry that day. I didn’t allow myself to feel anything. I just turned off the lights and put myself to bed.
But the next day, all I could think about was …have I always had this issue?
I spun, spiraled. Anxiety rose to cloud my mind. I challenging every “real reason” why things hadn’t worked with all my past partners. How I wasn’t able to satisfy this one. That’s why he left. A million self-sabotaging thoughts raced through my head about being less than a good lover. Nitpicking my body, my sexuality, questioning, Do I even know how to come? Have I always been faking? Am I just numb?
In reality, I had been satisfied by this partner for the majority of our relationship. I thought about the first time we had sex, how I came with an ease that felt natural. This was how most of our sex was, until the last few months. When life got hard, we began to fight, and dissatisfaction towards each other grew to reflect in our sex.
Our intimacy became forced, challenged, demanded. I knew deep down there was nothing wrong with me, but topically, my mind was insisting I had an issue. Maybe it was right. I remembered having trouble with another boyfriend before and then questioned if I was faking the entirety of my sexual history.
Honestly, I couldn’t decide.
I cried a lot over the days that followed. I was as sad as I had been before, but now with another problem to solve. Breakup sex is a terrible idea, I told myself, ashamed for giving in. For missing him, for wanting to be close to him, to someone, to be held.
And then the next day my body froze up.
The center of my back became so stiff it brought tears to my eyes. I couldn’t turn or bend forward. I could barely move my arms. I laid in agony. I didn’t know what was happening, but I knew this was more than a muscle spasm. I moved to the floor in an attempt to find relief and googled “emotional connection to back pain.”
I skimmed article after article. One mentioned “body armoring”, described as:
“A mental muscle reflex in the body, involving tensing of muscle tissue whenever stress or emotion is experienced. To protect itself, the body takes a defensive, tight, and stiff stance.”
I thought back to a few days prior. I recalled how much my body ached the last months of my latest relationship; my anxiety had become so elevated. One night, my nerves were a wreck. I drank too much and passed out at a party. When I woke up and wasn’t able to find my partner, I had a full-on panic attack. When I finally found him, he was hiding in the bathroom, door locked, with a group of friends. I was infuriated that he’d left me, that he’d turned his phone off so I couldn’t find him.
I was embarrassed. He shamed me for behaving this way. I remembered how a few months previously, following our first real fight, I had gotten a yeast infection.
This, in turn, reignited memories of a relationship prior. I recalled how my previous boyfriend would belittle me, criticize my body. He often bullied me into sex, challenging the longevity of our relationship if I didn’t do things he wanted. He never truly accepted my boundaries, needs or desires. He’d tell me I was needy if I asked for sex, demand it when I said no. I never actually felt safe or sexually respected.
I remembered how painful sex really was all the time with him. How my body reacted — shutting down — but my mind ignored. I’d force my body to do things that it didn’t want, and in return my body made me suffer. I spent three and a half years being torn apart. I lost weight, sleep, and connection to myself. I dealt with chronic vaginal infections that nothing could fix. Every month I attempted some sort of over the counter, holistic, and even clinical fix for how my body responded to the trauma it was enduring.
I’d pop a pill, apply a cream. Nothing worked.
I’d rip open, wipe it with a warm towel and put a smile on my face. I’d lie down on my back, bend over or get on my knees to take whatever he wanted me to that day. I ignored, pushed on. Enduring the discomforts physically was manageable, I had gotten used to how to navigate them.
Emotionally, I had created a system that allowed me to push it down and become numb enough to maintain. But my body continued to fight and I continued to collect the abuse. I’d had partners between these two men, all who came and went without the battles of body and mind, all who didn’t make me feel emotionally, abused physically. No pain — physically or otherwise.
My other lovers had been relationships that for the sake of what they were, seemed healthy sexually. There was also no vaginal discomfort, infections, internal pain. No numbness. Essentially, no trauma.
And now, as I lie on my living room floor a paralyzing pain was pulsating throughout the middle of my back that forced me to acknowledge what I had gone through before. I was no longer numb. I couldn’t move so I couldn’t run from it this time. It crept to the surface and transformed into a pain that I could not ignore. My flashbacks of past partners, reopening of wounds that had callused over and brought a realization that I had been carrying inside of me all of these years the residue of abuse and trauma.
How when the forgotten familiarities from before came back around with a new partner, the pain came back also and settled in my vaginal walls, numbing me and when I refused to listen, it then crawled up into the middle of my back, leaving me practically immobile. Tears streamed from my eyes. I sobbed. Hysterically. Angerly. Sadly.
My mind spun, but this time in a completely different way. I went play-by-play through my last relationship. Picturing each memory that I felt safe, the conversations that arose. Body language, behaviors, connections before, during, and after sex.
I thumbed through times that he picked at me until I caved and said yes to sex. When he refused to wear condoms or laughed when I asked him to follow my lead. I remembered how often I gave in and how every time, internally, I felt ashamed, abandoned, disrespected. How I pep talked myself into the fact that I hadn’t been in a relationship in a while, that I needed to let down my guard.
But my body reacted, guarded, and cause the recurring vaginal infections I hadn’t had in years to resurface. It became numb.
That’s when it hit me: my body was the protector from my mind. I’d been training the two to be pitted against each other. Disconnected. My mind had always won, my body always suffered. I saw the traumas I had been shoving down.
I saw the cries my body had attempted to make that I ignored.
I was angry with myself and sad by my own failures, fears, disconnection, and inability to protect it. And as I lie flat on my back, for the first time ever, I vowed to myself to this time heal, and to never again, sacrifice or abandon or disrespect the only place I have ever known to be home.