Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Do Not Disturb

Day 78

Nothing sends me spiraling off into crazy-land faster than the phrases “do not disturb” and “all night long.” I wrote about “all night long” here. Now for the classic hotel door knob hanger.

Early on there was the sickeningly-sweet anticipation, the arousal, the mystique. As a teen, watching couples check in at the front desk made my heart thump in my chest - someday that would be me. Someday I would drag my luggage down a mauve hallway and into a room smelling faintly of bleach, hang out the Do Not Disturb sign, then triple-lock the door. My lover and I wouldn't be listening nervously for my parents' bedroom door. There wouldn't be a keep-your-underwear-on rule. We'd get lost in a cozy nest of pillows and sheets and blankets, and kiss for hours. Later, in the darkness, warmth and exploration would melt into embrace and ecstasy. I knew that it would be about us, not me, and that I'd need to to balance my desires with attention to hers. It never occurred to me that she wouldn't have desires.

Yesterday we slept an hour past noon. This way we could avoid Sexday, sometimes called “Monday.” The church office takes Mondays off (since every Sunday is like college finals.) On Sexday Linsey's home with me and both kids are in school. We slept because I was all pissy about a little verbal brawl the night before. It's an old argument for us. I have a much easier time breaking for a recharge. When I'm spent, I know I'm not good for much until I take care of my needs. For food, sleep, intimacy, distraction. Then when I get back to work, I'm a focused and efficient dynamo. She can't hang the Do Not Disturb sign until the dishwasher's fixed and we refinance the house. Nothing new for us here. If she ran the world, we'd die on the inside, but we'd look damn sharp while we did it. If I ran things, love would be king, but we'd die of starvation when we ran out of cheez-its.

Don't assume I'm not OK with post-crisis love. In recovery, I'm chipping away at the fantasy, and building something beautiful and tender with the pieces I pick up. We used to understand each other's tastes, in music and movies. Now we understand each other. We're giving to each other the most vulnerable and child-like places in our hearts, like those little macaroni-covered gifts your kids make for you in kindergarten. And it's amazing on that front.

But when it comes to sex, we're still driving a used car that makes lots of disconcerting rattles and might need a tow at any moment. And I don't understand this burning need to know I'm not alone in this. I don't understand why my deepest sighs of relief happen while reading about people with similar problems. Check this one out. First, get this picture in your head: Childhood scars make her reject me sexually, I codependently conclude I'm repulsive and try harder to be attractive and loving, the increased affection intensifies her discomfort and defenses, I crash harder and find stupider ways to get numb; we do this dance for a decade or so. Now read this post at Discovering Recovering. Cool, right?

I just don't know what's “normal” for pre-sex cues. I've accepted that she won't want me like I want her; she's not a guy. I have a responsibility to woo and romance her, to make her feel appreciated and adored. She needs to feel safe and I need to earn her trust by being a trustworthy person. She speaks a “love language” that gets turned-on when she smells Pine-Sol. OK, so I'll clean the kitchen and take out the trash.

But I'm like a chick. I need to talk first, to caress and be caressed. I need her to really love me, and at least kinda want me. Otherwise, I'm not up for the job. Affection=Erection. I keep reading in marriage books that it's a myth that men are always ready to go. When she's verbally dismissive of me, emotionally distant, and flinches when I touch her, the night's pretty much over for me. Then if she asks me when I'm gonna be done “sulking” I start thinking about how fast I'd have to go to punch my van through the guard rails on the 91 East to 57 North overpass. Then I'm really not in the mood. Whatever. We talk a lot in therapy about diffusing our building-up-to-sex booby traps.

I'm angry, I know, and I'm exaggerating and being one-sided and unfair. And yes, I'm sulking. I just wanna hang that sign on my doorknob.


  1. Its so hard I think - I am finding - its so freaking hard to work on myself while my husband is working on himself - we are recovering - seperate and apart and this is supposed to feel healthy and on some level it really does - but when we are together the intimacy thing has changed, and it is more difficult and it does frustrate each of us in our own ways...

    I really am glad to have found and read this post tonight. I too breathe that sigh of relief in knowing I am not alone in this part of how recovery changes us.

  2. Hey guys..NONE of us are alone, in ANY of our problems. Everyone has been or is going to be, right where you both are.

    Then sometime, somewhere, while working the Steps, and getting busy, helping others, we find we CAN, as a couple, work thrugh it, to mutual satisfaction. There IS an important ingredient--it's called COMMUNICATION

    Also, the spouse of an alkie should NEVER sell short, the Alanon Program. Please!

  3. Building something beautiful and tender is difficult.

    Building something beautiful and tender when you're clothes are off is so much more difficult. It's hard to feel safe when you're trying to coordinate your different "love languages" with your different body chemistries. And, of course, this has to happen when you have some privacy, when you're feeling emotionally safe, when you're relaxed but not sleepy, not hungry, but not stuffed from a big meal.

    Sheesh. Now I've gone and depressed myself!

    But seriously, I don't know if there's a "normal" for pre-sex cues. I've heard that normal is only a setting on a washing machine. And as for being like a "chick" (the feminist in me is cringing and laughing all at the same time) my husband needs the talking and caressing too.

    I can tell you from first hand experience, flinching WILL get better with conscious practice where the two of you are working together as a team.

  4. Cat-You were one of the first who showed me the healing power available here in blogland. You have my continued appreciation for your honesty and kindness.

    Steveroni-It's good for me to keep hearing that I'm never as alone as I feel in my problems. And getting busy helping others has been SO helpful to me. I gotta keep it up!

    GentlePath-Wow, your comment... this is why I blog. Your wisdom and frankness here are amazing. One of the most helpful comments to me so far. I feel thankful for my wife and more in love with her after I read your words, and I'm encouraged to take things a little less seriously. Laughter and patience are good for intimacy. Thank you again.

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  6. It is a journey isn't it? Much more complicated when it's both people working on their stuff. The only thing worse is when it's only one of you doing the work. I am grateful that my husband is willing to do the hard work, too. That doesn't mean it's easy but there's no going back to the way it was. Which makes me want to say Thank God and Oh Shit at the same time. :)

  7. Yes, Hope-
    Any complaining I do is always in the context of my extreme gratitude that my wife is 1)still here, and 2)working along side me.

    Had to laugh out loud at what it makes you say

  8. Eli, this is totally off the subject but I do have a question. What is your vocal range? Are you a tenor, baritone or bass? In my younger years I had a very rich mature voice. I could, at one time, sing everything from 2nd tenor up and above first soprano. My comfort zone was alto to mezzo soprano. Now, I think my voice has dropped about aw hell, I don't even know how many octaves. I was just curious. You don't have to share if you don't want to but I'd love to hear from you. You are welcome to email me at any time. I will not give that info to anyone.


  9. I've been married 31 years. Neither one of us has ever been unfaithful. I had a "serious flirtation" at about 15 years. To this day I'm grateful I got cold feet at the moment of decision. Getting on the same page sexually takes a long time. The years of child rearing, financial worry, pure exhaustion seem to fly by. One is always tired, the other is always busy, both are worried about the car breaking down.
    As the years go by, the friendship and trust grow, and with it a true intimacy.
    It should come together, don't over analyze or make it too clinical.

  10. Eli,

    Gosh, I hear your frustration and longing. The sex stuff is so hard! It seems to be the most difficult part for people, whatever the core addiction is. Those of us with the sex addiction have an added dimension. I'm finding that not taking it so seriously is helping me a great deal. We had sex again and it was even more successful than the last time. We're calling this one a miracle. I'll have to blog on it.

    I'm noticing that everyone really responds to any posts that people do on sex. Those of us that have the courage to be open about it have the opportunity to help ourselves and others.

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  12. Eli, I've had to re-consider a lot of things in recovery. One of them is that what came before is over, done. We started afresh. And with that, we have more respect for each other, we snuggle, we talk, we caress. And we have much better sex than before because she's sober and I'm not carrying around a load of resentment.

    Al-Anon isn't sex therapy but it is living therapy. It's made me realize that I need to take care of me. And holding someone hostage to get what I want isn't an option. I don't like games, so doing chores in order to have sex sounds like a bunch of BS. I'd rather not be manipulated like that.

  13. Eli, thank you for this honesty. With clarity and heart you've described something I'm experiencing.

    If I take away the pine-sol and the erections, because I'm a girl, at the core I see my current predicament.

    And it's been choking me, suffocating me for about 4 months now, talking about it is so hard.

    I think our rattling car is impounded and we're still trying to assess whether we take action to get the car out! LOL!

    I want a relationship where truth and transformation only enhance the connection, but that takes two present people. For now, it's only awkward and very not sexy.

    I know I can't be present sexually if all the fights were never resolved and we're only having sex to feel good at a primal level, not a conscious connected level.

    Sorry to write so much, but I have a lot to think about now that your honesty provoked me to be honest!

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  15. It takes time, I know that doesn't help you right in the moment but it does get better, with time and healing you regain or discover for the first time, the intimacy.