“Feel it fully.”
“Don’t shy away from your feelings.”
“Let all your emotions flow through you without getting attached to them.”
“Don’t push them away or resist them, they’ll just get stronger.”
“Just be with the pain.”
How many times have I heard these things? I’ve been studying self-actualization spiritual self-help psychological philosophy things in the “transformational communities” since I was in high school — that’s a good 20 years now. I couldn’t even count how many times I’ve heard these, or things like these. These kinds of aphorisms are so heavily embedded in almost all the narratives about bettering the self.
I have taken them in and internalized them and really truly believed that that is what I’ve been doing all along.
But I was wrong.
Well, maybe that’s too harsh on myself. (Wouldn’t be the first time.) Maybe it’s more that I was only capable of understanding or implementing it to a certain degree, and now I’ve leveled up, and a new understanding of it is unlocked. It’s harder to see it that way, and much easier to believe that I just had. It. Wrong. This. Whole. Time. But I do actually believe that “everyone is doing the best they can,” because well, if I could do better, I would.
Regardless: these teachings that I’ve been reading for years have led to the habits and techniques I have used over and over as coping strategies for my intense moods, thinking that I knew what they meant.
Some of those include:
- journaling all the feelings out
- journaling all my feelings out and telling elaborate stories about them
- journaling all my feelings out and telling elaborate stories about them and reaffirming those stories any time I re-wrote my feelings
- journaling all my feelings out and telling elaborate stories about them on the internet for an audience (that has continued to grow over the 12 years I’ve been doing this)
- talking to friends for hours and going over every little detail of the scenario
- chatting over telnet chatrooms, ICQ, message boards, Gchat, and iMessage to friends and strangers disclosing every little bit about my feelings that I can think of
- reading books and listening to podcasts that get down into the wound and poke poke poke at it
- internalizing the feelings and thoughts and beliefs into part of my identity and forming a self-image around them
- seeking experiences that raise the chemicals in my brain so I feel better, but that often results in a bigger crash
- seeking comfort food & drinks & sometimes drugs to feel better, which has led to all sorts of gut health issues, which they are now discovering is all the more linked to mental health and stability
- to paraphrase Brene Brown: I’m not an alcoholic, but I am a numb-aholic; I’ll use all sorts of things to numb out and not feel, in the name of coping and managing my feelings
I have absolutely confused coping and treatment — coping being the thing that will make me feel better in the moment, to lift me out of whatever particular hole I’m in so that I can actually be in a better frame of mind to make decisions and connection, and treatment being techniques during episodes and outside of episodes which will ultimately support getting better over time, though they often take more work in the moment.
I always thought I was “sitting with the hurt” while I journaled, talked it through with multiple people, called in sick to work or didn’t get anything done because I was too flooded with feelings, and focused brooding over feelings. That wasn’t the same as pushing the feelings away, denying they were even happening, and pushing through my day to day obligations pretending the feelings weren’t even there! So of course I was “sitting with the hurt,” right?
I mean, maybe? Maybe pushing feelings away is a whole other level of it, and what I’ve been doing is a version of “sitting with it” and feeling the discomfort and pain more than the denial and complete numbness is. So maybe I should give myself some credit here?
But what I now know is this:
I worked with some good therapists in 2017. I saw someone specializing in early childhood trauma, and someone else who primarily worked with mindfulness and trauma. For the first time, I started seeing the emotional reactions I was having as a “part” of me, in a family systems theory way. I started to be able to dialogue with that part — just a little at first, and then more.
This is kind of the stereotypical “inner child” work, and before 2017 I would have told you that I have so done that, I know all about it, I’m so over it, that’s not what I’m going through, it’s not relevant to this now. Ugh. I’m even a little embarrassed to admit that I haven’t already gone through that and triumphed — I mean, I’m 39, you know? I’ve been doing these kind of self-examination healing awareness processes since I was 14. So SO frustrating that I haven’t gone further already!
But. Okay, okay, that’s another judgement place: for whatever reason, I’m at a new place with it now. It’s okay. Maybe other people are over it before they’re 22 or whatever. I wasn’t. This is a new edge for me. Trying to let that be and be kind about it.
So I hit a breaking point in December, 2017. I’ve written some about what’s been going on between me and rife, and all of the old things and relationship trauma it’s been bringing up for me (someday I should go back and read all the posts on it, there aren’t all that many, and figure out what I have or haven’t written about — there’s so much missing, I’m not sure where to start now to keep telling you what’s been happening). In December, I had a “dark night of the soul” kind of month. I had started to make some progress and could, occasionally, watch myself reacting when I was getting triggered, rather than being completely identified with and consumed by the triggered feeling state. But those states were still so constant — sometimes one thing would set me off for a day or two, sometimes a week, sometimes longer.
It became clear to me, though, that having some space between the “adult” functional self part of me and that part of me that was having a trauma reaction was the key to softening the impact of the trauma reaction on me — and on rife. I kept studying, therapizing, and practicing mindfulness as much as possible. My understanding is that cultivating that distance takes a lot of time, so it wouldn’t happen quickly, and that constant, diligent practice is what helps. My intention was to develop a stronger sense of that adult-functioning-part, understand the trauma-reaction (-child) part more, and cultivate my mind’s ability to be less identified and have more distance between the two parts, so that I could not do some of my own self-soothing and not be so overwhelmed and controlled by the triggered response.
One major tool that came to mind here is meditation. At its best, it cultivates the ability to watch the thoughts the mind is putting forth and both stay calm and let the thought go without taking it too seriously and identifying with it. I’ve been studying meditation since high school, but I only really understood how to do it and started a regular practice of it when I was in New York and learning from Sharon Salzberg, then studying at the Interdependence Project. At that same time, I was diving into work with the crew that is now Body Trust, and that too encouraged and bolstered my study of meditation. Body Trust has in the past hosted twice-weekly online morning meditations, and I started those back up in January 2018 — we’ve been going ever since, and I’ve only missed a few, and often meditate more often than twice a week. Still aiming for daily, though that’s only occasionally.
I definitely think that cultivating that practice helped.
In January or February, can’t quite recall, I started diving in to the tarot practice that I’ve been writing about quite a bit, and tried a new experiment with journaling: rather than writing out my feeeeeeelings and telling myself my own version of what is happening, over and over, and seeing the writing which made the story even more true, and sharing the story which made the story even more true, I would try to journal less and write more, and I would use tarot to journal. This helped with distance too, and with softening my identification with the stories. Tarot kicked my ass, man. It told me all sorts of truths that I don’t think I would have come to otherwise, and shook me up out of my habits in ways that really supported the changes.
In March, things came to a head again. (Am I the only one who thinks about pimples when I hear that phrase? I should use a different phrase.) It was another “dark night of the soul,” or maybe it was a different kind. I was facing some decisions about moving forward, and the best path of the three major options was in the long run the least painful, but in the short run felt like dying. Felt like annihilation. Felt like the destruction of everything I knew and loved and trusted. Yeah, that all sounds very dramatic — but that’s how trauma talks and feels, especially when it is being threatened with healing or change. It wants to grip so tightly that it stays right where it is, thank you very much, doing its very important job of protection.
So I tried a new thing — or rather, I tried the same thing I thought I was doing, but I tried it with new tools: I sat still with the pain of it. With the death and annihilation and destruction. I sat in this chair I am sitting in right now and I watched the pain happen. I saw the reactions. Sometimes it took all my effort to sit still. Sometimes I slid down onto the floor and sobbed for an hour. I could barely think about anything else. I woke up and gasped for breath and started crying immediately. It would hit me at odd moments and I found myself on the bathroom floor, on the floor in the shower, on the floor in the closet holding a shirt I was going to put on.
rife wanted to help. I know he did. I was pretty sure he couldn’t. I just needed to feel into it, all the way, and to watch myself feel it, and to be okay with it happening.
This is just going to happen, I’d tell myself. This is just how it is. I don’t know how long this will hurt. Maybe forever. But everyone says that if I sit with it and watch it and soften toward it, it will change. It’s been one day, it’s been two days, it’s been three days and I haven’t seen it change, but what else can I do? This is the best option. This is the way forward.
Sometimes I could say hello. Hello, you who are suffering, you who are in pain. What do you need? Can I hold you? I can tell it hurts so much. I see you hurting. You are safe, you are safe.
Sometimes all I could do was whisper, “I am so angry. I am so sad. I can’t believe this is my best option. I am so angry that I am in this situation, that this is what I have to do to go forward.”
On the fourth day, I was home alone for a long evening, trying to take care of myself while in a moderately triggered state. I sat still for a while. I probably cried for a while. I tried to tell myself some of the little mantra sayings that I’ve collected over the years, the deep beliefs I have in moving through difficulty and joy and making meaning — like: raise your heart. What is the hidden gift? You already have what you need. Resisting pain causes more suffering. You already have what you need. And I got this instinct to go play with the little scraps of paper I’d started to collect all of those sayings on, and somehow, I was divinely driven to create this oracle deck. It’s still a very mysterious process to me; I’d never made anything like them before, and they came together with such perfect moments — like I had exactly 20 blank cards, and I randomly pulled exactly 20 images out of this pile of magazine clippings, and the sayings and the pictures matched up completely.
And the sobbing stopped. Those moments of absolute annihilation and terror stopped. I mean, not really completely, but for the moment — that particular crisis shifted.
It’s not like I now feel like I’m a pro at “sitting with it” and I can just do that and things are fine. But my reactions have extremely shifted, and I understand this skill and technique and what the aphorisms really mean in a way I never have before.
It feels amazing, really — to suddenly really get a concept that I thought I’d been working with for years, for decades. I didn’t know that I didn’t know how it really worked, or could work. I thought I’d been practicing it all this time. It’s still hard not to beat myself up about that, or not to be angry at the world for not telling me sooner that I wasn’t doing it “right.” But for whatever reason, this spring was when I was actually ready to hear it, and now, finally, all the different threads of work and insight and study that I’d been doing came together, and something is … better.
I’ve been writing personal journal entries online again. For a while, it was on a completely different WordPress subdomain, but recently I imported all those posts to Sugarbutch — about 30 of them from the last two years. Since I brought them in to Sugarbutch, I’ve had more supporters there, and sharing them again has been inspiring me to write even more of them.
The new password is available for people who are Patreon supporters. You can be a supporter at any amount. (There are other benefits, too! Like free ebooks and giveaways and following my work in all the places I’ve been writing and personal updates and musings.)
I understand the frustration of someone you follow putting their (arguable best) work behind a paywall … but at this point, 11 years into writing on Sugarbutch, and with the death of personal blogs, things have changed so much. I just can’t share like I used to. A big part of the challenge of publishing personal things is the vulnerability, and the overexposure. There are just too many people reading, and when things are very fresh, when the things I’m writing about are still happening, it can be crippling to have comments or even acknowledgment.
So I am narrowing my audience. I tried to narrow it before, offering the password to the mailing list. But the mailing list is over 10,000 email addresses now. So now, it goes to the Patreon folks. I know that they are invested in me, in my art and expression, in my journey, and that feels like buy-in in a different way than folks who consume my writing as more of a reality tv show. Sharing it with the Patreon folks is a new experiment, and I’m not even sure how long it’ll last.
When I met rife, and Kristen and I started breaking up and having deep challenges between us, I started writing less about what was happening for me personally. Kristen requested me not to — but also, I was shutting down, struggling. Maybe I’d call it a sort of writer’s block, but really it was because I didn’t want to read or admit what I was writing. As I started writing less personally, I also started building Sugarbutch as more of a ‘brand,’ studying entrepreneurship, and trying to turn my work into a more serious business. That too took my focus away from sharing the personal. And in lots of ways, it was good for me; I learned a lot and it moved me forward. And I kept struggling. Those years were a major depression for me, and it’s taken a lot to get out of it … but maybe I am out of it? It’s certainly different now.
Plus, I have a job again. My grip on survival and money is not quite so terrified. I’m not working on my brand, my work, my websites, my marketing for every spare minute of every day, and collapsing when not working on it. It’s taken about a year of this new job (and 18 months of therapy) to get back to myself in this way, but it’s been a relief now that I’m writing more.
And yet, it still incites panic in my stomach to think about publishing those very personal things. But the Patreon has been deeply supportive … I love that it gives me hope that my writing is actually a valuable addition to the world, and it gives me financial proof in exchange. I love getting to know folks more and recognizing their names and having deeper conversations — it feels like I’m building friendships, not ‘readers.’
Money isn’t the only kind of exchange for my work, though. I know sometimes money is just not an option at all — my finances have at times been that tight, where it’s just impossible to spend even a dollar. I get it. I’m open to other ideas. As many of my friends have said, “I can’t pay my rent in vegan cupcakes,” so there are plenty of things I don’t really need and that won’t help me to exchange, but I’m sure there are even more which are useful and lovely. I’m not sure what they are? Perhaps folks who are interested in trading for something other than money can let me know and we can talk about what we could do?
I often hate it when people put their (arguably best) work behind a paywall, and I have in the past refused to give them money on principle. Even through all of the work I’ve done in the entrepreneur world, and knowing how little artists and activists get paid, it still feels arrogant or self-righteous to me — though I know it shouldn’t. But now that Patreon has rolled around, it feels very easy to support artists in that way. At first, as research, I pledged $10 a month to be divided among different folks on Patreon, and I’ve kept with that for the past few years, moving around the money depending on whose work is speaking to me right then. I’ve loved seeing behind the scenes and getting to know the struggles behind the creations. It really is a wonderful platform for creators online.
There’s also news that Patreon has changed their terms of service to exclude certain kinds of adult content. Violet Blue has been following this and investigating very closely, and I’m sure there’s still many updates to come, but it has made me panic much more than I expected. Will this support that has become so important to my work suddenly be taken out from under me? Will my CONSENSUAL explorations of fantasy cause me this circle of friends and support that has become an essential piece of my work? They aren’t saying that all adult content is banned, but I know my content with consensual non-consent and age play sets off alarm bells. I don’t really want to remove all of that from my site, but what if they say I can stay if I do? Would I do it?
I don’t know what’ll happen next with that. But for now, please come join my inner circle, and tell me you support my writing not with your words, but with a little bit of energy. For the price of a cup of coffee once a month. For a dollar. For a hundred dollars. For whatever you can spare. It tells me you want me to keep going, that you get value from this. And I’ll be glad to bring you in and share some of the harder, deeper truths that I’m struggling with, and learning.
PS: The old password still works for the older journal entries. The new ones tagged with mentalkink have the new password, the older ones have the password you got via email on the mailing list. I probably would go back and change all the old ones if I could, but that will be a deep to-do item for the site, since it’s so time consuming.
Sugarbutch Chronicles has two different mailing lists, and one way to get the password to the protected posts. Since I’ve had a few more password posts than usual lately, I’ve had some folks asking, so it’s about time to put up a new explanation.
1. The Newsletter
The newsletter is the once-a-month mailing list where I send out announcements about the site, special offers (sometimes I have passwords or offer codes from some Sugarbutch sponsors), and general updates. Email me – aspiringstud[at]gmail.com – to get on this mailing list, or leave a comment with your valid email address in the comments of this post.
2. Sugarbutch Daily to your email inbox
If you aren’t really a “blog person,” if you don’t read half the internet every day (like I do), if you don’t subscribe to RSS feeds and spend a lot of your time on the web, but you still love reading Sugarbutch, you might want to consider subscribing via email.
Entering your email address in below will send you ONE email per day with the text of all the posts that have been published that day. If there are no posts, you won’t get an email.
3. Password protected posts
The password protected posts tend to be more personal, often musings about my own self-awareness, emotional processes, or the details of my relationships, which often feel vulnerable in a way that writing about sex does not (I know, weird, but that’s how it is). (Sometimes they are very smutty, dirty stories, with kinks or explorations that are dark and difficult to reveal – so it’s not all omphaloskepsis, there is some sex stuff too, sometimes.) Leave a comment in this thread with a valid email address and a link to your blog, your myspace, your facebook, or some other way to verify that you are a real person. If you ask for the password, I’ll also add you to The Newsletter mailing list.
So the former password protection post is spilling over with requests. With the intention of me not missing requests for access to the password protected posts, this is the new post where you leave a comment.
It would be best if you left your website, too, even if it’s your myspace or facebook address, as I’d like to know you’re a real person. You can email that to me if you’d rather it not be published publically. It’s not a requirement, if you don’t have one, but I’d appreciate it, as these are very personal writings.
About the password protected posts:
They are primarily my personal journal entries: reflections on my relationships, and my real life sex stories. Sugarbutch started so that I could have a place to reflect on my relationship difficulties, which included the problems with my relationship with my ex where I wanted to be more butch (and wanted her to be more femme) but felt unsupported to explore that, and the problems we were having with sex, which was that we were having none. It evolved into a place where I processed my relationship with another girl that I immediately got involved with, and when that relationship ended spectacularly awfully, it has been chronicling my evolution back to myself, my committment to myself, my “aspiring stud”-ness in trying to get laid, and trying to get my shit together such that I can enter into a healthy, stable, positive, committed relationship again.
Meanwhile, though, it has been lots of gender theory. Lots. And some smut stories. Which are also fun.
And as I’ve gained a larger and larger readership, the personal stuff is entirely too exposed, so they have gone under password protection. I still want a place to write about my relationship evolutions, and I still love having writing and blogging as a medium to explore my own sense of self, so I tend to write a few of these a month.
So, if you’d like to read the personal posts, leave a comment at the beep and I’ll get back to you as soon as I can.