Shedding My Layers Part One: Polyamory

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You ask, “Why do you cry with such

sweetness all around?” I weep as I

make the honey, wearing the shirt

of a bee, and I refuse to share this

suffering. I play the sky’s harp. I

curl around my treasure like a snake.

You say, “What is this ‘I’ business?”

Friend, I’ve been a long time away

from my center. What you see here is

your own reflection. I am still raw,

and at the same time well-cooked, and

burnt to a crisp! No one can tell if

I’m weeping or laughing. I wonder myself.

How can I be separated, and yet in union?

-Rumi

“I curl around my treasure like a snake.” This line, in particular, has caught me from this gorgeous poem. It encompasses, to me, what I have so often done with my sense of ‘identity’. I have curled myself around pieces of information and used them to define me. It’s something we all do, to varying degrees. We identify as our roles: mother, husband, student. As our social standing: pillar of society, hermit, fuck-up. As our jobs. As our diagnoses. As our emotions. As our thoughts.

None of that really describes who we are, though.  This morning, I felt buoyant. That does not make me buoyant, but at one time I did feel this way. I have been a wife—that does not, in perpetuity, make me a wife. And so one. I’ve even changed names throughout my life, so that, too, is a wiggly definition. Yet, without these labels, I am left with…what?

Well, that’s what I’m starting to discover. What is under all these layers I’ve collected over the years? With each definition I shed, something new arises. A spaciousness comes to light.

I’ll give you an example, one that is really not fucking easy for me to own up to, because of the path that brought me to this point in my life.

blog 11.2When I was sixteen, I was given a book called The Ethical Slut. Many of you have probably heard of it, or read it. For those who haven’t, it’s an inspiring nonfiction work on the practice of ethical polyamory. I ate it up. I identified with the author’s views on love, and sex. This idea that we should be able to love freely and let relationships grow organically appealed to me immensely. That we shouldn’t be ‘tied down’ to one, monogamous relationship. That ‘sex is nice, and pleasure is good for you’. The information in that book took root, and from that point on I identified as polyamorous.

Fast forward a few years, to the point where I met my now ex-husband. We dated for a while, then broke up. Then got back together. Then, because of this identity—as well as another I won’t get into at this point—we broke up again. I wanted an open relationship, he didn’t. Then, we got back together, and I worked hard at pushing this identity under layers of repression. I didn’t address it. I didn’t explore it. I hid it. And six years later it exploded with the righteous fury of a really hungry zombie. The marriage ended, in part because I demanded an open relationship.

Moving forward, I tried to embrace this idea. The jealousy and discomfort that came up in the course of trying to model the kind of relationship and free-wheeling sexuality I decided I wanted did illuminate many things, but never quite became the tool of discovery I hoped for. Instead, I made myself miserable, and plenty of people I care about deeply were pretty miserable, too. Still, I pushed ahead, sure that I could just keep wading through until something started to shift and I could see the light. I kept hoping, believing, that there would come a time when me talking about polyamory to another person would feel natural, and not like I was dressing up in someone else’s clothes.

It never happened. But I wanted it to, so badly. Not in small part because I’d used polyamory as a cudgel to maim my marriage, and hurt a good man in the process. I had to be polyamorous. I had to be open, and sexy, and free-spirited because I’d built so much of my identity around this thing.

I curled around that treasure like a snake, and I was damned if I was going to let it go. It was me, after all.

Except…it wasn’t.

These last couple months—hell, these last few years—have been a thunderstorm interspersed with breaks in the cloud letting brilliant beams of sunshine in. Focusing now on the last couple months, I’ve found myself recognizing bits and pieces of clothing I’ve been wearing that don’t actually belong to me. Big bits.

Polyamory is one of them.blog 11.3

I’ve always liked to think of myself as counterculture. Too cool for school (literally). I have always kind of loved the shock factor that comes along with parts of my identity I collected, and polyamory is definitely good for a bit of taboo, a bit of titillation. But one thing I’ve come to realize is that adopting something with the hope that it will make people flinch, or lean in with a leer, is no different than adopting something with the hope that it will make them like you. It’s still acting based on what someone else will say.

Why polyamory, out of all the ‘shocking’ bits of identity I could have chosen?  Well, relationships are a sticky, tangled web. One that I have enjoyed losing myself in. One I have enjoyed escaping from myself into. For me, sex has been, at times, a weapon. An escape chute. A tool.

It has also been a joining of souls. A Divine experience. Transcendent.

At times when I’ve wanted to escape, I’ve used sex as a means to do it. I’ve used relationships as a means to do it. At times when I’ve wanted to be closer to God, I’ve used sex and relationships in an attempt to fill that uniquely God-shaped void. In the end, using sex and relationships at all has only ended in more suffering. They’re not tools to be used. They’re opportunities to celebrate, to practice gratitude and connection.

blog 11.4As I’ve grown stronger in my relationship with God, and as I’ve found a more personal relationship with Shiva in particular, this need I’ve felt to embrace polyamory has evaporated. It’s a strange feeling, but, like I said, there is a spaciousness left in its place.

I want to be clear that I am not looking down on polyamory for anyone else. I do believe that for some people it can be a holy, ethical, aware practice, and besides, that’s none of my business. I’m also not saying that I am totally closed to the possibility that at some point in the future I may find myself in a situation where having an intimate relationship with more than one person is truly my Path. But, I can guarantee, it won’t look anything like anything I’ve done in the past.

I am done using my sexuality as a place to hide, a place to escape, or a weapon to hurt. And that feels pretty fucking good.

Thank you, polyamory, for all you have taught me. I am sorry to all of those who have been hurt in the process. I ask for Divine guidance in the next steps of this journey.

Namaste.

This love…

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This love is silent, like the quiet shifts in the snow before the avalanche. This love is powerful, like riptides that suck and pull and ruin those unsuspecting swimmers who get caught in the currents.

I’m caught in your currents.

This love has torn me to pieces and stitched me back together with a careful, steady hand. You’re in me, your hair holds my jagged edges closed. You let me bleed, because you know it’s necessary. This red, red love does not mean keeping me from pain, but letting me experience all the things I need to give myself space to grow.

I look into the sky, into your eyes, and I know that wherever I go, you will be there. I may not feel you, taste you, touch you, but there you are. As unshakeable as a mountain. As fragile as fall’s final leaves.

We are vast.

We contain multitudes.

This love is sangria on hot summer nights, my stomach sticky with sweat. This love is bonfires in the wilderness, oases in the desert, fingernails in my skin.

I will leave. Again. And again. And again.

This love will not.

Guarantees are made for appliances, not relationships. Not me, or you, or us.

I will soak up this love with every last scrap of cloth I can find, tie it around my neck, let the sodden ends rest above my heart. I am greedy for this love.

This love is grand. Unbelievable. A story or a poem or a song. A painting crafted from spit and tears and teeth. Beautiful and holy in its wickedness.

This love…

This love will pull me back, but will never make me stay.

I Guess You Gotta Treat Pleasure and Pain the Same…

Yesterday I was in a black, black mood. I woke up with my neck in so much pain it was hard to turn, my head full of disappointments and broken expectations, and a wounded ego that just wanted to stay in bed under the covers all day. Being in the middle of a heat wave, that option wasn’t on the table, but the whole bed=good, everything else=suck equation was definitely in full force.

So, I did. Stay in bed, that is. And I used some of that time to cry, because that’s how I express strong emotions. And I used that time to smoke pot and watch TV, because that’s how I hide from my emotions. (Seriously, though, Grace & Frankie is surprisingly fucking awesome.) and I used that time to try to figure out what the hell was going on inside my head and my heart to bring me to this place of drawn curtains and ice cream cravings.

In the past, I’ve let these moods sink me for days. I’ve let them take root, falling into the idea that what I’m feeling will be what I am always feeling. When I extrapolate out like that, the future seems very dim indeed, but that is how it feels. Pain, pain, everything is pain. It’s an oddly comforting place to be, I think at least in part because that would mean I know what to expect. Even if it sucks. Like going to McDonalds: you know what you’re going to get.

Except life doesn’t work that way.

Life flows. Life moves. And we move along with it. Sometimes with grace, sometimes kicking and screaming, sometimes without even realizing we’re along for the ride.

The journey brings pain, as sure as breathing. If I like, I can zero in on that pain, nurture it and let it blossom like a black, fetid rose. I can choose to ignore, or even fight, the pleasure and happiness that comes my way by being so intent on my misfortunes. In this way, I bring in pain twofold— by cultivating it and welcoming it into my life, and by struggling against any happiness I might find, often because I think I don’t deserve it, and the rest of the time because I think it’s fake.

But as sure as my heart aches, it sings as well. I’m all about cultivating happiness, nurturing the beauty in my life and pouring out gratitude for every awesome thing that comes my way. Maybe this brings me more happiness and joy through attraction, or maybe I’m just more aware of it, or both, but these practices lend a brightness to my life which I find invaluable.

Taken from a slightly different perspective, though, the enjoyment of pleasure can turn as ugly and limiting as an obsession with pain. This comes when I choose to chase pleasure. When I choose to grasp it, and hold on for dear life even as it slips from between my fingers, smothered by my desire.

When I glorify pleasure and in turn demonize pain, I lose the ability to appreciate any of it, because I’m too busy striving for one and avoiding the other to just be. It becomes a state of fear. Fear that I’ll lose my precious joy, and fear that I will have to experience that wicked pain. Thing is, pleasure and pain are the same thing. They’re emotions. They’re experiences. They do not define me, they do not define my life.

Above all: They are transient. As ephemeral as the clouds. Sometimes it rains for days and days. Sometimes it feels like it will never stop raining. And sometimes it feels like this great golden sun shining down on me couldn’t possibly pale or hide itself away, and yet it does.

This, too, shall pass.

My perspective has shifted significantly in the last year. I’m moving towards the point where I can let these emotions into my life, enjoy them for what they bring and how they enrich my humble journey, and let them pass again. I’m not there, yet. Not sure I can ever truly get there, but I can sure as hell move in that direction.

We all can.

I lovelovelove you all,

Sarah