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Intimacy during recovery: Why does everything feel so dulled?


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My friends have been telling me that I need to get laid because my sexual frustration seeps from my pores. In February 2013, I made the decision to stop having sex as part of my recovery (Quick bio: I have BPD, eagerly started DIY work with my peer mentor in 2007 when I realized I needed help and had no health care coverage, and have been in recovery since 11/2012). It was too easy to get all my feelings wound up in my partners. Every time I found myself entangled with another, they became my universal reference point- the place from which my world revolved and all meaning was derived. It was really unhealthy. I needed some time to figure my sexuality out and to come to enjoy sex on it's own, not because it was a convenient means of establishing connection.

And then recently, I had sex for the first time since my personal vow of celibacy and it didn't feel the same. It was like the entire experience had been filed down to a dull point. I couldn't feel that spark, that drive, that extra tingle in my soul that used to make the experience of sharing sexuality so invigorating. I remember when I first began experiencing the difference of living with BPD as a person in recovery, I was happy to have lost the extreme lows but I mourned a bit for the absence of the highs. I missed the way my loved ones made me feel like the whole world existed between our touch. It was a profoundly moving experience, merging and connecting with people I loved. When those high points faded away with the low points (the mood swings, dissociation, depression, suicidal ideation and all-night panic attacks) it felt like a double edged sword.

In this light, it shouldn't be surprising that the experience of sex for the first time in recovery was existentially disappointing. But it was. I had hoped that the intensity of all my favorite memories of the great sex I had in crisis wasn't about my disorder, but rather this awesome part of me as a unique person. I hoped that the intensity was something I held within myself. And as I travel further and further down the path of recovery, I'm starting to feel like this thing that I used to love and cherish is inaccessible. That the price to pay for losing my pain might have been giving up a part of my passion. So, I'm wrestling with the question: Is sex in recovery worth it? Would I be happier fostering deeply loving platonic connections and reserving my sexual experiences for myself, alone? (This article comes to mind: Can We Be Lovers & Not Have Sex? | elephant journal) Because I can see the patterns in my own attraction. I can see that the few women I've been drawn to sexually in my time of celibacy are completely unhealthy choices in that they trigger that universal reference point, are withdrawn emotionally, and ultimately unavailable. Yet, the urge to drop my panties and hop into bed with them persists.

What does healthy and fulfilling sexuality even look like for someone living in recovery with BPD?

As I tend to do, I began to research. I scoured google search results for other stories of people living in recovery and how their sexual experience has changed. And as usual, I was overcome with information on support for people who've had sex with "borderlines" or the experience of sex during periods of crisis... but if the voices of recovery were there, they were hopelessly buried beneath the rest of it all. Once the frustration had passed, I remembered a portion of one of my favorite lectures on BPD and recovery by Kiera Van Gelder...

"Sexual Satisfaction. This is something, like, no one wants to talk about. But, as a person with BPD and most people I know with BPD,  one of our best qualities is not that we love sex but that we love connection. We love to be connected to people, we love the merging experience. Whether it's sexually or whether it's relationally, and a lot of times what happens is the medications and treatments we're given, we end up losing that aspect of ourselves. And so we get a situation that has come up over and over again for me where I'm on a medication that prevents me from having any kind of sexual response, I am desperate to have a relationship with someone, I will go into a relationship with someone, I will try to cultivate intimacy, I find I cannot function sexually, and yet I want the relationship, I compromise myself and I am retraumatizing myself because I am in a sexual situation where I cannot feel anything. And that's a horrible situation to be in." -Kiera Van Gelder 2008 
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I don't know how to end this other than to say, I'd love to hear stories from other people wrestling with intimacy, sexual desire, and gratification in the shadow of the "former glory" that is the extreme high points of BPD.

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I am experiencing this right now as well. I used to have sex and feel such passion. But now that I've been better managing my symptoms it's like I have no desire to have sex. In fact, my boyfriend is pointing out how long it's been and I'm just like yeah, guess we gotta get on that. I am super sexual when I drink or am having a bad time. I miss the passion and sometimes wonder if that was better, if experiencing what others cohldnt made me feel more desirable internally. But I don't miss the suicidal thinking or consistent intrusive thoughts. I just wish this disorder didnt take my passion and sexuality with recovery. Or maybe it's something else I haven't quite put my finger on. Like shame from my prior actions. Hope that helped. Lol

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  • 4 weeks later...

:Trigger:  :Trigger:  :Trigger:  :Trigger:  :Trigger:  :Trigger:  :Trigger: 

 

I live with no shame.  I try very hard to make that different than no compassion or consideration or others, just so you know :D

 

Sex has always been amazing for me.  I've been sexually assaulted once but it was during a suicide attempt (yes, seriously) and so it doesn't really register.  I have a lot of physical/verbal/mental/emotional abuse in my past but it's never been my body that bothered me.

 

The big problem with sex for me is that I'm convinced if the other person doesn't want me, they don't care about me.  StJ has a really low libido right now and I'm like, 99.44% sure he's tired of me, except that he doesn't want to have sex with anyone and he loves me, I'm pretty sure, but he doesn't want to have sex with me so my brain spews out DOES NOT COMPUTE errors.

 

I'm also about that sure that sex is the only good thing I bring into this relationship.  I've always thought it was the reason that people stayed with me even though I'm completely nuts.

 

There's a lot to unpack there.  I'm not looking forward to it, and that's not even considering the kink issues, the desperation issues, etc.    :frustrated:

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First, I can very much relate to this feeling of dulled sexual encounters, and the description "former glory" made me smile a little, because that's quite an apt description of how my sex life felt, in the midst of my worst BPD downward spiral.

That said, I think this "glory" comes at a high cost, at least it did for me. Yes, my sexual encounters were usually thrilling, heightened, passionate and also almost always fueled by alcohol/other substances that made me much more comfortable expressing my very sexual nature. (I was simultaneously on HEFTY amounts of prescription meds. The self destruction is strong with this one)

The initial flirting phase and the sex itself let me feel powerful, desired, beautiful, and even though it was fleeting, I felt connected with another human being.

But, then the inevitable crash. I have so many partial yet painful memories of sneaking out of hotel rooms consumed with shame, guilt, self hatred. I wasn't ashamed for being sexual per se, but more the feeling that I had played an active role in my own exploitation as a sexual object and nothing more. The realization that the "profound connection" was actually simply a one night stand with a stranger was often devastating. A stranger who in no real or meaningful way knew me, accepted or respected me. The intense "thrill" came more from my own mind, my internal dialogue, and my desperation to feel bonded with someone, to feel alive and break free from extended periods of debilitating sadness and hopelessness.

I think, often, it is so easy to equate passionate and exciting sexual experiences with real love (or something close to it) and genuine care. But, for me at least, I've come to realize that sex is just sex, a physical act/release unless a foundation of trust and non-sexual emotional intimacy is established.

And while it may really work for some people (and more power to you! :) It is bad for my mental state. To me, I see sex without any other form of genuine connection is a physical act between people who (in some sense, even if subconsciously and not with malicious intent) are using each other for comfort.

This exciting/unpredictable/intense yet ultimately painful pattern of casual sexual encounters initially felt like home to me. It was the roller coaster it was accustomed to.. And so oddly it felt "right".

Fast forward to sex now, while I am in my second year of DBT. For one, it's less frequent, as I have nearly eliminated the role of "liquid courage". I am more able (with occasional tumbles off the ol'wagon) to analyze my emotional state and understand my urges to go out and be recklessly sexual. I am aware that I am driven largely by loneliness, and a longing to feel "loved" even for just a brief period. This insight is sobering (pun intended) to say the least, and that rush of a hot random sex sesh is gone.

I think another step in recovery follows these somewhat dulled sexual encounters. I see this next step as one that helps us with BPD to see that healthy, functional, nurturing relationships can be the source of profound sexual pleasure (but a kind different than we are used to). For me, it will be challenging to get to a place of willingness to be vulnerable without fear. And, it's my belief.. My hope, that the sexual/emotional pleasure found in this kind if bond endures and only becomes stronger and more fulfilling. It will take me a while, but I'm still holding into hope that ill experience it.

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I think, often, it is so easy to equate passionate and exciting sexual experiences with real love (or something close to it) and genuine care. But, for me at least, I've come to realize that sex is just sex, a physical act/release unless a foundation of trust and non-sexual emotional intimacy is established.

[...]

I think another step in recovery follows these somewhat dulled sexual encounters. I see this next step as one that helps us with BPD to see that healthy, functional, nurturing relationships can be the source of profound sexual pleasure (but a kind different than we are used to). For me, it will be challenging to get to a place of willingness to be vulnerable without fear. And, it's my belief.. My hope, that the sexual/emotional pleasure found in this kind if bond endures and only becomes stronger and more fulfilling. It will take me a while, but I'm still holding into hope that ill experience it.

 

 

I too had these very unhealthy, intense relationships based on the other person being emotionally unavailable or abusive or both.  Yet I'm finding that a relationship where I am letting my true self out and being really honest and direct is MORE than enough fear so that I can channel it through the sex and it still feels intense to me :P  I'm sure there will be other emotional boundaries to push in a healthy way, to use the 'torment' as a 'mentor'* and my fear of intimacy to give me enough excitement to fuel growing closer.

 

*tormentor  = mentor is, as far as I'm aware, an Internal Family Systems thing

 

The main reason (I think) that I feel comfortable using my intimacy issues in such a dialectic manner is that I no longer desire to mesh and lose myself completely in the other person; while I still want to connect, I no longer want to drown.  I deliberately had a period of romantic and sexual semi-celibacy* for about 18 months that seemed to spark my realization that I'm a whole being in and of myself, and that sex or romantic relationships were not REQUIRED to make me whole.

 

*I slept with a fuckbuddy every six months, ok

 

I don't practice DBT but radically accepting the desire to know another person completely and fully (yes, often through fucking them) made me realize that it was more about gaining acceptance for myself than for them.  That made me wonder what other things I was desperate for; in my case, it turns out to be a lot of abandonment issues and things tied to that. Now because I KNOW that, because I can take a moment to pause and ask myself "what am I really aiming to receive when I say this...?" things happen a lot differently.

For example, when I can identify the TRUE desire, then even if my partner can't satisfy the momentary want, I can negotiate for something else that satisfies the underlying wish!  It's like magic!

 

The period of celibacy was one of the hardest things I've done ever AND it sped up my BPD recovery like you would not believe.  Though it was painful and awkward and I had to face some harsh truths about my life when suddenly I wasn't distracting myself by falling in love every two months, that's for sure-- I would do it all over again if I had to.

But now I don't, because I"m with someone who wants to be with me for the rest of my life-- and suddenly I have entirely different problems! :P

Edited by saveyoursanity
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I think, often, it is so easy to equate passionate and exciting sexual experiences with real love (or something close to it) and genuine care. But, for me at least, I've come to realize that sex is just sex, a physical act/release unless a foundation of trust and non-sexual emotional intimacy is established.

[...]

I think another step in recovery follows these somewhat dulled sexual encounters. I see this next step as one that helps us with BPD to see that healthy, functional, nurturing relationships can be the source of profound sexual pleasure (but a kind different than we are used to). For me, it will be challenging to get to a place of willingness to be vulnerable without fear. And, it's my belief.. My hope, that the sexual/emotional pleasure found in this kind if bond endures and only becomes stronger and more fulfilling. It will take me a while, but I'm still holding into hope that ill experience it.

 

 

I too had these very unhealthy, intense relationships based on the other person being emotionally unavailable or abusive or both.  Yet I'm finding that a relationship where I am letting my true self out and being really honest and direct is MORE than enough fear so that I can channel it through the sex and it still feels intense to me :P  I'm sure there will be other emotional boundaries to push in a healthy way, to use the 'torment' as a 'mentor'* and my fear of intimacy to give me enough excitement to fuel growing closer.

 

*tormentor  = mentor is, as far as I'm aware, an Internal Family Systems thing

 

The main reason (I think) that I feel comfortable using my intimacy issues in such a dialectic manner is that I no longer desire to mesh and lose myself completely in the other person; while I still want to connect, I no longer want to drown.  I deliberately had a period of romantic and sexual semi-celibacy* for about 18 months that seemed to spark my realization that I'm a whole being in and of myself, and that sex or romantic relationships were not REQUIRED to make me whole.

 

*I slept with a fuckbuddy every six months, ok

 

I don't practice DBT but radically accepting the desire to know another person completely and fully (yes, often through fucking them) made me realize that it was more about gaining acceptance for myself than for them.  That made me wonder what other things I was desperate for; in my case, it turns out to be a lot of abandonment issues and things tied to that. Now because I KNOW that, because I can take a moment to pause and ask myself "what am I really aiming to receive when I say this...?" things happen a lot differently.

For example, when I can identify the TRUE desire, then even if my partner can't satisfy the momentary want, I can negotiate for something else that satisfies the underlying wish!  It's like magic!

 

The period of celibacy was one of the hardest things I've done ever AND it sped up my BPD recovery like you would not believe.  Though it was painful and awkward and I had to face some harsh truths about my life when suddenly I wasn't distracting myself by falling in love every two months, that's for sure-- I would do it all over again if I had to.

But now I don't, because I"m with someone who wants to be with me for the rest of my life-- and suddenly I have entirely different problems! :P

 

 

The celibacy things worked for me in this way too. In fact just bringing that quality of awareness to sex helped me get out of the judginess of whether my sex life was healthy and just go 'huh, this horniness right now is actually just loneliness and fear, wow, never saw that before.'

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Titania, remember when you started your period of celibacy and I was like THIS IS THE BEST THING YOU CAN EVER DO FOR YOURSELF a few days later?  I totally still think that. 

 

When I was deeply in the borderline way of thinking, I never ever would have been okay with walking away from the intense and frankly overwhelming desire to be WITH someone.  But when I had a break, originally not by my own volition, I was doing some hard work in therapy and I realized that I didn't know what my own desires really are, and so it was less like I wanted to be with someone and more like I needed them so that I could feel anything.  I was using people without even knowing it.

 

Learning to feel one's own wishes and desires is the beginning of true intimacy.    Yes, it's more work now to have those amazing sexy intense encounters, true, but when we're laughing together naked and I know down to my bones that everything that's just happened is okay and beautiful and I'm completely loved-- it's so much more worth it.  The highs are real, now, not just illusions to distract myself from how shitty I think I am.  That's worth everything.

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I hated the idea of celibacy. I loathed i. I really did. Like Reddog said to me on my blog 'when are you going to just fucking stop doing this to yourself?' And I knew, because she was a friend that she meant it with love and also with a genuine sense of 'cut it out!'

 

I don't think the length of celibacy is as important as the commitment and space it creates. Like I think people assume that people with BPD need to swear off love and go join a nunnery/monastery to prove they are healthy. And I disagree. I think that be it a few months or a year, whatever, the point is that you get enough practice not using sex to soothe and actually looking at your history without anmy judgement.

 

Like it took my 28 years to sit and write down my sexual/romantic history in chronological order and look at it calmly for what it was. I posted that list on my blog anf it was awful reading, really hard. I think I forgot what I put myself through to be with someone. That in itself was a turning point for wanting someone better. I could see hoe far thing had gone and how much this celibacy deal mattered.

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Learning to feel one's own wishes and desires is the beginning of true intimacy.    Yes, it's more work now to have those amazing sexy intense encounters, true, but when we're laughing together naked and I know down to my bones that everything that's just happened is okay and beautiful and I'm completely loved-- it's so much more worth it.  The highs are real, now, not just illusions to distract myself from how shitty I think I am.  That's worth everything.

 

Wow. I'm holding back tears, thank you for such beautiful words.

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I'm so grateful for all of you! Having a space to talk about this with like minds is so validating. Since I wrote this, I've been doing a lot more work around re-establishing my boundaries and working with my friends (who kinda pushed me into ending my celibacy) that as a survivor of multiple traumatic sexual events and as a person living in recovery from BPD, that my agency is important and the way they'd been criticizing my choices was harming my recovery.

 

I can relate to so much of what has been shared, and I agree that the opportunity to establish healthier relationships is important. I guess I was just worried that my passion was lost. Thinking about it now, I think my experience was actually much healthier than the way I would have engaged before. Because, I didn't let myself lose my passions and emotions in someone I KNOW isn't deeply connected to me. That's a good thing. It doesn't mean the passion is gone, just that this wasn't the right situation to share it. And I knew that, but was letting social/cultural pressure convince me that I was doing this whole being single thing wrong.

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Learning to feel one's own wishes and desires is the beginning of true intimacy. Yes, it's more work now to have those amazing sexy intense encounters, true, but when we're laughing together naked and I know down to my bones that everything that's just happened is okay and beautiful and I'm completely loved-- it's so much more worth it. The highs are real, now, not just illusions to distract myself from how shitty I think I am. That's worth everything.

Thank you for this, it's absolutely beautiful and makes me a bit teary as well.

I think you are right, although my sexual history was fraught with pain, shame and inner turmoil.. I absolutely needed to go through it to learn (I wish I was a little bit faster in the learning department though lol).

Like you said, it has been a gradual process that brought me to where I am now. I also realized that the real key was to determine what the underlying motivation for my behavior was. I had to figure out what I really was seeking with my behavior and why wasn't it working long term? Turns out my underlying desire was almost always to feel loved and accepted in my entirety, not only partially, and not as some poor, broken and eternally flawed being.

I once truly believed I was broken and defective and undeserving of the kind of love I craved. For that reason, I accepted lesser forms of imitation "love" (One night stands, unhealthy codependent/abusive relationships etc.)

I still have quite a bit of internal work to do before I fully believe I am "worthy" of the beautiful type of connection you describe.. But the possibility seems more real than it ever has before. I have come to the same conclusion that I see many others have: celibacy is the way to go right now. I need that time and space. I need to take a step back and discover what a healthy, nurturing relationship would look like for me.

Learning to love the woman I am, to accept and acknowledge my painful past, and to know that it does not have to define my future.. To know that the kind of love I want is attainable for me... That's my journey now.

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Thank you guys for your kind words!  If I ever express something profound, it's truly by accident.

 

The reason I think a real defined break is necessary is because people with BPD have such desperate needs that letting go even for a week seems impossible.  I feel that a break of a full year is the best to aim for, because that allows someone to experience all the seasons and triggers that run thru (holidays, spring fever, etc), but that may be my seasonal affective disorder talking :D

 

That having been said, I certainly don't think that shorter breaks aren't worthwhile because the truth is that anyone reading this could sit with themselves for a while and feel what they really needed, no matter how badly off they think they are.  It's the being with yourself that's the hard part.

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  • 2 months later...

Right now I'm in a stage of therapy where I'm having a shit ton of "a-ha" realizations about the past suddenly clicking into rational sense (both reassuring and painfully troubling realizations).  

 

Reading through this thread felt like a very accurate analysis of many of my own past feelings and behaviors.  And a rational explanation as to probably why, mysteriously, at some point I noticed that I no longer had certain specific emotionally needy sexual urges anymore.  Until just now I had no idea what those urges were or why they had largely stopped.

 

Obviously I didn't consciously do it with deliberate therapeutic intents.  And I never really thought too much about it before.  But twice in the last 10 years (and once even earlier than that) I did do significant celibate stretches of time and always came out of it incrementally more "secure" in ways I didn't understand at all.  This thread's narrative analysis in the specific context of BPD-type maladaptive coping mechanisms (and how to pry oneself out of them) makes a TON of sense to me.  

 

I've just started Schema Therapy.  The first formal exercise we're doing is simply going down the list of 18 defined Early Maladaptive Schemas and talking about the relative relevance of each one.  For each of the schemas that feels particularly relevant, my tdoc wants me to talk about at least one childhood example and one adult example of events/actions/feelings strongly correlated to that schema's origin or resulting maladaptive coping behaviors and feelings.  Your discussion on this subject of the maladaptive use of sex as an unhealthy coping mechanism REALLY helps me to begin to rethink some old behaviors and current confusions that are guaranteed to soon come up in therapy discussions.  Actually, looking at the order of the list, this subject might begin to come up as soon as next Wednesday.  

 

I tend to have the same needy/clingy/desperate emotional issues with both romantic and platonic relationships.  And in the past those have sometimes bled into each other in very damaging ways.  I've taken a few periods of celibacy from certain very specific kinds of platonic relationships as well.  I didn't really know what I was doing at the time, but I think you're right about the significance of the effect of being forced to be alone with yourself, paying more attention to the origins of desires instead of single-mindedly acting them out.  I still get those feelings, but based on what you've all said here, I think I now have a better idea of how certain ways I've since structured my life are probably unintentionally responsible for keeping some of those formerly extreme feelings in check.

 

I agree that it is a weird feeling and a hard adjustment to relearn how to relate to people without the all-consuming raging emotional thirst for any connection at all costs.  And actually, now seeing a bit of how I possibly may have already worked out a few of those issues unintentionally on my own, I feel more optimistic about what I can potentially accomplish with the help of a good therapist.  

 

(It's been a long fucking time, almost 10 years, of lots of mismatched therapists and sporadic insurance.  I feel safer with my new tdoc than I have with any previous ones.)

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