Kill ‘Em With Kindness

Dear You,

Sorry for the delay in writing back. The article that Lea posted on feminism sparked some unexpected controversy with two of our friends so we’ve been a bit ‘self absorbed’ working out what was really going on beneath the surface and whose shit was whose!!

In a nutshell they took issue with the references in Lea’s article regarding the fairness of our ex’s having their own children EVERY weekend. I found this really difficult to hear.

As you know I have struggled with massive guilt about letting go of my kids to the degree that I have. Encouraging them to have regular and consistent time with their dad who obviously does things differently from me, felt really hard. Letting go also meant facing who I am without them, which after 8 years I didn’t actually know. Scary times.

I was really going to try and not defend myself to you – thereby exhibiting my ever present guilt – but I just can’t quite do it so I’ll get that out of the way now! One of the accusations levelled at us was questioning when the fathers manage to ‘self actualise’, to find love and create their own blended families, especially if they have their children every weekend. I was really quite stunned that someone who knew so little about my personal childcare arrangements could be quite so rude.

My reply was thus: “I think my ex’s self actualisation comes Monday to Friday daytime plus the five and sometimes six nights a week he doesn’t have the children. He is currently on his second relationship since our split and my children are part of his new blended family in which he is, at least for now, the house husband. He seems to be managing pretty well wouldn’t you say?!”

I found it really difficult that a woman who regularly posts feminist memes and clearly identifies herself thus could rush to rescue the males in this dynamic quite so readily.

Given how hard I (and I suspect scores of other women) find it to poke my head up above the parapet and try and own the fact that I want a life for myself too, that I want to self actualise, that I think it’s healthy for my kids to see me doing that and to have their father parent them just as (in)competently as me, I feel devastated that I should be so readily shot down by a friend, a feminist, a mother. As my therapist declared ‘women are often the biggest threat to feminism’.

So I’m in a shamed place. Shamed for daring to consider my own needs ahead of (although I don’t think that’s true!) my ex’s, shamed for having…drum roll…child free time (cue much tutting and head shaking or repeated comments about how lucky I am).

Believe me, it’s not luck that has created this child-free time; it is intentional, repetitive and practised behaviour and action. It hasn’t been easy on many fronts to help my ex parent his children from a foundation of almost zero parenting experience and carve out this child-free time for myself – from the weekly emails to him discussing where the kids are emotionally and how to handle it, to the odd feeling in my house with just me in it, to the guilt when I am enjoying myself without them and daring to self actualise!

But hey, shame loses its power when we share it with another – so Lea and my Lemonaid adventure feel really important to me. However, they tried to shame us for doing that too…

Suggesting if it were them that they’d “get a court order to shut us up” felt like the kind of comment a well-known US president might make – NOT a female friend – and it had an impact. I doubted whether I was ‘allowed’ to have a voice, to talk about my experiences and the full gamut of emotions this midlife awakening is having. That’s why this letter is late – it is, quite literally, shamefully late.

You know I’m a people pleaser; that I find it hard to be boundaried and not consider everyone else’s needs before mine so even after all of this, it was difficult for me to unfriend the people concerned, or respond further to their messages. However, it is done and for my own sake (see there I go again, putting my own needs first! Jesus – so bloody selfish! Interestingly these days I see selfish in different terms – as a form of necessary self care).

Kill em with kindness’ feels like an interesting phrase that makes me consider what kindness really is. They certainly wouldn’t describe our behaviour as kind, but why? Is challenging people’s behaviour when they post angry and passive aggressive remarks on a public and personal thread unkind? Is being willing to talk about publicly or privately what might really be going on with a view to resolving it and remaining friends unkind? I don’t think so (and believe me I constantly analyse my behaviour and find it wanting!!).

I find it difficult that directness is construed as confrontational, when really it’s about simplified, honest, communication, which to me feels like the best form of kindness. After Lea and I had both been direct and honest in our replies we were interrupted with a comment from the second woman in defence of the first of “I don’t like to see anyone getting upset or hurt”! We hadn’t been unkind, malicious or personally attacking in any way – we had responded to what had been veiled personal attacks on us (which was later clarified and confirmed in a personal message to a third party).

Her comment – that she didn’t like to see others getting upset – on the face of it implies kindness, but frankly that kind of kindness I can live without. This inability to differentiate between directness and passive aggression and to hold disagreement or challenge led her to send the most unutterably offensive remarks to a third party (behind our backs), whilst simultaneously messaging me ‘kind’ utterances about how it would be nice if we could just move past this and be friends! I was, quite frankly, at a loss for words by that point.

The scariest thing about all of this is that all the above feels like a smokescreen for what was really going on…

I think for a long time I was admitted to a victim club with these friends. This was a club that although I didn’t want to partake in, I sometimes did. My own health condition meant that in between trying to take responsibility, I’d have moments of feeling really sorry for myself and thus joining the ranks of the ‘Poor Old Me’s’.

Victim clubs thrive on others staying in static places with them so no one has to look at what they’re doing or not doing that enables such behaviour to persist. In finally choosing to step out of this club and begin a relationship with Lea (never described as a victim) Woodward I think they were confused and possibly a little threatened.

Often women seem to be triggered by Lea and what she represents and I think that is certainly true here. In Lea asking a direct and pretty pertinent question, all hell seemed to break loose and an anger that possibly already existed was tapped into…

Dear you,

Remember I told you I’d written a post about all the feminist stuff we’ve talked about over the past few months? Well it caused all sorts of enlightening events this past weekend! Both Becky, my ex and I were dragged into a vortex of other peoples’ stuff in the most frustrating of ways…

What became abundantly clear though, was quite how strong a reaction I appear to provoke in some people (women) because of my beliefs, values, behaviour and how feminist I am (yes, you read that right).

As you know, one of the reasons I wrote the post is the shock I continue to feel that so many women around me are still playing out the very conventional, traditional roles of primary homemaker and parent, despite banging the feminist drum.

I won’t repeat the contents of that post (you can read it here if you like), but suffice to say, I’m coming round to the conclusion that, when it comes to feminism in ACTION (and not just paying lip service to it), women are often the most guilty of holding back the movement towards greater or even full equality, for themselves (and others, if this experience is anything to go by).

If this has resulted in anything, it’s been the enlightening awareness of quite how other people (women, mostly) experience me. And not in a positive way…

When one acquaintance worries about my ex’s “self actualisation” because he’s having the children every weekend and another jokes to my ex about getting a court order to “shut them up” and suggests he “tell her (me) to blog about something else” it’s clear – to me at least – that there’s a huge amount of – anger? Resentment? I’m not really sure what – but something that feeds an already biased narrative about me. A narrative that puts me very much in the position of oppressor, or perpetrator (in the Drama Triangle) or more simply “bitch from hell” 😱  Why?

…Because I ‘force’ my ex husband to have joint responsibility for his children. Never mind the fact he actually wants to and doesn’t see any reason why he shouldn’t actually share that responsibility, equally.

…Because I control my ex husband and don’t consider his needs in my alleged ‘demands’ for him to have the children every weekend, thereby stunting his opportunity for ‘self actualisation’.

Never mind the hours and hours I’ve spent processing his emotional stuff with him – since we divorced – encouraging him to look at his ongoing patterns so he’s aware of them, their impact and can then choose to change them, with a therapist (and not me) for a neutral and safe space for him to do this. Never mind the fact I’m the one who often urges him to have better boundaries – fully aware that this’ll likely bite me on the bum when he starts to use those boundaries with me too.

…Because I have strong boundaries, fight for my space and time and don’t do guilt when I’m not the be all and end all to my children.

Never mind the fact I’ve had to let go massively to let my ex’s parents play a far bigger role in their lives than they ever have before, or likely ever would if we’d stayed together. The reasons for this are many, but primarily, I wanted my ex to be able to stand up to his parents when needed on behalf of the children before I wanted them to spend more time under their influence – as well as the children being old enough to communicate and state their needs too. Now he does, both his parents and my children benefit greatly from their relationship.

And never mind the fact that I now actively encourage him to let go of any guilt he feels at letting his parents sometimes take care of their grandchildren while he has time to himself; something he has acknowledged he finds difficult.

…Because I have made some unconventional life choices, support myself financially and exhibit what are typically thought of as the more masculine qualities.

Never mind that doing this often results in me being labelled as cold, aloof and distinctly unnurturing, despite attachment parenting both my children (from intuition and innate sense without reading any books on, or even knowing till a later date that it was even called, ‘attachment parenting’) and having a very strong nurturing and maternal side that those who truly know and see me often experience.

As a loud and proud feminist – and one who LIVES this value in almost every way I can – I am utterly incredulous that this should leave me open to such spiteful and malicious attacks from other women.

How is that helping the feminist cause?

That some women feel such a strong need to (still) rescue men in the face of feminism, and that my life choices provoke this reaction – from women and fellow mothers – utterly dumbfounds me!

If a woman who equally shares EVERYTHING with her male ex – financial responsibilities, parenting responsibilities, personal development responsibilities and more – is perceived as a threat, vilified for not apparently caring about her ex’s self actualisation enough, urged NOT to share so much about her life (even though the act of doing this is an exercise for my own self actualisation) and is essentially torn down for fully living her feminist values, what hope is there?

This Theme’s Soundtrack…

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Children of Ours

Hey you,

I think it’d require a book to cover the ups and downs of the journey for the kids so far. As you’d expect, mine were both devastated at the breakdown of our family unit. Even now, almost 2 years after their father and I decided to separate, they have their “I wish we were all still a family” moments, and I know Becky’s kids feel similar.

We’re pretty sure that, at times, there’s still that tiny little ray of hope for each of them that things will just go back to how they were before and that their mummy and daddy will get back together again 😦 

From the very beginning – having read about how children internalise blame and (if they’re not explicitly and repeatedly told otherwise) they’ll think it’s their fault – we have worked hard to tell them none of this is their fault.

So what have we told them? I’ve focused on a few key things…

That mummy and daddy still get on and have love for each other, but not enough for us to want to be together as a couple anymore. That I will always be their mummy and daddy will always be their daddy and nothing or no-one can change that. That they get to choose how to feel at any given moment. That it’s ok to feel sad, angry and hurt. That none of this is their fault. 

And that it’s important to me that they have a model of what (I believe) a loving relationship is between 2 adults, in as holistic and rounded way as possible. So yes, that means they see Becky and I arguing, that they see us kissing, holding hands and being physically affectionate, and that they see us prioritising our relationship too.

This last one has been the hardest to find the right balance. I do NOT want to raise entitled, bratty children who think the universe revolves around them but there’s been an inevitable reaction of jealousy as the kids have experienced us sometimes prioritising our relationship and doing things together while they’ve been with their fathers. They’ve all reacted as you might expect – with rudeness, a certain amount of aggression at times and all manner of ‘playing up’ which is basically them communicating their unhappiness and powerlessness at the situation.

It’s struck me recently (DUH), quite how much this has had an impact on mine’s little lives…

The life they previously had and knew – with 2 adults who very much shared the parenting duties and had a fairly decent balance when it came to division of labour – has been totally turned upside down and on its head.

They now experience their father and I individually doing our best to parent them on our own while still working together to be on the same parenting page, despite the ups and downs of separating from each other. Funnily enough, I think it’s been more of a shock for them to experience me parenting them on their own than it has been to have had their father parenting them on his own 😱

There have been positives though! One of them has been becoming far more emotionally aware of and tuned into what we’re all going through, emotionally. Both Becky and I have regular therapy sessions (separately!), mine’s father also has therapy sessions when needed and, as you obviously know by now (!!), Becky and I constantly process what’s going on, between us and with the children. Yes, it’s exhausting but it’s yielded some really interesting and useful things.

For a start, I now have a much clearer idea of the narratives both my kids have – it helps when one of them specifically has expressed some of her ‘stuff’ very coherently, eloquently and directly! As you’d expect, it’s almost always around rejection of some kind.

It’s rarely been easy – the children as a ‘theme’ have been one of the most challenging parts of the dynamic of our relationship. At the worst of times, I think they might still have the capacity to derail things in a major way as we each go into our ‘mama bear’ modes, and protect what is ours. But we work exceptionally hard to remain a strong and united front, and not be divided and conquered…

Dear You,

You’re right, you don’t embark on a midlife awakening – when you’ve got four children under 10 between you – without taking it seriously. However, if we’d thought about it too much we might never have done it!

Weighing up the pros and cons of splitting up the family dynamic my children knew, and acting ‘selfishly’ to ensure my own happiness and improved mental health wasn’t actually that difficult, when I could stop feeling guilty!

The bottom line was I didn’t want my kids to have the model of a relationship based on me and their father and I also didn’t want them to see me sacrificing my own happiness out of fear of the perceived consequences or to see me experience my entire life living a very ‘straight’ lie! (Not the greatest modelling…)

Lea and I figured that however hard they all found it, we’d deal with it. We were in love after all and with the right gender finally – so that felt like pretty big stuff in the pros column!

One of the things that gave me some confidence was the nature of my relationship with Lea. We don’t just talk about stuff, we process it to within an inch of its life!! We talk about our feelings around everything, where they come from, and why we’re triggered by certain things so we can understand each other and ourselves within the relationship better (and of course reduce the number of flouncings off, something we’re both highly skilled at!).

Between us we’ve done counsellor training, NLP, Louise Hay Teacher Training, and Lea has over a decade of coaching experience. We’re both interested in personal development and trying to understand ourselves better and we’re also both in therapy, still unravelling painful parts of our complicated childhoods. Basically, as someone once said, we’re pretty good at navel gazing (ok, that was the polite version…!)

So what does that mean for the kids? It means they get to navel gaze with us of course!

We talk with them about their emotions, their different personalities, their individual coping mechanisms and defences. We discuss the dynamics between us all, our triggers and how our individual triggers interact with everyone else’s (‘cos it’s so much fun when that happens!!).

We don’t ignore what’s going on for any of them, or hide from it. We deal with it head on. I confess I don’t always find that easy. I don’t like confrontation. Lea is the more direct communicator (except when she’s really in her stuff), I’m usually too busy feeling everything and anything.

We spend a lot of time and energy figuring out how to map a way through things by working out, together, what might be going on for the kids, seeing if our own stuff is involved, and discussing the best way to handle it as a united front. 

For the kids – as much as they sometimes roll their eyes when their mummies start talking ‘about emotions’, I think they secretly get a kick out of learning skills at such tender ages that lots of grown ups, us included at times, are pretty rubbish at!

Giving them an idea of – and helping them verbalise – what’s actually going on beneath some of the angry, hurt responses has been empowering for them in a situation in which they’ve essentially been powerless and had no say in, and we’ve already seen changes in how they deal with things because of this.

Hahahahahaha! This makes it sound like we’ve got this ALL under control, that we know what we’re doing, that we get them and their stuff and everything is rosy!! That sure as hell ain’t the case, and we have many a tantrum (especially the grown ups!) and feel like we’re making it up as we go along on a minute by minute basis!

However, I would wager that most families rarely examine what goes on underneath the surface of each other’s behaviour and typical responses, what makes every family member tick, and the patterns and dynamics that develop. So, there have been advantages to our upheaval. I know it’s taken being part of this blended family to make me see an unhealthy dynamic that I had fallen into with my children (more on that later!).

So while it certainly isn’t ever easy, we remain committed to ensuring that all four children and two mummies feel heard, loved and respected as part of our six and beyond…

This Theme’s Soundtrack…

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Intimacy

Dear you,

I’ve mentioned our ‘issue’ with intimacy a few times, haven’t I? Well, it’s not been me!!! Surprisingly, I’m the one who’s craved intimacy and for a while, I thought I was getting it. Until it became quite clear it wasn’t quite what I thought it was!

What’s interesting is that given I’m the adopted one, you might expect me to be the one who runs a mile from any form of intimacy – The Primal Wound (my adoption ‘bible’!) certainly suggests that children who didn’t have the experience of forming an intimate bond (with their birth mother) at an early stage of their lives can struggle with intimacy, which then impacts their ability to create loving, intimate relationships with other people. When your first experience of a relationship is rejection, abandonment and separation it seems quite obvious that one might keep people at arm’s length!

So what did our intimacy issue actually look like in real life?

There have been numerous nights where I’d feel like I’d been waiting all day to have some kind of close connection with each other, where I’d been looking forward to going to bed (not just for the sex), but when we eventually got there I’d be met with a wall of defences to get round (some of which had been in place all day and I’d not realised until it was almost too late to do anything about). And often – in my frustration and inability to not be triggered by it all – I’d end up flouncing off into the other bed, while Becky snored her head off oblivious to to it all, having successfully used her devices to avoid any form of intimacy at all!!!

Her devices to avoid real intimacy were many…endless scrolling on her phone, watching TV till it got so late we were both too knackered for anything else but sleep, Becky talking about sex all day then not going anywhere near it as the evening approached and falling asleep as soon as we got into bed, eating (then eating some more), talking about her children while we were in bed…and did I mention endless scrolling on her phone?

To begin with, once we thought we’d conquered it, it became clear that it was really only half the battle. Whilst we were very good at Becky receiving and me giving intimacy – especially in the bedroom – there were still difficulties the other way round i.e. Becky giving and me receiving intimacy.

This showed up in the way she didn’t ever really touch me lovingly (while I touch her all the time in a loving, wanting to be connected way – my hand’s always on her knee etc.), Becky playing the dominant/alpha role which isn’t her natural way (more on that in a separate letter!), embarrassment at giving/lack of foreplay and more.

And it wasn’t just intimacy she ran from, it included romance too…

Any hint of a romantic song, movie or gesture would elicit vomiting sounds and I’ve had to play the romance card very gently and strategically over the course of the past 18 months or so. Sorting out the monthly bunch of flowers from Bloom & Wild as a Christmas present was a risk…a bunch of flowers a month a risk, really? 😁

I can joke about this now because we’re in a totally different space – a space which involves real intimacy and depth of connection without the devices to avoid it. It took many, many months of confrontation, of me being – as Becky describes it – like a dog with a bone(r) – ha ha ha – and forcing her to face it, acknowledge it, talk about it and yes, ultimately ‘do’ intimacy before it felt like we were anywhere near conquering it.

But now we have, it’s like being with a different person…someone who can give and receive the levels of intimacy I’ve always wanted, someone who can let me in and let me see them, fully.

Now if only I could tell my own block to piss off so I could do the same…

Yes, the irony is that having literally forced Becky to the depths of her intimacy, it turns out that while I thought I could do it, I can’t 😱 Well I can, but to a level.

We’ve taken to fondly calling the level to which I let people (Becky) in, my ‘block’. My visual of this thing was of a huge (think house-sized), shiny, hard, black crystal which nobody could get into, get round, get through, or get over.

As my therapist said, it’s played a vital role in seemingly keeping me safe – or keeping my child safe, at least – but I no longer need it because it now prevents me from letting the people in who I want to FULLY see the vulnerable, WHOLE me (which is actually safe for me to do and not the threat I perceived).

The block – my defence mechanism – is about ensuring that I never let someone in too deep, given that I operate under the assumption (uncovered during one very painful therapy session) that ultimately everyone leaves (abandons) me.

Becky showing her vulnerability and letting me in fully, first, is – we hope! – some level of reassurance that this is less likely to happen and that in having this, I will start to feel the trust and levels of intimacy I need to let go of my block altogether. That’s the plan at least, and given that she’s the intimacy queen these days, I suspect SHE’LL now be the dog with the bone(r) until she has ALL of me too!

Dear You,

So a while ago I promised to fill you in on the intimate details of our intimacy journey! Other things got in the way but I’ve decided to return to it as it’s been such a pivotal part of the development of our relationship.

I’ve always felt that sex and intimacy don’t go together for me. The idea of having sex with a stranger I’m never going to see again has always felt far easier and much less vomit-inducing than sex from within a loving intimate relationship! Weird I hear you cry, well it’s not really weird, it just comes from my ‘stuff’.

As you know, I have slept with a lot of men but really all for a few minutes of tenderness (if that). So why not have a loving relationship? Well, although intimacy was what I most craved, I had no idea what to do with it when I got it and felt overwhelmed, suffocated and fearful when faced with being loved as part of a sexual relationship. I couldn’t hold those feelings, probably because my father couldn’t hold those feelings for me when I was a child.

My dad was adopted and my experience of him has been that he couldn’t give me or receive from me the intimacy I know I craved (doesn’t every child?!), in the form of emotional closeness – talking about and sharing feelings, demonstrative love and an interest in and ability to hold the full gamut of my emotions.

When my child’s expectation of closeness, connection and expressed love wasn’t met, she panicked and tried to elicit that from him by expressing it herself, all to no avail, so by the time I was a teenager and first exploring sex and relationships, I was desperate for it but clueless about how to get it. A very bad combination. This led to my seeking that intimacy and closeness through sex, but in all the wrong places, with all the wrong kinds of people – well, men, thereby replaying my whole father dynamic, over and over and over again!

Fast forward to my relationship with Lea…right gender, totally loved up, fancy the pants off her, intimacy a breeze, right? Er no. Quite the reverse in fact.

All those old demons were still there. An utter fear of revealing myself – of being intimate – for fear of being rejected, of it not being held or reciprocated. These fears meant I constructed lots of defences to prevent her ‘getting in’ and seeing the real me, even though that’s what I wanted most, deep down. I could feel the panic at bedtime, rising up in me, the fear of being close, being seen, being vulnerable and exposed. It felt like I would do anything to avoid it. And I did! You name it, I tried it!

I think for me it was part of some master unconscious plan – a test that she had to pass – to prove she was worthy of me being vulnerable, that she cared enough to find me underneath all my defences, that she got me, could match me, that she’d still want me and hold me. I needed to know that whoever I let in gave a shit enough about ME to really see me and that they respected and loved THEMSELVES enough to demand that from a relationship. She certainly delivered!

So, how and why has this changed me and our relationship? In so many, many ways. Literally stripping away these age-old defences has enabled parts of myself that have been so buried, so dormant, so inaccessible for so long to be reached, to be tenderly (although at times necessarily brutally!) brought into the light so that they can fall away and I can start to play with how a more whole and integrated me might look.

Like any form of therapy, one of the goals must surely be to shine a light into those dusty, murky corners of ourselves that no-one else knows exists and we do our best to keep hidden, even from ourselves. Well this, for me, was a very cobwebbed, neglected corner of my psyche. I didn’t want to cast even half an eye over it, let alone shine a goddamn Belisha beacon on its contents! What was in that stagnant space felt too overwhelmingly big to ever be able to be tackled, dealt with or healed from, so best leave it alone right?!

Wrong! While I felt I could just ignore it and no-one would ever know, it would literally be seeping out of me in all kinds of unconscious ways! My children could feel my inability to hold any form of intimate space without me filling it with a joke, for heaven’s sake! My constant desire to be surrounded by lots of other people – on the auspices of being sociable – was often about avoiding intimate time with friends, relatives or partners.

Furthermore, given that I’m a very feeling person and can usually sense or get the measure of people’s stuff quite quickly, I was aware that other feeling people would be seeing my dusty corners very clearly too!! (Whilst not wanting other people to be able to see your shit before you, or even worse, they see it and you’re totally oblivious, clearly isn’t the right motivation for attending to one’s fusty recesses, it sure does give one a kick up the arse!)

Latterly, I’ve known I wanted to address it but was never really sure how to. I’ve played games in therapy for years, feeling disappointed that my therapists couldn’t call me out on this stuff. However, given that I’m in therapy still and take far more responsibility for resolving my stuff than I ever have, it still didn’t happen there.

It took being in a relationship with someone equally committed to looking at their shit, who could literally show me the consequences of my actions and have the courage to stand up to me, as well as the self love to not settle for a relationship so devoid of intimacy, that finally enabled me to change. Because it came from a deeply loving space where it felt safe to finally be seen in those ways, I could eventually let those old defences go. And do you know what? It wasn’t anywhere near as painful or difficult as I’d led myself to believe!

So now, guess what? I’m the moony, heart-eyed girl who can’t take my eyes off my girlfriend, who loves touching her, who looks forward to bedtimes and mornings and afternoons (Heathens!) and all the times in between. Who loves time on our own, who suggests the mushiest movies to watch together and who feels so excited by the new-found feelings of love, tenderness, romance and intimacy that she’s feeling, who embraces her more natural feminine energy, and delights in it!

Defences dropped, intimacy embraced….just the endless phone scrolling to work on now!!

This Theme’s Soundtrack…

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Big Magic

Dear you,

We’ve had an interesting few weeks. As part of my birthday present, Lea got tickets to see Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love. She was running a Big Magic Event in London based on her book ‘Big Magic – Creative Living Beyond Fear’. I was afraid!

Lea had booked a very swish hotel nearby and we got there on the Friday afternoon in time to have a Pret lunch in the park with a very tame squirrel and a small afternoon nap, before she took me out for a Lebanese dinner and a wander round Chinatown (bubble tea, who knew? Not I!). So far, so good…

We arrived at the venue the next day unsure what to expect. It was held in the Quaker building, in Friends house and we were to be in the Light room. All good signs. Yet I was nervous…

I’d read Big Magic a year earlier and had found it annoying, challenging and button pushing!! I can remember calling Lea on numerous occasions from my bathtub, indignantly ranting about some passage or other and insisting on reading said section out, spitting each word out venomously. My kids started to think ‘Bloody LIz Gilbert’ (BLG) was her real name!

And the reason for such tantrums and outbursts? Well, one of the biggest triggers was her insistence that ideas aren’t loyal. That they emerge out of the ether and search for a suitable host to bring them forth into the great universe of ideas to be magically realised. Surely that’s not so awful, I hear you cry? Ah, but you are forgetting something my friend…

Given that I’ve had an idea burning away inside me since I was in my mid twenties – an idea that I’ve never been brave enough to birth until now, some 20 odd years later – it feels more than a little unnerving to have BLG discuss my idea as some unfaithful, unloyal and fickle wee sprite, off to attach itself to another willing host if I don’t get my proverbial shit together – and the fear that maybe it already has…

Obviously, Bloody Lea Woodward (BLW) knew that behind all triggers there is damn useful learning fodder and so my present was purchased! But that wasn’t the only reason for us attending.

As you know, we’ve followed Liz Gilbert closely since we got together because nine years after Eat, Pray, Love’s romantic hetero conclusion, Liz Gilbert announced that she was in love with her, by then, terminally ill, female best friend, Rayya Elias. Following their love story whilst ours was also in its infancy was moving, poignant and ultimately painful when Rayya passed away in January this year. We identified with them and their journey, even looking vaguely like them as a couple, and to see someone find the love of their life and then lose them was a further wake-up call in our own vivid mid-life awakening.

Clearly there were a fair few other lesbian couples there who felt the same that day and that brings me onto my next issue with the day…the green eyed monster!!!

I’ve never really done jealousy before (more clues I was in the closet??!!) and yet with Lea I feel those pangs on occasion. It’s a most odd sensation in a relationship and quite disconcerting!!

To make matters worse I was in a very moony (for want of a less humiliating word) place with Lea, given that only a few days earlier we’d had quite a pivotal conversation about our relationship and the respective space we each occupy within it. This conversation deserves a whole post of its own, so I won’t dwell here, but suffice to say, I feel like I’m back at the start of our relationship; giddy, lovesick, yep there’s no less humiliating word, moony!

And yet here we were on a course with 998 other mainly women, unable to work together and Lea working with another pretty fit dyke. Seriously, this never really bothered me with men! I can even remember encouraging one of my exes to befriend his younger, fit PA, as I sensed a spark between them and thought it would make my life easier given I didn’t want to have sex with him! (Oh god that sounds so awful when I see it written down!).

On top of all this was Lea’s stuff; her utter loathing of being in a room full of people and being seen, especially when Liz was going round with a microphone and getting people to read out some of their answers and one of Lea’s partners, had her hand up wanting to read Lea’s! (I think she may have combusted had she not sat on both her partner’s said extremities and issued the Lea ‘stare of death’).

With all this emotional stuff going on as a backdrop, the workshop itself didn’t feel too taxing! We were guided through it beautifully by Liz who, still in the midst of grief, was open, warm and extremely skilled at making a room of 1000 people feel like a cosy intimate space where we could all share some pretty personal stuff, with strangers on a one to one, as well as with the whole room.

She joined in all the exercises with us which was useful (to see her examples), powerful (she’d done this process many times before and could get to the nub of things very quickly) and important as we felt she was really ‘with us’. Her relaxed and utterly authentic presenting style is still a rare one and – given that one of my core values is that people show up in my world with vulnerability – made me feel instantly trusting.

And the Big Magic? Well, the day itself was a gift in many ways – emotionally challenging, charged and thought provoking, however the really Big Magic happened after the workshop – but that’s really Lea’s magical tale to tell…

Dear you,

Yep, it was brilliant. I’m pretty sure 1,000-odd people left The Light (such a fitting name for the venue) wanting Liz Gilbert as their best friend!

The workshop itself was interesting – watching someone do their thing in such an accomplished, authentic and congruent way was worth the ticket price alone; the content of the workshop was valuable too. We basically had to write letters to ourselves from different parts of ourself – our fear, our enchantment, permission, trust and persistence.

And then we had to read each one out. To a stranger 😱  She made us switch who we were sitting next to in the morning and after lunch; you can imagine my (and Becky’s) reaction to that!!

As I think back to the day though, my overriding emotion throughout was fear – probably more like terror actually. I felt highly visible, uncomfortably seen and towards the end of the day as Liz was doing a Q&A I had an overwhelming sense of being desperate to leave; and we practically ran from the venue once it was over.

This experience – the sensation of terror – in itself was the nugget of gold…in our processing after the event, it was like a download of my stuff directly into my head.

Why on earth did I feel such terror? Why did I feel so visible? Why is the prospect of being seen so utterly repulsive to me?

You know how I’ve always preferred to stay in the background – personally and professionally, avoiding the limelight and never wanting to be front and centre…why?

The answer: Because my first experience of being seen resulted in my ‘primal wound’.

The memory that felt like it was downloaded straight into my head that day was a sense that while I was in my birth mother’s womb I somehow knew I wasn’t wanted, but I had a hope – an expectation in fact – that in being seen (born) things would change and I would indeed be wanted, kept, loved and not rejected, not abandoned. Obviously that wasn’t the case and therein lies my first and fundamental experience of being seen and what happens when I am: Rejection, abandonment and separation. Ouch.

It was a powerful insight and I’m sure you can draw the same conclusions from that around my career (and personal) stuff of wanting to stay in the background, never being front and centre, so I’m never really seen.

And yet, when I look back at the letters I wrote, one common theme emerges: my desire to be more fully and wholly seen 😳

As for us – Becky and I – it’s yielded all sorts of interesting insights!

On the day, we felt totally disconnected – which I think was largely down to me and my utter discomfort and need to disconnect.

And we didn’t actually read each other’s letters till a few weeks later – this past weekend in fact – which in itself was interesting and feel relevant to the whole theme of being seen and putting/having the focus on myself.

In a nutshell, Becky’s letters included a lot of me and mine didn’t include much of her!!! Although that caused a minor wobble, fundamentally I think it’s a perfect reflection of our stuff – our past experience of relationships, how we work together, and how we view our relationship together.

And no, it’s not that she’s not a feature of my life!! It’s that she’s already so embedded in my life as a defining feature, I didn’t feel the need or desire to make that explicit through my letters. And given there’s a current theme floating around of me finding and fighting for space and airtime, it feels like my letters – which were so unusually focused on me and no-one else – reflect that rather fittingly.

So…Big Magic indeed. And given what’s currently going on, this feels like just the beginning!

This Theme’s Soundtrack…

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Let’s Talk About Sex

Dear you,

Oh dear Lord. I still feel a bit coy about sharing this with you. Obviously, the question burning on everyone’s lips, including yours it would seem, when you announce you’ve run off to become a lesbian is ‘What’s the sex like?’!

Well, put simply, the answer is amazing! Now don’t get me wrong, the first times were nerve-racking. I may have fantasised about sex with a woman for some considerable time, but fantasies ain’t realities!

We’d both had near misses in the past where we could have discovered that oranges are not the only fruit, but despite the sexual tension of these encounters we’d never jumped, so to speak!

As neither of us had ever slept with or even kissed a woman before I felt like a naive virgin, and underneath all of that, for both of us, I think, was the fear of “What if giving is vile????!!!!! What if I don’t like the taste/smell????!!!! What if i have no clue what to actually do????!!!!”. Valid points, I’m sure you’ll agree. I think it helped that both of us were clearly nervous about the same thing and that we could laugh about it, well, a bit at least.

The first time we went down on each other was in a car. Bad, bad move. It was dark, uncomfortable and access was tricky! However, it got that first awkwardness out of the way and I think we were both bloody relieved that, far from being a chore as it had been with men, giving was a total delight and felt massively arousing!

When we graduated to a bedroom, things only got better. Gradually we played, explored, shared our fantasies (a whole other post!), experimented, and generally got comfortable being naked together. We watched The L Word together (if you haven’t seen it, do. I defy you not to fancy Shane!), found lesbian movies to watch, checked out the lesbian Kama Sutra (I so need to go to the gym!), bought toys, almost sent the toy receipt to school with the recycling for the ‘making box’ :0, read lesbian fiction (seriously if some of those tales are erotic I think people need more therapy!). It’s felt like some kind of coming of age.

However, all of those things, whilst titillating, are not what makes the sex amazing. Neither is it the fact that I feel like I’m finally with someone of the right gender. I think what makes sex amazing is that I’m with the right person. Someone who sees me, gets me, matches me, challenges me, accepts me. All of those things, combined with the fact that she’s a girl, have made this the most sexually fulfilling relationship of my life. For the first time ever I’ve been able to do Sex and Love. And that’s a big deal for an intimacy avoider like me. More on that next time!

Hey there,

Sooooo….the juicy stuff, pun intended!!! After 39 years of ‘straight’ sex, knowing I’ve always been gay, you might be wondering how it was for me!!??!

Well, I think one of the reasons I’ve never acted upon my feelings & desires is the utter terror that I’d have no idea what to do when faced with ‘down there’. How the fuck does one know what to do? I’ve always kind of assumed (or probably blindly hoped!) that if I ever found myself in that situation then lust and passion would take over and I’d kind of know instinctively what to do. And then there was the worry that I might not actually like doing it…

Fortunately, it did and I did 🙂

Our first (mutual – don’t ask!!) time was in a car!!! Hardly the romantic setting of the year and it was all kinds of awkward. Becky was upside down, I was on my knees (literally) and we were far too pre-occupied with hiding our faces whenever a pair of headlights came driving past. But it allayed my fears in one fell swoop.

As for the mechanics – because I know you’re desperate to ask…

  • Going down on a woman is 1,000,000x more pleasurable than giving a man a blow job. And my instincts did kick in, though I went off the premise that if I did what I knew I liked being done to me, then I’d probably be ok.
  • Fingering/stroking a woman is 1,000,000x more arousing than giving a man a hand job.
  • Scissoring is not a thing. At least not for us, and that’s not for want of trying, we just can’t seem to figure it out!!

Sex with a woman is softer, gentler – and I would say more intimate though that’s a whole other story to get into at a later date! It’s far less goal-oriented than with a man and what I’m really surprised at is how much I utterly enjoy giving and not just receiving. That NEVER happened with a man. EVER. But giving to a woman is all kinds of arousing, no matter which way it happens.

And orgasms…with men, it’s always felt like a sort of weakness. You know…they’re lead by their penises, will do anything to get off and it’s often felt like it doesn’t really matter who they’re with (in!!!), as long as they reach the end game. It’s like I don’t respect them when they’re so intent on an orgasm, because it feels like it doesn’t actually matter whether I’m there or not, and it’s a kind of weakness that they’re so intent on achieving it at all costs. Watching a man orgasm? No thanks.

It’s so completely different with a woman…watching a woman orgasm…a MASSIVE MASSIVE turn on. And the level of intimacy – even with the intimacy stuff we’ve had to work through to get here – is so much more intense.

So would I recommend sex with a woman – even if you’re not necessarily gay (though you know how I feel about that!!) – OHHHH YESSSS! (Said in my best Meg Ryan voice, over and over and over again :P)

This Theme’s Soundtrack…

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