What feels good?
To be quite frank with you, I don’t know the answer to that question.
Somewhere in the last oh, we’ll say, several years, an epiphany began to dawn on me. And it said, loudly and insistently, “HEY! You are sabotaging yourself, chickadee!” I scoffed, naturally, and replied, in essence, “Whatever.” But, lo and behold, given enough time, most of us all embrace, however reluctantly, acceptance. And it appears that my personal Jiminy Cricket may have had somewhat of a valid argument. Jessie, my character in the book that’s proving traumatizing to me, pointed it out awhile back with all the hideous research her story’s required of me. See, Jessie hates being touched. A nice kid tried to hug her and she broke his nose for it. She lost it when she went to the doctor’s office because he put his hand on her shoulder and she could not get past that. She gets violently ill when touched, so virulent is her dislike of it. But, here’s the kicker: she doesn’t hate being touched because it hurts. She hates being touched because she doesn’t know what it’s like to be touched and so she has decided that she would rather go on not being touched than risk realizing that it’s not so terrible. She does not know that refusing to let others touch her appropriately is actually hurting her more.
Hm. Stop. Feel my heart just break a little. Breathe again, and continue.
I just got out of a garden tub bath. You don’t have any comprehension how much I love my garden tub. I fill it full of steaming hot water, light two candles, make some bubbles and get in. I lean back and do… nothing. I close my eyes for a few minutes and breathe deeply. The bubbles start seeping into my skin, making me feel soft and rejuvenated. Then I open my eyes. I am still. The water feels so nice, and the bubbles feel wonderful, too. I’m uncomfortable laying back, though, so I sit up and rub some of the water up one of my arms and then do the same to the other arm. As I sit here, I’m gritting my teeth, forcing myself to admit that the bubble bath in my garden tub feels good. At least, that is, until I feel the familiar pangs of guilt. Then, the following is what goes through my head, all within a matter of a minute or two. Soaking in a tub, how self-indulgent. I should be cleaning. I should be writing. I should be doing something. Besides, what if the girls wake up? They won’t know where I’m at, and they’ll be scared. I should get out. I’ll just sit here for one more minute or so…. hmm, this water is hot. That’s so strange, how my skin feels soft right now… I am being so, so silly. This is totally wasting time. I’m getting out. And, out I get.
I started thinking about the question: what feels good?
I can think of only a couple of things:
1) Hugs. I’m a firm believer in hugs. They are, most often, warm and wonderful. But they are totally justifiable in that you can’t receive a hug without giving one in return and so there’s huge emotional incentives involved in hugs.
2) Cold air from freezers or air vents blowing directly on my face. I love the feel of this, and have since childhood. The air can sometimes help my migraines. Also, strangely, I’ve never felt guilty for pausing for a few seconds in front of a blowing vent, or standing in the freezer a moment longer than necessary.
3) Bubble baths in the tub. It has no redeeming qualities. It doesn’t help my migraines. Really, it just feels good.
Now, over the years, there’s been a few notable exceptions but, generally, these three things are really just about the only physical things I can attest to having felt really good. I find this both odd and sad. You see, the truth is, I think, somewhere along the line, my subconscious decided that being touched was entirely too risky and so it built these nearly impenetrable walls. Whenever someone or something nice touches me, I instinctively block the sensation. I tune out so that I can’t feel or acknowledge it. If it’s really good and I can’t block it, if it starts to make a crack in my walls, I simply remove myself from the source of the touch. Guilt gone, problem solved.
This is prime sabotage, people.
I mean, I’m not Einstein, but I can hold my own in intellectual conversations and, you know, I know touch is a good thing. In fact, I’m writing a book about how traumatizing and life destroying the lack of touch can be. The research for this book has been mind-numbingly, staggeringly awful. It’s so sad I don’t even want to finish it, which, if you’ve read most of my other works, says something. And, as for the guilt, that awful companion I wish would take a long hike…
What, exactly, am I guilty of, if I allow something nice to touch me?
To peel back the first layer of raw wound…. there was once a little girl with my name, and she went through some terrible things, things that hurt her spiritually, emotionally, physically and mentally in ways that she still probably hasn’t fully grasped. And, even if I’m magnanimous and say I wasn’t responsible for her til I was a teenager, the fact is there was a point where I knew what to do to make it stop–and I chose not to. I haven’t heard anything yet that’s convinced me I can excuse myself for that. My pastor came close. But the problem is — no one else was me. No one knows what I knew. And even if my reasons were honorable and good and just, in the end, it still boils down to the fact that I chose to allow terrible things to continue to happen to a little girl.
I can’t forgive myself for that. And I can’t forget it either.
Somewhere during my first year of college, my subconscious made a promise to the child I once was. The promise went something like this: “I’m sorry. I will not allow you to be hurt like that ever again.”
How was she hurt?
So… I’ve pretty much forbidden myself from experiencing anything good. An act, after all, is an act is an act: call it love or call it abuse, the physical act of touch is the same. Context may differ, but it was the touch itself that traumatized that little girl, so, be context what it will… I’m not allowed to receive positive touch. If I’m hurt, the only way I’ll take medicine is if the pain is interfering with my being able to mother my children in the way they are used to. Giving isn’t against the rules, so I’m allowed to give good touches all day long, to anyone. But I’m not allowed to receive. As for intimacy…. I didn’t see what the problem was, if I was giving all the time. The truth is, though, that’s a contradiction: by only allowing yourself to give touch, but never receive it, you’re also denying the other person from being able to give you the gift of a pleasurable touch. In the end, then, it’s called sabotage and perhaps explains why, with a few notable exceptions, I can’t name something specific that would classify as feeling good.
In order to fix it, I’d have to first convince myself I wasn’t responsible for staying silent. Then I’d have to somehow forget or excuse away the most important promise I’ve ever made. Jessie crosses my mind: that sweet eight year old who won’t allow a fellow kid to give her a hug, who freaks out at the mere thought of a gentle touch. What is depriving herself of? Or do I even want to answer that question? Probably not really so… instead, I”ll smile and, once or twice a month, indulge in a five minute bubbly soak in the garden tub.