I’m currently in the process of revising the version of My Story (about my experience with Dr. T) that’s published on the site. I’ve been meaning to do this for a while (and have been putting it off for just as long), but I finally decided to dig in and get it over with. The reason for this revision? Well, when I wrote the original version, I was still quite dissociated and emotionally detached from my experience. As a result, that version was primarily focused on Dr. T and all the things he did; my emotions and I were a bit “absent.”
Now that I’m further along in my healing process, a bit more embodied and in touch with my feelings (after peeling off a few layers of denial), I’d like to bring a bit more of me into the story. So, I decided to revisit a delightful topic and ask myself: What exactly was it like to have sex with Dr. T?
Fun, eh? Well, why don’t you make yourself a nice cup of tea (or a stiff drink) and I’ll describe it for you.
While I’d like to be able to paint for you a straightforward picture of what this mythic experience was like, unfortunately, this is not a simple task. In part because this was something that went on for about four and a half years—which is a lot of sex to try to characterize. Even more challenging is the fact that, while some parts of me stayed present for my experience, others tended to “travel” (or even vacate the premises altogether). So it’s a bit difficult for me to offer a cohesive picture of my experience, because I simply wasn’t all there. Instead, I was a bit…scattered.
What I can say is that my experience of having sex with Dr. T involved a very odd combination of heightened sensory experience, intense bonding (with him), a sense of detachment (from myself), and complete surrender.
Generally, as soon as he put his hands on me, some strange chemical mixture started flooding my bloodstream, leaving me feeling “switched on,” like I was plugged into an electrical socket. My whole system became primed for him, ready to give and receive. I felt acutely tuned into him—hyperaware of his body, his touch, his voice, his scent, his responses—everything about him. All my senses were focused on him. I was so plugged into his experience that it was as if I were no longer in my body, I was in his. If he was happy, I was happy. If he was turned on, I was turned on. His reactions became my reactions. I no longer felt like a separate entity. As he became the sole focus of my attention, my boundaries dissolved and I merged into him, losing myself in the process.
The more intently I was focused on Dr. T and his experience, the less aware I was of my own. Often, I was able to observe what was going on but in a very detached way. It was as if my thoughts, emotions and physical sensations were all disconnected from each other. I was aware of random thoughts floating through my mind and physical sensations in my body, but they were usually just observations with no meaning attached. Interesting, perhaps, but irrelevant. Nothing really mattered. Everything seemed a bit “abstract.” All my attention was on him.
In the beginning, however, I felt genuinely confused by the sex. Dr. T seemed to think that all women liked it hard and fast and got turned on by crude (and objectifying) language. (Apparently, I am not like “all women.”) I really wasn’t sure what to make of this. It was definitely not what I was expecting—or hoping for—from him. If our sexual involvement was based in love and spirit (as he said), then shouldn’t our “lovemaking” be more tender and gentle? I felt confused and, frankly, put off by his preferences. Was this really what he liked? Was this really how he wanted to be with me? I had such love for him—I wanted to enjoy this experience. To feel any other way about it seemed disloyal. So, I repressed my “discomfort” and made it all okay. Just because he liked things that were different from what I usually enjoyed, that didn’t mean they were bad. I just needed to get used to them. Plus, if I loved him as much as I believed I did, shouldn’t I be willing to accept all of him, as he was? Wasn’t that the loving thing to do?
I decided I would learn to tolerate things that maybe I didn’t particularly like, whether it was his more aggressive style, his predilection for positions that left me feeling emotionally disconnected from him (and rather more like a prostitute than a partner), the “compliments” that reduced me to a collection of body parts (and usually involved words like tits, ass, and pussy), or his far too frequent use of the “F” word when narrating our activity. (I’m sorry, but hearing your therapist say, “Oh God, baby, you f*** me so good!!” just doesn’t feel quite as heart-warming as “Oh sweetheart, you’re so beautiful! I love you so much!” if you know what I mean.)
I “adjusted.” I tuned out what bothered me and changed who I was and what I wanted in order to accommodate him. His “hard and fast” style became not simply intense and exciting but validating, representative of his need and desire for me. If he wanted to have “angry” sex, then perhaps I could meet him there and let out some of my own repressed steam. I would be whatever he needed me to be. Instead of judging the experience, I simply focused on pleasing him and surrendering into a state where the material world no longer mattered.
Though I have always had a rather strong need to stay conscious, aware, and as much in control of myself as possible, when we were having sex, my tendency was to totally let myself go and abandon myself to the experience. I was so out of my body that I felt as if I were in a state of ecstasy or rapture. (The word rapture, by the way, comes from the Latin for “to seize, carry off.” It is also the origin of the word rape.)
My ability to make judgments—and act on those judgments—was largely suspended. Consequences became irrelevant. When what I observed from my detached state was something potentially “problematic” (like, Wow, he’s going at it really hard. Maybe I should tell him to back off… or, This position could really tweak my low back…), any concern for myself came from a place so remote that it was easy to disregard it and simply do nothing. Thankfully, my self-preservation mechanism wasn’t completely asleep; occasionally it would kick in and prevent me from doing anything terribly risky. But often, if what we were doing was physically uncomfortable for me, it didn’t matter. Even if I could have felt pain in my body (which I usually couldn’t, given what I expect were fairly high levels of endorphins and other feel-good chemicals rushing through my bloodstream), in my mind it was as if by hurting me, he was taking possession of me, marking his territory—and I wanted that. In fact, I was happy if he left marks. It made me feel like I was his, that he had “claimed” me. Any marks he left on me I wore proudly, as if he had branded me his own. They made me feel special.
One incident in particular stands out in my memory. We were in the middle of having sex and he happened to have his hand wrapped lightly around my throat. I was aware that, if he were to apply just a bit more pressure, he could easily cut off my air supply—and I could potentially pass out. But I didn’t care. I was his—and he could do what he wanted with me. If he wanted my life, he could have it.
After we had sex I usually felt incredibly high. (Or at least completely spaced out.) And then, a few hours later, or the next day, I’d come down. Back to earth, back to reality. Back to…confusion. After the high wore off, everything could look different. Things I’d done, things he’d said—all okay in the moment, maybe not so okay later on. I’d try to make sense of what had happened, but often I just ended up feeling befuddled. Like there was a fog or haze in my brain that I couldn’t see through, however hard I tried.
It took a while for me to get completely back into my mind and body after I’d been with Dr. T. Any emotional responses I had to our interactions (sexual or not) were usually delayed until I was alone again. Then, my emotions would gradually start trickling into my conscious awareness, though the lag time could be as long as one or two days. I’d start to feel odd or embarrassed or upset or confused about something that had happened between us, and not really know what to do about it. Sometimes I’d want to talk (Isn’t that what people in relationships do? Talk?), but Dr. T was usually not available for discussion until our next session.
Sometimes, I felt really confused about things I’d done when we were together. Things that seemed outside my usual preferences or that I’d avoided—or refused to do—in the past. But, I rationalized, maybe I was changing, letting go of all my old rules, restraints and inhibitions. Maybe those things just didn’t matter so much to me anymore. Except, something just felt odd, not quite right… I really didn’t know what to think. So, often I simply chose not to think about any of it.
Then there were the times that I did feel very emotional during sex. While I was often aware of feeling very bonded to him, sometimes this stirred up a deep yearning in me, accompanied by a profound sense of lack and loss. Something vital was missing. I had such a longing for his love and for deep connection with him, but I felt acutely aware of not having it. I could sense his emotional detachment and separation from me, and it was painful. I felt like I was grieving some deep, unrequited love. Something inside of me was crying out for him, for a visceral connection that I could hold onto. I just wanted to crawl inside him where I could feel safe and secure. The only way I could even begin to satisfy this yearning and close the gap between us was to drop all barriers to him and completely submit.
Longing and grief weren’t the only emotions that showed up. Around the third year of our involvement, I sometimes felt a strange sense of anger boiling up inside me. I couldn’t understand where it was coming from. Why was I angry at him? I loved him. And yet I found myself feeling almost…violent. As if I wanted to hurt him. Sometimes I would allow this anger to come through and I’d try channeling it into the sex. But the more controlling and aggressive I was, the more turned on he got. This wasn’t exactly the reaction I was hoping for. (There’s nothing like trying to hurt someone and watching them get more and more excited…) So I’d back off and give up control to him once again, feeling guilty for my angry feelings (that he surely didn’t deserve) and vaguely powerless. I couldn’t hurt him without also hurting myself. Why bother trying?
For the most part, however, despite my ongoing submission to him, having sex with Dr. T gave me a sense of power that I did not feel anywhere else in our relationship. I could affect him, turn him on, make him want me. I had the power to please him—and thus be virtually assured of getting his gratitude and his approval. Pleasing him provided me with a sense of security: If I did a good job, then he’d be happy with me, and hopefully our connection would be safe. If I could make myself indispensable, then maybe I wouldn’t lose him. Maybe he’d want to keep me in his life. Maybe he’d really love me.
Sex was the one way I knew I could make him happy. So if I wanted to hold onto his “love” and approval, then I had to keep doing it, didn’t I?
* * *
What was it like having sex with Dr. T?
It was like being in a dream. None of it felt real, solid, grounded. It was as if we met on a different plane of existence, outside space and time. Just like in Rumi’s “field”:
Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing there is a field.
I’ll meet you there.
(Dr. T quoted that to me a lot. I regret that he used Rumi’s poetry to sanction an abusive relationship, since I rather like Rumi…)
The sex felt extraordinary, in the literal sense of the word. Often, I couldn’t quite believe it was happening. Oh my god, my therapist is having sex with me! When I was in that space with him, the real world and all its worries went away. I was in a place where nothing and no one else mattered. There, I could let go of myself—my cares, concerns and inhibitions—and just be. I could do things I wouldn’t normally do—and that was okay. Everything would be fine. In that place, there was no judgment, no fear, no concern for myself, my future, my life.
The things that bothered me in the beginning—I got used to them. I made them be okay. I had to, if I wanted to hang out in that otherworldly space with him. It was all about acceptance and unconditional love and being grateful for what I had rather than focusing on what was wrong or missing. To have this with him, I could do that.
I’d never felt that kind of bliss before, that willingness to submit absolutely, that rapture. If he wanted to use me as his vessel, I was only too happy to lie back and surrender myself to his needs. His wanting me validated my very existence, it gave my life meaning. And in return, I was glad to give him as much of myself as I could.
It was one hell of a fantasy.
During my deposition for the civil lawsuit, Dr. T’s attorney claimed I’d said (in my journals) that this was the best sex I’d ever had in my life. I remember looking at him, thinking, I never said that. Mind-blowing, maybe (literally). But definitely not the best. Even in the heat of the moment I knew that Dr. T was by no means the best partner I’d ever had. As much as I longed for him and felt inextricably bonded to him, I was still very much aware that the sex left a lot to be desired. Like: a partner who was emotionally present, who treated me with love and respect and said nice things to me; a partner who could be tender and gentle—and who didn’t use the “F” word all the time! The best sex I’d ever had? Hardly! But I was deeply attached to someone I worshiped, someone from whom I desperately wanted validation and approval—and as long as I was getting some semblance of it, that to me was bliss.
After six years, I am still trying to recover from the effects of having sex with my therapist. It can be hard for me to stay present when I talk about our sexual relationship or think about it in any great detail. Often, I get a little spacy and start to fog over and then find myself reaching for something to eat. Other times, the chemical responses kick in and take over my body—as if it’s all happening once again, right now. (Some researchers believe that those who tend to dissociate during trauma are more likely to suffer from PTSD. Aren’t we lucky?)
I’m doing my best to get back inside my body and bring feeling and presence back to all my parts. It’s pretty common for abuse victims to have somatic complaints that are unresponsive to treatment, particularly in the abdominal and pelvic regions—and I seem to have a few. Recently I started working with a psychotherapist trained in Somatic Experiencing®, a form of trauma healing pioneered by Peter Levine that focuses on body awareness. I’m crossing my fingers that doing this work will help to resolve some of my emotional and physical issues. I’ll keep you posted.
It seems pretty extraordinary that an educated, well-respected therapist would (literally) screw with a patient, but I know I’m not the only one who’s gone through this. Because this type of sexual “relationship” can leave us feeling unsure of what’s real and continuing to mythologize the therapist, I think it’s important to talk openly about our experiences and ground them in reality as much as possible. So here’s to the uncomfortable conversations that will hopefully leave us all feeling a little bit saner.
* * *
For information on Somatic Experiencing and Peter Levine’s work, visit www.TraumaHealing.com.