“It’s easy to take off your clothes and have sex. People do it all the time. But opening up your soul to someone, letting them into your spirit, thoughts, fears, future, hopes, dreams… that is being naked.”
~ Rob Bell
I lie there totally naked and frozen. Stiff. Robotic and posed, waiting for him to come to bed.
Smiling, not smiling?
I never thought I would be single again, and I can feel fear threaten to overshadow the excitement and arousal. It is only the promise of what is to come that keeps me from trying to escape. How long would it take me to collect and put back on all the items of clothing that are strewn about the floor?
What if my body is disappointing? He seemed eager enough when we were making out like teenagers whose parents were out for the night, but he did not see all I fight to hide. We have been intimate for months, not on a sexual level, but intellectually and emotionally. However, the spiritual and physical vulnerability involved in this moment threaten to keep me immobilized by panic. I am sure I look like a mannequin with limbs askew and a demented smile pasted on my face in an attempt to look sexy.
What if I don’t know how to touch him, kiss him, look at him? How will he know how to touch me, kiss me, look at me? Am I going to be able to communicate my desires and pleasure, or will I remain rigid and go through the motions?
I hear the bathroom door close, and he comes out naked and obviously unconcerned by what I see as flaws in my body. The smell of him. Cologne, masculinity and rum. Utterly intoxicating. He smiles and slides next to me, wrapping his arms around me and holding me like I am a sacred treasure. As he leans down to kiss me passionately, I feel the thaw begin.
In the afterglow, or maybe aftermath, my brain will not disengage. Energized by the feelings of the pleasure and positive energy I gained from my willingness to bare all on so many different levels, I have a clarity that surprises me.
We are primed for a desire to be accepted, cherished and touched. Touch is the physical manifestation of the love we crave. Infants who are not touched often suffer from a failure to thrive or attachment disorders. No matter our age, a hug can go further in solving discord than endless words or logic. Touch and affection are inextricably connected with acceptance and love.
Acceptance and love are the goal—not an afterthought.
I think of numerous friends and clients who stay in bad relationships, pursue toxic men or live in some gray world where there is no great sadness, but neither is there happiness. Almost every one of them says that they can’t stand the thought of being naked with someone new. Letting someone new touch them. So they suffer or settle.
Most if not all of them, regardless of gender, have body image issues. My belief as a personal trainer was that if I helped them to be more comfortable with their bodies through training and nutrition, they would get over this fear of exposing their physical form. Exercise regimens and good food were the answer to all their problems!
I was surprised when the self-sabotage began and their fear overcame my solution for their struggles. When happiness was at their fingertips, why would they set themselves up for failure? Perhaps innately they knew that the perfect body would not assuage their suffering, but would take away that excuse for the discord.
Fear of being vulnerable and exposing what we perceive as our flaws and weaknesses can lead to multiple struggles:
People-pleasing behavior. We all can slip into roles in our lives, but many of us no longer recognize our authentic selves. We believe that if we are always happy, concerned, adaptable and resourceful, then people will love us more. Unfortunately, the the cost of this love and acceptance, if it is even forthcoming, is dangerously high. This pattern can produce resentment, sadness or, even worse, apathy.
Seeking sexual touch for momentary acceptance. Seeking sexual touch—mistaking it for intimacy and connection—can be equally as damaging. Orgasm is a short-term high in comparison to love and acceptance, but it is a real high. Some are able for a fleeting moment to confuse sexual desire for something deeper or more meaningful. For those with sex addiction, intimacy is something to be avoided, as they seek only escape from a scarcity of love.
Remaining in abusive or apathetic relationships. The statistics on abusive relationships are staggering, and amidst the laments about why she/he stays, the answer is most frequently fear. It is not always fear of the abuser, though, as many are numb to the physical and emotional violence. It is fear of never finding someone else who finds them attractive; fear that their history makes them unworthy of love; fear of starting over and losing all the effort they put into the person they love. Whether the abuse is physical, emotional or both, fear is a prison cell that can keep us trapped.
As I reflect on my willingness to be vulnerable with this man and in my life, I ask myself several questions:
Am I braver than my fellow humans? No. I am just motivated. When the pain of remaining the same was greater than the pain of change, I evolved. And so, momentum began.
Am I more resilient that those around me? No. I am only willing to view my life as constant forward motion, albeit sometimes at snail speed.
Am I more skilled than others? No. I have learned to receive help from greater resources than mine and to accept the support around me.
Vulnerability less than a year ago meant risk and pain. Now, it represents power, courage and joy. In what has been a transformative quote for me, Brené Brown says,
“Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy—the experiences that make us the most vulnerable. Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.”
We embrace the power and joy of being human when we can say, “Here I am, naked physically and emotionally. I am willing to stand. Strong. Exposed. Worthy.”
Author: Lisa Foreman
Editor: Toby Israel
Photo: Bart Callebert/Flikr