What I did on my summer vacation.
How level 1 saved my marriage, and my life.
Starting at the beginning:
Back in April of 05, I first became aware of HAI.
I was looking for some solution to the ever deepening problems between myself and my wife of 30 years. No marriage is perfect, but about a year prior, our relationship took a big turn downward, and the slope only seemed to get worse with time. I did everything I could think of to make things better, but nothing worked.
Betty continued to draw away from me, in a pattern that I would come to call "too busy, too tired". There was always a reason that she couldn't spare me any time. I even came to resent her going to church, looking at it as three hours, three times a week, when she was "too busy, too tired" to spend any time with me.
I started looking around online for anything that would apply, any insight I could find. Eventually, some link or other brought me to the alt.polyamory group on usenet. After lurking there for a while, I was really impressed with the maturity of the discussions, and the general open-mindedness that I saw there. I gave a summary of our problem, and was pointed to a few resources, including HAI.
Apparently, we were somewhat unusual, in that we came to HAI through the net, rather than personal recommendation. Signing up for the workshop was a pretty big leap of faith to me, both financially and emotionally, and the scarcity of information on the HAI site didn't help much.
Fortunately, I was able to find a number of testimonials from workshoppers. They were unanimously glowing praise, but that made me more, not less, hesitant. I know of another organization that uses member web sites like this to pull in the folks they lovingly call "raw meat". My shields were up.
Still, I knew that we needed a solution, and things were getting worse. I came to the brink of suicide a couple of times. Literally seconds away. Hope kept me going though, and I decided that the HAI workshop was the most likely path to a solution. There was one coming up in a month or so in the Midwest. So I was ready to suggest it to my wife,
when she told me that she would need total knee replacement surgery. So much for that plan.
The replacement went superbly, but delaying till August 19th was sounding like "when we get permanent colonies on Neptune"
Time dragged on, like a raw wound across the coarse side of a cheese grater, with a side of salt.
Things got just a bit better, probably because I was working an average of 14 hrs a day, seven days a week, and we just weren't put in proximity all that much when we were both conscious. Instead of being my best friend and lover, my wife was now "The woman I sleep with", with the emphasis on sleep.
Then I hit that other hurdle. The "clothing optional" part. Previously it had been only theoretical, but as the date drew nearer, I knew that I had to essentially lay down a $1000 bet that we would be attending. Now someone who didn't know me might think that I would be ok with it, but in fact I really didn't know whether Betty or I would have the bigger problem with it.
I quit high school because I couldn't graduate without taking a PE class, and that would require "THE SHOWER SCENE". For as long as I can remember, Iíve used stalls in bathrooms, and cut myself out of any situation that might resemble the shower scene. My wife didn't have that problem, so in that respect, she was well ahead of me.
I finally came to the decision that if the solution to our problems was in doing this workshop, then I would do whatever it took. Now I just had to go to her with it.
I did consider what I later learned is called "Haijacking" her to the workshop, but that didn't sit well with me. Desperation, and fear that she would refuse were calling me to haijack her, but I just couldn't do it. I contacted Deb and Norm, and asked my sister about it, and got confirmation of the answers that I knew were right from the start. So, I laid it all out in front of her, with the word 'OPTIONAL' double underlined. I think she, in her own way, was as desperate for a solution as I was, because she agreed to go to the workshop. She did mention in a completely non-subtle way, that there was NO WAY IN HELL THAT SHE WAS GOING TO TAKE HER CLOTHES OFF. "Ok", I said, it says right here that you don't have to... We were at least in agreement that we wanted to find a solution. I knew that I was doing something wrong, and I had a pretty good idea that I would discover some unpleasant things about myself. (I had NO idea.....)
So now you know the Steve and Betty who walked in the door there late on Friday, after a 4 hour drive, an unplanned timezone change, and an hour sitting in traffic less than 10 miles from the workshop.
Little did we know just how different we would be after a year-long weekend that seemed to pass in a flash!
For me, the first time through the hand on heart was interesting. At the start I was a little uneasy, but again and again, I saw nothing but trust and love in the eyes of this batch of total strangers. An hour before, we would have walked right past any of you on the street and not given you a single thought.
The first evening went well, and really made us feel at home in the workshop. Come bedtime, we were both exhausted, and the gentle rain on the roof helped suppress my rising apprehension of the ordeal that I knew was coming with the morning light. Remember the shower scene? I hadn't forgotten, I can assure you! Sleep came quickly.
Morning came, and I found myself moving toward the 'Shower of Terror' on autopilot. Not afraid, but not exactly comfortable. As I commented at the time, I felt that I ought to have a big alarm bell going off, but it just wasn't happening. All the wiring was there, and I could feel the relay clicking away like mad, but it didn't seem to be connected to anything. A very odd feeling on the whole. The whole thing started to seem rather trivial and silly. I finally figured out the key. I'd never had any experiences that would give me confidence in this direction. I'd also had a bunch of "nude=bad" programming as a child, and obviously a high school locker room is pretty much the polar opposite of the room of love. While that wall isn't gone, it's changed from a steel bulkhead to more of a low curb, possibly with a wheelchair ramp.
Intimately touching another man was another thing that for me couldn't have happened before that magic weekend. Bigger surprises were in store though.
From the beginning of the workshop, lots of emphasis was placed on privacy and choice. Also, I was being shown, for the first time in my life, the differences between sex, love, and intimacy. This would lead me to my first big traumatic revelation later that night.
The CO moment:
Somehow this came as a shock, because I had gotten the idea that this came later on in the program, and I would have more time to get used to the idea. I knew intellectually, that there was nothing wrong with nudity in the appropriate times and places. At this point, it wasn't "real" to me yet.
I had already come to the conclusion that nothing but good could come from the weekend, and had decided to push my limits as far as they would go. So after the momentary panic subsided, I simply disrobed. I was wondering what Betty had decided, and had one amusing moment of "What if I'm the only one.... :)"
Imagine my surprise when I saw Mrs. "no way in hell" standing there next to me, also nude! I really felt proud for her. (still do!) I sort of forgot to marvel at my own leap of faith there.
I can certainly see why we aren't told in advance exactly what is coming, and I began to appreciate the logic in having us choose partners without knowing what we are choosing for. As I understand it now, the point is to underline that it really doesnít matter who you choose. Two recurrent themes present themselves: "Just by being you, you help me grow", and "I know you, you're just like me!" I keep discovering deeper layers of meaning in the exercises.
As I discovered Saturday afternoon, I did have some debris left from a work relationship with a gay engineer. He took my trust and abused it beyond belief. I had thought that after more than a decade, I had discarded those issues, but some of it was still there, and it was interfering with my relationship with another engineer that I am currently working on a problem with. After the workshop, I was finally able to entirely drop my guard with him, and stop seeing everything that happened in the debugging process as a personal attack. It allowed us to solve a critical problem for a client, in time to save their project from failure.
After lights out, I laid there, unable to sleep, with thought fragments chasing themselves through my head over and over. I don't know what time it was, during that endless night, that I made what would turn out to be the first major revelation of the weekend. Suddenly, I knew why we had been drifting apart, and what I was doing that made it worse!
In my ignorance, I had interpreted Betty's sudden lack of interest in sex, as her pulling away from me. I had begun to view the world only in those terms, and to me, it seemed like her only interest in me was for paychecks and taxi service. Looking back, I can't imagine what I was thinking, but I started to demand sex from her, with increasingly bad results. From my new point of view, I see that this was exactly the wrong thing to do.
For the rest of the night, I thought back over the years, all the things I had done... I knew I couldn't undo any of it. As it started getting light, I decided the only thing that I could do, was to make a clean start of it. Using my new toolset for this sort of major surgery carried a lot of fear, but as time went on, I knew that this was the right thing to do. I had to ask her to marry me again, in front of the group.
First, I had to put Betty at choice in the matter. I had to put her in a position to say "no". The only thing I could think of was to release her from our marriage vows. While this would be unofficial, not being effected by a legal divorce, I decided that if she said no, that I would immediately return home, and file an uncontested divorce as soon as possible. The other complication that I saw, was that the process of putting her at choice would really scare her. I never did figure a way out of that one.
All morning, I felt disturbed and uneasy. I came to really understand the expression of having a knot in your stomach. Eventually, I decided to float the idea with Felicia (one of our facilitators) as I wasn't sure whether this was appropriate for group share or not.
When I was able to talk to Felicia, I was barely able to get the words out. She asked how that might affect Betty, and whether I'd entertained the idea of her refusing me. We talked about it for a few minutes, and she told me that it would be fine, and I could pick the time.
As luck would have it, we had left our rings and watches in the car, as they had asked for a minimum of jewelry during the workshop, so I went out to the car on some pretense or other and returned with her engagement ring hidden in my pocket. (Clothing does have its uses!)
I must have run it in my head a thousand times that morning, so what follows is what I remember, but may not be word for word, what happened.
At some point that morning, on "Miracle Sunday", I decided it was time, and went up for the share. My memory of this is like a car accident, some parts are crystal clear, and others so foggy that only the events on either side convince me that they happened at all.
I am pretty sure that I talked about my new understanding of sex, love and intimacy. I'm pretty sure that I explained how in confusing these, I had managed to drive Betty away from me. At some point, when I had made as much sense of it as I could, I asked Betty to join me.
With much fumbling of the microphone, I explained to her about choice, and that I understood now that it would be meaningless for her to say yes, unless she could also say no. I could see that she was terrified at what might be coming, and this only made it harder to say what came next. In order that she could really make that choice, I told her that I was releasing her from our marriage vows. Then, on one knee, I asked her, knowing all the ways that I had wronged her over the years, if she would marry me. I was in such an emotional whirlpool that I almost didn't hear her say "yes". I'm not sure what happened after that, but apparently we returned to our seats somehow.
The thing was, at this point, she had a fuller understanding of what I had done to her than I did. When I finally made that connection, it would almost cost us our lives.
After I calmed down from that catharsis, the rest of the workshop went on normally, if such a word can apply. What a special, loving, and timeless place that is. To snag a phrase from Heinlein, there was "Time Enough for Love". (if you haven't read it, I highly recommend it).
Finally that bittersweet moment came to pass, the closing hand-on-heart. How can I describe this in words? Seeing all these people, who had started out as total strangers, now possibly for the last time as intimate friends. Re-living those workshop fears and tears, and the joy of releasing those shackles of pain. I am still moved to tears by reliving that moment. I do think the closing hand on heart should go at about half speed. I could feel every second slipping away.
And so, with a little cleanup help at the end, we finally packed up and headed home. A fellow on usenet had warned me not to plan on getting anything done on Monday though, so we went on with our plan to head about halfway home, grab a motel, and then arrive home mid-day Monday. So we drove home in the weekend traffic, unaware of the second half of this drama that was about to hit.
At some point in the workshop, Betty became aware of why she had begun pulling away from me. In the spring of the previous year, the company that I was working for decided to terminate the project I was working on. Not long after that, my older daughter was date-raped.
Betty ended transferring the rape to me. Unfortunately, she also had a habit of a "no" during sex that frequently became a "yes" if pressed. The two are a dangerous combination. As Betty was explaining this to me, I could feel the beginning of another understanding coming on. I should have pulled off the road immediately, but it all hit me in a moment.
In my ignorance, and trying to follow the old game plan, something very evil happened. I had been raping my wife! At this point, I was dizzy, physically sick, and my vision went black. I quite literally could not see the road ahead, as we flew along at 70 mph. I drifted a fair way to the right, and pulled back instinctively when I hit the rumble strip. About then my vision cleared somewhat, and I was able to avoid colliding with whatever was in the left lane. We took the next exit for some hugs and a time-out.
We spent the rest of the day working out our new relationship, and establishing some boundaries, spelling them out in as much detail as possible. We don't want to be saying the same thing, but meaning something completely different. I was still coming to terms with the fact that Betty was willing to marry me. After all, when I asked her on Sunday morning, I had only a partial appreciation of what a shit I'd been to her. She understood it far better than I did, at that point, yet she still said "Yes". What an amazing woman.
That evening, we enjoyed our first real evening of intimacy in many years.
We set up a "sacred time" of 3pm till whenever on Tuesdays, which is going pretty well. It could be better, but the practical matters of keeping up with two daughters and two granddaughters living in a small house are pretty demanding. Still, we aim to firmly establish the custom, and have set Sunday afternoon as make-up time in case of any unavoidable interruptions.
There were so many things that happened that weekend, and I don't mean to slight anyone by omission. On the whole though, I think those stories are more proper for you to share. Each exercise that I did with you, every moment of conversation, allowed me to open up a little more. They allowed me to see things differently, or in the experiences I value most, to help someone else through a wall of pain.
So now that we've come to the end of the ride, the screaming has stopped, and we exit the coaster to our left, one thought remains...
CAN WE GO AGAIN?!
Of course we've already signed up for level two.
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