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Popular cheap essay writing for hire for college I traveled around the country telling strangers how to balance their workloads and better their lives—until I learned the hard way that the people offering to solve your problems are often the ones who need help the most. This is what I was thinking as I lingered 20 rows back, waiting for Bree, my boss, to finish huddling with Deepak onstage about the presentation he would give that evening. Bree ran the San Francisco chapter of The Learning Annex, that mainstay of adult education courses for the personal-growth set. This was the mid-nineties, when people still called the New Age movement “the New Age movement.” Deepak was our big get that season. I just found it surprising that moments before the dry run now underway, this beacon of enlightenment, a man supposedly above the trivialities of ego and self-doubt, had asked Bree if the khakis he was wearing made him look fat. We proudly positioned the blurb announcing his lecture at the front of the newsprint catalog on its own two-page spread, rather than tucked away amid the litany of courses taught by shamans, sexperts, and self-professed real estate tycoons. Apparently, I learned, gurus are people too, even gurus lining the self-help shelves of friendly neighborhood bookstores. They aren’t infallible, all-knowing oracles above worrying about their generous muffin top or widening backside. They are people — businesspeople with books, keynotes, and openings in their consulting practice to peddle. “It’s all smoke and mirrors,” my friend Cherise, a ghostwriter for a number of these bestselling gurus, told me the following week over tea, her Mission District apartment stuffed with piles of self-help books, CDs, and videos. “Many of these people are no more qualified to dole out life lessons than you or I.” * * * decade and change later, I got a firsthand taste of the guru trade. Just keep me posted so I can tell everyone what shows to see you on and when.” Shortly after this pep talk, the marketing director at my publisher gave me one of her own. It was 2007 and my first book, a career guide for creative types who didn’t want an office job, was approaching publication. ” my mother said when I called to tell her my advance copies had arrived in the mail. ” I explained to her that most authors, especially small press authors like me, don’t get the opportunity to meet the queen of daytime television. Everything was on track, she said across her large, cluttered desk. The PR team had begun to get some nibbles; I could expect to see a couple early reviews soon and would start getting calls for interviews any week now. Any grassroots steps you can take to connect with readers and build a following will help.” So began my year-long odyssey of doling out career advice to anyone who would listen. I also broke the news that I would not be flying first class around the country on my publisher’s dime or drinking Champagne from dollar-bill‑shaped flutes any time soon. Suddenly I was speaking in public, giving TV and radio interviews, writing nationally syndicated columns and recapping it all on multiple social media accounts. For most nonfiction authors I knew, “going on a book tour” meant blogging obsessively and visiting a couple cities where you had couches to crash on and knew someone who knew someone who ran a conference or an event space at which you could speak. * * * ook promotion is both the best and worst job a writer can have. Yes, getting asked to do interviews and appearances means people actually care about your book, or at least some producer or event organizer facing a hole in their programming schedule does. It’s flattering, thrilling, a dream come true — that is, until you sit before the TV camera in your pancake makeup and realize you’ve forgotten everything you’ve practiced saying for the past three days and, despite doing a hundred jumping jacks in the bathroom to calm your nerves moments earlier, your hands are shaking and your eyes are twitching and you’re pretty sure you’re going to throw up. To say I was an awkward public speaker is to put it mildly. Most radio and TV interviewers are trained to smooth over their guests’ rough edges. At bookstore and library podiums, it’s possible to pass off repeatedly losing your train of thought or bonking your glasses into the microphone as charming. Not so much when you’re at the head of an auditorium filled with hundreds of professionals who expect you to sound like you’ve been commanding crowds your entire life. During one particularly disastrous talk I gave to a chapter of the National Association of Professional Organizers, I took the stage only to realize I’d brought the wrong speech. I had agreed to pontificate on how self-employed professionals could stay organized. Only in my haste to leave my hotel room, I’d brought my speech on how writers needed to diversify their skill set. Flustered, I tried to improvise, shuffling through my printed pages for some semblance of a relevant talking point. A couple minutes in, I abandoned my carefully crafted slide deck, as it no longer had any bearing on the morass of words tumbling from my mouth. “Thank you for coming today,” the association board member who’d enlisted me to speak said once it was over, pressing a fifteen-dollar Starbucks gift card into my hand. (Thank you notes, gift cards, and the “opportunity to sell books afterward” were standard payment for D-List speakers like me.) I smiled sheepishly, desperate to make my way to the book signing table. “You might want to check out Toastmasters,” she said, nodding toward the stage. “I used to be terrible up there, too.” * * * met a lot of other self-help authors along the way. And I discovered there were two types of us: people who lived to write, and self-appointed experts hoping to get rich and famous. “A book is just a means to an end,” one A-list blogger told me in the green room of a local TV station, where we awaited our upcoming live segment. Eyeing her crisp red blazer and perfect blowout, I smoothed my rumpled blouse and tried to forget about my frizzy mane. “Your book is basically your calling card,” she continued. To her, a book deal was a business plan — a stepping stone to ad revenue, keynote invitations, corporate sponsorships, consulting gigs, even startup capital. If you wanted to make money writing books, you had to be a thought leader, a guru. Attaining Chopra-like status was tough but not impossible, my fellow authors assured me. The key was to monetize my expertise, as though every person I’d ever encountered was loose change waiting to be salvaged from the couch. To do so, I needed to pepper my website with authoritative photos of myself — arms crossed, face confidently arranged into a tell-me-something-I-don’t-know expression. I needed an e-newsletter promoting products my many acolytes could buy, like webinars, e-books, and 9 coaching packages. I also needed to invest ,000 in a media trainer who could teach me to hold my own with Terry Gross and Anderson Cooper. Never mind that ,000 was far more than I’d received for my advance and I was already behind on my rent. As I was beginning to glean, playing pundit was a hypocrite’s game. Rather than follow any of the aforementioned advice, I zigzagged along like the harried freelancer I’d become, rushing from column deadline to media interview to public event and back again, trying to keep both my Amazon ranking and checking account from tanking, often pulling all-nighters to keep up. My inbox began to crowd with angry “WHERE’S YOUR STORY? Each Monday morning ushered in a new round of deciding which late project to finish first. Sometimes I’d arrive at my public talks on two hours of sleep. “You look tired,” a colleague said after one particularly lackluster conference session I delivered on how writers could build an impeccable reputation. Three weeks later, the TUMS I was popping like Life Savers stopped working. Publicly I was the poster child for the well-balanced, successful freelancer. Writing a book about creating a self-styled career you love had led me straight to a job I hated. She neglected to mention the river of pasta sauce I’d unwittingly dribbled down the front of my dress at lunch. Friends were growing annoyed with me for repeatedly canceling plans so I could work late. The tornado in my chest was all I could think about. ” “A little…” I took the nurse’s advice and went to the ER. I was supposed to be this emissary of work-life balance, the queen of controlling one’s career destiny. My fiancé asked more than once if we were still engaged. My doctor now on vacation, I was left to my own neurotic devices. Six hours and multiple tests later, a cardiologist told me there was nothing wrong with my heart. Yet Sunday evenings now gave me the same fetal-position dread my book claimed to help readers avoid. I’ve known dating advice columnists who don’t date. At a rare dinner with a couple of buddies, one asked what I was working on. I called the 24-hour number on the back of my insurance card. I’d gone to the hospital with chest pains in my thirties, for chrissake, racking up ,000 in out-of-pocket expenses in the process. I interviewed a career expert who advocated nanny care for telecommuting parents while trying to manage two crying children between sound bites. “A story about entrepreneurs who don’t work 80 hours a week! I know a “turbocharge your freelance income” workshop leader who’s privately admitted he has no idea how much he makes because his wife handles all the money. The dirty little secret of those in the advice business is that we wind up teaching others the lessons we most need to learn ourselves. * * * hen the recession hit, my inbox filled with emails from people facing foreclosure and bankruptcy. People with unfathomable health problems and insurmountable piles of medical bills. One career advice columnist I knew had received letters from people asking if their family still could collect on the life insurance policy if the letter-writer committed suicide. After one of my bookstore appearances, a woman with short gray hair who resembled my mother approached me, her contorted face the embodiment of all those desperate emails. She had been out of work a year and was out of employment ideas. She was also worried about paying her mortgage the next month. I ran through my usual spiel about the hidden job market, interim freelance work, networking strategies for job hunters over 50. She spoke slowly, mournfully, shooting down each suggestion, insisting she’d already tried them all. It worried me that people in such dire straits would tap a stranger they stumbled upon online or in a bookstore for legal, financial, or mental health advice. These were questions to which the only responsible answer was, “You should really talk to a qualified professional about that.” It’s not that I didn’t want to help. “I don’t really have anyone to talk to about this,” the woman continued, the small bookstore now empty save for the two of us and the event coordinator, who looked to be closing up shop. And nobody cares.” The conversation limped along like this for some time, fruitless, hopeless. I suggested a couple sliding scale counseling services and she shot those down, too. I was starting to feel irresponsible, like the only way I could keep doing this was to forget about all the people my one-size-fits-all platitudes couldn’t help. Responsibility to offer advice you know works, preferably advice you’ve put to the test yourself. Responsibility to not try to solve people’s problems you are in no way equipped to fix. Advising others on how to steer their professional lives and livelihood was a job I no longer wanted. This wasn’t just a crisis of skills or cash flow; it was a crisis of conscience. It was time to make a choice: I could embrace a life of gurudom, assuming a slicker, more polished persona, selling what I knew and faking my way through what I didn’t. * * * is the award-winning author of The Anti 9-to-5 Guide and My So-Called Freelance Life. Or I could return to the quieter, simpler life of a freelance writer. Her essays and journalism have appeared in Salon, Vice, Bust, Mental Floss, nytimes.com, Seattle Times, Seattle magazine, Entrepreneur and several anthologies. Twitter: Branche Coverdale is a freelance illustrator based in New York. He graduated from Rhode Island School of Design in 2014. You can see his work on Instagram @branchecoverdale and Tumblr: branchecoverdale.older sister and I were outside a hidden glass door of a hammam, a Turkish bathhouse. We were there to experience a ritual, born in the seventh century, of washing and purifying one’s skin. Up above the glass door was a giant gray, faded dome, made of huge chunks of stone. ” I asked her, as we navigated down a wide staircase with no signs. We had traveled to Istanbul, Turkey, eager to see the world after saving up enough money for a summer trip. When we got to what appeared to be the entrance, we found arrows on the floor which indicated women were to turn right. I was terrified of showing anyone my small breasts. Growing up in a family of six as a Muslim-Bangladeshi American, I was always the flat-chested one. This took us down to a locker room, made of more stone with black and pink pebbles. Instead of women changing, we walked straight into a group of Turkish women in a circle, dancing, clapping their hands, and shaking everything Allah gave them. The only person who had seen them since puberty was her. My mother’s side of the family is filled with curvaceous cousins much further along in the alphabet than me: Cs, Ds and beyond. One woman yodeled while another clucked her tongue, in what seemed like a festive femininity dance. Some had the build of sumo wrestlers, others resembled tiny fairies. Their breasts and womanly figures propelled them into all sorts of torrid affairs I heard about three continents away. If I was to inherit the family history of diabetes, surely it would come along with a nice pair of double Ds. It had passed down to my older sister, who started wearing a bra at age ten, and was deemed a prized beauty. I, in contrast, was given the part of a small boy in our high school production of “Our Town.” I was medically underweight and undersized. My mother, my Mamuni, took me to a nutritionist to figure out what the problem was. After carefully taking my measurements and writing detailed notes on my eating habits, the nutritionist looked up from her notepad and declared, “She needs more butter.” Mamuni dutifully began to put butter in my rice at dinner, which made my previously delicious Bangla meals much less desirable, all in the hopes of fattening me up. After I got my period Mamuni resigned herself to the fact that I wasn’t going to grow. If I mashed them really hard, I had a hint of something. ” Apu didn’t need to add what we already both knew. * * * t wasn’t until I started wearing hijab in high school that I found a way to cope. “Well I guess that’s it, then” she said, looking at my chest. “I don’t even have cleavage.” She tried to cheer me up. I began to use my religion as an excuse to disconnect from my body. She didn’t bring it up again, but people outside of our home did. In a time where dating and looks dominate a girl’s thoughts, I was different from my non-Muslim girl friends in two huge ways: I did not date or have premarital sex, and I began to wear hijab to cover my hair for modesty and as a declaration of my faith. In a middle-school typing class, a boy I had a crush on, with green eyes and pale skin, once pounded on the side of his machine and said, “You’re as flat as this computer.” My crush soon faded. I had a hard time understanding what all the fuss was about. I had already started wearing long sleeves in middle school, and had covered my legs since fifth grade. I would often go to my sister, whom I called Apu in Bangla, for solace and education in these times, lamenting the fact that my chest looked nothing like hers. “It means you can push your boobs together, stick a pencil in between, and the pencil won’t fall.” She demonstrated. When I began to wear hijab, my understanding was that Allah encouraged men and women to be chaste, but called on women to wear hijab in chapter 33, verse 59 and chapter 24, verse 31 of the Quran, where, according to Muhammad Asad’s translation, it said, “And tell the believing women, to lower their gaze and be mindful of their chastity, and not to display their charms (in public) beyond what may (decently) be apparent thereof; hence, let them draw their head-coverings over their bosoms.” I took this a step further by burying my breasts within my hijab to hide my flatness. During high school, the more my friends pushed the boundaries of their sexuality and relationship with their bodies, the more I appropriated Islam to hide from my own. I convinced myself I didn’t care about fashion or looking good because I was on a higher spiritual plane, when really it was because I felt like a hopeless cause. I was so used to pinning the same black hijab tightly around my neck every morning, that I was surprised when a guy once asked, “Why do you wear it like a noose? ” I distanced myself from the idea of being attractive or having a body that was perceived that way. Instead, I became a brain with two brown eyes that happened to be attached to a pair of skinny legs. I felt less like a female and more like an amorphous, floating being. * * * ack in the locker room of the hammam, I told my sister, “I don’t want to be here.” “We can leave.” I thought about it. If I left, I’d go back to my hotel room, fling myself onto the bed, and make plans to see some other tourist attraction. I wouldn’t have to confront my body and deal with what would surely be awkward eyes fixated on my small chest. If I stayed, I’d do the exact opposite of what my mind was screaming, and enter into the unknown. I had come to Turkey to see a part of Islam’s rich heritage, explore a foreign country I may never see again, and embark on something new. The women were completely unabashed with their bodies, it didn’t matter if their breasts were too big or too small. I was in a beautiful stone and marble building built by the country’s greatest architect in the 1500s. I was tired of running, waiting for the day I’d arrive to a nameless, happier destination I’d chased since I was young. Overhearing us, a woman told me we could keep our undergarments on. Apu, of course, fluidly removed all her clothing with full confidence. They hadn’t separated themselves from their bodies as I had. I deliberated about what to do while the dancing continued; one woman even encouraged me to join in. Rather they were one complete organism, calling on all of their senses to harvest joy. I stored my clothes into a locker and wrapped my body in a peshtemal, a thin cotton towel, I found in my locker and walked into the bathing room, filled with steam. Straight up above was the dome and below it was a huge octagonal marble slab. I hadn’t realized from outside, but the dome had hundreds of tiny, stained, glass, circular windows to let light in. A washer greeted me and led me to a free corner of the heated marble slab, and I sat down next to a bucket of warm water and soap. The washer, a big woman, spoke only Turkish and so our main communication was when she tried to remove my underwear, which I had still kept on. I firmly shook my head no and kept my fingers tightened on the seam. I had never seen so many breasts – Turkish, French, American, Spanish, Japanese – all gathered together simply to be washed. None of the breasts, and the woman attached to them, seemed to care whether I snuck a peek or not, and none looked at my own in disdain. But I am a woman, just like them, and there is nothing more nurturing than being in a room with women who are all, in this moment, completely content. I stood up, went back into the locker room, put my bra and clothes on, and walked outside. The washer lathered me with soap and used a kese, a thick brillo mitt, to scour my skin so harshly I thought I’d bleed. I turned to my sister and looked at her with relief. After her initial lathering, she relaxed her hold, and with each exfoliation, I grew more calm, and felt that with every dead skin cell removed, a part of my old, unsure self washed away. Back there with my breasts bare, I let go of all restraint. After shampooing my hair, she laid me down on the warm marble to dry. I decided to be less interested in defining my femininity, or lack thereof, by my flat chest, and more by maintaining a strong, joyous body that can walk, run, think and love. I focused on being grateful for my healthy breasts that are, so far, cancer-free. The Quran refers to Allah in chapter 32, verse 6-7 as “The Almighty, the Dispenser of Grace, who makes most excellent everything that Allah creates.” Right there, Allah says it – I am excellent, I am grace, small breasts and all. If Allah had already given me this light, my duty was to brighten it. That meant I couldn’t just ignore my body or fight it, but nourish it for its work ahead. I still wear hijab, but now it’s a symbol of my faith and not something for me to hide behind. As my relationship with my body changed, so did my relationship with Islam. I realized I’d been regularly melding my body and mind, without knowing it, through the five daily prayers I’ve done since I was a child. In one part of the prayer, I stand and place my hands over my chest while reciting verses from the Quran. In that moment, my mind and chest are fully connected, and I do this 32 times a day. My body had been telling me that it was here to take care of me, and I was finally ready to hear the message. Though I’ve traveled further east and west since then, my time in Turkey remains a stark and mysterious crucible. I remember a lot about that trip, praying in the Blue Mosque, journeying across the Galata Bridge, better understanding Turkish women’s fight against the government to wear hijab – a fight they won. But my mind always goes back to the hammam, where I first lifted the anchor I placed in the pool of my own contempt, and allowed myself to sail free. y brother Johnny had just been paroled from the Georgia state prison system when I found my birth family. When the train taking me to the reunion pulled into the Savannah station, Johnny was waiting on the platform with my sister Belinda and my brother Mike. Already in tears, I went for my sister first, and then Mike, while Johnny stood quietly and waited his turn to hug me. Johnny was dark, like me and our mother, who’d died the previous year. He had a dimple on one cheek that appeared when he smiled, just like me. He was a good-looking man, as were all my brothers. He’d just been released from prison; his body was meaty and well-nourished. Learning I was related to someone with felony convictions didn’t bother me; I was no saint, for one thing, and I’d also been a criminal defense lawyer for ten years by then. Riding that train for twenty hours, I swung wildly between worries and hopes about what life inside a new family would mean to me. My mother had been fifteen when I was born, and just three months later she married the man who would be the father of the rest of her children, a daughter and five sons. I’d been adopted as an infant by a family up North. My siblings grew up with my mother and their father. Would they be so different from me that I’d be repelled? I’d learned a little about them all from letters and phone calls. It sounded like most of my five brothers were a lot like my clients. Unlike some defense lawyers I knew, I liked my clients – and I liked the no-frills, no-bullshit, blue-collar culture of people who were poor and struggling. At the train station, and all during the week of my first visit to Savannah, Johnny and I spent long minutes staring into each other’s eyes. I was under a spell of fascination with the resemblance I’d been missing my whole life as an adopted person, and although I looked like all of my siblings in some way, the resemblance was strongest between Johnny and me. He was the sort of man who wouldn’t look away from another person’s gaze; probably, I thought, a habit picked up in prison, where to look away meant weakness. I was 34 then, and he was six years younger than me. I wanted to be literally in touch, as if separating from him physically would tear off a piece of my skin. A book I’d read before getting on the train, , had prepared me for those sorts of feelings. Of the many stories of adoption reunions, there were a few of brothers and sisters, and mothers and sons, who fell headlong in love, intoxicated by “deep, unrestrained love” and “intense, incestual feelings.” This didn’t surprise or disgust me when I read about it, or even when I experienced it myself. After all, it’s easy to confuse love with sex and sex with love. I’d devoured stories of brother-sister incest all of my life: oon after I got back to New England from that first visit to Savannah, Johnny was arrested on a burglary charge. Confined in the local jail, he charmed the female relative of an employee into helping him escape. A few months later, I traveled to Savannah again, this time with one of my courtroom outfits packed away. I dressed up like a lawyer to visit my brother in jail, and brought the maximum number of boxes of Marlboros allowed. We sat in an open visitation area at one of fifty tables. Rules meant to prevent revealing attire were enforced against female visitors. In spite of that, the women visiting their men turned up the heat with the arch of their spines, the curves of their lips. Their heat spread to me, and I caught myself looking down at my breasts, which swelled against the silk blouse I wore, and I felt the same heat from Johnny. Psychologists will say we repeat our families’ pathologies because we try, as adults, to rebuild the patterns we know. I’d always been attracted to reckless men like my brothers, even though I didn’t grow up with men like that. Once I met my brothers, I decided my desire was simpler and deeper than trying to replicate a childhood pattern; it was blood calling to blood. For the next few years, Johnny and I communicated through letters while he was locked up. I learned, partly through his letters from prison, and partly through what others told me, that he’d been institutionalized at seven years old and given shock treatments and anti-psychotic medications. He’d been sexually abused by staff at that institution, and later in juvenile offender facilities and foster homes, where he was called “hyperactive.” By sixteen, he was living on the streets, and he’d survived by stealing and prostituting himself. “If the price was right,” he wrote in one of his letters, “but as I got older and wiser, I started just robbing them kind of people.” By the time he reached his twenties, he’d spent half of his life incarcerated. Johnny’s prison terms and deep dives into heavy drug use kept him away from all but one of the series of beach-house reunions I staged in the first ten years after I found my family. I was fixated on having everyone under one roof at the same time, trying to recreate the family-that-would-have-been if my mother hadn’t given me up, and I was oblivious to reasons why that might not be a good idea. That one he made it to was in the fifth year of my reunion with my family, after I’d left my first husband and sold my law practice, after I’d started teaching college classes. That year, I began drinking with my brothers, and drinking hard, as I had in my teenage years and early twenties. My uncle’s redheaded wife was the person in our family who most often told it like it was. When Johnny was released, and it looked like he would make it to the fifth beach-house reunion, she took me aside to tell me to watch him around children, and to explain why her husband – my uncle – didn’t want to be around my brother. When their daughter was three years old, they’d left her in then fourteen-year-old Johnny’s care and had come home to him with his pants down, his penis in the little girl’s mouth, and him saying “Just suck on it like it’s a bottle.” I wondered why my other brothers, or my sister, hadn’t told me Johnny had molested our cousin. Maybe they believed it wasn’t necessary because he was safely locked away so soon after I met him. Maybe they saw that I loved Johnny, and they knew love had been in short supply in his life. Maybe they wanted me to love him, and they were afraid I’d recoil in disgust. In that fifth year, in a crowded two-bedroom beach house on holding over a dozen people, where I was hell-bent on recreating the family dynamic I never had, I lay down on the Berber carpet in the room where four of my little nieces were sleeping in a bed. He and I were the last ones up after a night of full-throttle drinking. Other than the time I visited him in jail, this was the first time we’d been together since my first trip to Savannah. I’d been watching him around the children, the youngest of whom at that time were four-year-old Brandon, who was sleeping on a couch with his mother, and six-year-old Candi, who was one of the little girls in the bed. I punched a pillow down under my neck to make the floor more comfortable, and then I reached back and pulled Johnny to me. And even drunk, how could I have made that move with the children sleeping in the room? It was the familial love, the call of blood to blood, and it was sexual. “Please, don’t do that.” I stopped, realizing the wrongness of what I’d just done, and realizing I couldn’t get away with it. In a life full of bad acts, that move is the act I’m most ashamed of, even though it didn’t go any further than a gesture, even though my brother, the convicted felon, stopped me cold and saved me from myself. By that time, I was of two minds about him being in prison: it was violent, dangerous and dehumanizing, but safer than the street, where there was nothing at all to protect him. I’d just turned forty, and I was informed enough to know better. When I woke at dawn, Johnny was a few feet away from me on the floor, snoring heavily. At forty, he was no longer young and strong enough to rebound from privations and beatings, no longer quick enough to evade the rage of people he stole from, and on his way to becoming the homeless man who creeps around the edges of a campfire, snatching at scraps, and getting kicked for it. He was in prison in 2004 when my brother Rudy and his wife, who were addicts, signed the papers to give me guardianship of their daughter, my niece Candi. She’d just turned thirteen, and over Cherry Coke slushies, she told me Johnny had molested her, too, when she was about three years old. Her parents had gone out to score some drugs and had left him in charge of her and some other children. He brought her into a bedroom and started licking her private parts. He was an adult, not a confused fourteen-year-old kid. His assault on my little cousin wasn’t an isolated incident. I had to admit my brother had a predilection for molesting little girls. I wrote to tell Johnny I knew what he’d done to Candi, that she was living with me, that I still loved him, and that the next time he got out, I’d try to see him on his own, away from the kids. Current research leans toward the conclusion that pedophilia is hardwired, a sexual preference like heterosexuality or homosexuality that emerges in adolescence and is pretty much exclusive to men. But only about fifty percent of the men who molest children are actually pedophiles; the other fifty percent are men with histories of violence or personality disorders. I wondered which category my brother fell into, and whether it mattered. I messaged her, told her what I was writing about, and asked, does it matter to her? She told me no, the didn’t matter, but knowing Johnny was also abused helped her to let go of wondering why. And then she added: “Some of the worst things can become our biggest blessings. I’ve decided to heal and to not let that control me, so I don’t mind talking about it. I’m not hiding anymore.” I was reminded of my little cousin, who is now forty years old, and a conversation she and Candi had about Johnny, how my cousin said, “There can’t be any dark secrets if you don’t keep them in the dark.” One dark afternoon, Candi and I went to the boardwalk near the pier at Jacksonville Beach to see the ocean after a hurricane. I tried to figure out a way to distract Candi so I could go over to Johnny and tell him I loved him. The air was still tropical, and the waves still curled like rows of fists, ready to pound the sand. But the boardwalk was empty, and the shops were shuttered closed. My brother, who’d had so little love in his life, was not my heart. Back at our apartment, the door closed behind us with a little push from the wind. The wind blew her long blond hair around her shoulders, and we both spread our arms wide to feel the uplift, to pretend we could rise up at any moment and fly. I turned my face from his, and hustled Candi into the car with the promise of a stop for Chinese food. Inside, the air was cool, the lights were bright, and the dining room table was waiting for us, clear except for a bowl of flowers we’d arranged together earlier that day. He’s young to have such a nice mini-mansion with a swimming pool and younger than I normally like to deal with. She didn’t notice the man sitting next to the Coast Guard station, the dark man with wild hair and a wild beard and the ruddy look of someone who’d been outdoors and drunk for months. The next day, after Candi left for school, I drove back down to the beach, parked my car, and wandered around where the homeless people hung out. When I arrive at the house of the first viable person to respond to my Craigslist ad, I knock on the door and take a step back. I like his work jeans and dirty white t-shirt, though. I step in, a little flirty, but all-business to begin with. Call me in like an hour.” “,” Possum replies in his drawl. Johnny was gone, like a mirage that disappears once you look away, or once you stop believing in it. I get him to show me the whole house, which serves the double purpose of planning ahead for cleaning and making sure there’s no one else hiding, ready to pop out for a gang rape later. It’s my security detail — Possum, the hillbilly witchdoctor I’ve befriended, following instructions to wait for me to clear the house and call to be sure everything’s okay. I turn to Jim John and start to pull my shirt off, then stop. “Business before pleasure, babe,” I say, making the little money sign with my fingers. “Oh, of course.” He pulls a hundred out of his pocket and presses it into my hand. I shove it down one of my stockings as I take my pants off, because I have always believed that the safest place for my money is right against my skin. * * * I’d had eighty dollars left to my name when I drove into Greenville, South Carolina. Half a tank of gas and two blueberry smoothies later, it dwindled to sixteen dollars folded together in the bottom of my pocket. For some people, this might have been a problem, but not for me. I have the magical ability to walk into a strip club just about anywhere there is one and make a few hundred bucks just because I’m willing to get naked and smile at people. When I’ve been broke down on the side of the road with no money, when I’ve been a homeless teenager, when I’ve wanted to buy a house, a car, an education — sex work has always been there for me. I’ve done almost all the sex work: everything from street hustling to dancing in bejeweled gowns to foot fetish parties and erotic hypnosis. Whenever I discover a new form of sex work — the weirder or more interesting the better — I try to experience it. I’m staying, with my dog, Spot, in my van down by the river next to Possum, who lives in a van that’s much bigger and nicer than mine. Possum drew me a map showing how to get to the two strip clubs he knows of: a big one, and a little one. Big strip clubs sometimes have things like rules and schedules and lots of competition and high house fees, which I don’t like. The small one turned out to be a brothel with very little business, where I met some very beautiful, very southern women, including a 300-pound dancer named Hamhock who I wish I could introduce to every teenager worrying about their weight ever. I was too fat for the big one, or the door guy was having a bad day. That’s when the idea of topless housecleaning came to me — purely formed, rising sweetly out of my desperation — so I put up a Craigslist ad and here I am at Jim or John or whatever his name is’ house. * * * I do the kitchen first, like my friend Tania who actually grew up in a mansion and knows how to clean explained to me last night on the phone. I keep up a steady stream of flirting while I put his dishes in the dishwasher and move everything on the counter to one end so I can clean it. While I’m stacking his mail neatly I check out his name. The counter is dirty, covered in stains and puddles of dried-up food and glue and who knows what else. Scrubbing while bending over a counter in six-inch heels, back arched so that your ass sticks up pretty, is hard work. Especially while flirting the whole time with a man you hope is staring at your ass and not your sweaty face. He asks about me, how I came to be a topless housecleaner. I don’t tell him that he’s my first, or that I’m broke, or that I live in a van. If you watch television you know what happens to broke homeless women: They give blow jobs, not 0 counter scrubbings. Of course I tried dancing here, I explain, but the clubs are just so dirty, and I’m way too classy to expose myself to such an environment. Instead I make up a prissy story about finishing my Master’s degree and taking a year to drive around the country in an R. The crazy thing I’ve discovered is that the snobbier you seem, the more they will pay you. Jim is amazingly empathetic about the nastiness of the local clubs. Or 2,000 miles and a month or two of groceries and stuff while I explore desert canyons and sky islands. I slide down between his legs and he unzips his jeans eagerly. “Stay right there, I’m going to get you a washcloth.” I run to the bathroom. A classy woman like me obviously doesn’t belong in places like those. ” He’s got his wallet out, two crisp hundreds in his hand. It is small, with a nice curve and for a second I love it and want to fuck him. While he cleans up, I pull my jeans and tank top back on over my fishnets and thong. He follows me from kitchen to bathroom to bedroom to living room, staring while I wipe, mop, scrub and vacuum, all while trying to look like I’m not sweaty from doing this work in humid 90-degree weather. All his time goes to his race-car business, which is like a dream, but lots of hard work. “Okay.” I grab them and shove them into my stocking. Smiling, I bring my face close, admiring it like I’m about to lick it. I’m ecstatic and high from the rush of going from six dollars to 800 dollars in an hour with my hustling skills, but I know I won’t have really pulled it off until I’m in the van, driving away. He bought this house two years ago, but hasn’t had the time or taste to furnish it yet, though he does find the time to indulge in the tradition of illicit hooch brewing down in the basement. He gasps and wiggles a little, and I take his cock in my hand. When I finally grab his cock, two-handed, and give it a couple strong, twisting strokes, he explodes right away. I make myself look totally calm while I throw my i Pod and cleaning stuff in the bag I came with, give him a goodbye hug, and tell him he should really call me again to clean the rest of the house. Steely grey eyes and his young tough look contrast with his docile nature as he tamely follows me around his house. It’s already throbbing, and I just run my hand up it lightly, swirl some of the pre-cum back down it, run my fingers over the whole thing. I don’t start laughing until I’m in the van and Possum is driving us away. I’m beginning to think all men in the South must be gentlemen. “I hope you’re not offended.” “No…” I cock my head. I’ve always kind of wondered what it would be like to do something like that for money.” “Well, here’s your chance to find out.” “Hmm…I dunno. Then I fold over in my seat, laughing and clapping my hands with excitement. Leaning back, I push my hips up to pull my jeans down and start fishing the hundreds out of my fishnets. When I’m done cleaning I settle him on his couch, set my i Pod to Depeche Mode, and tell him that he gets one free lap dance with his housecleaning and after that they are twenty dollars, just like in the club. Possum looks over at me with my legs up on the bed, pulling eight 0 bills out of my thigh highs. He opens his wallet and peels off another hundred, right away, and tells me to just dance until that runs out. “Holy shit,” he says, “I do believe I wish I had a vagina too.” Checking “topless housecleaning” off my to-try list of sex-work gigs makes me enough money to get back on the road. “No touching,” I remind him as the song starts and I move in front of him. The next day Spot and I get in the van and drive across the country until I find a beautiful desert-sky island in northern Arizona. Soon I’m crawling all over him, undulating, brushing my ass across his hard penis through his jeans. ” I pretend to think hard, then: “Okay.” I take his hands and guide them over my body. I’ve given this much contact for thirty dollars a song. If I let on that I have no principles, I can’t pretend to sell them. I stay for a couple weeks, playing in a creek and tracking coyote, before I get low on money again and start over. He is begging me to let him touch me, and I’m reminding him that I’m not that kind of girl, although I make sure to sound a little confused. “You can touch here — my ass, my thighs, my stomach, but no titties or pussy.” “Two hundred? “Okay,” I finally say, pushing the bills down my stockings, “but keep your hands off the kitty! ” He has gentle, well-practiced hands that he swirls around my nipples and brushes softly over my ass. Soon he wants more again — a hand job, a hundred dollars. The other thing is, sometimes I think I could be bisexual, and every year or two I have a man sex experiment. “It’s been an hour,” he says, “are you okay in there? I’ll be just another fifteen minutes or so.” “.” He hangs up. * * * It’s the waning moments of my fourth session with a new therapist. My entire body feels tense, not ideal for the setting. I insist that I’m not that kind of dancer while I consider this through to its logical conclusion. I can get into men, and right now on this guy’s lap, I’m turned on. I try to relax, but the plush leather couch crumples under me when I shift, making the movements extraordinary. A couple hundred more for a hand job, a couple hundred more for a blow job, a lot more for sex. I’ve barely looked into my therapist’s blue eyes at all, and yet I think the hour has gone very well. On the surface, when the patient has been highly selective of the discussion topics, therapy always resembles a friendly get-together. “Well,” my therapist, Lori, says, the millisecond after I become certain our time is up and I might be in the clear. “I don’t think I should let you go until we’ve at least touched on what was put out there at the end of last week’s session.” I so supremely wanted this not to come up. My eyelids tighten, my mouth puckers to the left, and my head tilts, as though I’m asking her to clarify. “When you said you’re attracted to me,” she continues. “That.” Back in session three Lori was trying to build my self-esteem, the lack of which is one of the reasons I’m in treatment. Within the confines of my family, I’ve always been the biggest target of ridicule. We all throw verbal darts around as though we’re engaged in a massive, drunken tournament at a bar, but the most poisonous ones seem to hit me the most often, admittedly somewhat a consequence of my own sensitivity. I’ve been told it was historically all part of an effort to toughen me up, but instead I was filled with towering doubts about my own worth. And since 2012, when I gave up a stable, tenured teaching career for the wildly inconsistent life of a freelance writer, I’ve had great difficulty trusting my own instincts and capabilities. ” She gently explained she could tell the day I walked into her office for the first time, after I flashed a bright smile and casually asked where she was from. I told Lori that I wish I was better at dealing with life’s daily struggles instead of constantly wondering if I’ll be able to wade through the thick. Now, a week after dropping that bomb, Lori asks, “So, why haven’t we talked about it? She quickly and convincingly pointed out that I work rather hard and am, ultimately, paying my bills on time, that I have friends, an appreciation for arts and culture, and so on. ” “I was hoping to avoid it, I suppose.” I tell her the whole notion of having the hots for a therapist is such a sizable cliché that I was embarrassed to admit it. In short, I am, in fact, strong, responsible and “pretty good at life.” Then Lori heightened the discussion a bit. “For Christ’s sake,” I say, throwing my hands up, “Tony Soprano even fell in love with his therapist.” Lori snorts, rolls her eyes. “If that’s what you’re thinking, it’s OK,” she goes on, earnestly, explaining that she’s discussed sexual scenarios with her clients before so as to “normalize” the behavior and not have them feel their own thoughts are unnatural. “I also feel that it is your sensitivity that makes you a great catch out there in the dating world,” she said, to which I involuntarily smiled, blushed and quickly buried my chin in my chest. “I knew you were going to say that.” I smile, shake my head and look around the room, denying acceptance of my own ridiculous reality. “We can talk about this in here.” I look again at her stark blue eyes, prevalent under dark brown bangs, the rest of her hair reaching the top of her chest, which is hugged nicely by a fitted white tee under an open button-down. By showing the patient a level of acceptance, she hopes to facilitate a more comfortable atmosphere for “the work” — her painfully accurate pseudonym for psychotherapy. I was too insecure and too single to handle such a compliment from a beautiful woman. She jogs often, I’d come to find out, which explains her petite figure and ability to probably pull off just about any outfit of her choosing. “Do you think you’re the first client that’s been attracted to their therapist? “I’ve had other clients openly discuss their feelings, even their sexual fantasies involving me.” “What? I take a second to let the red flow out of my face, and ponder what she said. ” I cackle, beginning to feel as though I’ve moseyed onto the set of a porno. I’m a little unsure about this whole technique, but the more I think about it, the more it makes sense. So I go home, incredibly turned on and completely unashamed. * * * One of the great breakthroughs I’ve had in the thirteen months since I began seeing Lori (who agreed to participate in this article, but requested that her full name not be published) is a new ability to accept the existence of dualities in life. For instance, I’ve always had a tremendous sense of pride that, if it doesn’t straddle the line of arrogance, certainly dives into that hemisphere from time to time. I’m great at seeing flaws in others and propping myself up above them by smugly observing my character strengths. I’ve never liked that about myself, but the harder concept to grasp is the fact that I can be so egotistical while also stricken with such vast quantities of insecurity. In treatment I came to realize that all people have contradictions to their personalities. There’s the insanely smart guy who can’t remotely begin to navigate a common social situation, the charitable girl who devotes all her time to helping strangers, but won’t confront issues in her own personal relationships. In my case, my extreme sensitivity can make me feel fabulous about the aspects of myself that I somehow know are good (my artistic tastes) and cause deep hatred of those traits I happen to loathe (the thirty pounds I could stand to lose). We speak about relationships I’ve formed with friends and lovers, and how my family may have informed those interactions. One constant is that I put crudely high expectations on others, mirroring those thrown upon me as a kid. I’m angered when people don’t meet those expectations, and absolutely devastated when I don’t reach them. Lori points out that it must be “exhausting trying to be so perfect all the time.” I am much more comfortable than I was the week prior, and can feel myself being more candid. I’m relieved that the whole being-attracted-to-my-therapist thing doesn’t come up. Then, a week later, Lori mentions it, and I become tense again. “I thought I’d be able to move past it,” I say, adding, “We aired it out, and it’s fine.” As definitive as I’m trying to sound, Lori is just as defiant. “I’m glad you feel that way,” she begins, “but I think you owe yourself some kudos. This kind of therapy,” she shares, “isn’t something just anyone can take on.” Such honest discussion doesn’t simply should be proud of ourselves,” she says. “It’s not easy on the therapist either, you know.” “Why not? ” “Because talking openly about sex is risky at any time, much less with a client.” She explains that therapists are warned any semblance of intimacy can be easily misconstrued. How do I know for sure that you won’t take me if I offer myself to you? “We learn in our training to not personally disclose, for example,” she says, but adds that, occasionally, transparency can be helpful. ” she says a little louder, opening up her arms and looking around as if to say the office is now our playground, and, oh, the rollicking fun we’d have mixing bodily fluids. ” “I wouldn’t do that.” “That’s what I thought,” she says, and tension in the room decomposes. “Still, with you,” she continues, “until I raised the question, I didn’t know for sure that you would go with it; for all I knew you’d run out of here and never come back to risk being so uncomfortable again.” She’s building my confidence more, and I’m learning that I play a much bigger role in how my life is conducted than I often realize. “No,” I tell her, “You don’t mean that.” “What if I do? “Mike, I don’t feel that you would do something that you think is truly not in our best interest, which is exactly why I just gave the choice.” Her offer was a lesson in empowerment, helping me prove that I have an innate ability to make the right choices, even if I’d so desperately prefer to make the wrong one. I’m awfully proud of myself, and it’s OK to be in this instance. My treatment wouldn’t be happening if I weren’t enabling it. I’m gaining trust in myself, and confidence to boot. Then she says, “And don’t think it’s not nice for me to hear that a guy like you thinks I’m beautiful.” Crippled by the eroticism of the moment, and combined with the prevailing notion that no woman this stunning could ever be romantically interested in me, I flounder through words that resemble, “Wait…what? But, as the dualities of life dictate, I’m successfully doing “the work” with a daring therapist, while at the same time not entirely convinced she isn’t in need of an ethical scrubbing. ” “If we were somehow at a bar together, and you came over and talked to me,” she says, then flips her palms up innocently, “who knows? * * * I don’t have another session with Lori for nearly three months, because she took a personal leave from her place of employment. ” I laugh again and tell her there’d be almost no chance of me approaching her because I’d never feel like I had a shot in hell. ” I’m confused — There were two ways to find out: 1) Discontinue the therapy, wait for her outside her office every day, follow her to a hypothetical happy hour and ask her out, or 2) Keep going to therapy. When our sessions finally resumed, I could not wait to tell her about my budding relationship with Shauna. “Well, that’s not the circumstances we’re in,” she says. * * * A week later, I’m physically in the meeting room with Lori, but mentally I haven’t left the recesses of my mind. ” she asks, probably noticing my eyes roving around the room. Ten minutes into my first date with Shauna — right about the time she got up from her bar stool and said she was “going to the can” — I knew she would, at the very least, be someone I was going to invest significant time in. “I don’t know.” “Are you still grappling with the sexual tension between us? “Yes,” I say, with a bit of an edge in my voice, “and I don’t know what to do about it.” Lori, ever intently, peers into my eyes, wrinkles her mouth and slightly shakes her head. She was as easy to talk to as any girl I’d ever been with, and I found myself at ease. Plans happened magically without anxiety-inducing, twenty-four-hour waits between texts. Her quick wit kept me entertained, and I could tell by the way she so seriously spoke about dancing, her chosen profession, that she is passionate about the art form and mighty talented too. Shauna is beautiful, with flawless hazel eyes and straight dark hair, spunky bangs and a bob that matches her always-upbeat character. She is a snazzy dresser and enjoys a glass of whiskey with a side of fried pickles and good conversation as much as I do. Things escalated quickly, but very comfortably, and since we’d both been in our fair share of relationships, we knew the true power of honesty and openness. So upon the precipice of my return to therapy I told Shauna about Lori, and admitted to having mixed feelings about what I was getting back into. I told her I was at least moderately uncertain if my mental health was Lori’s number-one concern since she always seemed to find the time to mention my attraction to her. The first two sessions of my therapeutic reboot had gone great. Lori appeared genuinely thrilled that I was dating Shauna and could see how happy I was. I wasn’t overwhelmed with sexual tension in the new meeting room, though it wasn’t actually spoken about, and in the back of my mind I knew it was just a matter of time before it would start to affect my ability to disclose my thoughts to Lori again. Then, while attempting to ingratiate myself with my new girlfriend’s cat by spooning food onto his tiny dish on the kitchen floor, I hear my phone ding from inside the living room. “It’s from Lori.” “‘I’m so impressed with you and the work you’re doing…’” Shauna reads off my phone from inside the living room, inquisitively, and not happily. I stuff the cat food back into the Tupperware and toss it into the refrigerator. ” I take the phone from Shauna and say the most obvious, cliché-sounding thing: “It’s not what it seems.” As I text back a curt “thanks,” Shauna tells me she’s going to ask her sister, a therapist herself, if it’s OK to text patients. I make my way into the living room, angry at myself for not changing the settings on my new i Phone to disallow text previews on the locked screen. “Don’t do that.” I say, a little more emphatically. We’re not doing anything wrong.” I explain that Lori’s just trying to build my self-esteem. Shauna’s walking too, and we meet near the kitchen door. “The only reason I’m even bringing this up is because you said you weren’t sure about her in the first place,” Shauna reminds me. I can tell she regrets looking at my phone without my permission, but I completely understand her feelings. At my next session I tell Lori that Shauna saw her text and wasn’t thrilled about it. “She probably feels cheated on to some degree,” Lori says. “A relationship between a therapist and a patient can oftentimes seem much more intimate than the one between a romantic couple.” Lori goes on to point out that the reason she feels we can exchange texts, blurring the lines between patient/doctor boundaries — a hot topic in the psychotherapy world these days — is because she trusts that I’ll respect her space and privacy. On my walk home, instead of being angry at Lori, I understand her thinking behind the text. But I’m also nervous about how Lori and Shauna can ever coexist in my life. * * * A week later, Lori begins our session by handing me a printout explaining the psychotherapeutic term “erotic transference” written by Raymond Lloyd Richmond, Ph D. It says that erotic transference is the patient’s sense that love is being exchanged between him or herself and the therapist — the exact sensation I was experiencing with Lori, of which she was astutely aware. According to Richmond, one of the primary reasons people seek therapy is because “something was lacking in their childhood family life,” perhaps “unconditional nurturing guidance and protection.” Upon feeling “noticed” and “understood” by a qualified therapist, sometimes a patient can be “intoxicated” by their therapist’s approval of them. A patient may in turn contemplate that a love is blossoming between them, and, in fact, it sort of is. From an ethical standpoint, Richmond argues all therapists are “bound” to love their patients, for therapists are committed to willing “the good of all clients by ensuring that all actions within psychotherapy serve the client’s need to overcome the symptoms” which brought them into treatment. This takes genuine care and acceptance on their part. However, a patient can easily confuse the love they feel with simple “desire.” They’re not quite , and in those sessions they just happen to be receiving it from their doctor. Lori tells me that, all along, she has been “working with what I gave her” and that because I flirted with her a bit, she used that to her advantage in the treatment. In employing countertransference — indicating that she had feelings for me — she was keeping me from feeling rejected and despising my own thoughts and urges. “There’s two people alone in a room together, and if they’re two attractive people, why , and I sought her as an independent source for this essay to help me understand Lori’s therapeutic strategies. Atlas explains that there are certain boundaries that cannot be crossed between therapist and patient under any circumstances — like having sex with them, obviously. “My role is to protect you.” She says it is incumbent on the therapist to not exploit the patient for the therapist’s own good, but admits that the presence of erotic transference in therapy brings about many challenges. But many other relationship borders can be mapped out depending on the comfort level of the therapist, as long as they stay within the scope of the profession’s ethics, which complicates the discussion surrounding erotic transference. “[Attraction] is part of the human condition,” she observes. do you talk about it without seducing the patient and with keeping your professional ability to think and to reflect? In therapy, “the question then is: What do you do with that? ” I ask her about the benefits of exploring intimacy in therapy, and Dr. Atlas quickly points out that emotional intimacy — though not necessarily that of the sexual brand — is almost inevitable and required. “An intimate relationship with a therapist can [be] a reparative experience — repairing childhood wounds — but mostly it’s about helping the patient to experience and tolerate emotional intimacy, analyzing the client’s anxieties about being vulnerable and every mechanism one uses in order to avoid being exposed.” Dr. Atlas says this topic speaks to every facet of the therapeutic relationship, regardless of gender or even sexual orientation, because intimacy reveals emotional baggage that both the patient and therapist carry with them into the session. But this isn’t a symmetrical relationship, and the therapist is the one who holds the responsibility. “Freud said that a healthy person should be able to work and to love,” she says. “In some ways therapy practices both, and in order to change the patient will have to be known by the therapist. In order to be able to be vulnerable, both parties have to feel safe.” After I briefly explain all that has gone on between me and Lori, Dr. Atlas steadfastly says she does not want to judge too harshly why and how everything came to pass in my therapy. “I don’t know your therapist, and I don’t know your history,” she says. But she offers that I should “explore the possibility” that I might have created and admitted my sexual adoration of Lori because one of my fears is to be ignored, not noticed. Then I offer: “Maybe this essay is being written for the same reason.” “Exactly.” Maybe I wanted to interview Lori about erotic transference in my therapy sessions for that same reason as well…to stand out as the most amazingly understanding patient ever. * * * “I want to be very clear that this was never about feeding my own ego,” Lori says about her approach to my treatment. “We were always doing this in your best interest.” I’m in Lori’s office, a tape recorder rolling and a pad and pen in my hands. “I felt I was doing a disservice to you if I didn’t ‘out’ what I felt was weighing on us, which, honestly, felt like a heavy secret,” she says, pointing out that she discussed my therapeutic process for many hours in her required supervision meetings. In order for Lori to advance in her field as a social worker, she has to attend 3,000 conference hours with another professional to go over casework — kind of like therapy quality control. We talk about all of this during one of my scheduled sessions, for the entire hour — and go over by a few minutes, too. Lori says that when she began her career as a social worker, she decided she wasn’t going to shy away from any subjects. “It’s typical for a client to [have] a habitual desire to sweep things under the rug,” she observes, especially about taboo topics. It can become a cycle of behavior that Lori seeks to break. I refer back to the time when, unprovoked, she brought up my attraction to her. She says she mentioned it to avoid what therapists call “door-knobbing,” which is when a patient will purposely mention some huge reveal right at the end of a session so as to sidestep a lengthy conversation about it. “My only question for you is, was I wrong for bringing it up? “Only you can answer that.” Lori’s great at forcing me to reflect. “I guess when I said I was over it and could move on, that was an example of my strict black-and-white thinking,” I say, throwing back some language she’s used often to describe my challenge in accepting dualities. In my mind, I was either attracted to her and shouldn’t see her anymore, or I wasn’t attracted to her and could still have her be my therapist. I realize now that she wasn’t wrong for mentioning my feelings for her, even when I didn’t want her to. Lori noticed that I was frustrated with myself and wanted me to know that an attraction to a therapist is so normal and happens so frequently that there are technical terms for it. I turn my attention towards the presence of countertransference in our session. I’m trying to come up with an actual question here, but, really, I just want her to confirm her feelings for me are real. So I say, referring to her feelings, with a great degree of difficulty, “It’s funny that they seem genuine to this day.” “They are genuine,” Lori says, adding a moment later: “I think it might be a good idea if we explore why our discussing it suggests a lack of authenticity.” “It doesn’t, necessarily,” I begin, then stammer through a few sentences, worried I might offend her by implying she’s been dishonest. I finally settle on, “I guess it comes back to my self-esteem issues. ” Lying in bed with Shauna a few months into our relationship, I ask her what she thought about me the moment she first saw me. But we met on Tinder and I just hope that seeing me in person wasn’t some kind of letdown for her after swiping right on my hand-picked glamour shots. Obviously she isn’t going to say something so awful after having committed to me for so long. She says she liked the fact that I was wearing a blazer and a tie on a first date. Staying committed to my honesty-at-all-costs policy, I say, “I thought you were really beautiful, but not to the point where I was intimidated by you, which was very important because if I was, you would have gotten a very unconfident version of me, and we probably wouldn’t have hit it off as well as we did.” Shauna thinks about that for a second, and eventually nods “OK.” I explain that my insecurity could often get the better of me in dating situations. She adds that I was a little shorter than she anticipated, but was content with the two of us at least being the same exact height. It was easy to convince myself that I’d be rejected by the girl I was with, especially if I thought she was out of my league. I would then slip into a nervous and reserved state that isn’t at all reflective of my true self. I’m essentially saying that I was so thrilled to not find Shauna so extraordinarily pretty that I couldn’t accept her being on a date with me. That thought made so much sense at the time I said it, but I’ve since come to realize it is as ridiculous as it is insulting. After ten months of being with Shauna, I’m still completely floored by her, on every level, including a physical one. It gives me great pride to walk into a room with her, and I don’t imagine that changing. Therefore, she actually meet a confident “version of me.” The way people look doesn’t drastically change in ten months but a person’s perception of self can. It seems my emotional workouts in erotic transference were just beginning to produce results. * * * “People fuck up,” Lori informs me during one winter session. “Therapists have slept with clients before, just like politicians have had sex with their interns. But, so you have a full understanding of how this works, we date.” She explains the parameters as outlined in the social worker’s code of ethics. One of the many stipulations is that we wouldn’t be able to see each other, under any circumstances, for at least two years before dating. She tells me she loves her job, and there’s no way she would ever sacrifice my safety or her career for anything, so she would strictly follow all the dictated rules. “If you truly want to date me, there is the option. But it’s ultimately up to you.” I know what she’s doing here — putting the onus on me, just like last year when she said we could have sex. The difference this time is the answer I want to give is on par with all of my involuntary urges. “I don’t want to stop the work we’re doing,” I say. “At this point, it’s far too valuable to me, and, really, I know very little about you.” She’s beautiful, exercises, is smart, funny, professional, enjoys good TV…and that’s about it. Aside from whether or not we’d even both be single in two years, and if we’d be in the correct mind frame to explore a relationship, there are several other things I’m considering here: Would Lori and I really be compatible in every way? Would she ever see me as a lover, a partner, an equal, and not a patient? Could I ever reveal a detail about myself, or even just a shitty day of work, without wondering if she was picking it apart and analyzing it? Frankly, all those questions could be answered in the positive. But, even if I wasn’t in a happy relationship — Shauna makes this choice much easier, for sure — I wouldn’t go that route. * * * It’s a beautiful spring night in New York and only sidewalk seating will do. Shauna and I are out to dinner at a restaurant near her Queens apartment, and we’re both in good spirits. The weather and the alcohol consumption are partly to blame for that, but, on cue with the season’s change, I feel I’ve turned an emotional corner. Work payments that were past due are finally finding their way into my bank account. As it turns out, my short-term money troubles were not an indication that I had no business being a writer, or that my life changeup was as irresponsible as unprotected sex at fourteen years old. I took a mental step back from my current situation and realized that in spite of my recent hardships, I was succeeding. I summarize my session for Shauna, who nods in agreement, lovingly pointing out that she’s had the same challenging freelancer experiences as a dancer. “I guess if I’m going to be a writer I just have to accept all this and have faith in myself. This orgasm is a controlled, measured, calculated experience. “You’re doing great, babe,” she says matter-of-factly. The way Lori put it was, ‘You just have to go all-in.’” “Good,” Shauna says. I’m careful to keep my breath from becoming a pant, even as my pulse quickens, but this takes much concentration. I have masturbated in this way next to the sleeping bodies of all my serious, committed partners who came before my husband. “You should listen to the women in your life.” * * * It’s past two a.m. In some cases, as expected, it was because I wanted more sex than they could give me. and my husband’s breathing has become long and even. I slip my right hand down my pajama pants and move slowly, careful not to bump my elbow into his side rib, or bring my hips into it. I’ve been called “insatiable” and “demanding” one too many times. Yes, I have an incredibly high sex drive, but even in relationships where I have great sex multiple times a week my nighttime stealth for self-pleasure has persisted. Too much movement or sound will wake him, and to be found out for something like this is not just embarrassing but potentially destructive. Even worse, maybe he’ll finally say the words I’ve been waiting for him to say since I first told him that I am a sex addict. My college boyfriend, burgundy haired and tattooed, had the high sex drive typical of most nineteen-year-old males. He’ll think he doesn’t satisfy me, and men do not like feeling inadequate, especially when it comes to matters of the bedroom. We fucked all the time, but even still, I wanted more, something only I could give me. One afternoon, after he’d fallen into a deep post-sex slumber, I serviced myself with my second, third, and fourth orgasm beside him. That was the first time I’d experienced such a level of both secrecy and shame. I made a promise to my husband and to myself, long before we were even wed, to be austerely honest. He knows I’ve been a compulsive masturbator since I was twelve years old. He knows about my extensive fluency in the hardcore categories of various porn sites. He knows about the bad habit I used to have of hooking up with not-so-nice men because they were available and I was bored — and that I rarely used protection with any of them. And that I believed, for a really long time, that my addiction made me a broken person, a disgusting person, a person unworthy of love. I told him these things from the start because I met him at a time in my life where I was ready and open for change. Because I liked him so much that I wanted to love him. Because I knew that the only way to love him, and be loved by him, was to be myself. ” The man who will become my husband in less than a year asks me this question as he lies naked and vulnerable beside me. We’ve just had sex and although I am naked too, it isn’t until this moment that I feel just as vulnerable as him. While it might seem absurd to some, I know immediately this is a moment of great significance for us. It is an opportunity to finally do things differently. I can describe something vanilla: This one where a busty blonde gets banged by her personal trainer. The possibility of revealing the actual truth not only makes me nervous, but also physically sick. ” He turns over on his side and props his head up on his left hand. “Seems like a weird question.” I tuck the sheet into my armpits and scoot my body a little to the left so we’re no longer touching. Or perhaps something a little more racy: These two hot teens swap their math teacher’s cum after he made them stay late in the classroom. I feel a constriction in the back of my throat, a flutter in my belly, a tremble in my extremities. ” I reach for the sheet, damp with sweat, a tangle of 300-thread-count cotton across our limbs, and yank it up to cover my breasts. The tone of my voice has become defensive and he can tell. He’s trying to be considerate since we just had sex while staring at the laptop screen after searching terms of his choosing: Latina, real tits, blow job, threesome. Chances are he’ll get hard again and we’ll end up abandoning the conversation for a second round. After all, we’ve only been dating a couple of months and he doesn’t love me yet. “It’s just that I usually pick the porn,” he explains. Maybe he feels guilty for getting off to them instead of me, even though I’m the one who suggested we watch porn in the first place. ” I wish he’d stop prying, but I realize something else is happening here. Even though I’m always the one who suggests we watch porn while we have sex. Not only is he trying to be considerate; he’s also trying to get to know me. The past couple of months has allowed us to cover most of the basics — what ended each of our most recent relationships, what our parents are like, what we hope to do with our lives in the next few years — but there’s still a longing for something deeper, and I can’t think of anything deeper than knowing a person’s favorite porn scene. For one scene to stand out amongst the rest, when so many others are available, there has to be something below the surface. What keeps a person returning in the deep, dark recesses of a lonely night? Perhaps the answers to these questions are a great source of shame. Too many of my past relationships were doomed by my inability to tell the whole truth, to fully be myself. I never thought of revealing such answers to anybody, and especially not somebody like him, somebody I could really like. Now I have the opportunity to go there, and to say to a person, “This is who I am. ” “Well, there’s this one gang bang,” I start, looking over at his face to see a reaction of surprise and interest register at once. “Go on.” I take a deep breath and proceed to tell him, first slowly, then progressively faster about the scene. Both are waiting to take on fifty horny men…” and on and on. Like a busted dam, I can hardly hold back the rush of descriptors fumbling from my mouth: “Two women in a warehouse. I watch his face the whole time, not pausing when his smile becomes a frown and his eyes squint as if it hurts to look at me. “Afterward, the women exit the warehouse through a back door while the men applaud.” For a long moment after I’ve finished talking, there is silence between us, but there is also a sense of relief on my part. I have revealed something so dark, so upsetting, so impacted in shame, and he hasn’t immediately disappeared. He is still here beside me, propped up on his left hand, naked and vulnerable, and so am I. He sees me and I see him seeing me and we are in new territory. But then he says, “I kind of wish I hadn’t asked.” It’s all I need to hear to send me into tears. * * * Addiction to porn and masturbation is often grouped under general sex addiction because they all have to do with escape via titillation, pursuit and orgasm, but I’ve always felt more pathetic about my predilections. Not just tiny, embarrassed sobs, but humiliated wails. He is confused now as he pulls me close to him, laughing nervously at my abrupt shift in disposition. Going out and fucking — even someone you don’t really like — is wild, dangerous, but essentially social and shared. I try to pull the sheet completely over my head, but he pulls it back down and covers my face with apologetic kisses. He can’t possibly know what I’ve just revealed to him. Though I had periods of promiscuity throughout my twenties, my biggest issue has always been with what I do alone. There’s something so sad and humiliating in imagining a person locked away in a dark room, hot laptop balanced on chest, turning the volume down low, scrolling, scrolling, choosing, watching, escaping, coming. But my proclivity for solo pleasure has strong, stubborn roots. I lost my virginity to a water faucet when I was twelve years old. Drew to thank for this life-shaking experience; it was their late-night radio show “Loveline” on L. A.’s KROQ that served as my primary means of sex ed during my pre-teen years. This technique is one of the many things I learned, but I had a whole other kind of education going on, which had long filled my head with other ideas — sex is something that happens between a man and woman who love each other; masturbation is a sin. You know, your typical run-of-the-mill Catholic guilt stuff. I tried to stop myself from taking long baths, from late-night undercover activities, from being alone too long, but the more I obsessed about stopping, the more I could not. Just as oppressive as the Catholic guilt was my femininity. I had no company with whom to share my new activities and interests. I joined shame, secrecy and pleasure in a daily orgy, whether I was tired, bored, angry or sad. Getting off required all of these components and I needed new, more extreme methods to stay engaged — more hours sucked away watching progressively harder porn like the warehouse video, complemented with dabbles in strip clubs, peep shows and shady massage parlors. It became impossible to get off during sex without fantasy, my body over-stimulated to numbness. I was irritable unless I was fucking or masturbating or planning to do either of these things. Life revolved around orgasm to the detriment of any kind of real progress in my professional or social existence. * * * Little did I know that describing my favorite porn scene would be the first of many future admissions that would help peel back, layer by layer, a long and exhausting history of self loathing. My future husband and I quickly learned that watching porn during sex wasn’t a harmless kink for us; it was a method I’d long used to remain disconnected from my partners. It took much discipline and patience for us to expel it from our relationship altogether, though every now and then we slip up. Talking about my habits led me to examine them, which ultimately led to my desire for change. Holding a secret for too long is like being unable to take a full breath. I needed to share — often and fully — what had for too long been silenced in order to reclaim who I was underneath my addiction. I found relief in Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous meetings, seeing a therapist I trusted, attending personal development courses like the Hoffman Process and writing about my journey. I’ve managed to move away from porn for the most part, but when it comes to this addiction — to something I don’t have to seek out or purchase — control is like a wayward horse and my ass is always slipping off the saddle. I constantly struggle with whether or not I should give up porn completely, but until I find a way to have some moderation with it, I avoid it as best I can. I wish I could just watch it occasionally, as some sort of supplement to my active sex life, but the whole ritual of watching porn is tangled up in too many other negative emotions. Watching porn takes me back to being that little girl alone in her bedroom, feeling ashamed and helpless to stop it. I can’t just watch one clip without needing to watch another after that, and another, until hours have passed and I’m back to binging every night. If my husband leaves me alone all day and idleness leads me to watching porn, it’s the first thing I confess upon his return. He can tell by my downturned eyes and my noticeable exhaustion. The act of telling the truth, especially about something that makes us ache, is often the only absolution we need. He shakes his head and takes me in his arms as I make another promise to try to leave it alone. Abstaining from these habits, when so readily available, without abstaining from sexual pleasure completely, or the shame I’ve long bound to it, is a challenge I face daily. Not because I need his permission, his forgiveness or to offer him some act of contrition. When I visited a peep show on a recent work trip out of town, he seemed more amused than upset about the whole thing. If I find he’s been watching porn without me, when I’ve struggled to abstain for a stretch of time, I react with what might seem like unjustified rage. * * * Masturbating beside my husband while he sleeps is the last secret I’ve kept from him. Although I’m beginning to fear that it’s actually just the latest secret. Or obsessive scrolling through Craigslist personals. My resistance in telling him only proves how fragile recovery is. Popular cheap essay writing for hire for college. top buy essay ghostwriter service for school buy critical analysis essay writers for hire ca type my.
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