What is the right relationship? With divorce and infidelity rampant is polyamory really the right decision or should we choose healthier relationships from the start to avoid the plague of broken families? How do we heal in a society that won't discuss such important topics?
Dismantling My Own Dissent
Exploring taboo topics has always been a joy and perhaps a skill of mine. Raised in a home were discussing drugs, sex, differing politics, religious practices, diet and other lifestyle choices was in and of itself forbidden, this eventually provided me with insight into how unhealthy such avoidance is. For many households, this is still very much the norm.
In some ways it seems that American society is comfortable exploring uncomfortable topics. But only on a superficial level. Sexuality is ever on display, drug use rampant, kids killing kids is becoming a daily occurrence and many wear their political or religious affiliation on their sleeve. But all of this conveys shock and awe rather than to eliciting thoughtful discussion. We gasp and then move on. Polarization is the rule. Most assert their beliefs without being open to the possibility of being wrong. This unwavering bias is of course detrimental and counterproductive. Not only does this kind of non-dialogue keep the topics taboo, it ensures ideological entrenchment and prevents us all from taking on a wholistic understanding of what it means to be human.
When our decision making is informed by dogma it inevitably causes push back. It is a humbling admission to recognize that many decisions I have made have been an attempt to subvert beliefs that were imposed on me rather than to authentically understand what I actually want out of life. Realizing that many of my lifestyle choices were made as a reactionary response has brought about a whole new level of introspection and personal growth. Much like the parent tells the child to do something, ‘because I said so’, I was told to do or not do certain things just because. Yet, like the child, I was fully aware of the duplicitous nature of those imposing the rules. Even before drugs, it was sexuality, that revealed the inherent hypocrisy in religious, familial, and even educational institutions. Sexuality is intimately connected to spirituality yet the two topics rarely seem to converge save for the imposition of religious dogma and moral authority.
For the entirety of my childhood, it was ingrained in me that sex before marriage was the gravest of sins. But no one could really tell me why, it is 'special' and to be shared by husband and wife that was all. Meanwhile uninhibited sexuality was the culturally blatant. The radio, the television, everywhere sexuality was on display. To speak of masturbation or pornography was so forbidden that I can never remember the words even being uttered in my childhood home. This is a grave disservice that I will not repeat as a parent. This avoidance, shame and guilt driven value system inevitably created more sickness than it could have possibly kept at bay. It is a sickness that I will not perpetuate.
The moral ‘house of cards’ collapsed when I found out at the age of eighteen that my father was having an affair with my best friend’s mother. Absurdly, he and his now wife still claim, more than ten years later, that as individuals over the age of forty they didn’t have sex until they were divorced despite their‘ adult sleepovers’. See how this shame thing works? Lies to protect lies. Layer upon layer of guilt. In an odd way their behavior initiated a journey of self-discovery for me that ironically has ultimately circled back to some of the core values that my parents had attempted to instill in me. But now, thanks to my own mistakes, I have depth of understanding that permits me to make a conscious choice rather than a knee jerk reaction or blind obedience.
In what you are about to read, if you choose to continue, you will find perhaps one of my most vulnerable expositions. This is, as always, an attempt to understand myself more fully and open a dialogue, encouraging others to consider more deeply their actions and intentions. I ask that you understand me as a dynamic and developing individual, as I understand you. I am far from perfect but through my spiritual practice and an intention towards attaining consistent higher levels of awareness, I endeavor to move towards perfection.
Until the revelation of my father’s infidelity I had been firmly convinced that marriage was between one man and one woman, for life. Divorce, and homosexuality for that matter, were abominations. As parents we can scarcely estimate the influence that we have on our children. This indoctrination and subsequent hypocrisy created a disconnect and confusion that I am still attempting, at age43, to reconcile.
My first major breakaway from the ‘norms’ of childhood was drug use. Cannabis, LSD and mushrooms were eye openers to say the least. My rebellion quickly escalated to an affair with a married woman. I went about it intentionally. I figured if my father did it, so could I. The onslaught of disaster that this single act of mine incurred cannot be overstated and I can say, from very personal and painful experience that there are few actions that can bring about as much disharmony in one’s life as this did in mine.
The woman left her husband, justifiable to a large extent because he was physically abusive. The fragments of my morals that were still intact compelled me to move in with her, her three daughters and attempt to have a family at age 20. She was ten years my senior. A foundation such as this one was bound to crumble. It did and nearly collapsed on myself and my first-born son that she and I conceived together in the ten-year process of our relationship.
In this dysfunctional marriage, I began to feel the pangs of imprisonment. I was an adult when I was thirteen. The experience of childhood was robbed of me. According to my father, we lived to work. Sunup to sundown, and that is what I did. Mowing yards, raking leaves, construction, and other physical labor filled my time. Very seldom did the opportunity arise for me to join my friends playing basketball, riding bikes or exploring in the creeks and forests. They were there, but they were relatively few in comparison. By sixteen, I was managing men in their forties and fifties on construction sites. Subconsciously the need to explore, to experience and to expand was causing an incredible rift in my psyche. Alcohol was my coping mechanism. By the age of 25with three step daughters, my own son and an alcoholic wife, I was easily twice my chronological age.
Around age 22, thanks to Rasta, I began a deep study of Judeo-Christian literature, particularly the Bible. One of the first revelations of my Catholic mis-education was that polygamy was not only acceptable in the Old Testament, but seemingly endorsed by even the New Testament. In 1st Timothy 3:2 it states that “A priest must be blameless, the husband of one wife, vigilant, sober, of good behavior, given to hospitality, apt to teach” I was far from priestly and began to confront my mother with this information, proclaiming that monogamy was the real abomination. As a 20 something, living like a middle aged man, I began feeling very ‘tied down’. This fueled my instinctive fire for relationship freedom.
But again, the previously established moral code was deeply embedded into my being. I may have wanted multiple partners, but this would never be acceptable. So, I shoved the desires deeper down. Aside from proclaiming the Biblical inconsistencies to my family and friends, I never actually sought an intelligent conversation, much less therapy around the subject. This was the one topic that was simply too taboo. Well, as cliché as it is, what we resist, persists. And boy did I resist.
My first marriage was doomed from the start, though we did give it a good try. Ten years in, I became painfully aware that either I exit this predicament or be destroyed by it, so I left. Without guidance, I again engaged in an unhealthy relationship and refused to acknowledge my desires. I quickly became involved with an old high school crush, who after only two months as ‘FWBs’, unintentionally became pregnant with my second child.
My first wife had been raised in a rather loose Baptist environment and had no real religious baggage to speak of. My second wife was raised Catholic and had even more trauma than me. There was no way on God’s green Earth that I was going to be able to discuss my desires towards non-monogamy with her. Even the slightest disagreement erupted in borderline violent responses from her.
In traditional monogamous relationships jealousy reigns supreme. Even in my earliest high school and college romances for me to be alone with or have a conversation with a woman other than my partner was indicative of infidelity. It was a perspective that I too, admittedly, perpetuated, even into my current marriage. A general inability to discuss human sexuality in youth, other than from a purely biological standpoint for many leads to subconsciously believe that any relationships between men and women were destined for sexual exploration. Media and education has us believing that it is impossible for men and women to ‘just be friends.’
What I would like to make clear is that during these fifteen years I was experiencing a deep suffering, occasionally suicidal ideation. As a Catholic, I had been taught not only to endure, but to enjoy your suffering. Reading Henry David Thoreau’s, “Walden”, I fearfully resonated with the statement, “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation, and go to the grave with the song still in them.” This seemed to be my fate as well. Departing from Catholicism, I refused to continue submitting to suffering.
A Different Way of Doing Things
It has been said that the formula for misery is to “see things as they are and desperately want them to be different.” I tried desperately to disprove this theory for the better part of twenty years, and yet here I stand, humbled by those simple words. Though, I would add to this that the sure way to turn misery in to despair is to make no effort to change the things that we wish were different. We must find the balance of acceptance and action.
That is why when my second marriage ended, after numerous fights where I had been falsely accused of cheating, I was determined to do things differently. If I was going to be ever suspect of infidelity, if most relationships ended in divorce brought on by infidelity and if the Biblical forefathers could be polyamorous, so could I. I vowed to never live a lie again and on the very first date with the incredible woman that is now my wife, I informed her that monogamy wasn’t my bag.
Having been lied to and cheated on herself, she embraced the honesty and agreed that it would be for the best. If only things were that easy. What ensued was an intentional yet unguided reprogramming of both of our expectations of reality. It was arduous, painful, and time consuming. Ultimately productive and liberating, but not in the ways you might immediately imagine.
You see to the end of the day, after eight years of intentional exploration into ethical non-monogamy, as alluded to earlier on, it seems as if I have come around full circle. Before going any further, let me please state that what I believe to be right for me, is right for me, not you or anyone else. I am not making any moral or ethical judgements towards monogamy or polyamory. If the individuals are honest and reach a mutual agreement on what their relationship should look like, more power to them.
There is the distinct possibility however, that like myself, the reader may be able to take lessons from the experiences of others and apply them to one’s own life. We can and should learn from the mistakes made by others, as well as ourselves. And as I have engaged in the ‘Poly’ community, it seems to become clearer that the majority of these relationships generate from a place of unhealed trauma, which gets reinforced in the lifestyle. But again, there is no judgement here just an exploration of ideas. I have changed my mind many times and may very well do so again. What seemed to come to the surface though conversations and experiences is that there were two overarching influences in my behavior that, for a time, I considered an identity.
First and foremost, I am and have always been a bit or perhaps a great deal rebellious. If you tell me I must, then I most certainly won’t. If you tell me I mustn’t then you can bet that I will. This is perhaps a character flaw, for it certainly has prevented critical thinking and has led to some very tough lessons.
Second, there was an incredible emotional gap in my childhood. My mother, bless her heart, was and is unaffectionate, my sisters, deeply distant. Therefore, the approval of women has had an imbalanced impact on me. It is something that I have craved and caved in for. This too has led to some very painful experiences.
Rather recently a series of events and individuals have opened my eyes to the fact that I had been trying to heal my wounds and rewrite my story in all the wrong ways. As a child, my method of coping with the ongoing war between my parents had been distraction. From the earliest days, I can recall finding solace in focusing on things far removed and much more reliable than those who were responsible for my upbringing. Before literacy it was pattern recognition.
Helpless to the hatred around me, I would focus on patterns in the environment, the walls, furniture, nature. My laser focus was inherent or an outcome of circumstances. When I lock on to a target, it consumes my attention. I was incapable of focusing on the fact that my parents did not love each other or know how to love me. After learning to read, books became my refuge. Studying herpetology while my parents screamed at each other is probably the source of snakes being my preferred emotional support animals.
In terms of my relationships, I perceived monogamy as the root of dishonesty, my sense of dissatisfaction a symptom of societal dysfunction. Eventually, by default, and without much real thought, I honed my focus in on non-monogamy and attempted to shift the current of society, thinking that this would heal the hole in my heart. As one can imagine, this led to a whole heap of challenges, complications, and very time-consuming conversations. So much of my time was spent focusing on wants that were outside of my reality that I scarcely noticed the wonderful life that I had.
The Godsent Goddess
While there are many factors that have contributed to my being in the healthiest mental and emotional state thus far in my life, there is only one that deserves recognition. It is not my courage to explore options, it is not therapists, mentors or even mushrooms. It is my wife Courtney Rose. It is the unconditional love that she has continued to demonstrate that has helped me see my wholeness. She alone in her kindness, her willingness to listen and allow has given my defenses an opportunity to come down and for me to realize how fortunate I am. In her patience and courage she has helped me see how preoccupied I have been and how this distraction simply recreates the patterns I was subject to as a youth.
Perhaps my distracted focus was beneficial as a child to manage the pain of my immediate environment. I could not find safety or security in my parents. My world was chaos, so my mind found whatever it could to convince me of stability. Geometric patterns in nature and architecture were certain, reliable, comforting. But this coping mechanism of avoidance proved detrimental as an adult. In my previous, exceedingly unhealthy marriages, had I been more focused on what was happening in front of my eyes, rather than what I wanted to happen, I could have exited harmful situations more quickly or not found myself in them at all.
The consistency provided by Courtney has given me the safety that I needed to find my way back to my center and the security that I never had growing up. While my efforts in non-monogamy were absolutely intended to create a healthy family, I have indeed arrived there, but not in the way I had imagined and not without threatening the home that I have.
I thank God every day that she saw the real me through my maladaptive behavior. The man that wanted a stable, honest and wholesome family. And my hope is that anyone reading this and in a similar situation can also realize their good fortune before it is too late. If you are interested in a real time discussion between Courtney and I around this topic give a listen to our Psilocybin Says episode released on Jan 3, 2022. Of course, ethical non-monogamy may absolutely work for some, that I don’t question, and it may work better for us one day. However, I am curious for multiple reasons though if it allows us to grow inauthentic depth with our ‘primary’ partner or if it is inherently fraught with distractions that allows us to avoid the difficulties intrinsic in disciplined monogamy.
Like every person on this planet and every relationship those individuals are in, this is an incredibly dynamic topic, and one blog post does not begin to perform due diligence. In a hope to encourage conversation around this too often avoided topic, I intend to explore further here, in therapy, with my wife, community and on the Psilocybin Says podcast. It is also why our Psanctuary Code of Ethics addresses relationships in such detail. Even more controversial is the exposition of sexuality in psychedelic and spiritual circles. Obviously too much to dissect, here is the reality that shared psychedelic experiences facilitate bonding, which if unchecked can lead to further intimacy. This is unavoidable, and by avoiding the honest conversation we are setting ourselves up for disaster and disappointment. More on that topic to come.
Few subjects elicit impassioned responses like human sexuality, indicating our need to discuss it. At the same time, seldom does a subject give rise to greater defensiveness than this same one. I have experienced many times over criticism and condemnation for my perspective on relationships. I suspect as someone who has identified as ‘polyamorous’ for at least eight years now, that there may be some backlash to my shift back toward monogamy. Let me suggest that we all attempt to follow the incredible example of Courtney Rose, by loving and respecting each other whatever our beliefs are so long as they are founded in a desire to discover truth and express love.
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