Jem Fuller is a leadership coach, author, speaker and international retreat facilitator. His book, The Art of Conscious Communication for Thoughtful Men, shares stories, challenges, life lessons and strategies from his colourful journey, to assist men in expressing their deepest truths, improving their lives and the lives of those around them.
The secret I kept in my marriage
For the best part of twenty years, I developed, harboured and compounded a deep, dark, secret torture. My bravado and confident exterior were lies, for at the core of my identity as a ‘man’, was the manifestation of all of my self-doubt, anxiety and fear. I told no one. I pretended I was fine. I suffered in agonising silence.
Locked beneath the seemingly impenetrable walls of shame, was the fact that over the course of my marriage, I had gradually become completely sexually dysfunctional. Impotency, premature ejaculation, sweats and anxiety attacks, the fear of ‘letting her down’ again – of not being able to ‘be her man’ in intimacy, became a relentless mind/body controlling racket. It was dark and horrible and deeply upsetting. I couldn’t tell a soul.
I almost lost all hope of healing. I almost gave up and resigned myself to living out my days in deep, secret shame and self-disappointment. I was an island. It felt like I was the only one going through it. It felt like every other man had their shit together and no one would understand.
Then finally I spoke. I actually put into words what had been consuming my internal world for so long. I reached out to a ‘brother’. It was one night after our *Men’s Circle gathering. I couldn’t bear to sit in this safe and confidential space around the fire with other men who were talking about their own life experiences and keep pretending this vulnerability wasn’t at the core of my being.
I wasn’t ready to ‘go public’ yet. I was still shaking in the deeply ingrained shame of not being able to ‘perform’, to ‘be a real man. My first scary step into speaking up was with one of my closest and oldest friends, and I really only just alluded to my struggle. I wasn’t very clear and I kind of played it down, but it was a start. Then the healing began.
The next couple of years were life-changing for me – my midlife crisis/awakening. I went to work on myself, intensively, gently and consistently re-wiring my ‘relationship with self’, reminding myself daily that I am good enough, that I do deserve to love and be loved, that I am fine, just the way I am. During this time, I lost my corporate job (a blessing in disguise) and started the path of my true vocation. My marriage ended and I had to sell the house we’d built, but I was building the foundation of a self-belief that would be the catalyst for my liberation from shame and suffering. I was re-identifying.
Through these years of metamorphosis, I also continued to share what had been ‘my secret struggle’; in men’s circles, in workshops, in situations where I thought it was appropriate and might help others. And the more I shared my story, the more men came to me and said ‘Me too! I thought I was alone!’
Through developing self-love, shaking off the shame, allowing myself to be vulnerable and sharing my story, the healing occurred. My life really transformed in all ways, personally and professionally. I was lucky enough meet an amazing woman who adores me to this day, and together explore the realms of a beautifully conscious relationship. My dysfunction dissolved and I moved right through the sexual healing and healthy love-making spaces to exploring the spiritual and tantric experiences of truly connected and mind-blowing sexual synchronicity. Liberation!
This, however, is not a story about sex. This is a story about vulnerability, self-worth, connection and sharing. This is a story about reaching out for help. It’s a story about being OK with imperfection. It is also a story about the healing potential of coming out of isolation and having the courage to open about your struggles.
Don’t hide in shame
Your secret vulnerabilities may very well be different to mine, but the blanket of shame that covers them is something we have shared. If you’ve ever experienced self-doubt, it may very well have manifested in different forms of anxiety. It’s the façade of ‘OK-ness’ and the sweeping it under the rug, that we’ve had in common.
I tell this story in the hope that I can encourage you to reach out to someone and share the things you thought you had to keep to yourself. Break through the cultural stereotype of ‘man up’, ‘suck it up’, ‘harden up’ and ‘don’t cry like a girl’. Those days and ideas are old, tired and antiquated. It’s time we redefined our version of what it is to ‘be a man’. Our strength is in our honesty and integrity, our willingness to accept responsibility. Our strength is in our vulnerability and our knowing that we are enough, just the way we are. Our strength is in our ability to move beyond our boyhood identity and the inherent uncertainties, and breathe into being just the man you are, just the way you are; perfectly imperfect.
Even if you are already at a stage in your life where you’ve healed your ‘stuff’ and you are humming along nicely, sharing your past struggles may very well be opening a door just enough to let some light shine through for a fellow brother who’s lost in the dark. When you open up, you give others permission to do the same. In this way we can connect our islands and collectively combine to elevate beyond past paradigms… to becoming better men.
*Men’s Circle – there are different versions of this work. In my community we sit around a fire and take turns to speak our experience of a particular theme each month. We create a sacred and respectful space; confidential, no booze or drugs, no counselling or giving unsolicited advice. Just a safe space to speak your truth, be heard, and listen. Perhaps you could start something like this in your community?