The Little Death

Litany Against Fear from the book Dune, by Frank Herbert

There is real death, and then there is what I think of as, the little death. When I use this term I do not mean what people describe as, la petite more, a term that is tied to the feelings at the point of orgasm. I always think of, the little death, as it was described in the book Dune, by Frank Herbert. He writes in the Litany Against Fear: “I have no fear, for fear is the little death that kills me over and over. Without fear, I die but once.” 

The full litany is as follows: 

“I must not fear.
Fear is the mind-killer.
Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.
I will face my fear.
I will permit it to pass over me and through me.
And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path.
Where the fear has gone there will be nothing.
Only I will remain.”

I married my wife twenty-three years ago with a love in my heart for her and the hope that I could create the kind of life I had longed for. But as I look back now, I knew from the beginning that there was a deep, overpowering physical attraction to her that was missing. I enjoyed sex with her but only up to a point. At the beginning of our marriage, I felt we had a physical intimacy, but it faded in the ensuing years. In that first year of marriage, it became clear to me that my attraction to men, which I had felt was behind me, was just as strong as ever. 

As the years went on I began to feel increasingly like I was dying, not physically but emotionally. I was in this picture-perfect marriage with a wonderful woman. But secretly I kept a ‘hidden box’, containing my gay self, held together by sheer force of will. 

Being gay is NOT only about who I have sex with, but it is also something much deeper and organic. Being gay is who I am.  I felt that who I am, the person I felt myself to be, died a little more every day I stayed in my marriage. What was the physical and emotional cost of those years?

As I approached my 50th birthday with worsening BPH, (enlarged prostate making it difficult to pee), I also began to have difficulty reaching orgasm, and when I finally did reach orgasm, felt decreasing pleasure. I wondered if these physical problems were the cost of holding who I was, under tremendous pressure, in a small confined internal box. Was this the physical death that accompanied the emotional death I increasingly felt?  

I sometimes used the term, little death, to describe to myself what was happening to me. I saw this death as I felt increasingly numb, isolated, lonely, depressed, burrowing ever deeper inside myself. Between my suburban married life and the world of out, gay men was a chasm of fear, deeper and wider than I thought I could cross. But as a certain point, as “total obliteration” neared, there was no other path for me but to come out. 

When I made up my mind to come out, I determined to come out fully, guns a-blazing. Not just dip my toe in the water but make up for all the lost years as quickly as I could. I am not talking about sex here, but rather the full exploration of gay life, gay culture, and being out in all parts of my life. 

For a long time, I have not wanted to consider that the physical issues about my sexual functioning were caused by my emotional state. I have had diabetes since my mid-thirties. When I have gone to doctors about these physical issues and they see I have diabetes, they quickly say, “Well, of course, this must be diabetes-related. I’m sorry, there is nothing we can do.”  No tests. No analysis. Just conclusions. 

Today I go for my first Acupuncture session to specifically see if Acupuncture can help these physical problems tided to bound up emotional energy. We shall see. In three weeks I begin divorce mediation. As the mediation gets closer, these issues come more into focus. I think of the Litany Against Fear and say, I will face my fear head-on, walk through it, and then look back and see it for what it really was.





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