(In)Stability Through Change

‘Know yourself’ Socrates advised. It sounds easy; we spend every conscious moment in our own company.

It’s not. I am not who I was at birth. Experience & learning have changed me. My body, awareness of it & the world have grown; there’s more ‘me’ & more ‘not me’.

People I meet, places I go, ideas I encounter enter memory. Teeth, bone, hair, blood & gut record water, food & every immunological challenge.

My self persists. People recognize, know & anticipate me. It’s reassuring.

But do I know myself? I’ve had two recent experiences that have changed me in ways I can feel.

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First: cancer. A mass >500g was removed with my bladder. It’s standard procedure to also excise the prostate. I now have a urostomy (abdominal opening draining urine into an external plastic bag) & total, permanent erectile dysfunction.

Second: prison. I pleaded guilty, under duress, to money laundering & served 14 months of a 4½ year sentence; with 30% plea discount, I’m now on 2 years parole.

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The urostomy is easy. It’s a common procedure, easily managed. The bag is always there though.

Erectile failure is harder to accept (no pun inverted).

Together, they’re the end of sex. Of course, there are still things I could do for a partner. Surprisingly, I’m still capable of orgasm, ‘though not ejaculation. At my age (66), with bag & no bone, opportunity would be hard to find.

I’m not looking.

I’m not what (who?) I was. I am fascinated by what I’ve become. Sexual interest, response & non-erectile aspects of arousal remain. What’s lost is possibility.

Surgery saved me from certain death, but it’s left less ‘me’. A tide has turned.

— — — — —

Prison changed me more than expected but I’m recovering.

Everyone worries about possible assault. I neither witnessed nor heard of sexual assault; occasional, limited violence occurred. I was threatened but unharmed. Age, diminutive stature, caution & kind ‘brothers’ protected me.

Powerlessness has an inescapable impact. Every aspect of daily life is regulated, both officially & at officers’ whim. Thoughts & feelings have no interest or effect, mute acceptance the only option.

This form of impotence, & fear of being returned to it, cause extreme anxiety. Upon release I was afraid in public places & of sounds at home: the voice, step, knock or bell that would end freedom.

End myself.

— — — — —

A few weeks ago, I met & responded to someone in that instant, literally breath-taking loss of self I’d not felt for 9 years & before that, rarely. It’s happened with men & women, is not always sexual, but is joyously self-affirming.

I am alive.

I, my self, ever changing, forever changed, still the same, self.