It isn’t easy being a woman. Bombarded with repression and shame from religion, politics, and society at large, the notion of female sexuality has long been a guarded, even threatening topic. But not for Rebecca Pillsbury, author of the new memoir Finding Ecstasy: How Buenos Aires, a Brazilian, and the Blues Saved My Sex Life (and My Soul).
Raised with the conservative “good girl” stigma, Rebecca spent decades ashamed of her femininity, her sexuality, and her desires. Her debut novel recalls the serendipitous chain of events—romantic, spiritual, and sexual—that allowed Rebecca transform her shame into self-acceptance and pride. Part love story, part self-help book, and part travel journal, Finding Ecstasy is written with heart, levity, and intimate detail. Rebecca holds nothing back in the hope that she will inspire her readers to face their fears, discover love for themselves, and find the courage to follow their bliss.
Maya Seaman: First off, tell me a little bit about your new book, Finding Ecstasy.
Rebecca Pillsbury: I wrote a story about my transformation, both sexual and spiritual, for releasing sexual repression and shame. I feel it’s a story that a lot of women will relate to because we all grew up in a society where there’s all these rules and restrictions around sexuality that can come from religion, our families and friends, the media—we’re all growing up with these mixed messages and taboos around sexuality. I’m sharing my story to offer inspiration that we can overcome that repression and release that shame, that we can find beauty in vulnerability. My story is a memoir, but it’s not just about spiritual and sexual transformation, it’s also a love story.
I’ve always loved writing and it was a childhood dream of mine to be an author, but when I grew up and got distracted in the adult world I forgot that passion—that dream. About a year and a half ago, a friend pointed out that I had a story that would be a good tool to inspire others and help transform their lives. It became clear to me that I needed to revisit that passion of writing—I also was clear on the message that I wanted to share with the world. I felt that it was a soul-calling—that I had an obligation to share it—that I had this opportunity to help others.
MS: Was it difficult to write the sexually intimate parts of the book given you were raised to believe that sex is shameful and dirty? Were you worried about your parents reading it?
RP: Definitely. I received advice from a workshop I attended with Cheryl Strayed, and she said that in the initial writing stages, you write what scares you knowing that you can always take it out. When you have that in the back of your mind—oh, I’m not going to publish this, I’m just writing this for my sake, I’m gonna take it out later—it’s really comforting to be completely raw in what we’re writing. She also said (which I agree with) that nine times out of ten once you do write that authentic representation of what scares you, you’ll want to keep it in the book and that’ll probably be the part that your readers identify with most. So that’s how I started writing those parts, but once I realized I was going to keep them in, then the fears came up about sharing it with my family, sharing it with my former lovers—I talk very openly about my past sexual relationships and the lives of my parents.
MS: What helped you build confidence to share those experiences authentically and write about the people whose actions shaped your life in this story?
RP: Instead of waiting for the book to come out and having those people in it read it that way, I decided to share the manuscript with everyone beforehand, which ended up being my mom and most of my exes—they at least read their parts in the book—and I was astounded at the response, of the support I received. My parents gave me their full support and love in moving forward with this, they didn’t try to change anything; it was the same with my exes. They wanted me to go forward without changing anything. That gave me the confidence I needed to put this out into the world.
MS: In the epilogue of your book, you encourage your readers to go find their own adventure, to “follow their bliss.” Can you recommend anything that helped you to go out and travel alone as a woman, to take that step.
RP: At the core of any transformation is a spiritual component, and by that I mean the way we view ourselves in relation to others and to the world. For me, the thing that gives me confidence to pursue anything that brings me alive or might be a little scary is knowing that everything in this universe is perfect and it’s arranged and offered to us in a way that while there will be challenges and obstacles, everything is perfectly designed to help us reach our highest evolution. I do not let fear keep me from pursuing anything that feels to me like a soul-calling. Traveling is one of my main soulful endeavors, so is writing (and exposing myself through memoir apparently). My greatest intention with this book is to inspire people to live out their dream and trust that when they do what their soul is calling them to do, that everything in their life will fall into place effortlessly. You’ll be astounded at the way things arrange themselves to offer you opportunities for growth and reaching your highest potential and to experience the highest level of joy.
MS: You frequently discuss your former discomfort with sex, and as a teenager, your blossoming womanhood. How has this journey helped you accept the parts of yourself which had previously caused you anxiety or shame?
RP: I don’t experience any shame anymore around my sexuality or being a woman. I appreciate and value my femininity—I realize it’s actually quite a gift to be a woman and there are so many unique and miraculous aspects of how the female body works. Now I can really understand and appreciate that and I feel the desire to share it, to share the essence of my femininity.
MS: This is a self-published book. How has that process been for you and would you recommend it for other aspiring, first-time authors?
RP: Well it’s not easy, but I do recommend it depending on what a writer is seeking from their experience. I tend to be someone who likes to be involved in the whole process. It’s been a opportunity to learn and explore a whole new type of business and industry, and I feel it puts me in a better position should I decide to traditionally publish down the road. It’s taught me a lot about how we market books, and I’ve enjoyed being involved in the whole process of cover design, editing, and formatting. I recommend it for people who want to be more involved in the publishing process. Regardless of which avenue they choose, I’ve learned that an author has to be very involved in the marketing of the book—that’s a surprise for a lot of people who choose a traditional publisher—that they handle all the marketing, but it’s not that way. They expect the author to do just as much marketing as they would if they were on their own.
MS: Do you have any advice you’d like to share for women reading this that may be experiencing a similar struggle with sexual repression or shame?
RP: Whatever it is that you’re struggling with, whether it’s sexual shame and repression like me, or it could be anything else in life, I just want to encourage you to reach out and start talking about it. The only way to release shame is to share it with others. There is help out there, you’re not alone in the struggle—I want to encourage you to start talking and get help if you need it. And whatever it is that you’re seeking, that brings you most alive in life, to pursue that. Follow your bliss and trust that everything is perfect and the world will lead you where you’re trying to go.
MS: You mentioned that this is also a love story—an international love story to be exact—and currently we are talking while you are in London, where in the story you spent time with the main love interest, Boris. Is this love story still going on right now?
RP: [laughing] You’ll have to stay tuned.
Finding Ecstasy is currently available in e-book format on Amazon. The print version will be available Fall 2014. Follow Rebecca’s adventures, get updates on local talks, or simply say hello at findingecstasy.com. Follow her on Twitter @FEcstasy, or check out her Facebook page.
Cover photo courtesy of Vincent Isner.