Holding Myself

I’ve been practicing mindfulness daily for the past three months, largely thanks to accountability provided by my domme. Sometimes, it’s a chore–my mind just whirs and buzzes while I sit there, and I finish the practice feeling frustrated by my lack of focus. Often, it’s a time for me to recognize and tend to my feelings, to remind myself that they’re okay. That’s uncomfortable but valuable, especially now, in the midst of a pandemic that has no clear end. Occasionally, my practice leads to unexpected catharsis and insight. Tuesday’s session was one of those times. It involved a heartfelt conversation with a pillow. That will make sense later. 

You see, I’ve been coping with the stirring of dormant anxieties recently, now that my dominant and I are doing a bit of sexual exploration (remotely). As a queer woman with chronic pelvic pain and perfectionism issues, sex can be a source of anxiety and overanalysis for me. (I’m not alone in that, and I’ll elaborate on it in a future post.) One thing I’m realizing, especially as I grudgingly share my anxieties with my partners, is that I have an old fear that confiding in my partners will ‘infect’ them with my anxiety. In other words, I fear that hearing my worries will make them worry, and then my worries will overwhelm them and become real as they pull away. And then, if they can’t handle my anxiety, it’s my fault for sharing or for not framing it in the [helpful] way possible. Frankly, that’s a lot of pressure. 

I think I know when these beliefs solidified in my psyche. I experienced a lot of anxiety in my first romantic relationship over six years ago, particularly wondering what I was ‘supposed’ to be feeling and not wanting to hurt my partner. As I explained to my therapist this week, I told her about what I was experiencing, and two weeks later, she broke up with me, citing similar anxieties to the ones that I had brought to her (which, incidentally, she had not disclosed until that point). Now, there’s no way of knowing how much I actually influenced her behavior. As my therapist pointed out, I’m not superhuman. I was only twenty, and she wasn’t much older. I’ve learned so much since I was twenty (I can verify that by rereading my old journal entries from that time–such overwrought prose!). But I think that part of me has carried the assumption for years that I somehow turned the breakup that I feared into reality by confiding my worries, that it’ll happen again. 

At times, I’ve assumed that my anxiety isn’t something that my partners can hold without taking it on. I’m learning that that’s an assumption based on incomplete (and frankly, outdated) information. I’ve grown in my ability to notice, understand, and communicate my feelings, and if my partners start to feel like they’re drowning in what I’m saying, they can tell me. I know this. 

But I still need to attend to the younger self who feels ashamed. This week, I did that through mindfulness. In the middle of a practice that invited me to openness, I found myself inspired to talk to and hold my twenty-year-old self, the one who blames herself for so much. So I laid a bed pillow across my lap and imagined that it was a younger version of me. I cradled her like the Virgin Mary cradles Jesus in Michelangelo’s Pietà. Mentally, I felt around for the most tender and wounded places, speaking aloud the affirmations that would be hard for her to hear (and hard for me to believe). 

I told her that she did the [helpful] she could. I told her that she was brave and kind. I told her that I had learned so much from her, that I admired her. The tears started when I said “I’m proud of you.” I held her, marveling at how young and small she seemed in my arms. “You are part of me, and I will always hold you,” I said to her. I whispered these things over and over, letting myself weep for that heartbroken twenty-year-old who just wanted to do the right thing. ‘We’ stayed like that for a while. I wasn’t sure how to wrap it up, but when my stomach started growling, I decided to rise and let her rest in my psyche. The pillow became just a pillow again, and I went about my day. 

I don’t know how this cathartic time will affect the way that I approach my behavior now, but it was much needed. As I move forward, other ‘past selves’ will visit–I’m sure my inner five-year-old will tug at my sleeve one of these days. I will learn from them, affirm them, and hold them.

*Note: Insight Timer is the [helpful] free meditation app.

*Image: Photograph of Michelangelo’s Pietà from Wikimedia Commons

Post linked to the Sex Bloggers for Mental Health blog meme.

That Awkward Moment When Even Theoretically Discussing Punishment Makes You Cry…

[Image description: Photo is of an old bamboo rod, not recommended for heavy impact.]

Negotiations continue for #Subpocalypse2019. I’m currently negotiating a new D/s dynamic and making discoveries along the way. Today, we’ve been discussing the concepts of “bratting” and “punishment.” I asked my prospective Domme to give her thoughts. She explained the nuances of bratting well. Bratting is a slippery term that encompasses many complex ideas (including but not limited to playfulness, manipulation, flirtation, and acting out). Folks pursuing D/s, make sure you’re on the same page about bratting! But I’ll reserve thoughts on that for another post. The concept that really got to me today was Punishment. 

Now, I know I’m not the only kinkster who grew up dreading punishment, whose childhood school identity was “angel” rather than “brat.” I glowed under the praise of my teachers and rarely got in trouble. Of course, the other side of that coin was that on the rare occasions when I actually did get in trouble, I was a wreck. The punishments felt so public–through the fourth grade, most teachers used a tag-pulling system, cutesy laminated construction paper cut-outs labeled with our names. If you got into trouble, you had to “pull your tag/card/take down your airplane.” For me, having to go up and move my own name to lower level was embarrassing, even shaming. And yet, other students, whose identities were not rooted in their similarity to divine beings, got in trouble daily without a care. I’ve learned some of their habits over the years. I’m recovering from perfectionism and have grown a fiercer, more flexible approach to life–one can’t be an angel in justice ministries; only humans need apply. 

Today, however, I read this Domme’s descriptions of the scenarios that would warrant punishment (mostly outright disobedience or disrespect) on the brink of tears. It wasn’t just vulnerability related to giving someone the authority to punish. Apparently, the prospect of punishment–even entirely theoretical–was enough to put me right back into that third-grade “I disappointed the teacher!” mindset. 

So, you might wonder, why even make punishment part of the dynamic? Not all D/s dynamics incorporate real punishment (and most scenes use, at most, ‘funishment’). In vanilla life, I have limited faith in the utility of punishments to change behavior. But. I can’t imagine subbing to someone in a stable dynamic without giving them the power to punish. As a Dominant, I occasionally use punishment in my dynamic with my sub. To me, in a D/s context, punishment calls attention to a problem quickly and decisively, it reinforces the power exchange dynamic, and it helps both parties to reset and move forward. 

Does punishment itself modify behavior? Perhaps, but not necessarily. As I think back to my school days, I imagine that I would’ve made about the same number of mistakes with or without punishment. Disappointing people that I respected, on top of failing publicly, regardless of the reason, hurt.

As I think about it more, while I would hate to do something ‘punishment-worthy’ as a sub, I also realize that I’m not stuck in the ‘angel’ mindset anymore. This is a dynamic that I’m choosing as an adult. I’ll try my best, but I don’t have to be perfect. My identity isn’t built on that anymore. And when–not if–I get punished, I won’t be recoiling in defense of that identity. Punishment is not about ‘being bad’; it’s about using all the tools available in this consensual power exchange to learn and grow, even when it’s hard. I will need to be vigilant when that ‘angel’ mindset pops up, but I now have the resources (perhaps including punishment) to treat it as a way of thinking borne of perfectionism, not my core identity. 

For other takes on punishment, check out my new flash erotica series Penance and my essay “BDSM is Not Repentance.”

BDSM is Not Repentance

[Image description: Photo is of a black flogger draped over a gold handheld mirror.]

Content notice: possible self-harm, police brutality 

Some time ago, I read about a guilt-ridden police officer who went to professional dominatrices to be beaten and humiliated as punishment for his habit of mistreating the people that he stopped on the street. As far as I know, his kinky sessions didn’t stop him from hurting the people under his power. He was still cruel. To put it in religious terms that I understand, he wanted to burn off his sins by ‘suffering’. Instead, he just burned off his guilt and went on his way. Shame covered him like a blanket of ash. 

He wouldn’t be the first to try to use BDSM to cope with guilt and shame. Some reading this post might wonder whether typical kink ‘punishment’ activities like being caned, forced to do chores, or verbally degraded will allow them to compensate for behavior that they’re ashamed of. My answer is “Maybe, but probably not.” 

My full response would be a real treatise, accounting for the various ways that people like to define BDSM and even ‘punishment.’ I’d also have to talk about whether I think that consensual punishments are fruitful (I have complex feelings). I’ll save those for other posts and spare you the ninety-five theses. 

For now, I want to talk about repentance, something more powerful than self-punishment. The Hebrew and Greek words that we often translate as “repent” appear over and over in the Bible.  

In Greek, the original written language of the New Testament, the word is “metanoia,” “to change the mind.” In biblical Hebrew, words literally meaning “to turn” or “turn around” are common (a little more on the language here). 

Wikipedia calls repentance “the activity of reviewing one’s actions and feeling contrition or regret for past wrongs, which is accompanied by commitment to change for the better.”

In short, repentance isn’t just about feeling sorry. Feelings are important, but they don’t do much in themselves. Instead, repentance is about harnessing thoughts and feelings through reflection in order to change behavior. 

Let’s consider the police officer. Did he repent? No. He felt bad and used BDSM to feel better. Perhaps, he thought that because he had chosen to experience pain, he now understood the pain he had caused others. Maybe he thought that his pain (carefully calibrated to satisfy him, as kinky pain usually is) would balance out theirs.

Repentance doesn’t work like that. For those who use Christian God language, God doesn’t work like that. 

Jesus didn’t say “I was in prison, but you felt bad and punished yourself.” Jesus said “I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me” (Mt. 25:43). 

This passage might sound harsh and confronting to some readers. It is. It doesn’t leave room for us to pretend that feeling bad about something is the same as doing something about it. 

But it also means that God doesn’t demand that you punish yourself to counteract the suffering you have caused. It means that you get to choose how you respond to that suffering. 

In the police officer’s case, there was most likely nothing he could do to repair the harm he had caused. The bodies he bruised (probably black bodies) would have to heal themselves; the heartache and trauma might never fully go away. He numbed them out with his own ‘suffering’. But he has the power to recognize what he has done and to make different choices, I hope with the help of a good therapist and strong community. That in itself is painful, and not in a fun way (think of a much less extreme version of Voldemort’s fractured soul).

The temporary hurt of kinky play is not a shortcut to understanding the harm one has caused, and it isn’t repentance. 

That being said, does BDSM have a role in repentance? Maybe so (and I’ll talk about that more in another post), but it depends on one’s goals and attitude. I want to practice treating others well through kink, and I want to give myself care in the play that I choose. I want what my sub experiences under my direction to have a positive impact on the way that he interacts with the world outside of our dynamic. I believe that kink can help people to reflect and grow. In the end, though, repentance is a chosen struggle, and there is no substitute.