Sunday, 27 January 2008

Not your usual BDSM and abuse story

[ Posted here and at World on a Slant ]

I have this friend.

When I met her, she was in a marriage with a lot of partially hidden problems; those problems started coming out more blatantly as things started to fall out, through the separation, through the divorce: the extensive emotional abuse, the 'I got over my situational depression just fine, you should just cheer up out of your clinical depression and stop being such a whiner', the waving his penis in her face to demand oral sex. When they separated, he resented any suggestion that he take responsibility for her, because hey, they were broken up, that gets him out of any obligation to his wife, even though divorce paperwork wasn't even being negotiated yet, even though he wound up shacking up with "a hot redhead" and blowing vast amounts of recreational money while his wife was struggling to make rent in part because he insisted on moving to an area of the country with rampant unemployment where, furthermore, she's miserable.

I helped talk this friend through the breakup and the divorce, pointed out things that she was missing like, "Your asshat ex is really treating you very badly" and "You are being taken advantage of here". Supported her through a bad time and helped her out of the abusive situation.

And one might think that would be the end of it.

Of course, like many people who have been in abusive situations, she has done a lot of thinking about how she got into that place, what patterns there were in her life, and how she needs to change to not go there again. Which includes talking that over with a variety of her friends to try to pick things out.

And at some point, one of the people she was talking about her relationship history with, asshat ex and before, said, "You know what you sound like to me?" And said she sounded like someone who was wired up like a submissive, but who hadn't the experience or knowledge to figure out how to deal with that without turning into a doormat, and who had had partners who were willing to take advantage of that set of psychological hooks.

So she came to me, as the out submissive she knew, to talk to about this. And we talked. And after a bit of thinking, she took this fellow up on his offer to give her a grounding in managing her own submissiveness to see if she felt better for it. I got tapped, sort of, as her spotter, as someone she could talk to about the experience of being a sub, as someone to give her advice and resources, as someone who would understand things.

I watched her flower.

The joy she took in the early parts of that relationship was amazing. The way she took to the discipline of the d/s and the focus it provided her got her stable and secure in a way I had never seen her. He took care of her in quiet, straightforward ways; she commented more than once, in stunned tones, that she did things with him that the asshat ex had tried to coax and berate out of her for years.

Even the difficult times -- and there have been more than a few of those -- she has tackled with dedication and devotion, with the support of the commitments she's made and the simple not wanting to disappoint him. She's given up smoking, she's learning to draw boundaries to keep her family from taking as much advantage of her as they have in the past, she looks at the terror of having all of her emotional issues in relationships coming up faster and hitting harder than they have in the past and says, "This time, I'm going to work through this shit."

And she has patterns to work through and break, and is utterly frustrated by them at times, and is working on building up the capacity to choose, to act freely rather than constrained by fears and phobias and the scars of past damage. She talks at times about feeling like she's in a cage with the door open, and is trying to work up the guts to escape so she can be with him.


And so when I see people going on about the abuses of BDSM, I find myself thinking of her, and the way she's been building herself away from being readily abuseable by dealing with someone who respects who she is and how she responds.

(This post was written with her permission, her dom's okay, and her pre-posting approval.)

31 comments:

Rianne said...

I've been reading and loving this blog for a little while now, but this entry I loved.

That is what BDSM done well can be. I've heard a few times now that a lot of people into BDSM have been in abusive relationships before, with the implication that it was because of the abuse that they turned to BDSM. I think the reality is more like what you say here, these people turn to BDSM to learn how to not be abused. Not there because of the abuse, but because that's who they are. So thanks for saying that so eloquently.

On a side note, I'm writing a piece right now for my university Women's Centre publication on reconciling my feminism & my sexuality, and I think I will include this blog address as 'further reading'

Mighty Fast Pig said...

I used to think BDSM would save the world. Now, I just think it is part of the world.

I have to wonder if your friend's transformation would have occurred though some other kind of intense regimented relationship, say, Evangelical Christianity or a 12-step program?

Maybe I'm just too pessimistic at this point in my life.

SnowdropExplodes said...

I forget now who said it, but somewhere I saw a comment that made an analogy with medicine: while it is true that sick people take medication, that doesn't make medication a symptom or perpetuation of illness!

I think possibly the best example might be diabetes (although I am a little hazy on the details of that illness). As I understand it, a diabetes sufferer, as well as needing to inject with insulin periodically, also needs to have a stash of high-sugar foods just in case the blood sugar levels start to plummet.

To someone unaware that the person has diabetes, this process of injecting and/or taking "secret snacks" might appear to be self-harming.

Furthermore, one way that a person can get diabetes is from having been an overeater - so it might appear that the "secret snacks" especially, were somehow perpetuating the earlier harmful behaviours (I seem to recall from some years ago now, a Neighbours storyline almost exactly like this).

But whether the diabetes is caused by earlier problems, or whether the previously undiagnosed diabetes had led to bad eating habits before it was diagnosed, the current situation is most definitely not harmful - rather, it is the very best way to control and manage the conditions.

None of the above should be read as implying that a submissive's nature (nor, indeed, a dominant's) should be regarded as an illness. But both are conditions that can, in the wrong circumstances, lead to harm. The difference between BDSM orientation and disease is that disease rarely has extremely positive outcomes; whereas BDSM is a true source of joy.

Trinity said...

"I used to think BDSM would save the world. Now, I just think it is part of the world."

Nothing saves the world by itself.

Dw3t-Hthr said...

Nothing's going to "save the world".

People saving each other with a handle on appropriate tools to specific situations is all we've got.

Kimmy said...

This post could almost have been about me. I'm almost two years out of an abusive marriage, and now I'm in a D/s relationship with the best dom that any sub could have. He's guided me, and helped me to learn how to be submissive without being hurt or taken advantage of. Even to the point of attempting to disentangle myself from a somewhat cloying and controling relationship with my mother. He's helped me to work through the issues that led me to a series of increasingly bad relationships in the first place, so that I never make those mistakes again. And he's given me the safety and security to develop as a submissive, and as a person, in ways I haven't been able to before. On top of all of that, he loves me.

BDSM may not save the world. But it's certainly helping to save me.

(btw, I've been reading for awhile, and just haven't posted. This was too spot-on to pass up, though)

L said...

Wow, I find it INCREDIBLY hard to get my head round this. So you think some people are biologically wired to be submissive? Because it seems more logical to me that if you have been abused and dominated for most of your life then your sexuality will be affected by that. I can see how the D/s would help people deal with issues, but only as a kind of step to independence; I don't see how being constantly submissive to someone else can be a natural drive, or very healthy, to be honest.

I understand power play as a sexual game, but as a relationship I just cannot understand how it can be natural and healthy for people to live their lives either dominating someone else or being dominated.

I know this sounds a bit callous, but I'm genuinely interested, and I assume part of the reason for this blog's existence is to try and explain bdsm so I thought I'd post my bemusement.

EthylBenzene said...

Wow, what an awesome post. I can't say enough about how I really believe that discovering these parts of us is almost always an unqualified good in the rest of our lives. It's really just been such an amazing journey and I am so glad there's other people out there having such powerful, growing experiences.

EthylBenzene said...

Oh gods, I posted without reading the previous comments.

"I said," you might want to, oh, I dunno, read some of the rest of the posts on this site or the many other BDSM websites out there, if you're really interested in a dialogue and not just trolling.

Short answer that you would know if you spent five minutes doing any kind of good-faith research -- many many people experience BDSM as orientational.

Trinity said...

L,

I've posted on this before, but I can't remember where right now.

Basically, what changed my mind about long-term D/s (other than realizing that my own yen for it was not going away, regardless of my worries about its healthfulness) was that I began to see a difference between subjection and service.

I think what people worry about (or at least, what I worried about) when they say that long-term submission is frightening to them is something like... the idea that someone will begin to live a dependent life. They will either live in a kind of subjection, degraded by their master(s), or, only slightly better, live a life of childlike dependency.

I thought that too at first, which is why I was willing to top and only let my dominance out in tiny doses.

But as I started to meet people who lived it, who really did set up these relationships, I didn't see adult children, dependent people never making decisions. I saw people whose status was much more akin to something like butlers or majordomos -- they're ordering things for someone else, in a way, but this usually requires a great amount of industriousness and quick thinking.

Submission in these relationships, at least among the people I know, is much more about status than about dependence.

Many service-oriented submissives learn formal ways to do things: set tables, serve large dinners, etc. The amount of diligence a lot of people put into the minutiae of serving well is amazing.

It's a lot more about, from what I see in people I know, living a disciplined and organized life than it is about dependence.

Octogalore said...

Trinity -- good point, re service.

I think another aspect of the concern L raises, though, is not about whether BDSM and living a healthy life are mutually exclusive (I don't believe they are, b/c of many of the points you raise and others), but about whether BDSM is a good segue from an unhealthy life to a healthy one.

I too would be skeptical about whether someone dealing with abuse would choose BDSM for the right reasons or whether it's a good path to self-actualization for that person, on the rebound from abuse, necessarily.

People tend to seek repetitive patterns for reasons that can have more to do with self-esteem than fundamental "wiring." I wonder whether someone who may not actually be "wired" as sub might gravitate from being an abused partner to being a sub, without really confronting underlying issues.

Of course, were that person to take some time alone, either with therapy or not, and ultimately conclude he/she is drawn in that direction, more power to him/her. But I'm not sure rebounding from abuse to BDSM and feeling like one is flowering tells us as much as it seems to be, IMO.

subkittengirl said...

I went from an abusive relationship to several unsatisfying (and short) vanilla relationships into the most beautiful BDSM relationship. However, that doesn't mean that a yen for BDSM is a reaction to an abusive relationship.

First of all, I'd had BDSM interests since I was eleven years old. Secondly, I truly believe now that it was an unconscious desire for a BDSM type relationship that lead me to make bad choices in relationship partners in the past (in other words, I hadn't yet learned the difference between a dominant and an abusive jerk).

Finally, regardless of what's gone before, if I truly am a submissive (and I am), then finding a healthy BDSM relationship can only possibly be a good thing for me. It allows me to express myself fully without criticism and gives me a safe place to explore every aspect of myself with someone who loves me, cares for me, and accepts me for who I am.

How could that possibly be unhealthy?

Trinity said...

"Secondly, I truly believe now that it was an unconscious desire for a BDSM type relationship that lead me to make bad choices in relationship partners in the past (in other words, I hadn't yet learned the difference between a dominant and an abusive jerk)."

skg,

I suspect this happens a *lot.*

Trinity said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
skychix said...

The Facebook of Sex offer a great way to meet friends for BDSM!

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Retha said...

Can you tell me what is the difference between a dominant and a jerk, Subkittengirl? Make it as concrete as possible. For example "he care about my needs" is vague.

(I often see BDSM people describe behavior that seems like being evil - more than just being a jerk - and condoning it. For example, subs describe punishments - these things are punishments because the sub does not like them - for trivial things like forgetting to call the dom by his exalted nickname. Unjust punishments which the sub dislike, but do not refuse, seems evidence that the sub is being a doormat to a man who mistreat her. Yet I know of nobody in BDSM who oppose punishment beatings subs dislike?)

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