Triggered

I’m sitting right now and I’m completely non-verbal.  I’m partway through the experience of being emotionally triggered. A few minutes ago I was laying on my side, catatonic, a while before that I was crying and shaking uncontrollably trying to catch my breath, before that I was trying to deescalate my quickly spiraling out of focus feelings by asking for help as I felt this episode coming on. I was unsuccessful at removing all stimulus from my overwhelmed state, and I ended up full on in this triggered thing I wish I didn’t know so well… Following are my thoughts and observations.

I can’t open my mouth. It’s sealed shut by stiff unmoving muscles. My entire body is shaking. The only things moving right now are my fingers, and they are moving much more slowly than usual on my keyboard. Dreamily kind of, definitely detached from my usual physical speed. Even my arms and elbows are clamped to my sides unmoving. I feel physically numb.

My brain goes black during the emotional parts of being triggered and the catatonic parts. Tunnel vision or complete blackout. It happens early on, and definitely has its hold on me when all the overwhelmed feelings take control.

When my brain is going into the darkness I cannot hear what is being said to me. Literally. It’s like the people speaking to me are a million miles away, or their sounds have gotten warped from words into a series of sounds I don’t know how to interpret, like talking underwater but I don’t have the ability to focus and decipher, and everything I do hear sounds frightening and too big for me to respond to. I can’t speak, even if a phrase or something I want to say is screaming repetitively in my brain, my mouth won’t open and I cannot figure out how to release my voice. I can see myself, sometimes, as if from outside my body, and I look like a small child huddled in a corner in vast darkness, unsafe, with “The Nothing” snarling at me threatening to bite. I am frozen, shaking, and I cannot stop crying. My brain hurts.

Fight, flight, fuck, freeze. I am a freeze. I try to talk my way out of the circumstance if I can, and it usually ends in me crying and getting small and saying “Stop. Please stop,” pleading over and over again. I am overwhelmed and I need slowness, care, kindness, and silence.

I know to breathe. I get on the floor and I hold my head and I breathe. The sounds my body makes are like hyperventilation almost. Minutes tick by. At some point, with enough silence around me, and a while to recover, my breathing slows a little and maybe my tears dry up a bit. I am still tightly holding on and I still cannot hear properly or see or remember what’s happening around me.

I am not hungry. My stomach is in knots. I can’t even think of eating. Sometimes this lasts for days.

It’s hard for me to sleep. It’s hard for me to shut the voices out of my head.

The catatonic part sets in and I lay somewhere not seeing or hearing or moving. Not really in my body.

Sometimes, after a while, I can do dissociative things like write (example: this blog about what’s going on in my head and body), or clean something, or rearrange my room so it feels more comforting and safe for me to find a space to nestle in. Slowly. Usually it takes a while to make my way under the covers or to somewhere comfortable (if can I get there without help). Often I find myself lying uncomfortably on a hard surface for a while, or perched panting in the middle of the floor, or I’ve pressed my body against a wall like an animal trying to disappear.

Any voice that is not soft and kind makes it worse. Especially the crying and dissociation. Asking me to think critically or answer questions or absorb criticism is not possible without tearing the matter of my mind into bits and pieces. That’s what it feels like — like my brain is being torn apart like pillow stuffing if I have to try and think something through and be present in the room. I cannot figure out how to open my mouth, it feels like I will die if I do.

If you’re near me and want to help, speak to me softly and kindly and I might be able to accept a hug. Non-verbal hugging is best. Or a gentle but firm hand on my back or leg or somewhere grounding to my body. Being told “it’ll be ok” can be helpful. Being told I’m safe and no one needs anything from me is good. These are things I’ve found in the past that work.

Please don’t make me speak or think before I am ready to. If I try too soon to rise to the occasion of communication I will plunge all the way back in again. I don’t have control until I do have control. The more control I try to have when I’m still shut down, the worse the situation gets. Me retreating away from people with regular check-ins, and asking for silence and kind petting is the only thing I know that works.

Please don’t ask me to process what happened with you… At least not until the next day if I seem talkative then, or if we’re engaged in a normal conversation already. Ask if I’m ready to talk about it. I might not be. I’ll let you know when I am if you ask me. Please respect what I tell you. This takes time to climb out of.

If you feel bad about what I’m going through, please take care of yourself and try not to. I can’t help you right now. I’m sorry for that. In fact I’m beating myself up about it inside probably. I feel like a fucking asshole out of control animal and I also feel weak and I’m also trying to preserve myself and my brain and find safety so I can not be like this anymore. I desperately do not want to be feeling the way I feel or acting this way anymore. Inside I feel wild and afraid and it isn’t your fault — but you can definitely make it much worse if I can’t get away from external stimulus. I am in the intense experience of overwhelm.

My known triggers are: angry sounding voices directed at me, fear that I’m letting someone down or being needed when I can’t help, not expecting to be social and having a social occasion sprung on me without a day (or enough quiet personal time) to prepare, having recently been in a fight with a friend or loved one, being approached in an objectifying manner about sex and/or sex that feels nonconsensual or disconnected and moving too fast for me to process, being told what I’m thinking or what I’m feeling (rather than questioned about it), accusing me of doing things I’m not doing for reasons I’m not intending, being around homophobic family members, interacting with people who have been abusive or traumatizing to me in the past… There are others. There are triggers I’m sure I don’t know about too. Even these listed triggers don’t always throw me into this overwhelmed freeze, especially if I’m in a good solid healthy space. Sometimes it takes a number of these triggers over the course of a few days to add up for me to experience the one that breaks the camel’s back and sends me spiraling out. There are triggers which I think I’m on top of, yet still every now and then I trip up on. I’m surprised by what sneaks up on me and what doesn’t, and sometimes I see it coming a mile away…

Here’s how I try to take care of my triggered state: When I’m able I say outloud that, “I’m triggered and I need some space” to anyone I trust or am engaging with who’s around me. My brain gets really really really basic with my language. What this means is exactly what it sounds like. As my verbal and self-expressive centers start to fail inside of me, and I’m less and less capable of actually speaking words or making sense, the freeze and terror feelings start to introduce uncontrollable crying. I try to say what I actually need in hopes that I’ll get it and can start to breathe and deescalate. Before I dissociate completely and am doing things which may or may not make sense to anyone watching me, I usually end up saying one phrase over and over again, hoping it will be heard. Usually it is, “please stop”. This means Stop. This means stop speaking to me. Stop asking me questions. Stop needing me to respond to you. Stop asking me to make decisions. Stop yelling at me or using a harsh tone with me. Stop poking at me. Stop. Stop. Stop. Please stop. Stop talking at me or passive-aggressively around me so that I can overhear your inner monologue and stop pushing me. Please stop. As my nervous system shuts down and my muscles tighten and begin to shake, the only way I can resurface is with time, lots of breathing, warmth, hugs (maybe — depending if I feel safe in my body or with any particular person hugging me), quiet, kind words and calming vocal tones, gentleness, and reminders that I’m going to be ok.

I will plunge back under, drowning in the sea of darkness and physical seizing, fear, and despair if you criticize me at this moment, or need me to listen to you explain a bunch of things when I’m begging you to stop stimulating me.

This is what my triggered place is like.

I’m sorry I don’t always see it coming and get out of the way in time.

I cannot take care of you or your emotions when I am in it for the length of time that I am in it. I don’t expect you to take care of me, but I do need you to disengage completely if you cannot do the simple things I ask (stop, kind help), or if you cannot stop yourself from doing the things which undermine even further my functionality.

I am laying here writing this, amazed, that I can be writing this clearly. I still can’t open my mouth or move my tense shaking body, but I can observe my state and intellectually parse, fingers on keyboard, elbows and arms still pinned frozen to my sides. My cat is cuddled up, warming my side. It’s helping me be here in my physical body even if I can’t locate my verbal self. My intellect seems to be computing along, driving, doing, autopilot. I can’t feel my insides. My emotions seem dead or far away and wrapped up in baffling. I’m cold even though I shouldn’t be. The thought of food makes me want to throw up even though it’s dinnertime and I was hungry a little while ago.

I have a lot of experience being very high functioning. There’s always been work, school, friends I can’t speak about my feelings with, networking to do, rehearsal, supporting others’ emotional states, roommates not to upset, people around, expectations, students coming over, work shifts to get to… I have a lot of experience moving out of my body, out of my emotions, and letting my intellect do the autopilot driving.

To someone on the outside it probably doesn’t seem like I’m triggered or really fucked up right now, or that I have a really bad stomachache and headache, that I’m not inside my own body, that I’m not experiencing the moment or the physical place I’m inhabiting. I’m writing this. Earlier I was looking up articles about “how to help someone who’s triggered” to explain my situation via text to my friend who was nearby when this episode took hold because I couldn’t open my mouth to answer their persisting questions. In the past, from the outside, I’ve just looked like a regular everyday me sitting on a curb in the rain or snow not coming inside for a long time… I can’t move my body without warmth sometimes, except to wave or smile at someone driving by so they don’t think I’m crazy. My brain can do robotic “everything’s fine” faces for strangers.

It’s a weird kind of layered reality which reminds me of “Being John Malkovich”. Those people are in his head controlling his body. I’m like him: in the dark, losing motor control, and a bunch of things I’m doing don’t make sense to people around me who know me. It also seems like maybe I’m just fine to others. I’m not. I don’t know when I will be.

They tell you to drink water or eat when you’re triggered (maybe because it means you have to open your mouth?). I cannot figure out how to do that. Still. It’s been an hour? I feel dead inside. And afraid. Like running away. Everything seems really violent and not ok… When I tell you I’m triggered, please just stop everything and say, “Ok. How can I help you?” in your calmest talking to a little kid voice, and then whatever I say just accept it for what it is, and if you need to ask me questions about your own emotional stuff please don’t until I can talk again. If I say I can’t answer questions (or I literally freeze up and don’t answer your questions) it means I don’t have my brain back yet and I can’t figure out how to do it. The more you press, the worse my brain gets, the more I regress back into my actively triggered darkness reality, the longer it takes me to come back and talk. If you can’t emotionally handle waiting for me to come back it’s ok. Just let me know you can’t deal with my triggers so you’re going to let me take some space and to come find you when I’m ready to talk. I will do my best. I thank you for respecting what I’m telling you, and for you taking care of yourself (and thereby me) by putting up your own respectful boundaries.

Please don’t accuse me of anything if I’ve told you I’m triggered. It makes it worse really fast. I promise you when I take responsibility for being in a triggered state that I’m not blaming you, I’m telling you something that’s going on so I can try to stop the process I feel myself being sucked into. I might not be able to tell you before it goes too far, but I’ll ask for space if I can. If you want to help: kindness, soft words, “it’ll be ok” (I might protest if I’m feeling wildly out of control, and that’s ok, it’s just my feelings and I can’t let them go until I’ve processed them), getting me food or water or tea, a steady hand on my back, asking if I want a hug or a blanket, listening to me and not responding if I do talk, not judging me, not making me do anything I’m not ready to do, not pressing if I’m not answering… These are the things you can do which should help me.

My triggers aren’t about you, unless they are. If they are and you know you tripped them, please apologize. Sincerely, it really helps. It’s no big deal in the big picture, but it holds a lot of weight in this moment. I assume you didn’t mean to (we’re friends in this scenario). Apologizing for triggering me (or making my triggers worse by arguing with me when I’ve told you I’m triggered and need whatever is happening between us to stop) goes a long way toward helping me trust you and feel safe again and begin to relax and unfreeze.

It takes me days to get over my triggers sometimes, sometimes only hours. I feel like a part of my brain has blown out of my head and I’m exhausted and slow. My face usually looks like I’ve been crying and not sleeping, ’cause usually that’s true. That stresses me out a lot too. Believing people are judging me because I look stressed or tired or like I’ve been crying makes unwinding from this freeze and overwhelm harder. Sometimes that stress contributes to retriggering me more easily. It definitely adds to the tiredness I feel. All of this sucks the energy out of me. It takes a while to rebuild. I need a lot of calm alone time and warm kind friend time to get back up. It helps if you can make me laugh.

All I can really tell you is: I’m numb. Tomorrow my head will hurt from crying, my body will be sore from having seized muscles for so long, and I’ll be tired, very very tired, my brain still won’t be functioning properly. I’ll be very easily startleable. The space behind my eyeballs especially hurts and aches, so does the space at the back of my neck and base of my skull. I’ll be stressed out about it all. I’ll be maddeningly (at least to me) slow.

I try to stop the snowball from rolling downhill: “I’m triggered. I need this to stop. Please stop. I need some space. Please be kind to me…” I’m doing the best I can for all of us, but especially me. If you’re a friend try to understand or at least care enough not to not make it worse.

I still can’t open my mouth. I’m so tired. I can’t figure out how to shut down and rest. I can’t figure out how to reactivate or come back to present.

I know soon enough I’ll be back inside of me. In time. With enough breathing.

***     ***     ***

Following are some suggestions others have written to me about how they ground themselves when they find themselves feeling triggered. I think most people experience being triggered, panic attacks, or PTSD at some point (if not recurring) in their lives. It’s deeply personal to navigate these scenes, and not everyone looks like I do when they are in that space. Some of these suggestions work for me, some do not. I hope this writing and this list helps you and yours if you need ideas. Having written this all out, communicated with others, and some time passing has helped me a lot:

  • Breathe
  • Eating and/or drinking
  • Get outside and feel the cold, the wind, your bare feet solid on the ground
  • Visit the ocean, mountains, woods, a lake or stream
  • Wander, take a walk, and talk to strangers, be present for someone else
  • Change your location and get away from overstimulation
  • Step away, ground, and breathe
  • Rubbing a stone or piece of wood between your fingers
  • Frozen oranges: The cold helps, and as they warm they release their essential oils, and tactilely get softer. Or take a warm shower with a frozen orange, the combination of hot/cold sensations, smell, and taste roots you back in the body sensually
  • Hot shower
  • Cold shower, running hands under cold water, an ice cube on the forearms
  • Mind altering or mood altering or LOUD music
  • Wild unchoreographed dancing
  • Aromatherapy oils (lavender, dragon’s blood, sandalwood, cedar, or burning oak to name a few) on facial pressure points and tops of feet
  • Crystals, moonlight rituals, lighting incense, holding a particular stone to ground back in the body
  • Smudging oneself with smoke, take a tincture of essential oils
  • Pet cuddles, love, and warmth
  • The act of creation/being creative
  • Drawing circles or something which requires active noticing and attention to details
  • Make a snowman, do simple things
  • Look around the room and say the things you see, out loud if you feel safe to
  • Find close friends who will understand and listen while you process
  • Seek out kindness and help from others
  • Sometimes very gentle non-verbal touching can help (sometimes)
  • Find comfort knowing it’s only your brain trying to protect you, and that you are bigger than fear
  • Tell yourself you love you
  • Repeating a comforting mantra
  • Remembering you are not alone

Play On My Friends,
~ Creature

Please support my work on Patreon. For one time donations click here: Support the Artist 
~Thank you.

Confrontation

“Thérèse Dreaming” (1938) by the painter known as Balthus. Credit Jacques and Natasha Gelman Collection, 1998

This past Monday the New York Times ran an article, “Met Defends Suggestive Painting of Girl After Petition Calls for Its Removal“. It was in regards to “Térèse Dreaming” by Balthus (pictured left). I read the article. I read the opinions of a number of people about why removing the painting was so important. I realize I have a lot to say…

The rush to hide this piece of art, which makes viewers (especially notable within our current social struggles) uncomfortable, also serves to tidy away deeper more personal reactions to the #MeToo topics of today: what do we do with the male gaze?. It’s obvious, almost mandatory, to feel uncomfortable viewing Balthus’s work, however I also feel that the exact discomfort Balthus inspires is the discomfort we must struggle to make peace with concerning our own behaviors.

*I will note that I have not seen the Met’s exhibit, so I cannot comment on it or its overall impact. I am primarily interested in responding to the specific artwork selected for censorship, “Thérèse Dreaming”.

Personally, I identify with this painting. Let me count the ways. A girl who seems young and comfortable in her skin (who I have been), who is not “pretty” in a made-up manner, who is tomboyish perhaps, and is calmly and comfortably reclining in a chair, eyes closed, resting. Her skirt has fallen open, her foot is resting on a bench. She is covered fully in her daily garb, wearing underwear and a slip beneath her skirt, her top fully covers her chest, and nothing about her attire nor her physical arrangement is revealing or flirtatious in a purposeful or overtly challenging manner. One believes, looking at her, that she is tired and finding a moment for comfort and rest. She is not concerned, nor seemingly aware, about what we can see of her. She is resting, comfortable, and evidently safe in her room with her cat eating peacefully beside her.

This painting is protested for “sexualizing a young girl”.

Yet she herself is not sexualized, nor is she sexualizing herself.

We are uncomfortable because we can see her underwear.

Ok, let’s take it a bit deeper. The painter presents us with additional symbology which is challenging, creating discomfort for the viewer, almost chiding us along. The girl’s companion, the cat, is licking milk from a saucer directly below her open red skirt and parted thighs. The shape of the skirt itself is not unlike the rosy draping of labia around this girl’s naked legs. One could go so far as to argue that her own bent leg, sticking out from the middle of her open red labial skirt seems almost phallic. The bottom hem of her skirt, glimpsed below the opening between her legs is a pool of red suggesting menstruation. This girl is not a girl. Balthus lets us know this girl is capable of a woman’s use. The cat and saucer invariably invites us to think of pussy, of lapping the milk of womanhood from between this sleeping — no, “dreaming” — girl/woman’s white slip and underwear region. Her arms, in a strange position for restful sleep, are folded behind her head, elbows out, reminiscent of the shape a woman makes when she accepts the gifts of pleasure from her sexual partner below. We are being asked to dream alongside Thérèse. This painting is innocent. This painting is fantasy.

What makes me angry is not that I am led to think unclean thoughts about a girl who is underage, it is that protesters refer to her “being sexualized” rather than taking responsibility themselves for thinking sexual thoughts — just as they have been led to. Clearly what is painted is a young adolescent girl who happens, as all adolescent girls do, to have a body. She is resting comfortably, not engaged with her budding sexual self. People criticizing this painting should consider their own psychologies first. Art which makes us wrestle and ask ourselves what we’re thinking and why we’re thinking such things is the most important art there is. Does this girl who is not activating her own sexuality deserve to be covered up forevermore because of our adult sexual awareness (and even uncomfortable enjoyment) of her, or should she be let to sleep?

This is a modern problem. Absolutely. Still.

Isn’t an unwillingness to let her sleep and take responsibility for our sexualization of her underline the very meaning of rape culture?

When will we fucking let girls sleep?!

I hear echos of “but her dress was so tight”, “but she drank so much at the party”, “but she flirted with me”, swimming around her slumber. Are we uncomfortable because this is a painting and we have a three dimensional vs. two dimensional reality problem which abjectly stops us from raping her, exerting dominance over her ease, or destroying her innocent rest? If we cannot rape her, must we censor her instead? Either way the girl disappears.

If the painter was a woman would we be protesting her artwork as loudly?

If this same painting was of a boy the same age, fallen asleep in nothing but his underwear, would we have a single remarkable thing to say? It would not be sexualized. It would simply be a portrait of a moment, perhaps even romanticized by these same protesters as a yearning for the simplicity and comfort of youth. That we are unable to view a girl with her leg on a table with that same distance I find mountingly disturbing…

We are suspect, and that we are suspect is entirely the point contained within this work to begin with. This theme is echoed by Bathus throughout his career in works which push buttons much less holistically than this.

Even when I was a child I knew when someone was wrongfully sexualizing me (though I didn’t understand the concept of sexualization at the time). I loved being naked and I saw nothing wrong with my naked body, and nothing wrong with being naked around others. I grew to understand at too early an age that adults were not comfortable with my nakedness. What I LOVE about the painting is the very juxtaposition of the fact that she is not ruffled or affected by our adult discomfort in her pose. It is clearly the responsibility of the adult to remain, fantasy perturbed (or not), silent, and undisturbing of her dreams. This painting is an invitation to decide exactly how we choose to act as adults, and how we choose to interject — or not — our adult awarenesses on those undeserving.

I squarely hold it on the elders in my life that a disservice to and disruption of my developing humanity and personal agency has been repeatedly enacted upon me in undermining ways throughout my life. I wish many men and other adult people had taken the time to stand before this painting, uncomfortable, to decide what the right thing to do is before fucking with and by degree destroying my childish understandings of my own not-desiring-of-sex-yet reality.

I am a person who has lived the experience of owning a young female body, and I’ve spent much time paying for and suffering through people’s attitudes and oppressions concerning my natural form. Get your gaze off of my physical comfort. My emerging sexuality is not for you to shape for me. And, in truth, I have an emerging sexuality still at the age of almost 40 because I’ve had people interfere with my natural development since the age of 4… CAN WE PLEASE DEAL WITH THIS CONVERSATION AND NOT KEEP HIDING IT AWAY?!?!!!

If art does not help teach us to accept what is natural and struggle with our own internal “what to do’s” about the situations we find ourselves in or the thoughts we have, how do we grow as individuals? How do we become better actors? How do we face paranoia and prove to be better than our thoughts, fantasies, and fears? We are fed inappropriate information geared toward commodification of our bodies since birth. That I had to put a shirt on as a 7 year old was inappropriate. No adult should have been uncomfortable with my body at that age. Unless there is a history of this painter actually accosting or abusing his models, he is a man who is voicing the unspeakable: everyday impulses we do not discuss as a society. Because we do not openly discuss these issues the concepts contained within them are used as weapons of oppression and threats, dominating the undeserving. Yes, art asks you and I to travel through the tunnels of our own psychology and come up with answers to these “what ifs”. Was Balthus an abuser, or was he an explorer of uncomfortable subject matter? I, personally, am empowered by some of his work and grateful for these questions to be asked as loudly as this painting suggests.

Was this artist a letch? I come from an artist-filled family and have done my fair share of modeling for varied assortments of artists. In an article linked to above there was mention of letters from one of his younger models who modeled for a number of years. In it she writes nothing ever happened at their sessions other than posing and photography… So are we to just decide that he was being inappropriate even though this model has said nothing of the sort? This is a twisted paranoia which measures what’s appropriate not by the people involved in the work but by modern standards formed by the patriarchal male gaze which makes suspect and sexualizes all female bodies. Of course I notice this girl’s underwear in the painting, but then what do I do with that? If I decide this image is dirty, then I must contend with my own feelings that there is something inherently dirty about girls who allow their underwear to be seen, even in unconsciousness and sleep (victim blaming anyone?).

I do not have children. I was asked if I would allow my ward to model for Balthus knowing his work. I would make that decision differently if I were only a viewer of his art than if I knew him personally. I would probably be present for the modeling. I would be regularly asking my kid if they felt comfortable working with the artist and let them know that if they didn’t feel like doing it there was no expectation continue… Again, I think the conversations he brings up are persistently important ones. He was, notably, of a different era with different standards and ideas about modeling. Naked bodies of whatever age were not automatically associated with pornorgraphy or sexualization. Artists are in the business of prompting conversations and making statements about society’s views through fresh and different perspectives.

If we take the image literally, then yes, let’s have a blunt conversation about cunnilingus with a minor, but that’s not what Art is for. Art is about communicating something beyond the obvious and triggering our subconscious synaptic pathways, bringing together our reactions, feelings, musings, thoughts, beliefs, questions, decision making centers, and ultimately actions into a place of new discovery and balance. Art brings forth conversation about topics that we would not have if it were not for their complexities disguised as “frivolous” evocation. Unless there is a conversation about how this work was created which involved actual abuse of a minor, one must look at it for what it is asking of the viewer, and not mistake its meaning for the obvious reaction one has to a shocking image of suggested indecency. We are the indecent ones in this conversation. We have been painted into that role by the artist. How do we redeem ourselves? Certainly not by censoring each image or the reality of a pubescent girl’s body existent in space, but by letting sleeping girls dream. Undisturbed.

Play On My Friends,
~ Creature

Please support my work on Patreon. For one time donations click here: Support the Artist 
~Thank you.

T is for TRANSCENDENCE

I’m writing about something which I think is hard to communicate about clearly. I don’t think our language or cultural practices focus on interpersonal connection and energy exchange as much as they elevate mechanical technique. However, connection and energy are a part of how we communicate and affect one another. When a sub/bottom is open to receiving the attention a Top/Dom desires to invest in them, fascinating things can happen beyond the physical journey. Sex, kink, and BDSM are physical activities, of course, but there is so much more to what is going on in any type of intimate physical scene than simple mechanics. Emotional and psychological connection can be played with and manipulated, and even if the intention isn’t to manipulate another person on these levels, it will happen naturally sometimes regardless. Our bodies are connected to our psychologies and emotions, and it is impossible to touch someone in only one of these places without affecting the others. It’s important to take responsibility and learn more about these things if you care for the people you play with.

Am I just talking about having good chemistry? Not really, though that can help people find a groove more quickly and is certainly part of the equation. I am talking about a certain willingness to be open, internally, with the people you play with, to engage not only your physical prowess but emotional sensitivities and psychological understanding. This type of willingness must come from all parties for a solid connection to form. It’s not just the job of the sub/bottom to be open, the Dom/Top must be in a space of intent listening which requires a higher level of openness too.

What would I call this type of exchange? Trust? Openness? Good listening? This type of exchange does require all of these things from both partners to succeed, but none of them are really it. Intuitive bonding? Maybe, though the driver needs to keep their intuitions in check and be open to the information they’re receiving which might be adverse to what they expect or have come across in the past. Spiritual? Well, I’m not a very “woo” person, but I do think the idea of one’s spirit being present for the exchange is an apt part of the equation. Energy exchange? This falls a little flat for me, as everything from saying “good morning” to people you pass on the street to wild tantric journeys fall under that heading… this is where I get a little stuck in our language. I know when I have this type of connection and openness with another person, or am open to cultivating it with someone, yet I don’t really know what to call it. Within my own experience though, I’ve started defining it as: what happens after what I refer to as “The Waiting”.

“The Waiting” happens when I generally know where I’d like to go with someone, but need to find them physically, emotionally, psychologically, willingly here with me before we can start. I’m used to grounding myself and finding my place of listening, my place of finding and reaching into the parts of a body which speak to me, but the person I am playing with must come to me asking for these things before I may begin. It’s not as simple as consciously asking out loud either. Many people have approached me “wanting to be Dominated”, but they were not ready, nor were they internally calibrated to willfully let me begin with them. Like a stray cat on the street, if you want to get it to come to you for a pet, you must do a fair amount of calling after it, talking, silently being there open hand extended, and… waiting.

“Offering” comes from all sides of a scene. We often talk, in BDSM forums, about a sub’s “offer”. This sometimes refers to a sub taking a position which physically lets the Dom know they are ready for whatever the Dom will ask of them. What we talk about less frequently is the offer a Top or Dominant makes. Obviously the D-type is spending a lot of time “doing”, though doing is not separate from offering if it is attached to active listening. Whether a top is wielding a whip or a feather tickler, is interrogating with red face and torture devices, or is pleasuring a body erotically, the activity (offer) will last only as long as it pleases the one who has ultimate control over the scene: the submissive. Once a safe word is uttered, the body convulsions twitch in that certain “this feels like an edge” kind of way, facial ticks reset more slowly to “please Sir, may I have another”, or that particular quality of scream let’s you know it’s time to cool down for a bit, the offer is packed away in favor of another offer — one more appropriate to this moment.

My experience is my experience, and yours is yours. This is always true, no matter how well we know one another, how many times we have played together, nor how long we have explored the same scene over and over again. This is somewhat easier to remember during pick-up play or with new partners. The alert level is naturally high in these instances because you know there are things you don’t know about this foreign body in front of you. Over time that alertness can wear down, and sometimes we forget that no matter how connected a scene feels, the people involved are having separate experiences. Physical mechanics only tell one part of the story. Emotional sensitivity is needed. Psychological prowess will help a scene unfold more responsibly. Communication is key, of course, but communication is imperfect. We must employ all that we can if we desire to delve deeply.

I find breathing helps key into all of these elements. Breathing helps set a pace between partners — breathing together is not only an exercise of the will to be on the same page, but it regulates our bodies to one another and heightens awareness of where in our own bodies we feel holds and tension. We can breath into tensions to release them. We can unlock our own hesitations by focusing on breathing into our fears and letting go. In breath, this basic function of life, there is everything to be discovered not only in ourselves, but of the people around us.

Listening goes hand in hand with breath. Allowing ourselves to notice where we feel rigidities and softness. Allowing ourselves to slow down, and slow down again as we find edges we are unfamiliar with, thoughts or questions about where our connection is headed. Being mindful that energy is cyclical helps too. It’s natural to build and build and build, and then need to take a step back before building up again. Energy also turns corners and as it does goals must fly out the window in honor of the new shape taking form. Listening without judgement will take you further. Observation, questioning, and acceptance are key to riding these waves gracefully.

Intuition is a wonderful tool if you trust yours and have tempered it to be responsive to other people’s wills. Intuition is not everything, and it’s important to continue learning about the world of your scenes in multiple ways to responsibly delve deeper. Intuition is important but should not be used solely on the merit of its presence in a situation.

Which leads to the idea of experience. We gather experiences and information in so many ways when we’re open to it. Of course (I hope) we learn through trial and error, but we also learn through reading articles and books, through the stories we share with one another, by asking our partners questions about their experiences rather than assuming you know how a thing was for them just because you were present. We communicate in plethora ways because that’s how we get better over time, and if there’s anything the human species likes more than innovation, I don’t know what it is.

When a scene adds all of these elements together, when The Waiting has come to a close and play happens openly and flows between partners, there is a transcendence which can occur. We reach the “zone”. Domspace and subspace can follow, and from these heightened places there’s no telling what the journey will be. While I feel this space is deeply primal by nature, it requires deep responsibility to navigate safely. These types of play can release huge amounts of energy from a person’s body, or open up deep wells of emotion, psychological triggers being tripped on is not unheard of, as well as visions, a loss of time and spacial awareness, blackout moments, and any number of other experiences.

Following is a letter from a sub of mine who wrote about one of our encounters. It was a simple scene using no more than a handful of clothespins and some string, though our time together leading up to physical play allowed my sub to slowly and steadily open up to me as well as their own inner world physically, emotionally, and psychologically:

Yesterday was such a beautiful experience for me.  After you had removed all the clothespins from my body and I started trembling (in a good way) it felt like something was unlocked in me.  While I laid on your floor, I’m sure you saw it (whatever it is) starting to work its way through my body in a wave starting at my head and running down through my center and out my legs. It felt like a massive energy re-alignment on one level with something flowing freely throughout my body that was once blocked and I almost started to cry with joy (but was unsure if this would weird you out).  On another level it felt like a complete twitching and shaking of every muscle group in my body at once; even the really small muscles that you don’t always notice playing a part in movement. I think I was even visibly convulsing throughout this.  I wish I knew what caused this to begin with or what caused it all to be released in this moment but am grateful for it.

This felt so so compassionate of you to do this to me (and I hope that I can find myself in this situation with you again in the future…having you cause me so much intense pain and stimulation). I can’t thank you enough. It seemed like as soon as I had the need for more stimulation you were right there to apply it to my body in exactly the right way. I only hope that you felt enjoyment with pinning me in that moment because it was really special for me to be on the other side of it. Surprisingly today my chest doesn’t have any marks or lingering sensitivity.

I realize too that being held and cuddled by you was exactly what my body needed in the moments immediately after this. My emotions were very raw and vulnerable from our earlier work. Thank you so much Sir for calling me to your side and letting me cuddle with you. It means a lot to me that you would share part of yourself and energy with me in this way. In those moments afterwards I can still feel our bodies connecting with each other and it helped greatly to handle the emotional aspects of whatever happened. Also, today there is a bit of a sensation of being out of contact with [my] body which feels a little bit like when you have a ringing in your ears after a loud sound that you can’t shake… you still hear a ringing but look around for what’s making the sound and that thing is now gone…… Your skin is ringing in my body today.

My body has been twitching and stretching all morning in bed in strange ways (almost as if I’m an artist trying to convey a complex feeling with rapid body thrusts almost as if taken over by something) and I feel 100 times bigger than my actual body. When I received your text earlier I even went into a state of heightened arousal and it felt like I was having sex with you on some level and was semi-orgasmic…

I hope that you’ve had a wonderful morning, Sir. ~xxx

I’m grateful that this experience was as positive for my sub as they describe. I have been in exchanges where what opened up was less joyous for the person to process. I’ve subbed in scenes myself which caused me to question my own desires and work through fears about my worth, complete with harsh self-judgements for me to sort through. Not everyone will come away unscathed or smiling from opening their inner worlds up. It is important to find ways to support one another on these journeys for whatever arrives. We must take responsibility for ourselves ultimately, but it’s good to share with one another and be there for your fellow creatures, accepting one another’s offerings, and listening to the edges of our desires as they play down. We do these things together because we need one another in our lives, these stretches of years where we are born and then die alone.

Play On My Friends,
~ Creature

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~Thank you.

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