Knowing your “No”s

The first word I ever said, was “No”, and it’s a word that I have been contemplating a lot recently.

traffic-light-1024_159700kI’m finding myself moving into a space of exploring my Dom side- and I am hyper aware of the fact that not everyone feels comfortable all the time with saying No. Since I am seriously contemplating kinky things that would certainly not be everyone’s cup of tea, I want to make sure that whoever I do anything like this with is confident in their ability to express their boundaries- both ahead of time, and during any kind of play session.

As a woman, I was raised with the idea that only men could be rapists, and also that all men wanted sex. As an assertive woman, I found myself pushing things far beyond consent on several occasions before I ever heard male friends tell me their stories of being assaulted- and being raped. It opened my eyes to the fact that anyone can be a rapist, sexual assault can be committed by anybody- regardless of their gender- and this began to highlight for me the importance of consent, checking in, and engaging in dialogue about where everyone’s at in the moment.

Sexual assault, rape, non-consentual experiences: it doesn’t matter what gender you are, nor your sexual orientation. We are all capable of causing it, and we are all potential victims of that. We all, I believe, have a responsibility to have honest dialogue with ourselves, to recognize where our own “No”s are and learn how to recognize where other people’s “No”s are- even when they might not know them themselves.

Internalized sexual shame can drive us to stay with partners who have abused us- and I don’t think that we always realise in the moment that it is abusive. I used to have sex with my husband when I didn’t want to cos, well that’s what you’re supposed to do when you are married, right? That feeling of obligation can also kick in within the sex party scene- after all, if you go to a sex party you must want to have sex and be ‘down to fuck’. I’ve had experiences where I absolutely refused to believe that my body was trying to say no to something that, intellectually I wanted, and yet physically something else was going on- and then forced myself to go through with it anyway. Cos, you know, what would people think? There’s so many other ways in which we can be abused. Partners can mentally dominate us in so many ways, not just through bullying- sometimes it is unconscious, it’s a pattern of behavior we have learned from others. Sometimes it is deliberate: negging, for example, is a type of mental domination: putting someone down and then praising them, so that they become reliant on you for feelings of self worth.

My back prickles when I hear women talking about men as being sexually dangerous, and, in the same conversation, they take an attitude of needing to take these men down a notch by making them their subordinates. I grew up around a lot of dialogue like that. It makes me very aware that there can be a tendency to want to dominate out of a desire to level the playing field. I have met many empowered, feminist women, who honestly believe that it is their right to make men submit to their will.

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The primal “let’s fight fire with fire” reaction that comes up a lot is, I think, understandable from an animal behavior point of view- many women have grown up seeing men as a threat, and so that fight or flight survival response can be triggered.

This by no means justifies it though. We are human beings and we have the ability to master our actions and consciously choose our reactions.

My mother told me stories of taking a knife with her to protect her when she went on dates when she was in her twenties. She was disgusted by sexuality in general- male sexuality specifically. She had no problem putting men down in a struggle to boost her own self confidence. I grew up with a model of emotional manipulation from wife to husband, and thus for many years I simply emulated that in the way I related to lovers. One day, I realised that this really wasn’t any way to treat any other human being, and that I was tired of relationship dynamics being governed by sexual guiltifying and an ongoing tit for tat squabble.

An important factor for me being Singleish has been that I don’t want to slip in to that learned behavior model of manipulation and control anymore. Even as someone who, in kink terminology, is more dominant, I refuse to let that mean, “I have control over you”. If someone I’m with prefers that I take charge? That’s something that lovers and potential lovers have to outright express a desire for before I’m willing to go there, and even then, I have found I am very cautious in negotiating what that means for them. In short, I do not want them to feel that they have to do it just because it’s what I want.

I noticed that the times in my past when I myself had gone too far, hadn’t checked in with myself or the other people around me thoroughly enough, it was predominantly when I was under the influence of alcohol. Even when people’s bodies were giving clear signals (drying up, loosing erections, etc) we all just tried to keep going. So, I now choose to not have sex if I am drunk or if the other person is drunk- even if I am in an established relationship them. And if someone isn’t seeming interested, I don’t try to make them want me more- I check in and see what’s up.
I know I got better at figuring it out in others once I learned how to hear and acknowledge a “No” in myself.
Why then, is it still such a challenge for me to say “No” to others?
 
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“Subspace is often characterized as a state of deep recession and incoherence… intense experiences of both pain and pleasure trigger a sympathetic nervous system response, which causes a release of … natural chemicals … the increase of hormones and chemicals produces a sort of trance-like state, the submissive starts to feel out-of-body, detached from reality, and as the high comes down, and the parasympathetic nervous system kicks in, a deep exhaustion, as well as incoherence.”

~taken from Wikipedia entry on Subspace

“Sometimes, subspace can get so deep that one can’t communicate at all and can’t even move. I’ve had this happen a number of times and it is for this reason that I want to caution folks who are new to all of this that no matter how subspace is felt by any submissive, this can be a very dangerous situation for both dominant and submissive. After all, if the sub cannot communicate, he or she cannot safeword, safe “gesture” or in any way protect themselves and it is up to the dominant to handle such situations with a level head and to be aware of it. My point also covers the fact that subspace can change over the course of a relationship and the reactions–even to the same stimuli–can also change for no
particular reason.”

~from MsIn10sity’s Essay on Subspace, Falling or Floating or something else?

When I go in to subspace, or sub drop, it can be hard to communicate. It’s a hypnotic-like state, where free will surrenders, the body surrenders, and your conscious mind sinks in to your unconscious mind. It can be a very liberating experience- but it also has its dangers. I’ve experienced going in to subspace and not realising till afterwards that what was happening wasn’t actually something I wanted. I’ve also experienced being unsure, and not being able to actually physically find any words to vocalise my feelings.

So, sometimes non-consentual things can happen in intimacy because one person has subdropped and is no longer able to communicate clearly. That’s why safe words and hand signals are incredibly helpful- they are the absolute “stop everything you are doing” signal that help to keep everyone in a space of enjoyable, consentual, fun intimate play.

However, they only work if we know where our boundaries are. I’ve struggled with this, and with getting to know where my “no”s are- and as a consequence I’m super cautious now about moving to an intimate space with someone, not just because of my own sub drop, but because if the other person goes in to a sub drop, I need to know way ahead of time where their “no” lies, and figure out how to recognise it when even they might not.

I have known so many people who have been in relationships that were abusive- physically, mentally, emotionally- and not just between lovers. Sometimes in family or work situations too. And I’m so concerned when I see one of my friends enter in to a new relationship or situation that might have the potential to take them in to that deep state of hypnosis, and I don’t know that other person well enough. 

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Consciously craving the subdrop can be a form of escapism, as a reaction to post traumatic stress disorder. I mean, the thing is- kink can be REALLY HEALING for PTSD type things (for me, a lot of the PTSD I experience is connected to my miscarriages). With the right people, I’ve been able to dive in to my own traumas and let go of a lot of things, and right now I’m on pause while I await connection with someone new who might be able to help me in this exploration.

In general, I’m concerned that the person I’m with may not recognise when things might be physically damaging. If they are new and don’t know much about how much one person can surrender not just their body, but their mind- well, that’s something that can be taken advantage of. That is power that can be abused in unskilled or unaware hands. And, can have long term repercussions, especially if the subspace is helping the person receiving access their own deep traumas. Dealing with our traumas and shame can be terrifying. To step in to that most vulnerable of spaces and have someone create further trauma- that, to me, is the most dangerous element of kink, and why I remain so cautious.

It is such a fine line. I don’t want to short change someone on an amazing experience, and nor do I want to push things too far. I don’t want to create psychological scars on anyone.

Above all else, one of my goals in how I share my love in relationships is for it to be something healing and nurturing. Eye opening; heart opening. I want to share my love in such a way that the people I share it with feel free. And, once again, I come to the conclusion that the better I know myself, the more I am able to know others; the stronger I am in my relationship to myself, the more connected to my Self I feel, the greater my capacity for connection to others, and the richer and more rewarding my relationships become.
 
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Facing Fears and Finding Flow

“The essence of bravery is being without self deception. However, it is not easy to take a straight look at what we do. Seeing ourselves clearly is initially uncomfortable and embarrassing. As we train in clarity and steadfastness, we see things we’d prefer to deny- judgementalness, pettiness, arrogance. These are not sins, but temporary and workable habits of the mind. The more we get to know them, the more they lose their power. This is how we come to trust that our basic nature is utterly simple, free of struggle between good and bad.”
~ Pema Chodron, “The Places That Scare Us.”

I’ve been examining my fears.

I have a fear of being alone, and of being abandoned by the people I love. I fear being lonely when I am old, and I’m afraid of being rejected whilst I am still young. The terror that I might be misunderstood- and judged for misunderstandings- has held me back from voicing many things about myself and what I think and feel. My anxiety is triggered when I think I’m being treated as disposable, when I don’t feel full valued by the people around me.

I’m afraid of becoming so promiscuous that I’ll endanger my own safety: I fall in to sub-space so readily, can get swept up in NRE so completely, that hearing my own body saying “no” to something becomes very challenging- let alone communicating that “no” to the person I am with.

I fear that I am easily replaceable, and that if I make a fool of myself in a relationship, I’ll be left hanging just when my heart is expanding to reach another being.

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I worry that I will never find myself in a balance of relationships that are able to satisfy my needs mentally, emotionally, spiritually and physically all at the same time.

I’m afraid that I’m somehow broken. Orion has said that going in to intimacy with me can sometimes feel like walking in to a storm, or trying to paddle upstream against fast moving rapids. And that makes me wonder- have all my partners felt this way? Does my self-looping internal dialogue on sexual shame, physical trauma, and emotional pain act as a barrier to what I desire to help me move through it? I don’t know.

As Pema Chodron says, “Fears are unnecessary baggage.”

The first step is acknowledging the fears, and being patient with them. Fight them, and they grow stronger- like pulling at a woven finger trap. Send them love and compassion, and the grip will loosen- and that’s something that is key to having a primary relationship with one’s self, I feel.

There was a fantastic article on a blog called Om Times recently, about moving beyond the victim role. I highly recommend this article- I have re-read it several times now and continue to find it incredibly helpful for me. In this piece, the author states:

“Responsible adults are empowered in their relationships. They are able to express their needs and share their feelings freely. They can confront their partner about problems which arise between them and are able to resolve conflicts with minimal difficulty. Because they hold themselves accountable, they don’t engage in blaming or shaming and they don’t make excessive or unreasonable demands. They respect their partner, which results in mutual trust and greater closeness.”

When it comes to fears, we always have a choice. We can allow them to control us, or we can choose to work with them gently, lovingly, tenderly. Intimacy brings me face to face with my fears and all my insecurities. When my fears are controlling me, I find myself making excessive demands, becoming confrontational. I notice myself acting like a scared animal who has been backed in to a corner, and is biting and thrashing at everyone around me.

So, in practicing having a relationship with myself, I’m embracing greater trust with my sef. I’m practicing seeing these, without identifying with them. I don’t have to hold on to them- and I can define myself without them. This also requires taking personal responsibility for things in my life, and stepping up to the plate. A lot of my fears are simply unknowns that I am tolerating, and I can lessen their burden by taking action in my life to do something about some of those unknown factors at least. Then the fears can quell into rational concerns, or evaporate with the injection of loving truths.

I’ve become aware that in my relationship with Orion, I’ve held back a lot out of fear. I’ve been afraid of feeling all the deep feelings, afraid that I will want to jump on a relationship escalator because of the depth of connection we share. And, whilst I really do not want to do that with him- or anyone else at this point- there’s a shared sense that we have become more than friends, and more than lovers. We feel like ‘family’ to one another- life-long partners in crime, perhaps- and even though we don’t have a consistently intimate relationship, it makes the stakes feel so much higher for me. I don’t have much in the way of family, and whenever I have grown close enough to someone to consider them family, circumstances have intervened and the connections have been broken. I am so utterly terrified of that happening to me again- and yet I know that holding on to that fear will do nothing.

And so, I remind myself to let go, to trust, to trust in my self, and keep going with my own flow.

Exercising Emotional Equilibrium

“Intimate Relationship is perhaps the ashram of the 21st Century- a place especially ripe with transformational possibility, a combination crucible and sanctuary for the deepest sort of healing and awakening, through which the full integration of our physical, mental, emotionally, psychological, and spiritual dimensions is more than possible.”
~ Robert Augustus Masters.

As part of my continuing effort to improve my health, I signed up for hot yoga recently. It’s been a year since I was doing yoga classes regularly, and being back on the mat with a teacher and classmates has been good for me. I’ve grown up with a yoga practice, but I take it for granted all too often. I get back in to the routine of stretching- and then I start to realize that my body is craving other movement too. Craving a good core workout, a few sessions on the elliptical at the gym, and more. But, I tend to stick with what feels comfortable and familiar, rather than look to what is new and challenging.

I’m somewhat “lazy” when it comes to my body. I want it to be healthy, I want it to be mobile and flexible and pain free. But I’m lazy as fuck about doing all-the-things. I do one at a time, and work to consistently improve my body little by little, without over pushing it to where it isn’t ready to go. Right now, I’m doing a month of hot yoga- but already, I’m craving some sessions at the gym on the elliptical, and the satisfying ache in my legs of a long forest hike.

Every muscle in our body requires attention. Not just mental attention. You can’t just think about a muscle to give it strength. Building strength requires the tension of movement, the relief of stretching, the healing of relaxation, and the space created by the equilibrium between all of these. We can move through locomotion and exercise, we can have our bodies stretched out through bodywork (fascial stretching, Thai massage etc), we can take a class in yoga or other stretch-based routines, and we can unwind with relaxation massage, meditation, and rest. But none of that reaches the most important muscle of all- the heart.

With my heart, I take an approach opposite to the rest of my body: I challenge it. My heart is swinging from the monkey bars in the playground, it’s dripping in sweat at a hot yoga class, it’s finding core strength and testing its endurance under the drill sergeant’s instructions as it leaps through the obstacle course that is my intimate life. It stretches out, challenging itself to push a little further beyond the edges, to peer beyond the zones of comfort, and then it springs back to the familiar, soft, relaxed savasana. My heart stretches every time I long for a lover who isn’t near, who isn’t in my arms. My mind wants to find a way to wrap my body around multiple bodies, all at the same time.

Just like with any exercise routine, sometimes my heart feels tired. That satisfactory aching after a thorough work out: falling ‘in love’, the pitter-patterings of NRE. And then there’s the post workout stretch of remembering, grokking, and constantly reminding myself that every lover has other lovers, and that selfishness with love is like only ever doing forward curls with weights at the gym, only ever working your biceps- and forgetting about the triceps completely.

My heart does somersaults and aerial acrobatics, and I feel like a novice trapeze artist sometimes swinging from platform to platform, trusting my own arms to stay strong, trusting my partners to catch me, to hold me, trusting that nothing will break, yet terrified at every breath that I might be let go, that they might not grab my hand when I reach out to them. Sometimes we miss. I miss. And I come crashing down to the ground, carrying that sore full body bruise for days.

When people I have been in relationship with have begun new relationships with others, I sometimes notice a feeling of being nervous and uncomfortable. It’s the sudden shock of realizing there’s a muscle in your body that you haven’t been working out, yet your body seems to function strongly without it.

When new relationships form it’s easy to get lost in the glow of NRE. Just like we can get so engrossed in cardio we forget about core strengthening, or get so focused on building muscle that we ignore the need to stretch with something like yoga. If we don’t complete the workout in our body with the right counter exercises and stretches, our body will begin to hurt in a way that does not feel good.

The fact is you don’t just build a strong body through lifting weights alone. You need to stretch.

What’s important to understand is that simply lifting weights will not give you true strength. Without even needing to lift weights, we can increase muscle mass through stretching alone. The truest strength comes from expanding and contracting our muscles through their full range of motion while putting them under ‘stress’, or rather, using tension during movement. It is this balance between expansion and contraction of the muscles that creates a powerful harmony through the cooperation of all our muscle groups working together in synergy.

The same is true with matters of the heart. When new relationships start, you cannot forget about your other relationships. If anything, you need to invest MORE in to them. And that’s challenging. It asks of us to develop mastery in time management and communication, to surpass everything we were doing before, and to explore the outer edges of our heart’s abilities. We need to stretch ourselves, and the capacity of where our heart can reach. We have to find that same synergy between all the aspects of movement our heart can have. To do otherwise runs the risk of treating relationships as taken for granted. They can become atrophied, and feel disposable- and that isn’t fair to our human dignity. So, I remind myself to lift forward in to the new relationship, and I stretch back to reconnect in with my other relationships. And I keep going, in search of that harmony.

yogaforbeginnersstrengthWe are each of us so vulnerable. We have all experienced being broken, feeling shattered and hurt. So often, we seek relationship for the security alone, rather than seeking relationships to make us stronger. It can be terrifying to look at relationships as things we have to work at, that we cannot be complacent about, not even for one minute. Committing to going to a yoga class two times a week can seem immense. Committing to yoga, and to the gym, and to a marathon run, all at the same time- that takes guts. Some athletes damage themselves if they try to do everything without taking the time to look after themselves in between, or to keep their training regiment balanced.

Emotional relationships are exercises for the heart. Yes, there’s many ways to grow your love body strong- we choose the workout plan according to what we want the result to be. For me, it’s that yearning to fall so completely in love, in a love that is not selfish, but that can be shared with multiple people, in multiple ways, without ever making me feel depleted. That’s my goal. And to get there, I need my entire body to be strengthened- most of all, my emotional body. The path of ethical non monogamy, for me, is like weight training, cardio, and yoga in one; it is the most all encompassing exercise for the heart.