Going Nonverbal

I’ve only recently become aware that “going nonverbal” is not an uncommon experience for submissives. (See Dw3t-Hthr’s post here, and a paper she references on the origin of “Safe Sane Consensual,” here.)

This was something of a revelation, for me — the notion that what I experience when I get deeply submissive, or after I’ve been given a lot of pain, is something that other people feel, too. It’s funny, now, that it hadn’t even occurred to me before.

That sensation is a particularly significant and personal one for me, because it’s something I began experiencing long before I understood what BDSM was. It’s something I began feeling when I was fourteen or fifteen, the first time I had an attack of overwhelm (or whatever you want to call it; never really been “diagnosed” as such), and found that I was completely incapable of speaking to people while in that state. Since then, I’ve had attacks with a lover present, and each time it happens, the most difficult thing for both of us is my inability to communicate verbally, to talk to him. It’s terrifying. And it’s what I was the most afraid of, after my first few experiences really going into subspace. It’s only today that I realized the feeling was the same one, and understood why I was so scared, early on, of being too far gone, too deep.

For me, “going nonverbal” isn’t just about an inability to speak, but is tied to a state in which I honestly cannot make decisions for myself, and in which any question directed at me, and especially any question about what I do or do not want to do, makes my head spin and go into a panic. And this is equally true for D/s play as it is for my attacks of overwhelm or bouts of depression. When I’m forced to speak, to answer a question or make a decision for myself, I begin to worry about upsetting my partner. And that, of course, makes me anxious, which drives me even deeper into nonverbal territory.

I never thought about the idea that maybe, such mental states aren’t a bad thing, something to fight or overcome, but are simply a way of being that requires a little more care and preparation.

I would really love to find out how other subs deal with this situation — Dw3t-Hthr writes that her communication is simply physical rather than verbal, in a series of coded gestures that they’ve worked out beforehand. Which sounds like it would be an excellent thing for me and my partner to start implementing, though the issue for me isn’t simply not being able to speak, but not being able to make decisions in the moment, not being able to truly consent. I guess the emphasis should be on the “beforehand” — if I know that I might potentially reach a state where I cannot speak and will find it difficult to safeword, object to an awkward position, or ask for a moment to breathe or drink water, my partner needs to know that beforehand, so that he can better watch out for me. I think that really gets at the root of the “loving” aspect of BDSM, the trust I have that if he does bring me to that dark place, he’ll be able to care for me while I’m there.

1 comment so far

  1. Dw3t-Hthr on

    My recent post (Heads and Tails) at my place is also about this — specifically that the subspace experience and the experience of being completely locked down with terror have a _lot_ of similarities. They also have a lot of differences, being in much of their space perfect inversions of each other.

    The major differences for me are the ability to choose to enter the state and some level of prenegotiation about what can happen there. Like you, I experience subspace as incompatible with the ability to give meaningful consent (I believe I mentioned this in the post at SM-feminists); this caused me some Issues back before I knew _how_ to negotiate consent, in my first d/s relationship.

    There are times that the language gap is terribly stressful; I find that having the parameters negotiated and the space largely known can transform that into a sort of blissful release. (This evening with my liege, he commented something like, “Aaaand I see you are now completely incapable of speech”, as part of his running commentary on our interactions — I like it when he talks to me when I’m down in significant part because it picks up the slack of my nonverbality; in a crisis I suspect it would give me something concrete to react *to*, if I needed to.)

    He’s very good at reading me in subspace, most of the time, which helps a lot on the nonverbality. That plus the gestural stuff for things like ‘you’re bruising my collarbone again’ makes a lot of difference.

    I think that really gets at the root of the “loving” aspect of BDSM, the trust I have that if he does bring me to that dark place, he’ll be able to care for me while I’m there.

    And yes. This.

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