Archive for the ‘Masochism & Pain’ Tag

Pain Processing

While proofreading an acupuncture manual last week, I came across a warning: “Those suffering from stress are usually more sensitive to pain.”

My relative enjoyment or hatred of pain is something that’s confounded me for a while. Some types of pain are fine; others aren’t. Some pain I can enjoy on one part of my body, but on other parts of my body the same degree of pain is intolerable. Some days, I revel in pain, fully eroticize it, let it drive me into ecstasy; other days, the thought of any sort of pain makes me curl up into a ball and cover myself with a blanket.

Recently, I’ve realized that there is definitely a strong connection between particular mental states and how I process pain, and that at times when I’m anxious or depressed, it only makes sense that a whipping wouldn’t feel quite so good as it did last week.

Some of that runs counter to what my conscious mind thinks I need; when I’m stressed, when I’ve had a hard day at work, when I want to escape from the world, I often fantasize about giving up power, surrendering, complete submission. And often, those fantasies involve quite a lot of pain. It seems somehow logical to me that a good solution for stress would involve pain, in part because I’ve sometimes inflicted pain on myself in order to break myself out of difficult mental states, in part because there’s always a strong caretaking element of that sort of play, or at least as I’ve experienced it within a loving, long-term relationship.

But then, maybe all I really want is the caretaking, at times like this. This past week, I was startled at how any sort of pain was completely unbearable for me, the same pain that a week before had me begging for more. It threw me, because I was so desperately wanting some sort of relief from the internal pain and stress and depression, and had expected that heavy S/M play would provide at least some sort of respite. Instead, it seemed to make it worse. So we stopped, and haven’t been playing for the week since then.

And yet, on Sunday, when things were so bad that I shut myself up in my room all day and shook and cried for no discernible reason at all, I eventually turned to pain to make it stop. To still myself. To cut through the fog in my head. And it worked.

I’m still not sure why.

Healed, Not Quite

I think I’ve had two major “coming out” points in my life. One, obviously, has been accepting my sexual desires and fetishes for what they are, not being ashamed of them, and (more recently) not shying away from talking about them with other people.

The other has to do with something most people in this society would call mental illness, and my struggle to accept that as part of my life, to not feel ashamed or scared of it, and to work my way through it as I see fit, not as my family or lover or doctor sees fit. The breaking point with all that nonsense came when, in a state of desperation after a particularly bad spell of whatever-you-want-to-call-it, I sought out a therapist for the first time in my life. It was not the first therapist I had been to, but the first that I would go to of my own free will.

It’s only now occured to me that one of the selling points for me, upon reading the therapist’s website, was her assertion that she was kink-friendly. I wasn’t making any connection between my mental state and my sexuality, at the time, but something in me saw that as a good sign, and I went. And she was just like any other therapist, who was more interested in my family history of mental illness than in discussing her approach to therapy or asking me what I wanted and didn’t want. By the end of a half hour she had already said I would probably need to get on medication, and dismissed my polite refusal (voice trembling with frustration and anger, how DARE she) by saying that we’d talk about it more in our next session.

I walked out, infuriated. But I felt more alive than I had in months, in this refusal of medication and therapy, and in the determination that now filled me to solve my problems by my damn self. Since then I have never looked back, and while I’ve had some pretty awful spells, some near-suicidal times, I still have felt that I’m better off exploring this part of my psyche on my own.

…why am I writing all of this on a sex blog? Well, in part because I don’t have any other outlet for it, and I’ve come to prefer typing to writing in a journal. But it’s also because something really interesting happened a few nights ago.

When I become overwhelmed, as I frequently do, it sometimes happens that I can’t shut off the flow of extreme emotions and racing thoughts that accompany it. In those cases, I usually tend to shut down completely: frozen, unable to move, unable to speak, sometimes even unable to construct a coherent thought. In those times, there is nothing more that I want than to not exist, or rather, to be encased in stone, protected; to sink into myself and sleep forever. It’s a difficult thing to describe. And it’s a difficult thing for a lover to witness when you’re in bed together. My last partner would get angry when I got this way, because he saw it as me ignoring him, shutting myself out of his life, not letting him in. He blamed me for not trying hard enough to communicate with him. He might have been right—until relatively recently, I hadn’t really wanted to try to communicate or break out of these states, but just wanted to be left alone.

My current partner has been extraordinarily understanding about all this, but it’s still been pretty fucking hard, especially when he’s trying to do whatever he can to help me snap out of it, to come back down to earth. The other night, this happened, and as he asked me again and again what he could do, he began to simply rub his hands over my body, arms and legs and chest and face. And then he used his nails. And then harder. I could barely speak, but managed to tell him to keep going, harder, more. He squeezed me hard, until the pain cut through and I felt again, and then let me lay still, now euphoric from the combination of not-quite-being-in-my-body and the pain. I kept laughing, unable to stop. He attached a dozen clothespins to me, and let me breathe it in and out, relaxing even as the pain increased, even as he took them off and the blood rushed back in to sting my skin.

And it all released, and I cried, and cried. Not because I was suddenly released from a terrible mental state, but because this was okay, this was all okay. I had once frequently used pain (cutting and burning) to do the same thing, to feel something when I was numb, to bring me down to earth when I was feeling anxious, manic and high. But I had left it all behind me, or brought it out only for shameful moments of weakness, because that’s not the way you’re supposed to deal with things.

The message I internalized when I was younger was the same for my mental abberations as it was for my sexual deviancy: pain is bad. Inflicting pain is bad, and willingly taking it for yourself is bad. And so, having him be the one to wield the pain, and to tell me I was beautiful as I took it in, completely shattered both of those falsehoods in one stroke.

Fear of Submission

Sometimes, I want to just forget everything I’ve learned, deny my desires, and shut it all out of my life; sometimes I want to erase everything I’ve written here (as I have once before) and never play with anyone ever again. Sometimes I wonder if I’ll ever feel completely okay with what I want and with who I am.

And that, in itself—the fact that I’m often not okay, that I get scared of myself—is at times profoundly disturbing, and makes me feel somewhat ashamed and embarassed.

A lot of the embarassment comes from the fact that I don’t often get to see other people having those same thoughts and worries. I know that everyone does (right?), but I also feel that this is something that I should be over by now, that because I know intellectually that there’s nothing wrong with what I feel and what I want, I shouldn’t be agonizing over it as much as I do. It’s also in large part due to the fact that my partner, who’s as new to this as I am, has had a far easier time with it than I have, and has very rarely touched the “oh my god, am I really like this” moments.

We talked about this last night, and he said something that I’d never thought of, but that makes a lot of sense to me: being dominant and assertive is seen, in our culture, as a positive quality (especially in men), and so his being a dom doesn’t really create a lot of dissonance—while his desires have certainly troubled him from time to time, especially at first, the overall position of dominance hasn’t been disturbing to him in the same way that submission is to me. Submission can be much more perturbing, because it’s not valued in our culture the way that dominance is; submission means that you’re not strong enough, that you’ve lost.

I’ve struggled with that dominance game all my life, constantly fighting to prove that I am smart and strong, confident and capable. It’s often felt to me that I have to work extra hard to get the same respect as male peers, to be regarded as an equal. And I feel that I’ve largely succeeded in that.

So it’s really not all that surprising, then, that coming to terms with a side of myself that finds a deep satisfaction in being ordered to a man’s feet, to be collared and bound, to be spanked and slapped, to be choked and suffocated, has been just a little difficult. For me, my sexual identity as a submissive is a complete juxtaposition of the persona I present to the rest of the world, or at least, that I want to present. I suspect that a lot of my friends would be shocked to learn that I’m a submissive. For him, his identity as a dom is a little clearer: domination is a positive attribute for him, and his personality is markedly assertive and dominant to begin with. I expect that even if his friends might be a little surprised at the extent of some of the things he enjoys (especially his sadistic side), his general position as a dom would not be at all surprising.

More thoughts, upon reflection: What’s interesting is that I don’t have the same issues around specifically masochistic desires. I’ve always been okay with fantasies or actual play that’s more focused on pain and endurance (clamps, whipping, cutting, etc.) than on the D/S aspect. But that, too, fits in with my background: if the submission is a problem for me because I’ve actively combatted an association with that in my “regular” life, the masochism fits right in with a history of using pain to break through troubling mental states (began cutting and burning myself at age 14) and a fascination with asceticism and martyrdom (very much a self-denying, morality-obsessed activist type up until a few years ago).