A Balance In Subspace

I always looked for opportunities to transcend myself and become another being. But I only began to toy with the intricacies of submission recently, when reading smut on my phone when I got some alone time in the bathroom wasn’t cutting it. What started out as playful kink and bed restraints turned into me begging my partner for demeaning words and rules. While a natural top, they had to shift and stretch to become the dominant I thought I wanted.

My partner enabled me to sink into subspace, letting me become the “whore” or “bad girl” I so desperately wanted to be for them. At first, I worried about asking too much. I didn’t want to make them uncomfortable. They didn’t want to hurt me, degrade me. Given my history of abuse, it was hard to grasp my need to be controlled. But, as we discovered together, I am righteously empowered by being submissive.

Beneath them, and their commands, I gained true control by letting go. Whenever they took me, they erased my compulsory need for calculated information. My mind clear and pulsing, I forgot to clench into fear and insecurity. I internally climbed beyond myself until I reached cathartic nothingness — just flesh and heat and equanimity. I erupted in the release of myself. I found blistering strength, goaded by the pain and honesty of feeling completely consumed.

At the end of every scene, we reconnected outside of our headspaces. I easily slipped out of my submission and into the arms of the person I cared for. This natural transition was sacred and fiery. Sometimes I muttered something about having no more dry underwear from so much sexy time, and we ordered in Thai food.

And then, in the middle of exploring kink more deeply together, I took on a summer job abroad. We could not see each other, but our relationship and sexual understanding grew beyond physical touch. We played with the word “Daddy.” Even though masturbation has always been a challenge for me, I finally learned how to make myself come with the fantasy of unconditionally giving over my body to please my dominant. I got off to the visual of myself begging on my knees for another spanking. I felt powerful and in control of my body’s desire for deviance. As the summer continued, I built it up, asking my partner for more and more degradation. I started to ask for submission outside of the bedroom. Just the idea of being told to eat a bowl of cereal or to wait before speaking made me frantic. I was getting so deep into this world, meditating in my bodily freedom.

As I opened up, toxic memories from the abusive relationship I was in years ago seeped through. Though I therapied my way out of nightmares, he came back incessantly in my dreams. My subconscious battled with his judgment and control every night. When I am lucid, I cannot even remember his face. But being asleep or in subspace opens old wounds. Anxious, I did what I always have and tried to shut him out.

My partner came abroad to visit me and I was ecstatic to build on our online conversations and deviant whispers. Daddy put me in a special chair for bad girls who were asking for it. I yielded all to serve them and please them. Every command was a chance to be a good submissive. When they brought out their cock, I thought I was ready to take it and stay in the scene. Though we usually broke character at this point, I wanted to go further. It felt like the next natural step in our sexual exchange.

But I shattered. Lying on my back with a large foreign object inside me, I was jolted back into the memories of unwanted penetration. I was splayed, helpless and hurting. I was so deep in my mix of subspace and past that I could not even remember my safe word. I just said, “I can’t Daddy, I’m sorry.”

They quickly took off the strap-on and protected me with their body. I could tell they were scared by my inability to leave this headspace when I was legitimately in pain. They held me, and understood.

After that night, I was worried all my work to accept and lean into kink would be for nothing. I did not know if I could return to that space and be safe in my own mind. I recognize the irony of wanting to be controlled after succumbing to non-consensual control in a previous relationship. I was numbed in the experience of losing myself to an abusive person. Beyond this, I crave submission. Perhaps this primal need that runs through my blood has always existed, and is my only way out of victimization. My identity thrives because of the all-encompassing validity I have given to it.

While my relationship with this person ended, I now unfold my submissive role to new partners. I proudly wear my collar to the local gay bar, hoping my date will know what it means. Being slutty and kinky makes me stronger in my independence and sense of freedom. I can be clear about my needs and push these different individuals to understand how this empowers me. Each partner is learning, in their own ways, the awe and humility of tying me up and pushing my eager face down into the sheets.

Being triggered forced me to confront a simmering ugliness. While painful in the moment, it was the necessary push I needed to embrace my changed reality — I get to decide when and how I am controlled. Waking up one morning to a torrent of drunk game-goers outside my room, I decided to be impulsive. I skipped town and got a tattoo of my safe word. I look down at those stark black letters, sitting quietly next to my pubes, and I am calm. No matter where my subspace takes me, the boundaries and the pain are mine.


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17 Comments

Hello! Comment upvoting is broken right now! It'll hopefully be fixed real soon. -Cee

    • AGREED WHOLEHEARTEDLY.

      This gave me chills of recognition.

      Thank you, Autostraddle, for featuring more kinky narratives! I love Alaina and Sinclair’s columns but appreciate that there are so many more perspectives out there that I’m excited to read. You all are outdoing yourselves.

  1. This really spoke to me. Submission used to be such a cathartic experience for me, but the partner I mainly did this with slowly became actually abusive and controlling. Now any type of restraint or even the wrong words will send me into a full on panic attack. I wish I could work through this like the author, and not associate BDSM with my abusive ex. I miss the thrills and release, but maybe it’s easier to change then lose partner after partner to my complex and unpredictable PTSD. Anyway, thank you for writing this, anon.

  2. This kind of thing worries me every time I see it. People talk a lot about how reenacting their abuse through BDSM somehow “heals” them, but according to everything we know about psychology, it won’t. It’s called Trauma Reenactment Syndrome and it’s a normal and common reaction to trauma, but it is ultimately counterproductive. It only leads to further re-victimization and delays true healing. It may feel cathartic for a while to give abusive figures what they want before they can take it from you, because them it feels like it’s your choice and you have some amount of control, but that doesn’t address the root of that impulse or the understanding of the world and your life that leads you to feel like this abuse is inevitable, so you have to choose it.

    Please, please see a real therapist who specializes in trauma and has experience dealing with the impulse to reenact.

    • Please, don’t give advice on the internet using a straw man argument.

      Reenactment with an abusive person is not the same thing as consensual sex. You are talking about a whole other thing.

      If you are a therapist, you are ethically obligated not to give misleading advice.

    • Hi there, Raksha! Thank you for voicing your concerns and sentiments about a topic that is inherently loaded and layered and complicated. From what I am personally gathering from your comment, it seems like you have very strong values about healing and wellbeing and how individuals process their trauma. I can relate to that on so many levels and have personally struggled with how those concepts intersect. It has been an ongoing theme in my life both personally and academically. SHEESH, it’s dern loaded stuff, isn’t it? LOADED, I say!

      First of all, I will out myself right off the bat and disclose that I am not a therapist! Yet, at least. I am a graduate student immersed in the discipline of relational therapy with specific regard to sexology, eventual AASECT certification, and a strong focus on the unique struggles of queer individuals, kink and BDSM culture, and trauma informed clinical practice. Again, I’m no expert! I’m a person with my own unique background (as we all have) and I have been lucky enough to have been the recipient of an immense amount of therapy myself. I am finding that experience to be a great tool to implement as I seek to empower others in my work moving forward. I speak merely from my own experience and learning, and I can only hope that my words will resonate and apply to this topic the way I aim for them to (though ultimately, that isn’t up to me).

      As a 3x survivor of sexual assault, I have been forcibly invited by life to examine my sexuality on a very deep level. As a psychology enthusiast and prospective practitioner, I have been challenged to reconcile my trauma and alternative sexuality leanings in very unique ways. When you bring up concepts like Trauma Reenactment Syndrome, it reminds me of some earlier struggles I have pondered regarding objectification, self agency, and feminism. How does one enjoy themselves sexually without mirroring their own violation? What is the difference between reclaiming aspects of sex in a positive way vs. turning sex into a conquest for unhealthy mastery? In my past I used my sexuality as a commodity, a way to take control over what happened to me as “beating them to the punch” so that I could never be caught off guard again. Ultimately, this approach did more damage than good. It was not an integrated way of relating, but a play of power that was harmful in the long run.

      I have learned a lot since then. My personal feelings on the matter are just that, personal, so I can only speak for myself. I am in firm belief that humans, with commitment to self work and awareness, are the ultimate conductors of their own agency. What works for one person does not work for another, and it is up to each individual to embark on that authentic journey for themselves. I do not believe that there is a Right or Wrong way of being or relating interpersonally, especially in terms of intimacy. I believe that it is all nuanced, and it is important to trust the innate feelings we each hold for ourselves.

      I think that labeling someone else’s experience, or pathologizing their experience objectively, is not productive. I agree that in some cases what you are expounding on is true. Sure, sometimes people have “counterproductive” reactions to trauma. That was me for a long time and I acknowledge that and have learned from it. I also value that time of my life in a very honored way, as it was the way I learned to survive. Sometimes the best one can do is survive, however that manifests. That process is important to me, and growing from that lesson has helped me bloom.

      That all being said, I found this article to be rich in self exploration and insight. I relate to this body of work and deeply value the vulnerability that this author chose to share with us. You say that it goes against “everything we know about psychology”. I find that to be egregious, as psychological research is vast and ever changing. Multiple studies have indicated that consensual power exchange can indeed be healing, and strong correlations have been made regarding brain wave activity during subspace, mindful meditation, creative flow, and emotional reparation. (There is actually a term for some of this called “transient hypofrontality” which describes specific bloodflow patterns of the brain and how the process enables varied psychological states of consciousness. If you have a moment, I highly recommend nerding out about it!)

      I believe that is is possible to “examine the root” of trauma, as you stated, while also reintegrating and taking control of that trauma in ways that are affirming rather than destructive. That is a deeply personal journey, and one that I feel this author has examined thoroughly. I find it problematic to apply a strict standard of Right and Wrong when it comes to the way that people heal. However, I can empathize with the strong feelings you have disclosed here. Again, I thank you for them. But subjugating someone else’s examined experiences to your own feelings is, in a way, traumatic in and of itself. It overwrites that person’s truth by imposing yours onto them. I feel is is more constructive to introduce ideas rather than push them down over someone else’s. As growing individuals, it is not beneficial to take someone else’s inventory for them. I would like to invite you to bring thoughts like these to the table, as they are valid to you, rather than blanket them over the table with the presumption of omniscience (so to speak).

      There is not Right Way to heal. There is no Right Way to experience power, and release, and control, and reclaim agency. Yes, sometimes people cope in maladaptive ways. But that is not always the case in a black and white sense. These ways of relating are not inherently Bad or Good. They are all relative. And there is no concrete evidence that proves otherwise.

      Thank you again for your disclosure. I hope that my ramblings have shed light on what I intended to illuminate. I look forward to continuing this conversation and will be checking back for more dialogue if it is welcomed.

      • thanks for this thoughtful and compassionate insight, i’m glad some of my story can bring forward these hard questions and conversations in a productive way. rock on!
        -the author

    • Speaking as a therapist there’s two big topics which are being discussed Reenactment syndrome and BDSM. The key difference here is in the presence of a safeword and the concept of scenes in a scene there are boundaries the safeword provides control though sometime as Shown here communication fails. Thats where scenes come in, in a scene you both a know your boundaries and and roles and b proceed in a measured planned way though it should be noted a submissive may choose to remain unaware of the precise plan but it still should fall within the boundaries agreed upon. To reenact gives power, because a submissive is master of their body in this case, the control is theirs thats why catharsis happens as the anxiety is given over symbolically to another and thus allows one to feel purely n scene, similar to mindfulness. Can it be abused? Certainly but it has Psychological merit

  3. great article though, really well written. I really identify with this author. Past trauma is one of the reasons I cant have penetrative sex in a kink situation, or at all. I was lucky enough to have a top who was completely understanding, and who never put pressure on me or made me feel bad. But I still do, I feel like I am not enjoying sex to the full extent and that I am missing out by being unable to have penatrative sex….

  4. There is something about a safe word and a safe space that changes how we can learn our bodies through pain. I have been assaulted, and I have also told my partner to fuck me until I can’t walk, and although the physical manifestation of those actions might present in a similar way, the psychological effect is different.

    The best part of submission is letting go while still ultimately having control. Anon, you hit it on the head. Thanks for this article.

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