I’ve tried everything to manage my meds: alarms on my phone, a picture of Zoe Saldana on my bathroom mirror with a reminder, my planner’s habit tracker, a note on the back of my front door that I see before I leave the house every morning. Like clockwork, I take them, I start to “feel better,” and I fall off the wagon. The thing that’s actually helped me stay on it? Kink.
When L and I are together in the mornings, she watches me take my meds. When we aren’t, I send her a picture. I want to take my meds, but more compelling to me than that, I want to be good for L. Since we started to include me taking my meds as part of our protocols, I’ve been consistently medicated for longer than I’ve been in years.
My coping mechanisms are also healthier. I have to communicate how I’m feeling, and we have a safeword — “yellow” — for when I need some time to organize what’s going on inside of my brain before I can talk about it. (L checks in on my after an hour.) It’s hard for me to say, “I’m hurting, please help me,” to anyone who isn’t my therapist, even to someone who I know cares about me a great deal, but now I’ve found a way to do just that.
I’m anxious about money, afraid to save or spend, afraid I have simultaneously too much or too little. My capitalism-induced fear can take over my life if given a chance. L and I set a budget together every week, and if I don’t follow it, all of my cards get locked away in my safe for a predetermined period of time. I discuss decisions with her before I make them, though only I have control over my accounts. Now, I spend money with less anxiety.
When I start to pluck my eyebrows (a terrible stress habit), L firmly takes my hand, and reminds me that this isn’t one of our pre-approved coping methods, and gives me the opportunity to talk about how I’m feeling, use my safeword or go to bed.
A lot of the protocols between L and I are centered around the sexual side of kink, but a lot of it also centers around helping me form good everyday habits. These protocols didn’t happen overnight. Just like we’ve dedicated time to sitting down and talking about our sexual relationship, we’ve dedicated time to sitting down and talking about our non-sexual relationship. Before one conversation, I’d read a piece of D/s erotica about a lesbian couple that agreed that the dominant partner should have some control over the submissive partner’s life in non-sexual ways that mirrored things I wanted in my life. I mentioned them to L, and it felt like I was saying that I wasn’t a feminist anymore. I’ve worked hard to hold onto my independence, and here I was giving it up — to someone more dominant and more masculine. My feminist ancestors didn’t burn their bras for this. Except what if they did?
What made that conversation work, and what makes our protocols work as we continue to negotiate and change them as needed, is that I felt and still feel like I have an important voice in our relationship. Our kinky butch/femme relationship doesn’t mimic traditional heterosexuality. We are both here because we want to be, and we create or take or leave interactions and power exchanges and ways of moving through the world because we want to, not because it’s compulsory. L isn’t in charge because of divine right, L is in charge because I asked her to be. I’m the child of an abusive marriage, so I know what it looks like when a woman changes her behavior because she fears her partner. It doesn’t look like this.
Instead, our dynamic is strict, firm and consistent. It’s everything I want from a dominant. It makes me feel calm.
It’s hard to feel calm when your brain is busy remembering that time you screwed up in seventh grade. It’s even harder to want to be accountable to yourself when your brain is telling you that you’re useless because of that screw up. I have coping skills for these feelings and thoughts: journaling, exercise, coloring books, and mindfulness are a few of them. It’s not that I don’t use these coping skills because of my kinky relationship, it’s just that kink has made it easier for me to want to cope.
Before this arrangement, I still had these skills, but I used them a lot less. I cared about being well enough. I’d use the skills to stop a panic attack in the middle of the grocery store, but would call myself mean names all the way home. With kink, I just want to serve well. It’s a way for me to trick myself, like putting kale into a smoothie. I’m here for the kinky fun, but if it comes with a side of mental wellness, all the better!
All of this essentially equals that extra push when I don’t want to take care of myself for myself. Sometimes I’m tempted to skip therapy or my meds or go on an internet spending spree when I’m feeling sad, but I want to be the best submissive to L. That means that when I can’t do things that are good for me for me, I do them for her; and in doing these things for her, I help myself, and I help us grow as a couple.
Western culture and capitalism have overemphasized the role of independence in our societies. Independence is not the sign of a life lived successfully. Especially mine. I am submissive because to a degree, I thrive on being dependent on others. That is work. But that work has been fulfilling. When I was independent by necessity, I felt like I was always faking it. But now there’s someone standing next to me when I want and need her to be, and it feels easier to step out on my own.