How BDSM Saved Me When Therapy Couldn’t

TW: Mentions of Sexual Assault         

Coming to the place where I was comfortable telling the truth of one of the most defining periods of my life wasn’t easy. It quite literally took blood, sweat, tears and then some. I’ve always been an escapist, traveling thousands of miles in person or in my mind to spare my heart the work of healing and let me tell ya, it catches up to you eventually. Someday soon, this platform will become bigger than I ever imagined and when that day comes, I want this story to help transform people into being better allies, less a victim and more of a survivor but most importantly, I want this story to free the young teenager who carried all the shame and guilt associated with such things. I want her to know her story is safe and that she’s the strongest person in the fucking world. To that girl, I love you, don’t be sorry you made it.

Ola, Founder of Shaking Sheets

Humid nights in August seem to preface transformative periods in my life. My birth month has always held complexity, the warmth of my years alive is quickly sobered by the remembered passing of my family’s patriarch and I’ve grown to live with that. August means pain for some. I just didn’t realize that I would learn to hold pain associated with what should be a happy time of the year for me because of one sticky night a few weeks before the school year started.

I was never a partier, anyone who knows me could tell you I’d much prefer a cozy seat and book to chaos and crowded spaces. I was a proud wallflower, content to live glamorous lives through the words on a page or motion pictures on the screen, but I was also a teenager and the need to explore, to prove myself was present in a way it had never been in my life. A good friend of mine at the time was celebrating their birthday and had an intimate gathering that I reluctantly decided to attend. In that house I was greeted with warm arms wrapped around me followed by a plume of too much perfume and a shot of tequila. The only chaperone at her party was alcohol and normally that would have made me take pause, but I was a teenager and if I didn’t live now… when would I?

To this day, I can remember the first two hours of that night fondly, on a good day the thought of some of the shenanigans we got into could make me giggle. If I close my eyes, there’s laughter and hugs, a vanilla frosted cake and silly pranks- those first two hours were the last I spent feeling like a child. There are few words to describe what happened after the fun, when the melancholy of the blasted month of August found me. So, the days I allow myself to remember the joy, I’m also giving permission for my body to remember the pain. I was sexually assaulted that night and though I’ve spent years in therapy since, I still ask myself the same questions and find myself haunted at the simplicity of the answers:

Why didn’t you leave with your friend? Because you were having fun

Were you drunk? I had two shots of Captain Morgan 3 hours earlier so, it’s unlikely

Why did you go into the room? To get away from the noise and lights, my head was throbbing

What stopped you from fighting after you said no, and they didn’t stop?

Shock or maybe the belief that someone I trusted would never hurt me like this, that eventually my “no”, my “I need to get home”, my “I don’t want this” would mean enough to make them leave me alone.

Why didn’t you leave?

Why didn’t you leave?

Why didn’t you leave?

The question plagued my senses for years. It wisped past me in the halls at school, it distorted and blurred the words on the pages of my favorite books, it made me cower in goosebumps when I smelled the pungency of liquor. I’d had innocence stolen from me, peace of mind that I was safe, that my voice which I’d always been told was loud and boisterous would matter when I needed it to. I felt robbed of my sexual debut, the thought of anything remotely intimate was repulsive, a kiss could give me hives and hugs made me aggressive; companionship wasn’t very attainable after that and the girl who experienced that defeat, who felt bested by the world had lost the battle. I quickly resigned myself to the notion of a sexless existence, my body was a cage that I occupied for years.

This means of thinking created this crushing loneliness, white-hot shame and all the rage I coated myself in. It amazes me to this day that I finished high school on time, and it was the August after my graduation when all those feelings came to a head. A poor experience at the gynecologist seeking birth control, (I have insufferable periods that are only managed medically) opened my eyes for the first time in 4 years because if I was over it I wouldn’t have acted like that. Normal people don’t beg their doctor to stop an exam, normal people don’t scream and sob when the exam continues, normal people don’t need pills to stay calm enough for a five-minute procedure. This wasn’t normal, I was traumatized, haunted by a forgive less night not enough summers ago that made me never want to grow up.

This episode spurred a huge shift in therapy. When the focus became healing my trauma, I felt relief for the first time since I became a teenager. My skin was less itchy, I didn’t feel my bones swell up in disgust as often, I could close my eyes and not see a pair stare back at me. Society is a master illusionist, programming us to see growth and health as linear processes that have an end in sight. I fell into that trap like many others, getting too comfortable in my highs that I was unprepared for my lows. Lows that made me irrational and do things like move cross country fresh out of high school with limited funds and skeletons I was out running. I look at pictures of myself from that time, the video diaries I recorded for myself and see the splinters, the swollen bones and itchy skin I swore I left in New York. That time in rainy Washington did heal some things though, it restored some of the faith I had in myself and reminded me that nobody could steal my courage.

This extended voyage I was on was well documented in therapy when I came back home. I seemed to shock both *Lisa, my therapist and myself when I expressed an interest in dating, like many things with me it was one little passing thought that I began to run with. I was grown goddamnit and it was time to start acting like it and I knew exactly what kind of partners I wanted and how to find them.

My interest in BDSM started rather young. I was 13 reading a series about rugged, ancient vampires in this secret fraternity when it was revealed that one of the male protagonist was a Master, my attention was immediately caught and when I read that first scene on the page, I was hooked forever. The way they described the blood red silk rope catching her skin, the imagined gasps accompanying the kiss of a whip, the intensity of her release after absorbing all this pain called to some base need of mine.

Rihanna said it best, “sticks and stones may break my bones, but chains and whips excite me.”

I wanted to experience that and more, I wanted my pain to mean something, so I hopped on a dating site catered to kinksters. I remember making my profile, hands shaking in excitement as I wrote a cautiously hopeful plea to be seen and find partnership. It wasn’t long after that the messages started to come in and I was equally excitedly overwhelmed and scared, I was afraid of how much of a mistake I could be making because making mistakes in my experience, led to tragedy. Alas, I persevered past my paranoia and replied in earnest to a man who would go on to help change my life.

I met him a day before the anniversary of my sexual assault. He was kind, intelligent, empathetic and funny, he listened intently when I spoke and held space for my concerns without taking offense, in a quiet coffee shop in Chelsea, I never felt so loudly heard. We began an official D/s relationship that fall and for the first time in years, August gave me joy, gave me optimism, gave me power, power I thought I lost years ago on a starry night. Power is so nuanced; a first glance rarely tells the whole story and that’s what I found solace in. I entered a relationship built on a power exchange with the understanding that the person using the power overtly isn’t the one with power covertly. The freedom to choose who wielded power and when was an act of radical self-love, knowing that everything happening in this relationship was because I wanted it to and that gave me security like nothing else had, not even therapy. It was important to have someone validate the way I felt and remind me that I had autonomy over my body so I’ll always be grateful for therapy, but having someone practice it with you, remind you that the only way you could upset them was by not communicating discomfort was the action I needed to truly believe it.

When I had to safeword for the first time, I cried. The lingering fear of the past 5 years had made me feel guilty for using my voice, so I was stunned into silence when everything immediately stopped, the way I always hoped it would. My Dom checked in with me, asked what I needed and provided the care as soon as he understood what I was seeking, that had never happened before. It’s so easy to take things like that for granted to some but I was so grateful wrapped in his understanding and concern that I gave myself permission to tell him what really happened, how I felt like it was my fault, how underserving of love I felt, how disgusted I was with myself for lying about an orgasm so that they would stop. The floodgates opened and I didn’t drown, allowing myself this vulnerability and loosening the tight grip I had on control was liberating. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that I’m not attributing this healing to this man but rather to the relationship structure I allowed myself to experience without guilt.

I see a lot of discourse about whether women/femmes participating as the submissive partner in D/s dynamics is feminist or empowering but not enough listening to the people being talked about. Some of the most assertive, confident and emboldened women and femmes choose submission, I happen to be one of them. The debate about submission in relation to femininity is antithetical to the intersectional feminism I practice because my feminism is about choice, it’s about standing in your power and staking autonomy of your body and mind. My feminism wiped the snot from my face and kissed my forehead in my darkest days, my feminism reminds me that anyone’s access to my time, body or resources is a gift that I choose to share. My feminism told me I don’t need a partner, but if I wanted one, they better damn well treat me like royalty. My feminism is honoring the reality of my existence in all its joy and messiness.

BDSM afforded me a relationship structure that prioritized my mental health needs along with my desire for companionship. I’ve been free to discover who and what I am outside of August pains and I’ll always be grateful for that. These days I feel normal, I continue to go to therapy and have made some great friends. On the anniversary of that humid night in August I allow myself as much melancholy as I need before taking a breath and going about my life. I’m currently without a partner and some days are more difficult than others because of it but I take enjoyment in finding new, exciting ways to fill that part of my heart craving the stillness of submission.

All of this is to say that it’s okay to seek therapy when you need to but it’s also okay to find another outlet to work through trauma. The event may have been linear, but our lives are not so it’s important to have some compassion for yourself and feed what needs sustenance in you. I can’t sit here today and say BDSM cured me of anything, but I can say it reinforced a perspective that I lost and had few hopes of getting back with therapy alone.

I don’t know all that awaits me in regard to my journey of healing, but I’d imagine there will be ups and downs, highs and lows and of course bit gags and floggers.

*As published on Harness Magazine http://harnessmagazine.com

One comment

  1. I appreciate your transparency and courage to share with your readers your traumatic experience. Im happy that you no longer see yourself as a victim but as a survivor. Moreover, you have directed your Emotions and thoughts into a positive, motivated and centered headspace.

    Like

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