Learning my lesson

Author’s Note:  I wrote this post last night (this morning?) and published it at about 4 am.  This morning, I am less sure it was something to be shared.  When I write I generally give a piece time to settle before I hit that little blue button that sends it out into the universe.  I give myself time to return and refine, to smooth away the rough edges.  I did not do this here, I don’t think I could have.  I’m leaving it as is, but I encourage you to read the comments, for a bit more of the story and also to share your own thoughts.

Today I watched a friend deal with the pain of an experience for which she wasn’t prepared. I won’t tell her story here, it isn’t mine to tell. I know she’ll share it if she wants to and somehow turn it into something much more lovely than I ever could. Our story here begins when I told her one of my own – the story of me and Jack, or rather, the end of me and Jack.

It was a story I’ve never told in its entirety and it took me close to three hours to push the words from my mind onto the screen.  Even still they were disjointed and raw. I’d tried, once or twice, to write parts of this story here; but no matter how eagerly they clamor for release in my mind, the words always seem to dry up the moment I start. I won’t tell that story now, either. It isn’t ready, I doubt it will ever be.

What I do want to talk about is why – why the words have been silent, why things sometimes go wrong, and how we handle them when they do. I’ll warn you right now: I do not have answers. This post will not be tied up with a neat little bow at the end. I am very interested to hear your thoughts, I will be happy if I can encourage you to consider and share.

Somewhat over two years ago, my six- year relationship with Jack imploded in one spectacularly bad scene. For months after I couldn’t even think of spanking. I would try, laying in bed at night, to call to mind fantasies that had once been comforting and comfortable, but moments later they would end in anxiety and panic.

At the time, I blamed myself for what had happened.  I worried I hadn’t been clear in my needs. I worried I had misunderstood his intentions. I worried I wasn’t submissive enough, or a good enough partner (even a good enough person), that I was too needy, that I simply wasn’t worthy of his kindness. Sometimes I still worry all of that is true, but I prefer now to accept that my failings are equally to blame for what went wrong. The key word, I’ve decided, is equally rather than entirely.

Some days I wish I could blame him for everything that happened. There are nights I think of his promise, uttered just before he tied me down, and how as soon as I was physically helpless he revoked it. Nothing will make that OK, but I struggle with the question of consent. Was my consent implied by my silence, by my allowing myself to be placed in such a position – even if that decision was based upon false information? If I had said “no” would that consent have been revoked?

A couple of weeks ago I mentioned on this blog my interest in consentual non-consent. I sometimes need to know that when I say “no” my partner will understand that I mean “I want this, but can’t ask for it.” There are other times when I think I really do mean no, but a partner attentive to my needs and limits can help me push past the stumbling block and open me to new experiences. And then, of course, are the times when no quite simply means no. How can I expect someone else to know the difference, when often even I don’t? I can’t.

Jack and I didn’t have a safeword. Perhaps that would have helped us both navigate these situations better. Clearly I was responsible for ensuring I had such safety measures in place, but to what extent (if any) did that responsibility extend to him as well? Equally? More than? Less than? Does the answer change if we consider that when we first met I had only been spanked by one other person while Jack was both much older and more experienced in this? I had read voraciously on the subject, but had little life experience from which to draw. And, in the beginning, I didn’t seem to need one – it was me pushing us forward much more than he. By the time that dynamic shifted we had been together for so long it seemed odd to suddenly negotiate all of the things we should have before. Quite honestly, I trusted (and expected) him to know and respect the difference between causing hurt and harm, and thought that was enough.

What if I’d done everything right: set up a safeword, communicated perfectly going into the scene, etc., would it have made a difference? I honestly don’t know that I had the capacity to communicate what I needed to once we’d begun and the situation changed, even had all those resources been available to me. There are times I can be pushed too deep inside my head to protect myself. I need my partner to recognize these situations and to act in my best interest, even when I can’t. At the same time, I understand the impossibility of asking someone to read me correctly 100% of the time.

What I’m truly curious about is this: when things do go wrong, when mistakes are made, how do we share the responsibility? Playing like this is risky. I accept those risks because I need the experiences they provide; but do we, as bottoms or submissives, take these risks all on our own? This dynamic necessitates one partner making him or herself vulnerable to another – either physically, mentally, or both. To what extent is the person capitalizing on that vulnerability (hopefully for the mutual enjoyment of both parties) responsible for the well-being of his/her partner – not just theoretically, but in real terms?

Even as vaguely as I have here, I find this difficult to write; both because I try to keep this space positive and because I am very guarded with my feelings where they may be controversial or unwelcome. The story I’ve danced around telling here simultaneously reinforced and shattered these ideals, and I’m still trying to find my path with what is left. I still struggle to find the balance between protecting myself and letting my guard down enough to enjoy someone else’s control.

I’m lucky to share the internet with so many amazing people, all unique in their interests, desires, relationships, and style. We can all look at a situation and see something no one else does. Even when we share an experience with another person, we both walk away with a slightly different view. I’m realistic enough to know that if Jack told our story, it wouldn’t sound the same. Over on his blog, HH wrote some time ago, and quite eloquently, about the differing ways he and Emma Jane viewed their respective responsibility for the outcome of a scene, in response to a post by Emma Jane wrote on standing in the way of control – now I’d love to hear what you think.

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About Em

A 30-something spanking aficionado and all around good girl :)
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10 Responses to Learning my lesson

  1. Loki Renard says:

    There’s one telling point in this tale that completely absolves you of any responsibility for things going wrong. It’s the part where a promise was made and then revoked. Nobody, top, bottom or circus clown has the right to renegotiate the dynamics of an established scene on the fly.

    It is difficult sometimes for tops dealing with bottoms who want to be ‘forced’, (not saying that’s what happened in your example, but it often does happen) but in my opinion at least, a top is better off staying well clear of bottoms who don’t want to state their desires and limits. I know its ‘hot’ to imagine being spanked for being naughty as a top sees fit or used as a dom desires, but the fact of the matter is, if you don’t clearly state your limits, then the top can very well accidentally exceed them. If, on the other hand, a bottom does state their limits and a line is crossed regardless, then the bottom can hardly be held at fault.

    It’s a top’s responsibility to make sure they understand what a bottom does and does not want, and it is equally a bottom’s responsibility not to be coy but to make their desires and limits abundantly clear.

    Many of us love to play in what seems to be non consensual space (for instance, a punishment spanking, which theoretically the bottom wouldn’t ‘want’ per se.) But at the end of the day, it has to be consensual and communication has to be entered into . A top isn’t a savior or a mind reader, and a bottom isn’t a powerless brat with no say in what happens. A good scene might make things look and feel that way, but underneath all that squirmy power exchange is solid communication and mutual trust. The top has to trust that the bottom was honest in their limits and desires (and that they will use their safeword if they need to) and the bottom has to trust that those desires will be catered to and limits respected.

  2. justagirl says:

    I agree with Loki. And it’s so hard not to want to blame yourself for what happened.

    These recent events also caused me to write but from a different perspective. Curious if this horrific scene was the end of the relationship or the cause of the end or if there were other things that made this a watershed event. If that’s too much to say, don’t even worry about it.

  3. Karl Friedrich Gauss says:

    I’ve read of at least a couple of cases where a top has ended a session before the sub safeworded, specifically because he felt she was getting in over her head and he was concerned about physical damage. In one case where she was playing with a third party, he put himself between them and told her to use her safeword. But it would seem bad form for a top to regularly push a sub to the point where she had to stop the scene by safewording. I see the safeword as more like a fuse. If the sub is always using her safeword it undermines the illusion that she’s not in control.

    And yet, I’ve heard there are people who never use a safeword and don’t have one.

    So yes, it would seem to me that the top can’t always assume that because the sub hasn’t spoken up, it’s always ok to proceed with the “play”. Obviously he has to excercise judgement and discern her state, which I guess is not always easy or flawlessly achievable.

    But then, it can be disempowering to blame the other party for what happened (as in your case). Seems odd though to be concerned about “giving away your personal power” in the context of a “game” that’s all about power exchange.

    It would be interesting to know in more detail just how this relationship-ending scene played out. But Emma, I can’t ask you to share more than you’re comfortable sharing. However, also I can’t help but wonder if there wasn’t an underlying relationship issue already at the start of the scene; could it really be that one scene gone wrong ended a six-year relationship?

    Your account does make the “consensual non-consent” game seem all the more fraught.

  4. Em says:

    Thank you for sharing your comments, I really was curious to see how others would view these issues. You all touched on so many similar issues, I’ll respond to you together.

    I stayed away from the specifics of my personal experience for a number of reasons. One, I’m certain I cannot describe them neutrally and it wouldn’t be fair or accurate of me to tell only my side of this story. Two, they are quite personal and as much as I share here, some parts of me do not belong to this blog. And three, I really wanted to explore the questions above in relation to how they factor into everyone’s experiences, not just my own.

    As for the vagaries of consent, as Loki pointed out we are all responsible for being as clear as possible on what is OK for us and for enforcing those limits in our play and relationships. What I think, and what I tried to express here, is that sometimes we may not be capable of doing so when it comes to the things we do under the umbrella of kink. Not because we are playing a game or expecting someone else to read our minds, but because the variables change so quickly and unexpectedly. X + Y does not always equal Z, at least for me. There are times a certain implement inspires actual terror in me, and times I find it almost enjoyable. A lot of that may have to do with how the top has set the scene, but much is also dependent on factors external to the “play” in which we are engaging. And sometimes when I think I am being very clear, and the other person thinks they are hearing me clearly, we still walk away with two very different comprehensions of what was said. This is no one’s fault, but certainly my responsibility.

    I feel I should make this very clear: Jack is a good person. He made mistakes, as did I, but I generally don’t think they came from a place of malice. There are times I don’t understand where they did come from. I wish, more than anything, that I had asked him. I do believe that he was uncomfortable with the possibility of hurting me, and compensated by avoiding any real acknowledgement of the things that went awry. That the result of this strategy was more hurtful than the original cause was unfortunate but I don’t think it was premeditated.

    As to what else was going on, leading up to and away from this incident. A lot. There were some very stressful changes occurring in my life, and at the same time I needed to slow down and take a step back in our kink-life, Jack was barging full steam ahead. We simply weren’t in the same place, and weren’t communicating these differences well. I went into this scene on edge, and while it wouldn’t have taken much to push me over it, the little I’ve described here was above and beyond what I might have expected. It wasn’t what convinced me that our future was over, though. That came later the same day, in the way he totally shut me out when I let the inevitable emotions slip past the hastily pulled up walls. Even still, I saw him one more time, hoping to salvage something of what we had had, before realizing that I simply couldn’t feel safe with him anymore.

    • Karl Friedrich Gauss says:

      Emma, it’s touching that you share with us as much about this as you do! Let’s hope these discussions help you process whatever might still need to be worked through with these memories.

  5. Being a top carries a lot of responsibility. When someone allows you to place them in a position where you’re ultimately in control, you HAVE to make sure you’re not only watching for the overt safewords, but also the more subtle signs that something is not going right.

    Consensual non-consent is a big thing for a lot of us. I’ve been known to say “you have no choice” in a scene or in a discussion, but that of course is ultimately part of the language of the kink. The bottom always has the choice, and it’s up to the top to make damn sure they respect that.

    As you know, I do engage in punishment/discipline, and consensual non-consent becomes a big part of that. I’ve made it very clear to my partners in that dynamic that it can be ended at any time. During an actual punishment spanking, it is definitely expected that it’s not supposed to be “fun” and consensual non-consent is a big part of the dynamic, but there is always the underlying knowledge that the bottom can end it at any time if they need to. I’m not going to stop if she just fusses, of course, but if I heard a prearranged safeword or the generic “red light”, I will always respect that. But beyond that, I’m also going to be looking for the signs of true distress, and I’m not ashamed to admit that I’ve ended a scene or two by being overly cautious in my reading of that. I’d much rather stop too soon than go too far as a top.

    The one thing I would never do is go beyond what’s been agreed on. If someone says “no wooden implements”, for example, I might tease them a bit to find out if that’s truly a limit or just a “negotiation point”, but at the end of the day, I’m not going to use it if they say no. If we setup specific limits, I’m going to respect them – and if I don’t, I deserve the full brunt of whatever goes badly. That being said, pushing limits certainly has a place in our kink, but it has to be handled very carefully and with a lot of open communication and trust. Sparkle has long had a deep-seated aversion to canes, so much so that early on she told me they were the one implement I could never use on her. Today, there are two canes in our closet, and they do get used on her occasionally, but with great care and only after she initiated (with a friend) an exploration into being caned the first time.

    It sounds hackneyed, but trust and communication are the key points, and without those, its all a house of cards that can topple at any moment. Thanks for sharing this.

  6. Poppy says:

    I found all this very helpful. I am still processing but I think part of what I am starting to think is about afterwards. When it has obviously gone wrong I think he could talk about it, adult to adult. I think a Top should be kind, he should care.
    I am sorry I can’t be more lucid, still processing.

  7. Loki Renard says:

    This point you make here, Emma is a very good one: “sometimes we may not be capable of doing so when it comes to the things we do under the umbrella of kink. Not because we are playing a game or expecting someone else to read our minds, but because the variables change so quickly and unexpectedly. X + Y does not always equal Z, at least for me. There are times a certain implement inspires actual terror in me, and times I find it almost enjoyable. A lot of that may have to do with how the top has set the scene, but much is also dependent on factors external to the “play” in which we are engaging. And sometimes when I think I am being very clear, and the other person thinks they are hearing me clearly, we still walk away with two very different comprehensions of what was said.”

    In some respects, I think if you’re playing that close to the edge of your comfort zone, then some additional risk is being assumed by both top and bottom. After all, I am sure it is possible to engage in kinky play that is both enjoyable and doesn’t approach limits at all.

    In some ways, kink is like motorcycle riding especially if you’re playing with scenes and implements that can either trigger extreme enjoyment or extreme terror – there’s a certain amount of risk inherent in it, because as you say, sometimes two people hear the same sentence and have completely difference understandings of it. We can minimize the risks as much as possible and use a lot of safety gear like safe words etc, but at the end of the day its very possible that we might get scraped up a bit.

    Learning to forgive ourselves is important. I notice a tendency around bottoms to blame themselves for things that really weren’t in their control, or because they made a mistake. Mistakes are part of life in kink and out of kink, and a little self forgiveness can go a long way in making play seem fun again.

    Just my two cents, of course.

  8. Em says:

    Chris, thanks for sharing your perspective. It’s helpful to hear from from the other “side” 😉 Things do get much more complicated when punishment is thrown into the mix.

    Poppy, I couldn’t agree more.

    Loki – Yes! This discussion I think necessarily focuses on those times when we’re playing close to our limits, but that’s not the breath or extent of what we do. Certainly anyone looking for something a little lighter will find those experiences cataloged elsewhere on this blog 🙂

  9. scarlet says:

    Em, this was a very vulnerable thing for you to write, but I’m sure helpful for so many people. I can imagine that a scene where someone took you way beyond your limits could end an entire relationship. I have such complete trust in Roman that I can’t imagine a situation in my wildest dreams where he wouldn’t be listening to me, hearing my breath, watching my hands, feeling me tremble–but if he ignored all of that, those many many signs that someone you love should be in tune with, could I forgive him?

    I guess what I’m saying is that it’s not just your voice or your words. It’s everything about you that you want someone to see and understand. Isn’t that the beauty of a power exchange anyway? At least for me, it is in part. If all those cues are missed, then it’s wrong person, the wrong relationship, the wrong exchange happening.

    I think that scene didn’t cause the end of you and Jack. I think it was the clear signal that things had already ended.

    Hugs.

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