Sunday, November 11, 2007

Women, Stress, and Discipline

So last night, after returning from our six-hour visit to a local emergency room, I sat reading one of my favorite spanko stories while my husband blissed out on the morphine that was coursing through his veins.

Instead of horny, I got depressed. I've always had a bit of discomfort with the spanking stories that attract me, because I've worried that perhaps they indicate that I want to be treated like a child. A child is exactly what I don't want to be. But the hints of childishness are certainly present in these stories.

I tend to most enjoy stories about women who are taken in hand by some powerful and confident male suitor. The women are all used to doing everything for themselves, being mistreated by past men in their lives, and have come to resent being told what to do. The men are all apparently enormous and strong, while the women are all tiny.

I've always found traditional romance novels ridiculous because of how completely unrealistic they are. Yet in the corner of my mind, I do realize that the spanking romances are equally unrealistic... so why do I love reading them so much? I think it is because, no matter how exaggerated they may be, they do reflect certain emotional needs of mine, and probably of many other women too, given how many of these stories exist.

While I hate that these women are all tiny and the men all huge, to me it seems to be an outward expression of an internal feeling. It bothers me because as a feminist I recognize that women are starving themselves out of existence in order to meet this unattainable ideal of being waifish, while men are shooting up with steroids in order to become almost cartoonishly strong and muscular... It is as if as a society we're saying that, while men deserve to take up as much space as possible, women are worthy of very little space and therefore should strive to take up as little as possible. It is even reflected in how we tend to sit... men often lean back in a chair with their legs spread out in front of them, while women cross their legs, or even sit on their legs.

But the fact of the matter is, I do feel tiny, even though I might not be so physically. I feel much too tiny to master this giant world that is constantly throwing obstacles in front of me. I, like so many women, was taught to be a caretaker growing up. Now that I'm married, and my husband has been sick for nearly a year now, I've realized how overwhelming this role can be. It is not that I didn't understand what "in sickness and in health" meant when we took our vows... I vowed to be here in times like these, and I always will be. But it is incredibly difficult. And it isn't so much the catering to him, or the trips to the ER, or any of those things that make it so difficult - those are the things you'd fully expect when caring for a loved one. It is that he is so emotionally absent for me. I suddenly find myself feeling single within my marriage. Only, unlike when I was actually single, I'm single with a full-grown adult man to care for in addition to myself, and with no one to care for me.

On top of that are all the other responsibilities I have - I must be the sole homemaker, since Red is generally unable to help with chores or errands. I must work to fill in the financial gaps that his illness has left (he is able to work much less than he used to, leaving us with a lot of financial stress with the decreased income and the mounting medical bills). Also, I am still working on my graduate degree. As much as I've been wanting children, I am so glad that we do not have any yet. I simply can't imagine how I'd be able to take care of a needy child in addition to all of these other things.

I guess I should mention that I've been sick for the past month and a half too. My doctor has plainly stated it is because I'm under too much stress and my immune system is suppressed because of it. I'm exhausted and feel yucky all the time now, which only makes it more difficult for me to take care of my responsibilities.

I've heard so much about how domestic discipline is a reaction against feminism, that women are realizing that they just weren't made for equality and they need a man to take care of them. I respectfully disagree. Okay, perhaps a little less than respectfully... I think that is complete and utter bullshit. What women have now is not equality. Equality would be men taking on more responsibilities as home-maker and caretaker as women take on more responsibilities in the workplace. Men are simply stepping aside in the workplace to make room for their female colleagues, and then coming home and expecting their wives to do all of the work at home. (Of course, this is all MHO, and is not meant to apply to all men, just many.)

When I read about a strong man feeling completely justified in taking the woman he loves over his lap and spanking her silly because she is working too hard and not taking care of herself enough, it speaks to the part of me that is feeling overworked and overwhelmed. It seems to me that as a woman I'm expected to be an endlessly self-renewing font of caretaker energy. This just isn't possible. And when my doctor looks me in the eye and tells me that germs are bludgeoning my defenseless body because of stress, it makes me strongly desire someone who will step in and confirm to me and everyone else that my responsibilities actually are unreasonable. I work hard. I don't have the opportunity for a break, and I've had it ingrained in me that I don't deserve and shouldn't need one. I feel guilty for ever wanting one.

Nothing sounds so good to me right now as a lover who will step in and say, "not only should you not have to work this hard, I'm not going to allow you to do so because it is harming you. I care for you too much to sit idly by and watch you work yourself sick. Not only am I willing to take on some of those responsibilities, I am willing to take them from you against your will if need be, thereby relieving you of your automatic I-should-be-able-to-do-it-all-myself guilt response. I demand that we share responsibilities equally."

Jesus, what I want is a man who is so adamantly feminist that he'll stand up to the woman he loves at all costs in order to make sure that the two of them are equal...

Saturday, November 10, 2007

This Thing We Don't

This week has been a rough one for me. Between my husband's illness and some added responsibilities over the past week, I've found myself feeling hopeless and desperate. When the world feels out of control to me, I need my husband to prove his control even more in order to feel secure.

That just hasn't been happening. What is even harder for me to handle is that he hasn't even been showing any interest lately in maintaining a discipline relationship.

Red has told me in the past that he feels a bit insecure because he isn't sure he knows what he's doing. So, I did everything I could think of to help him. I bought him a book about domestic discipline, suggested websites to read through, and got him signed up for a few different forums. Whenever I've done these things, he's responded gratefully and said that it will be a big help to him. But then he completely ignores them. I don't think he's visited any of the forums since his introduction posts. Nor has he visited any of the websites. He only read the book I bought after a couple months of nagging.

I'm feeling incredibly hurt right now. We met online in a chat room that was geared toward discipline relationships... so he knew from Day 1 that this is something that I was looking for in a relationship. He indicated to me, and continues to indicate to me, that it is something that he wants as well. But he isn't doing anything that makes me feel like it really is.

A couple days ago I had a meltdown. I screamed at him about how hard I've been working to be supportive to him and to fulfill his needs. I told him how I felt he'd neglected me. I told him that I was revoking my consent, and that "I'm not following any fucking rules any more."

I have always taken our rules very seriously, and I experience quite a bit of guilt when I screw up and break one of them. When he doesn't follow through with discipline, or gives what feels like a half-hearted effort at discipline, I feel like all of the effort I put into respecting the rules and taking care of his needs doesn't mean anything to him. I feel invisible, like I don't matter.

When I screamed these things to me, I told me that he understood my feelings and that they were justified. He said once again that he really does want to have this structure in our relationship. He promised to start visiting the websites and forums, and to have a topic of discussion for the two of us everyday, so he can begin to feel more secure in his role. He asked me to trust him to do these things, that they were entirely up to him.

And I've heard nothing about it since...

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Virtually Exposed

Being new to the blogging world, I haven't really known what to expect. I'm an avid reader of many blogs, and the bloggers I read make it look so easy! They write about such personal things in a way that reads so comfortably.

It is an odd thing for me. Those of you who've read my blog posts, or my messages on other forums and such, don't even know my real name. Yet you know so much about such intimate parts of my life. You know things about me that even the people who are the closest to me do not know. I've already divulged things about myself and my past that I never even told my therapists.

I thought that perhaps blogging would be easier because of the anonymity. In a way, it is. I can talk about things that I cannot with people in my everyday life, like spanking, because the social constraints are not the same, and I'm less embarrassed since none of you could pick me out of a crowd. Sure, there is always a risk on the internet that you could be discovered. An ambitious computer-saavy person could trace me somehow and figure out who I really am if they were so inclined. But I'm simply not an interesting enough person to give someone a reason to do that, so I'm comfortable that the risk is sufficiently low.

The unexpected issue that I've run into is that I still feel incredibly vulnerable. My face is hidden, but my metaphorical heart is exposed to the world. Being a blog reader, I feel like I've gotten to know some people in an odd way. What I realize, of course, is that they still do not know me. It is an odd and fragmented form of "friendship." I say friendship because I hold some people in the same regard that I do friends. I worry when I learn that they're going through times of stress, have family problems, health problems, etc. I say my unpracticed prayers for them (I'm in an odd spiritual place right now), and wait anxiously to learn that they are doing okay... "Dear God, please watch over... um... [screen name]." It is an odd thing for me.

My insecurities are quickly rising to the surface. My stat counter and Google Analytics have only made it easier for me to become anxious. I know people are finding my blog... but are they reading it? Do they find things that they relate to, or do they think I'm a freak? I know from reading others' blogs that it is only a very small portion of visitors will leave feedback of some variety. I was excited and happy to receive my first comments. What I didn't expect was to worry so much about what the lurkers are thinking, or worse, are they even interested enough to think about it at all?

Further - how do you know as a blogger what is okay to post, and what is TMI? Theoretically, since this is my blog, I can write whatever I choose, so long as I follow the terms of service that I agreed to when I signed up for the blog. But understanding the social rules helps me to feel safe. How do I know where the boundaries are?

Yesterday I posted about something intensely personal. There are no social guidelines, even in real life, about talking about rape. As a survivor, I've learned just not to do it. People know that rape happens, even that it happens to children, but the important thing is that it always happens to other people and other children. On the one hand, as a survivor, I know that I should not be embarrassed about what happened to me. What I apparently should be embarrassed about is talking about it. Unless I'm speaking to a therapist, mentioning that I've been raped only puts the listener in an uncomfortable position. They don't know how to respond to it. They feel sorry for me. I suspect they feel afraid that rape has come so close to them. Now they know someone who has been raped.

So, I know that I shouldn't talk about it. But is it okay to talk about online? Are people visiting my blog, reading it, and being repelled the way that they are in real life? What are the rules here?

So, bloggers, how do you do it? How do you handle the anxiety about spilling your heart out to strangers? How do you stop worrying about the people who do not respond? How do you know what is acceptable blog material, and what isn't?

Friday, November 2, 2007

Submission and Empowerment

A couple of quick notes before I dive into my ramblings :)... I added a section to my blog called "Coming Soon." This is basically my To Do/reminder list of topics that I'd like to blog about in the future. Some days I'm filled with ideas to blog about, but many others I feel like I don't have a single intelligent contribution to make within the spanko community. My hope is that this list will not only remind me of my thoughts and enable me to record and flesh them out, but that it will help me get through those periods of writer's block and hopefully help me to find even more topics to blog about.

Also, I just wanted to state again that I tend to use the terms "domestic discipline" (DD) and "this thing we do" (TTWD) loosely and interchangably. Please see my "Domestic Discipline vs. Punishment Kink" post and the post immediately following it (the title of which escapes me at the moment) for a better understanding of how I personally define and understand these terms.

On that note...

I was lying in bed this morning, thinking (I've been up since 3am) about various things. I tend to do that when I can't sleep. Often it is the reason that I can't sleep. Anyway, my mind started to wander to my husband and how much I love him. Of all the weaknesses of language (at least the English language, which is the only one I speak fluently), the inability to express the depth and facets of love may be its worst. I find myself frustrated by my inability to express my love to him. All of the words and phrases at my disposal are overused to the point that they've lost their true definition. (I mean, seriously, Americans - do you really love that certain kind of food, that certain style of furniture, your new iPod, your new car, or any of the other things that aren't going to matter at all when your time comes?) I love him in a way that is more than an emotional feeling; it is a physical sensation as well. It is a sensation that is separate from physical sexual arousal, which I also experience with him, and that is harder than arousal to translate into an equivalent physical response such as love-making.

Part of it is expressed through my treatment of him. I do my best to show him my feelings by treating him with respect and consideration. I try to always put his needs before my own. I do the very best I can to stay mindful of his feelings at all times. I try to avoid doing things that hurt him, change habits that upset him, and so on.

But these are things that I try to do for all of the people I love, and different loves seem to call for different forms of expression. I love my mother differently than I love my friends, and my friends differently than I love my husband. And I love my husband so much more than I love anyone else in the world. He is the one person whom I love so much that not only do I choose to spend every day with him, but I've vowed to make this same choice every day for the rest of my life. Surely that kind of love calls for a special and more active form of expression... but I'm clueless as to how.

Ultimately, this is the reason that I want to submit to him. I'm not a submissive person by nature. I have no desire to be told what to do, and I value my autonomy. In fact, one of my main motivations to start my own business was that I couldn't stand being a subordinate in the workplace. I had better ideas about how to run the place, and I resented having to do what I considered to be a less-than-quality job for our clients because of the dictates of the distant and impersonal Powers That Be. So I quit my steady and secure job for a huge multi-national corporation in favor of an eternally unstable sole proprietorship.

Submission is one of the few things I can offer (in fact, the only one that I've been able to think of) that has real depth of meaning. My husband knows this - he certainly knows how dominating I can be in the outside world. We never would have fallen in love and gotten married if I hadn't argued with and been so infuriated by him when we first met that I couldn't let the issue drop and just had to stick around for as long as it took to PROVE HIM WRONG. I'm still working on it by the way. We're hopelessly deadlocked, and I wouldn't be surprised if we never manage to resolve the matter. ;)

I've learned a lot along the way about myself and this desire to submit. Of course, like many women, I had a difficult time figuring out how it could exist simultaneously and in harmony with my strong feminist beliefs. Fortunately I've worked my way through this issue enough so that I'm currently comfortable with it about 90% of the time. I want to leave that remaining 10% as it is so that I don't ever become so comfortable with submission that I lose sight of healthy boundaries or fail to take proper care of myself.

But submission has had unexpected benefits. Contrary to what I feared, it is actually empowering. I'd heard that before and never understood what it meant. I suspect that it still may mean something different for me than it does for others.

A little backstory is needed:

I am a survivor of childhood emotional, physical, and sexual abuse. All of the adults in my life were unhealthy in some way, and my father figures were the worst of the bunch. They were all abusive in different ways and to varying degrees, but the worst was Stepfather #1. He was a charming man to everyone on the outside. They all liked him and considered him one of the kindest, most chivalrous men they'd ever met. He was (still is, since he's still alive) a war veteran. And for the year and a half that we lived with him, he raped me about twice a week. He also enjoyed strangling me - occasionally in public to prove to me that I was utterly powerless and that no one would rescue me. No one ever did.

Now may be a good time to mention Rule #1 of this blog: Don't pity me. I neither need it nor want it. I write about my abuse history and past traumas as a way of working through them, and also to put them out there for whatever good they might do for someone else.

Having said that, I'm not going to deny that being raped is a horrible experience. It is terrible. But it (for me) is terrible in ways that are different from what people who haven't experienced it expect. It wasn't the rape itself that was so traumatic, although I'd heard that it is so many times that I believed myself to be so fucked up that I was even traumatized wrong. For me, the rape only traumatized me in that it revealed all sorts of vulnerabilities that I'd been unaware of.

As a woman (and as a child), I've been told that I'm more likely to be victimized than men so many times that it is ingrained in me. The fact that I'm so much smaller and physically weaker than most men, and even many women, is simply a fact of life to me. It is no more threatening to me on a day-to-day basis than my family history of cancer. It just is what it is - we are all vulnerable in some ways, and in order to function as people we must be able to accept it and move on.

So the rape came as no surprise to me, in the sense that I always knew that I was physically vulnerable to victimization because of my size. What did come as a shock were all the other vulnerabilities that I had never before recognized: the stunning revelation that my mother couldn't and wouldn't always protect me, that "nice men" are often the least so, that certain "friends" will abandon you in your time of need... These are all things that I would have naturally learned during my adolescence and adulthood, but having them proved to me so suddenly and violently at such a young age shook my foundation. It wasn't the known threats that I feared - it was the unknown. I suddenly knew that I could be hurt in ways that I hadn't even been able to imagine yet.

At the time I was too young to even have perspective on my reaction to victimization. After the abuse was discovered (I never told) and he went to jail, I started the court-ordered and state-funded therapy. My therapist seemed frustrated by me. I wasn't going through the "stages" that she insisted that all rape victims go through. Ironically, it was first in therapy that I began to fear that I might be "crazy." Since then I've also realized that therapists, who I once thought always knew what they were talking about, don't have all the answers. They are guessing just as much as I am.

I will admit that in all of the years since then, I've never heard of or read about another rape victim who reacted to rape the same way that I did. A little part of me still worries that I might be crazy, but after a lot of thinking, I really believe that my response was as healthy and as life-affirming as possible given the circumstances. I've never, ever told anyone this particular detail before. I have no idea the response I'll get, and it may even offend people.

I felt empowered. And it was my sense of empowerment, not the rape, that made me feel "dirty."

The best thing that ever happened to me were all of the times that I heard a teacher, or a police officer, or someone on television say it is never okay and never your fault when an adult touches you in a bad way. I believed it. I internalized it. It made sense to me, and I never once questioned it. So tell your children that. Often.

I knew from the very first moment that what he did was wrong, and that it was his fault. I never felt that I deserved blame for it. I never experienced the misplaced guilt that my therapist was so utterly convinced I should be experiencing.

I felt empowered because the moment he placed his hands on me inappropriately, he made himself my bitch. I didn't need him at all, but he needed me. He needed my silence. His future was mine to control. I could destroy his life with a word.

I did not feel angry with him for raping me. I felt disgusted by him, and I thought him pathetic for being less powerful than a child.

Perhaps it was an unconscious survival strategy. No matter. If it was, it worked.

This isn't to say that I never felt anger, fear, shame, and all of those other ugly emotions that come with victimhood. I just didn't experience them for the reasons that I had been told I should. Being made to believe that my feelings were wrong, that I was responding the "wrong" way to rape, screwed me up more than the rape itself did. My child logic was that the rape was all his fault, and that I was not responsible or blameworthy in any way for it. But my reaction to it was all on me - if it was "wrong," then there must be something wrong with me. I thought this meant that I was inherently sick, and the rape just revealed it to the world.

But then, I suppose that there are worse things in life than being bad at being a victim.

Anyhow, I explained that whole mess so that you could have a better understanding of where I am coming from now.

My desire to submit has always been baffling to me, given that I am not a submissive woman by nature. I do not think that it is right or wrong for a woman to submit. But I do think that there are right and wrong reasons for her to do so. If she does so because she thinks herself incompetent as a person, or undeserving of a relationship unless she allows her partner to always have his/her way, then that is unhealthy. If she does so because she believes that all women were put on earth for that very purpose, that (IMO) is unhealthy. But if she makes a conscious choice to do so, knowing that she can also make the opposite choice, then I think it can be beneficial in ways that are unexpected.

I have found submitting to Red remarkably empowering. At times in the past, I worried that my desire to submit, or be spanked, etc., may be unhealthy expressions of low self-esteem. I thought perhaps I was reenacting victimhood because that was "all I knew" (as in the "cycle of abuse"). But I've found that by submitting to my husband, I am affirming to myself that my agency is mine to give. If I can give it to him, then I can take it back. I have the power to manipulate my own power, to choose who to give it to, when, and how much. As a child, power was something that other people (adults) had. They all had it and could use it how they wanted, but they never gave it to me. If they sensed that I had any, they snatched it away. It was something that they inflicted upon me. I was never taught and never understood that I had agency of my own.

Submission is like stretching - I stretch when I work out in order to condition my muscles and make them able to be stronger when I need them to be. The more flexible I can be, the less prone to injury I am, and the stronger I can ultimately be. And just like when I'm able to lift heavier weights, or jog longer on the treadmill, I'm delighted by my own improvement.

It is pleasurable to me to be able to experiment with my own power. It is thrilling to me to see how much of it I can give to my husband, while still possessing it myself. It is also a wonder to me that I am with a man who I can trust so much. Should I slip, should I give up too much, should I start crossing invisible line between healthy and unhealthy, I know he will protect me while he helps me back on track.

I've found myself suddenly curious about my new found ability to be vulnerable without fear. Suddenly I find myself craving the feeling of being vulnerable to him. I want him to take more control so that I can give more. I want him to know all of my secrets (too bad I have none from him). For a spanko, I've always been extremely vanilla. I didn't know if I'd like being restrained, but found that the vulnerability felt good. It surprised me. Now I want to know how many other things that I will discover that I enjoy.

I've developed an odd fascination with anal play [insert blush here]. I say odd, not because I think anal play itself is odd, but because I've never associated my anus with any kind of eroticism. I'm a bit of a germophobe, so I have no desire to experience the physical reality of anal play.

What fascinates me so much is the intense vulnerability of allowing another person access to that part of your body. To me, that seems like the most vulnerable you could ever physically be with your partner. I wonder how that vulnerability feels.

I wonder if I have the power to be that vulnerable.