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.


Anonymous said...

Rose, Wow there is so much to respond to so I am going to take it in two parts.

The rape:

Re: "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."

There is no "wrong". Whatever you were told, or thought you heard, therapists use various templates to understand behavior, but the patterns are not set in stone. Everyone is as different as their fingerprint, and reactions to trauma are individual. The differences do not make the person abnormal, but just who they are! I am sure you have heard that everyone reacts differently to death? Everyone reacts differently to rape too.

Re: "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 have similar feelings. I have found submission to be very empowering. The trust I place in my husband by submitting to him not only enhances our intimacy, but has helped me to grow, ironically, in my self control. I agree there is healthy and unhealthy submission. I am not sure it has to do with 'how much' though. I have seen so far that the more I give the more I get on many levels. As long as it is given not taken, I ultimately am in control of me anyway. I always have been and I believe always will be. It almost feels like a Dorothy in OZ moment in that there is a realization that I have had the power all along...I just had to understand that and claim it. The independence I protected in the past was a false attempt at empowerment that kept me separate but was not truly empowering. It also did not enhance the love I felt for my husband. Submission allows me to be more loving, and that makes a huge difference.

Just some thoughts~ Sara

Jigsaw Analogy said...

I'm commenting mostly because even though I can't come up with words to say, I do want you to know I'm listening (reading?).

On the feelings someone is "supposed" to feel... I've never found that feelings follow such clear rules. And if you managed to get empowerment without guilt, that's a really good thing. My route was to think everything was my fault, which meant whether or not things happened was in my control. I don't see that my way (perhaps more "typical) was really any better.

Can't think clearly enough to write a coherent response, so I'll leave it at that.

Rose said...

Sara & J.A.,

Thank you so much for your comments!

Yeah, you're both right about different people having different and equally valid responses to trauma... I know that now. But as a 12-year-old, sitting in therapy for the first time, I assumed that my therapist would always be "right" because she was an adult and a professional.

Sara - your Dorothy analogy is perfect. That is exactly how I feel, and you described it succinctly.

J.A. - Thanks for reading :) It is good to know that people are paying attention. I suppose I'll get used to it in time, but for now, even a quick "hello" is reassuring to me. :) I appreciate it.

Anonymous said...


I am new to the Domestic Discipline lifestyle, and therefore, just stumbled upon your blog today. I feel like I can relate to you so much!!! I to was a victim of childhood rape (I choose not to call it molestation, not sure why, though) for 6 years. I also never went through the "normal" feelings that I was told I should. The only people I felt anger towards were the ones who should have protected me (parents and older siblings, who knew the abuser's questionable background, but let him around a 5 year old child anyway). I never felt anger towards him. In a strange way, though, I acted like I did. Whenever asked about him, I would use an angry tone, or call him a bad word, just because I felt like if I didn't, they might think I was strange for NOT hating him. I hated what he did, but like you, I felt a strange empowerment. I feel like I can survive anything, because I survived him. I can conquer the world!! I did have a sense of fear for the first part of my marriage, but I actually believe that it is the result of a previous boyfriend, not my rape. I was never afraid HE would come for me, but somehow feared my jealous ex would.

Anyway, I am sorry to ramble on for so long, especially since you do not know me, but I wanted to let you know that it was a comfort to read your blog, and realize that I was not the only one who went through this. Thank you so much for posting it, I know that these are not easy subjects to talk about. God Bless!!

Rose said...


Thank you so much for posting. You don't know how happy it makes me to know that, one, you've found something that you can connect to here, and two, I'm not the only one who perceived rape in that way.

I also went through a long period of sounding like I was angry with my rapist because I'd heard so many times that I should be. I felt like I'd be thought of as a freak if people knew that I wasn't angry at him. But I do still have a lot of anger at people who knew what he was like and did nothing.

Thank you so much for commenting. I hope you continue to find things here that are meaningful to you!