I have a trigger. I hate using that word, since it brings to mind the watered-down version of today’s culture, which seems to mean I got uncomfortable or had my feelings hurt.
I mean the word as it used to be used. A series of specific physical stimuli can create a panic response in me, to the point of a legitimate panic attack. We discovered it by accident, as one often does with this sort of thing.
I’ve had an issue with having my neck touched for a very long time. In fact, it is solidly on my hard limit list. It was from a bad experience 10+ years ago. Not long after that, I had a partner come up behind me and loop an arm around my neck and he found himself dangling across my back, the only thing keeping him from a judo throw and a potential back injury was that my blind response no longer had hold of me once the pressure on my neck was gone. Not so when combined with other sensations. Better to just not provoke my body’s fight response.
Early on with my current partner, I informed him of my issue. We made the decision together to attempt to soften the aversion I held for that touch.
I want to be really clear for a moment. None of what we attempted or accomplished was with the assistance of a counselor or therapist, and other than a basic idea of the concept of immersion therapy, and have little to no actual educational basis for our actions. We were lucky to find some modicum of success. Not everyone who attempts to overcome their own stuff will have the same result. Hell, perhaps no one else will. I cannot speak for anyone else.
We began slowly. Over an extended period of time – days, not hours, he touched my collarbone non-threateningly for just a moment. The next time it was a moment longer. Once I gained some comfort with that action, we moved his hand slightly and repeated the process. After concerted effort, we succeeded in him being able to rest his hand upon my neck fully. After additional time had passed we were able to explore some mild breath play.
The trouble came when it combined with other sensations which could potentially be interpreted as negative. The first time it happened I was not in a position to communicate effectively regarding my distress. Having no idea I had a hidden landmine, we tripped it and I discovered what a panic attack was.
Well. After a little distance and some self-analysis, I decided it was a combination of sensations which pushed me over the edge. Having newly recognized and super fun trauma to overcome in the context of our D/s dynamic meant there were times we were going to work on it when it killed any sexual enjoyment I had been experiencing. It was like a light switch, and where once the light shone warmly, the moment effectively flipped the switch to anxiety and a desire to flee.
But we continued. We set up an emergency signal to indicate emotional anxiety during times when I couldn’t speak the words. We added those individual elements back into our sexual repertoire, albeit individually and in small increments. As we worked on those things separately, over time, we we able to get to the point of recombining them. It took possibly a year or so by my estimation, clearly not a quick process or one without risk of explosion.
I celebrated mightily the day we were able to do those things again. I don’t remember how – perhaps I sang some Queen and took a lap. It wasn’t so much that I enjoyed the experience as it was the triumph of regaining the ability to do them without falling apart. Most of my enjoyment came from that victory rather than from the ability to take pleasure in the act itself. I hoped in time that would change and I would have my freedom from those chains.
Of course it did, just not as I hoped. It was one thing to say the words that this would always be with me, a completely different thing to actually understand the magnitude of them. We went through a period of time when the things which had comprised that emotional land mine were less present for us. We avoided touching my throat because I got sick and it was swollen. It just fell away a bit. Somewhere along the way I backslid. I lost some of the progress I’d made, and things we’d been able to do six months ago bring anxiety and the first rushes of panic again. It was a hard realization that this really will be with me forever, in some sense.
I celebrate that I made progress in this battle, and I will overcome again. I don’t have to think about it the way it stole my thoughts before, since it only rears up on occasion anymore. I hope some day it will lie dormant, an emotional cancer finally eliminated by radiation.
Whether I get there or not, I will continue to fight for myself and my mental well-being, and I will continue to encourage others to find the paths they need in order to face their own landmines with courage. In solidarity, we can all become better versions of ourselves, one day at a time, whatever the method of achievement may be.