I am not a means to an end.

I am NOT a means to an end.

Brain: But…

No, brain. I am not a means to an end.

Heart: Are you sure…

Hey…heart. I am not a means to an end.

Body: Really…?

Really, body. Fuckin’ listen up: I am not a means to an end.

The phrase “you are not a means to an end” came up in therapy recently and I can’t get it out of my head. When my therapist first said it, the room felt very still and I had to remind myself to breathe as the tears formed. Suddenly, I felt the need to both protect myself and be vulnerable.

It keeps popping up at inconvenient times, and suddenly I’m crying on a bench next to a stranger while waiting for my car to be done getting an oil change.

Why is this so hard to believe?

When did I stop thinking I was worthy of attention and affection just…for myself? When did that become so hard to accept, yet something that I crave to the point of near desperation lately?

I know I’m primarily a submissive, but I also know enough, learned enough, was trained well enough to know that submissive does not equal doormat, in the paraphrased words of my best friend. That yes, I love to serve. And while I’m also a switch, my core is pure submissive. However, that doesn’t mean that I don’t have needs and desires.

A partner once wrote to me that “as much as it is your responsibility to serve me, it is my responsibility to make you feel loved and make sure you have what you need and sometimes what you want.”

When I first read it, I also cried.

There’s been a lot of crying lately.

There’s also this comic by the wonderful Sarah Andersen, making the rounds.

But this one really hit me as I stumbled across it on a friend’s FB feed. Caring for the animal within. 

And I have no problem telling other people, especially submissives, that they have to put their own oxygen mask on first.

As it came up in therapy, though, I’m so used to giving. Making sure the people I care about have what they want and need beyond my own natural warning signs of “Empty! Need refuel!” as a method of survival that it’s just…what I do. And there’s also the times when, I’ve tried repeatedly to communicate what I want and need to various partners and the many times it’s been misunderstood, delayed forever, or just completely ignored. Sometimes, I’ve stopped asking. I’m not proud of that. Sometimes, I keep trying and once finally asked a question that wound up setting off a domino effect of that particular relationship ending.

Earlier this year, I had some wonderful experiences with someone who wanted to…do things for/to me because they wanted to. And because I asked or made it clear that I wanted certain things. It was…difficult to relax into. My brain went into hyperdrive anxiety, wondering if I looked okay/attractive, if I smelled okay, if the noises I was making were okay, getting frustrated with myself for not coming “quick enough”, and I tried to keep all this under control and not go into a full on anxiety attack for experiences that were supposed to be, and largely were, good. Some times, I even succeeded. It was the closest I’ve come lately to enjoying the moment and savoring the hell out of those experiences, but I still…struggled.

To be very clear, these were all my own hang ups. None of it came from the other person. In fact, they were amazing beyond amazing with telling me that all the things were fine, good, appealing, and showing me that they actively wanted to be where they were and doing what they were doing. Which included waking up parts of me I didn’t even think were responsive (or, wait….how the hell did you do that?! That part of me never reacts like that!), introducing me to dropping into sub space briefly with someone who was not a Dominant or Master/Mistress to me (well, that was a cool brief dip into subspace with no melancholy for wishing things could be different with you or anyone else; how the fuck did that happen?), and showing me by example the joy of relishing the moment for what it is.

This wasn’t fueled by NRE, that I know of. We’d kind of ridden a lot of that out by starting to build a friendship. It wasn’t driven by a desire to get me back after a breakup. Nor was it done, to the best of my knowledge and belief about this person, as a means to an end. I wasn’t a means to an end. It was shared experiences. And I don’t think I realized until recently just how fucking hard it was for me.

I hate that.

I hate that it was so hard for me to follow good feelings, hard to be treated like I was desirable, hard to admit that I desired things, and accept those things once talked about and freely given. Sex in general can be difficult for me. I have strong cuckquean and con non-con fetishes that are actually fetishes…like I need to think about one of those two things to get off 95% of the time, both when I masturbate or when I’m with other people. Both of those are built around denial of my own needs and desires and other people using me, taking what they want. For the very (very) few people that I feel comfortable being sexual with, that’s where my mind goes. When I don’t have an established D/s connection with that person, or that person isn’t into either of those things…my brain apparently gets a little messed up. It doesn’t know how to process…”do this because it feels good. You said you wanted it, and this person wants to give it to you, and that’s okay.”

I don’t know if it’s tied to my difficulty practicing self care or if it’s something different, but it feels right now like it’s tied together somehow. Like maybe I eroticized difficult things that’ve happened in my life so that I could reclaim them. But if so, the pendulum has swung so wildly in the other direction and I’ve forgotten how to relax into feeling good.

There are, apparently, a lot of things I’ve forgotten or fallen out of practice with. Like practicing. Magic and music. Like writing. Like intense, regular exercise. Like eating well and drinking water.

Once upon a time, I didn’t drink enough water at an event I was working. I wound up having an episode and being taken to see the EMTs. They ordered me to rest and hydrate. At the end of the weekend, someone else ordered me to my knees, handed me a glass of water, and told me to stay that way for 10 minutes and that maybe that would help me remember the importance of staying hydrated.

For the next few months, I was the best hydrated I’d ever been in my life.

Last month, there was an event that I had to work and I knew it was going to be difficult for many reasons. So I set myself into self-care overdrive mode. I knew that I wouldn’t have my best friend & PA there to help make sure I ate and drank, so I arranged with a few different people to help me with that and made sure to get some fairly healthy snacks to also help. I reached out to my magic-minded friends (and the internets) to relearn how to set up a portable altar, because it’d been years since I’d done that. I made lists, brought extra things to nest my hotel room with, and as soon as I got there, set about putting it all into effect.

I set up a portable altar, nested beyond any nesting I’d ever done before for an event, and also since I knew the person who had once made me kneel with the water would be beyond hella busy, I took it upon myself to kneel every day holding a glass of water for five minutes, setting my intentions for the day, reminding myself that I was worthy of my own service.

No one told me to. That was really fucking difficult to do, but I did it. And I stayed hydrated. I also ate three meals a day during the event. Which never happens. I’m exceptionally lucky if I get two, and that’s with having a PA whose main purpose is to make sure I’m okay at events. So for this one event, I was able to throw much of my energy into self care enough to get through the event and serve the community. But afterward? It’s been really challenging to keep up that self care. To keep believing that I deserve my own service, to put on my own oxygen mask, to ask for the help I need, and the interactions I want. I’ve been building a lot of walls. It’s just…there’s been so much pain. So much confusion. So much fear and difficulty. So much longing.

My body meters are at an all time low in regards to D/s, touch, sex, romance, sensation, making out, dancing, creativity, exercising, and snuggling/cuddling. I’m having problems with my teeth, my stomach, my uterus. My sleep patterns, which are normally already fucked because of childhood issues, have been beyond borked. Life is changing and I just keep thinking, “how do I change with it?” How do I move through all the transitions I feel coming?

I don’t know how to fight for myself and claim my own power let alone move into the next phase of my life. I barely know how to not treat myself as a means to an end of just getting through each day, so how do I even begin to stand up for myself and tell others that I am not a means to an end, if I don’t believe it myself?

The best starting place, I guess, is to keep reminding myself.

No, really, self.

I AM NOT A MEANS TO AN END.

One of these days, I’ll hopefully even believe it.

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Breathing through change

There’s a website I used to go to every single day. In Chrome, when you frequent certain sites, it will keep eight of them on your home screen when you open the web browser. This particular website used to battle out the first position with my work email inbox and Facebook. Sometimes, a little commentator voice would go off in my head, keeping track of the ranking. “Well, it looks like Facebook has pulled ahead of Work and The Other Website. Perhaps you should be doing more work, or visiting The Other Website more! Nope! Facebook has stayed in the lead for two days now! Way to waste time!”

But generally, The Other Website would win. And seeing it there everyday was a reminder. A glorious cluster of colorful pixels that reminded me of something good that touched my core. That I had wanted for so long. That safe space was created, and it was a click away, cutting through hundreds of miles.

However. Due to life, this website had been slipping in the ranking for the past few months as I less and less frequently went to it. One day last week…for the first time ever, I opened the browser and it just…wasn’t there. I burst into tears like a proper adult who’s heart had cracked.

My phone has forgotten some words I used on a regular basis, too. When I first realized that, there were more tears. There’s been a lot of crying lately. Also a lot of change. And more to come, likely. Well, definitely. Life is always changing. Always evolving. Even now, the situations above with the website and my phone…those are also still evolving.

But additionally, there’s been a fuckton of other shifting over the past few months, too. I can’t keep track of it all, sometimes.

It just…hurts. And it’s not just the website or the words or any one change…but moreso what they represent. Communication is good, though. Because it means that I can express some of this and there might be hope for things. I’ve had to process a lot to find my way to the words so I can communicate to those around me.

Back when I was a water fitness instructor, one of the things they drilled into us was to remind our students to breathe. People who are learning something new, or concentrating, or exercising will often hold their breath and that’s…less than optimal for a workout. Also, fainting on land is one thing. It gets way more complicated real quick if they go down in the water. So at least three or four times during my classes, I would remind people to breathe. Thankfully, no one went under on my watch.

Which is funny, because half the time I was reminding them to breathe, I was also reminding myself.

It’s even more hysterical when you factor in the fact that I’m a trained singer and while I’ve been breathing into my diaphragm for nearly 30 years, I still have issues with breath control. With lots of preparation, I can sustain long notes or a good vibrato, but it takes a lot of concentration. You’d think after so many years singing, it would be easier.

Earlier this year, I was loaned Urban Tantra, a book I’ve been wanting to read for a while now. I’m about four chapters in and frozen…it’s the chapter on breathing. Different kinds of tantric breath. My brain just…shuts down. I don’t know why.

Earlier this year, I turned 40. A kind numerology expert gave me a reading as a present and one of the key elements she saw was that I had to focus on breathing and movement.

It’s like this is a theme for me or something.

Clearly, when there are so many changes swirling around me, I should be breathing more. Deeper. Deliberately. I know it. Reminders are all around me. On my playlist, Pearl Jam, Scarlet Sails, and Hedwig tell me. I’ve got friends who remind me. And still, it’s so fucking hard. My body just keeps wanting to curl into a protective ball, not breathe too much, or say too much, and hope that the hurt, the confusion, the feeling of constantly walking in a field of landmines will just go away.

Of course, it doesn’t work that way in real life. There’s too much shit to do.

So I’ve spent nearly two decades, and especially the last five years, trying to unlearn and undo these impulses. I’ve forced myself to interact more, though a diagnosed anxiety disorder also makes this challenging. But when it comes to certain things, like music, or sex, or D/s, or writing…I still sometimes hold my breath, retreat, and just hope that the changes I feel won’t be as bad as they seem. That not yet another thing or person or dynamic that I love will be taken away from me, or leave, or fade.

Recently, my best friend took me to Santa Fe for my 40th birthday. It was an incredible experience but I found myself overwhelmed a lot, which has been happening a whole bunch lately. Visiting new places, the architecture, the art, the altitude, the aromas, the energy, the music, the people, the travel, the changes to routine, all co-mingling with the life shit that was already in my brain before I went.

But. For the first time in a long time, I was able to get through most of the overwhelming by breathing in Santa Fe. Deep, deliberate breaths – in through the nose, out through the mouth. My therapist said it might’ve been a little easier with the drier air. She said the humidity in this area can sometimes make it more difficult to breathe with intention. Not impossible, just challenging. So the best I can do is be aware of it. Try extra hard to breathe better, more frequently, more fully. It doesn’t make the changes directly easier…but it sure as hell is helping me open up to them and embrace the unknown a little.