Back in early 2014, during a period when I was feeling a bit adrift and disconnected, I joined a sober leather club. I was picturing burly, bearded dudes wearing biker jackets with recovery symbol patches, but it turned out the club was more of a support group for guys who were into leather and kink and whatnot before they got sober, and who were now trying to navigate those interests in recovery.
My own experiences in these areas are limited, but without fail off the deep end. Here’s how they generally played out:
Him: “So there’s this… thing I’m into.”
Him: “But it’s pretty kinky.”
Me: “What is it?”
Him: “Well, it’s [insert unanticipated and/or bizarre thing here].”
Me: “… Oh.”
Him: “Does that freak you out?”
Me: “No, no, of course not. It’s just that I’m not… actually, you know what? Let me freshen my drink real quick.”
[Twenty minutes and five cocktails later]
Him: “So you’re really not freaked out?”
Me: “Nyet. Bring it.”
And then I would do the thing. I never got myself into a situation I couldn’t ultimately get out of, but some stuff went down of which I’m not overly proud, nor comfortable discussing. As such, when I started getting to know these guys (well before I was diagnosed with a panic disorder), a wall immediately went up, since conversations with them often broached subjects that got under my skin and poked me in the fight-or-flight reflex.
One meeting in particular set me off badly enough to where I couldn’t go back for a couple of months. A group of us were sitting around chit-chatting, when one of the guys brought up an accessory he found at Ye Olde Neighbourhood Sex Shoppe.
“It was called a cock cage,” he explained. “It’s a chastity device, but for men. Apparently, some tops, like, own their bottoms.”
“Well that’s weird,” said another guy. “The whole point of being a top is to give the bottom the scene he wants, since the bottom’s really the one in control.”
Everyone else agreed that this was indeed odd and Not The Way Things Are Done, and then suddenly I realized my mouth was moving and words were coming out of it.
“As someone who was once in training to be owned, and who was going to end up wearing a cock cage, I can say that in a true master/slave relationship, the bottom derives pleasure from meeting the needs of the top. There is no ‘scene,’ and the bottom does not have any control.”
“Huh,” said everyone else. And then they went on to talk about a different topic, and I had a panic attack and ran out of the room.
Subsequent meetings resulted in more panic attacks, but eventually I started taking medication, and tentatively stuck my toes back in the sober leather club waters, and I found that I could actually sit through the meetings and participate in the discussions without losing my shit. I accepted that the guys weren’t going to judge me for my past, and I even gave a talk on sex and panic, which went over very well, if I do say so myself. The trick, I learned, was transparency: I could be an active part of the group, so long as I was honest with both myself and the other members about my triggers, and what I could and could not handle when it came to the meetings themselves.
Unfortunately, this month’s meeting fell into the “could not” category. It was billed as a sort of demo night, with everyone giving a hands-on presentation on their own kinks. I got twitchy as soon as I heard what was planned, and although some of the guys encouraged me to do something on rope bondage, I begged off, explaining that I really needed to sit this one out.
And I thought they understood.
This past Thursday, one of the guys texted me a meme that read, Studies show that if you’re afraid of spiders, you are more likely to find one in your bedroom. I am really afraid of Gerard Butler! Which, ha, I found amusing, and I texted back cheekily that yes, I too was really afraid of Gerard Butler.
To which the guy replied, I’m glad you’re only afraid of that, and not afraid of going to the meeting and talking about your fetishes.
And with that, I was done. The group is getting together tomorrow, but I will not be there. And I will not be returning.
Mark Twain once wrote, “We should be careful to get out of an experience only the wisdom that is in it and stop there lest we be like the cat that sits down on a hot stove lid. She will never sit down on a hot stove lid again and that is well but also she will never sit down on a cold one anymore.” I get that the guy was trying to be funny and goad me into attending the meeting via reverse psychology, but instead he created a stove lid. I let my guard down and got vulnerable, and one of them used that against me; ergo, I will not let any of them past my defenses again.
There is a distinct possibility that I’m overreacting — after all, we’re right in the middle of a Mercury retrograde, and miscommunications are bound to crop up. But right now, my Inner Survivalist is telling me to shut out anyone who isn’t conducive to my self-esteem or peace of mind, to focus instead on the handful of people who I know like me exactly the way I am.
I will miss being part of the group.
But I won’t miss feeling like my broken brain makes me less than everyone else.