This article is written by me – Kim Debron – it is owned by me. If you copy it, please give the credit to me, otherwise you are committing an act of plagiarism – you are stealing my work.
Altered States of Mind
sub-space, sub-drop, sub-burnout
A Shift into Sub-space.
I know that sub-space has been written about before, and indeed i have read several good articles about this subject, but i would like to share with you, my experiences of shifting into sub-space.
First, what exactly is sub-space – is it a myth or is it a real condition that does happen, not necessarily to everyone but to a good majority of those who indulge in play activities.
Wikepedia describes sub-space as the psychological state of the submissive partner during or after a BDSM scene.
In simpler terms, it is a trance like state brought about by the release of endorphins during play. It can feel like you are floating or flying, or in a deep sleep, almost as if you are having an out-of-body experience.
Very deep sub-space can produce incoherence, the inability to speak, or sometimes to breathe and from personal experience, i know i have forgotten to breathe on a few occasions.
It is my belief that almost every person who has an enjoyable play session will experience some form of sub-space - whether or not it is recognised as that, is another question. Some just say they got really tired, and couldn’t keep their eyes open for a while, some say they floated away - whichever way it is described, it is a form of sub-space.
In my experience, i have found different levels or different sorts of sub-space.
I always end up in the same place, but it’s a different way of arriving there and it feels different.
For example, sub-space induced from sexual play is usually deeper for me than sub-space from being flogged, but maybe not as deep as sub-space from being spanked.
There is also the altered state of mind from me being on high protocol, which again induces sub-space, but which has a different feeling altogether.
I have no idea if this is the same for other people.
Normally, when Master and i play, my entry into sub-space is not a defined moment at all, it is more of a gentle slide from one conscious level to another, and i don’t really recognise it at all. It has always been that way for me, except for one play session a couple of years ago.
Master was at the time, recovering from heart surgery, and play for us had been out of the question for many months apart from the odd 5 minute spanking now and again.
He decided that He was feeling well enough to spank me for more than 5 minutes - it was a spur of the moment, spontaneous decision, and we were not even in the dungeon, just me lying on the bed.
The pace was building, and i was wondering how much i could take – remember we had not played for any length of time for ages – and the strap got harder and harder, and suddenly – between one spank and the next, i felt a definite shift into sub-space.
One minute i was thinking ‘ouchy’ and the next it was ‘yummy’!
It amazed me when i looked back, i know at the time i just remember consciously thinking that i had slipped from one state to the other and then i was completely lost in the sensations.
So when i was finally able to analyse this, i was curious as to why it happened.
I think that there are a couple of factors involved - the first obviously was that we had not played for a while and it was completely unexpected.
The second was that Master was using harder strokes than normal and got to that level much faster than He usually does, so there was less warm up perhaps.
Whatever caused it, it was a very defining moment for me in my never ending quest for knowledge and understanding – it was quite amazing.
Sub-drop and Sub-burnout
We hear talk of sub-drop, and sub-burnout, but are these the same thing, and/or is one a direct result of play and one a direct result of too much D/s or too much play without time to recover or without adequate care?
Firstly, what constitutes sub-drop – what characteristics signify a submissive going through this condition? Sub-drop can be likened to “baby blues” as the emotions are very similar.
Feelings of depression, anxiety, and a sensation of separation or distance between the submissive and the Dominant are common traits of sub-drop.
Because of the high level of energy and attention focussed on the Dominant by the submissive, sometimes perceptions of what is reality and what is not can become blurred. Some submissives are so connected to their Dominants, so in tune and give so much of themselves to the relationship, that they feel a “part” of the Dominant. So when the Dominant’s presence is withdrawn or removed, real symptoms of withdrawal can occur.
A submissive may at times believe she is a failure, that she is strange for having these weird needs and desires, that she isn’t good enough for the Dominant in her life and though most of the time these feelings can be dealt with and reconciled, at times of stress they can resurface and take over all rational thoughts.
Self acceptance for a submissive can take a long time, and is not helped by bouts of self doubt which can occur during sub-drop.
Intense deep sessions can bring an emotional exposure which is mind blowing and would not be easy to cope with in a normal state, however in sub-space, reality is blurred and therefore the submissive has a kind of detached mindset. But once the high disappears, once the chemicals in the body begin to return to normal levels, coping with the emotions which have been exposed can be a sobering experience. The submissive has to face the reality that she is different to the “norm” that her needs and desires are diverse and would seem strange to many people.
Coming back to reality with a thump can be devastating.
All the submissive wants is to cling to that altered state of mind, that other level of consciousness – she doesn’t want to come back to reality.
The emotional highs and lows are usually at their worst between 24 and 48 hours after a session, and this is the time when aftercare is most needed.
The sub can feel abandoned, lonely and worthless, and all manner of irrational thoughts will be running through her head.
It is important for the submissive to recognise that sub-drop can and does happen, and perhaps to have some support plan in place for such times, especially if Dom and sub do not live together or have only played casually.
My own opinion is that it is also important for a Dom to take responsibility for the sub’s wellbeing during and after a session, so some kind of support should be available or negotiated – for example, if a Dom is playing with someone else’s sub, then her Owner may well provide the aftercare, if it is a casual session, then perhaps the sub already has a trusted Dominant to call on in times of need.
It is important to be able to talk about it if you need to, and to recognise that it is a temporary condition – we do survive sub-drop and we do recover.
Sub-burnout is not often written about and indeed i had to search extensively to find any information at all.
The various descriptions i found for burnout are:
Fatigue, frustration or apathy resulting from prolonged stress, overwork or intense activity.
Emotional exhaustion, depersonalisation, and reduced sense of personal accomplishment
A general wearing out or alienation from the pressures of work.
Burnout is not the same as stress – it can be the result of too much unyielding stress but there is a difference.
Stress is too many pressures or demands on a person both physically and psychologically, but most people under great stress can see the light at the end of the tunnel.
Burnout is a feeling of emptiness, no emotion, no motivation, and beyond caring about anyone and anything, and unable to see an end or a solution.
If stress is described as “drowning in responsibility” then burnout is “being completely dried up”
An important point to note is that people who are in intense emotionally charged relationships are often susceptible to burn-out.
A D/s relationship is an intense and emotionally charged situation without a doubt, and anyone who lives in one will attest to that fact!
So how would a sub recognise that she is suffering from burnout or more importantly, how would the Dominant recognise it…
Sub-burnout is like a state of emotional and physical exhaustion, brought on by prolonged stress or strain. Feelings of being overwhelmed, unable to meet the constant demands of life, and eventually a loss of interest or motivation that led the submissive to her D/s life in the first place.
Early signs of sub-burnout are usually feelings that can include any or all of the following:
Detachment and isolation
Feelings of being trapped
The Dominant may notice different symptoms in the submissive - short temperedness, and snapping or snide remarks or a tendency to want to sleep, or not to go out, not to socialise, the relationship may seem to be falling apart, the submissive may not trust the Dominant any more, she may rebel against the very control she seeks and needs.
There are many different factors that could cause a sub to get burnt out.
Too much D/s interaction could be a big contributor - the constant state of subspace which could be caused by too much play or too much high protocol, too much micromanaging.
Perhaps the sub has taken on more than she can cope with – Most Dominants demand close to perfection from Their submissives – so we strive all the time to be the best we can, and that can be stressful and difficult.
Some of us juggle our lives and commitments better than others – the ones that cope may feel a little stressed at times but this passes eventually.
The ones who do not cope quite so well may feel stressed and then become overwhelmed, especially if they have no one to talk to or to ask for help – this can result in sub-burnout where everyday is a bad one, every task seems meaningless, none of your efforts seem good enough, and therefore what is the point of this life?
Another situation which could cause sub-burnout is when a Dominant is ill for any length of time, and therefore not only is the submissive “the submissive” she may also be the decision maker, the carer, the nurse, the secretary, the chauffeur, and many other things besides. Some of these roles are unfamiliar to her in the normal workings of a D/s relationship, and it may become completely overwhelming to bein charge but not in charge, because underlying all of those things, is the D/s and the power exchange. How does she cope with that?
From personal experience, it is not an easy situation, and i know that i have been in danger of sub-burnout at a couple of points in my life. In fact i did recognise some symptoms (though at the time could not put a name to them) and i wrote it in my journal which is probably what helped me more than anything.
So, if a submissive is suffering from sub-burnout, how can it be cured or fixed.
Support, patience and understanding will be the main things the sub will need in order to come through this period in her life.
She needs to talk to other submissives – only another submissive can really understand the stresses and strains placed on the life of a sub.
She needs to understand what is happening, and why, and needs to be able to express her feelings not only to her Dom, but also to her closest confidantes.
She may need time out from her life – may need a space where she can go and just be herself, a quiet place in the home, or in the garden that is her all her own.
If possible, a change in circumstances for a few days may help her to see clearly, so perhaps a weekend away by the beach or in the country.
She may not feel like it, but eating properly and getting enough rest are vital for recovery too, burnout can be caused by exhaustion, and lack of sleep is debilitating on a long term basis.
Finally, my own personal advice would be to encourage the submissive to communicate and also to write things down, sometimes thoughts that are written are easier to clarify than thoughts jumbled inside your head.
Positive thoughts and inner strength will help and most submissives have huge amounts of inner strength to draw on in times of need.
If you can encourage the submissive to “accept the things she cannot change” it can free her of the overwhelming feelings that come with burnout and with time, her mindset will return to normal.
© Kim Debron (Original 2008 - Revised 2010)
Sources of Information:
Help guide www.helpguide.org
BDSM Resource Centre www.thebrc.net