Everything comes down to bondage

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“Sometimes I fantasize about being martyred,” I told my therapist. “The point of life is to do good. It would be nice to be one-and-done on that.” 

He paused for a second. He said he thinks we are all, at the end of the day, looking for freedom. That can come in many different forms. Death is one. Integrating trauma is another. 

I’ve found freedom in recognizing the space between action and reaction. I’ve found freedom in recognizing my behavior and that there are other ways to behave. 

I recently read that anxiety and depression are associated with lower cognitive flexibility and higher impulsivity. I’ve previously read that depressed people literally see fewer options. There’s also evidence that awe, or an appreciation of vastness, is somewhat incompatible with depression. 

Perhaps it’s not shocking that as part of my class about BDSM, I’ve been spending more time than usual thinking about bondage. 

I think there’s an extent to which everything comes down to bondage. 

The opposite of bondage is freedom. It’s agency. It’s autonomy. It’s the ability to make choices free of force, fraud, or coercion. 

To what extent is depression a manifestation or symptom of bondage?

For a choice to be completely free, you have to be aware of all your alternative choices. (This is rarely possible, since potential choices are often nearly limitless. Which is part of why consent is a spectrum, not a binary.) Depression makes it difficult to perceive the vastness of the choices available to you. It limits your agency to choose, since you can’t choose a path if you aren’t aware it exists. 

The impulsivity associated with anxiety and depression is its own bondage. The space between action and reaction is where agency lies. Depression and anxiety removes or shortens that space. That’s less time available to you to weigh your options and choose freely from among them. 

Dishonesty is its own kind of bondage. For a choice to be fully consensual, you need full, accurate information about every option available to you. Again, this is usually impossible. The question is usually around whether someone is hiding or misrepresenting info that’s particularly  relevant to the decision. 

If I give you $100 for a baggie you tell me is full of pure cocaine and it turns out you were lying, I didn’t consent to buying powdered sugar. You defrauded me. 

Another example: I say I’ll have sex with you if you’ve been tested since you last had sex and are extremely confident that you don’t have any STIs or that you’ve had a vasectomy. If you’re lying to me and we have sex, it wasn’t sex. It was rape.

If I tell you I’ll continue dating you if you want to have kids with me eventually, and you lie to me, I haven’t consented to dating you. You tricked me into dating you. 

Lying removes our ability to make choices free of fraud. Lying to other people puts them in bondage. We steal from them the opportunity to make a choice with full, accurate information. Lying to ourselves puts us in bondage for the same reason. 

It alienates us from ourselves and each other. Instead of getting closer to each other and ourselves, dishonesty creates a bond between the liar and a fake reality. 

Deprivation is bondage. More resources mean more choices. 

Bigotry is bondage. A narrow conception of who counts as fully human limits your options for friendships, colleagues, etc. for no benefit to anyone. 

Fear is certainly bondage. 

Freedom has always been a very compelling value for me, to say the least. What’s changed, more than anything, over the years is that my conception of freedom has gotten much wider and more nuanced. Freedom isn’t just about jackboots and taxes. It’s also about brain chemistry and honesty. There is so much that lives in force, fraud, and coercion. 

Another thing that’s changed is that I have more tools for advancing my own freedom. I’ve used psychedelics to inspire feelings of awe and as a way to become aware of a wider spectrum of choices available to me. I’ve used meditation to widen the space between action and reaction to allow myself more room to make choices. I’ve used therapy to increase my awareness of my patterns of behavior and my choices for other ways to act. All this work has enabled me to pursue closer, more meaningful relationships. 

In this class, I’m starting to see how BDSM is another tool for achieving greater freedom. In BDSM, people choose their bondage. Which makes it not bondage at all, really. Practitioners of BDSM exercise tremendous agency. They choose who they want to play with. They choose how, when, and where they want to play. 

Colette has said BDSM is, among other things, about making your invisible bondage visible. 

Sometimes kinksters recreate scenes of trauma, but with them in charge this time. One man talked in the class about being spanked as a child, and how out-of-control it felt at the time. And how healing it was to be able to control how long, hard, etc. Colette spanked him. Sexual assault survivors have spoken about how healing it is to play with consensual non-consent in a situation in which they are in control. 

Research shows that depression, anxiety, alienation, poverty, bigotry, and fear are all intertwined and self-reinforcing. Each exacerbates the other, and in every direction, depending on the person and circumstances. 

That’s the bad news. The good news is that (in my opinion and experience) freedom is also intertwined and self-reinforcing. A tiny injection of honesty, mindfulness, self-awareness, self-acceptance, etc. builds on itself. And there are nearly infinite methods to try for getting the process started. 

For me, maybe that’s a central insight. First, that I’m trying to get free from my bondage. Second, that the nature of bondage is such that I won’t ever be able to see all the options available to me accurately. Which means there’s always more available to me than I can ever imagine. And that just by looking for more options, just by entertaining the idea that solutions might exist of which I am not yet aware, I grow to see more and more options over time. And in seeking and finding more options, I become more free.