The “Cult of Aftercare”
There’s an excellent article written by SherynB on Fetlife about aftercare called The Cult of Aftercare. If you’re on Fet, I urge you to go read it. She is (as always) eloquent, insightful and spot-on in her discussion. Even though the title may make it sound like she is poo-pooing aftercare, she really isn’t: what she’s saying is that everyone’s needs are different. Some people need time to recover, some bounce right back, some need a warm fuzzy blanket and gentle caresses, some need to be left completely alone. Some people might never want aftercare–their misery is part of their experience. The point is, everyone is different, our needs are all different (and different at different times), and no one way is righter or better than another. The “right” thing is that you and the person that you are playing with is aware of what each others needs are, so that they can be met adequately. Know what yours are – and those of the people you play with – and communicate what you need. Getting those needs met – whatever they are – is YOUR responsibility.
And that goes for the Top half of the equation, as well.
When I first started playing with W, we had an unusual email exchange in which, two days after a particularly grueling session, I had emailed him and told him about the horrific subdrop I was experiencing. He had had very little (if any) experience with a bottom’s subdrop, either because he was not in the kind of relationship where those things were communicated, or because his previous partners simply didn’t experience it. He asked me, in all seriousness, if the misery I was experiencing was a continuation of the scene for me (and thus a positive thing) and offered to…I guess…help me “enjoy” it more. I was pretty confused by this. I had never met other bottoms that react that way to a scene, was unsure how to respond, thinking, perhaps, it was “scene-speak,” and that he couldn’t honestly believe that I might want to keep feeling that way. I had never met someone like those SherynB describes, and the many who responded to her thread, who said that feeling that way was an essential element to their play. Since that time I have spoken with many people who do, and have seen people that do, and, of course, discussed it at length with W, but no, I’m not one myself.
Up to that point, I had never met anyone who didn’t need some kind of aftercare. I had seen bottoms bounce up from a scene occasionally, but in my own experience, most people needed something. And I had never been with a Top that wasn’t familiar with what I had understood to be the “usual” tools of aftercare either: a blanket, a kind word, a loving hand, time cuddling and reconnecting. W was one such, however, and his experience with aftercare was the exact opposite of mine: he could do the most brutal things to those he played with, and they didn’t want connection or kindness afterward. Up they bounced and off they went. Whatever they had shared in the scene was over. Knowing how important our mutual aftercare is to him now, knowing how deeply he is affected by the things we do at times, I have to wonder what that must have been like for him. I don’t think I could do the things he (or other Tops) do, and not feel a need to reconnect with my own humanity and with that other person after it was over.
But that’s me.
I’m not one of the “aftercare is my fetish” people, with the “putting me back together” being the point of what I do, and why I go to these places, but it certainly is a strong component for me. I want to come back around to a place of connection with my Top after he’s taken me to those heavily degrading or painful or angry or miserable places. When I’ve been thinking “I hate you!” for half an hour, and living in that pain and fear and anger, I need to let go of that and find him again – and I need him to see that I don’t hate him, and to feel all the good stuff I feel for him. And when I’ve allowed him to do those things to me, to see me that way, to tear me apart, I need him to see me as me again, not this…other thing that I become. Yes, knowing that he can and does still love me – maybe more – because and after I do these things is a big part of it for me.
But even before we loved each other – way back when those emails were exchanged that I mentioned above – I still needed that “being put back together” time with the one that had destroyed me so. I needed to lay at his feet, to feel his hand on me gently, to know that I was okay. And it was that initial email exchange that made me realize that he didn’t know that. I think he was beginning to understand; he had seen the way I reacted after a scene, had read my words that I wrote here; but it was a while before I was able to communicate with him exactly what it was I needed, and why. But he already was starting to understand, and to respond instinctively, because I think, regardless of how his other partners had been, he needed it as much as I did. I think he needs to be “put back together” too.
Of course that isn’t why everyone does this thing that we do. And even for some of those that do, that kind of reconnection isn’t always necessary. Hell, even for me it isn’t always necessary. There’s times when we have played–and played hard–and I get back up, bouncing and laughing and begging for more. Or I curl away from him and wallow in my misery alone, because for those moments, that is exactly where I want to be, alone in my misery. Or sometimes, I’m angry, and it takes me a while to let that anger diffuse, or maybe I don’t want to let go of it yet, because I never get to be angry in my real life, and I just want to experience it.
And sometimes, he doesn’t want to reconnect just yet.
See, this isn’t all about me and my needs. Aftercare isn’t only about the bottom’s needs, although, since we’re the one that is experiencing the brunt of the physical effects, they’re admittedly of high importance. But sometimes…a Top isn’t ready to go from “sadistic bastard,” riding the high of the misery he is inflicting, to gentle, caring lover. And sometimes, the very idea of getting to use and abuse someone, and then shove her out the door, or to go home to her other boyfriend for him to pick up the pieces, is attractive to the Top. Just like that bottom that relishes wallowing in the misery of an emotionally masochistic scene, W sometimes gets off on that scenario. And because he does, I do too. Now, sometimes, I orchestrate it. I ask for it, I look for opportunities to give it to him. Sometimes, now, I want it.
And that, too, becomes a kind of aftercare.