As 2021 winds down, I’ve been thinking a lot about the relationship patterns I uncovered this year, on this my sixth year navigating the twin flame path.
This path started for me in 2016 when a few casual conversations accidentally made it crystal clear to me that my relationship to BDSM, an aspect of my identity I once considered an inherent part of my sexual orientation, was actually acting as a destructive force of addiction in my life, no matter how much I wanted to sugarcoat it with identity politics and sexual freedom advocacy. My staunch identification as a submissive was enabling the fact that I was literally addicted to the reward cycle of people-pleasing men who usually caused me harm. I knew my options were to continue on as I had been and keep getting the same result of toxic relationships, or to give up BDSM and walk into the unknown, not knowing if I’d ever be able to get it back in a healthier form.
I chose the unknown.
A few things I’ve learned about myself since then:
I am driven by an ADHD-related dopamine deficiency, which means my brain needs to be in a near-constant state of solving puzzles in order for me to feel engaged enough with reality to maintain the will to live. This means I’m especially susceptible to the manipulative tactic (purposeful or not) of inconsistent reinforcement, ie, rewarding at random. Because dopamine rules our reward system, I will chase the carrot of that reward because I literally need the dopamine to feel alive.
I am autistic, meaning, for me, among many other things, that I tend to thrive under clear rules and structure. I like clear feedback and I can achieve remarkable things with ease when I am shown clearly what to do and what is expected of me. I was great at school because everything was measured in assignments and tests, and I’m far less skilled at excelling when there’s no guidance provided (which makes entrepreneurship difficult, but less so now that I finally clarified offer structures that work for me).
I also suffer ADHD-related Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria (RSD), meaning that the feeling of someone I care about rejecting me, harshly criticizing me, or abandoning me is experienced in my body as both physically and emotionally incapacitating. Historically I would do almost anything to avoid this outcome, and interpreted the awful feelings as meaning that I had failed or wasn’t good enough.
Because of my dopamine deficiency I’m also especially susceptible to set & setting in romantic scenarios. This means that once I “fall in love” with someone, it can take a very long time for me to adjust my perceptions beyond that initial impression to see the ultimate incompatibility between us, because I’m hooked on getting back to the feeling of the initial reward.
I also have a tendency to see the best in people, which I believe is also related to autism. Autistic folks are good at seeing things from multiple perspectives, and we tend to assume the most gracious explanations for others’ behaviors, in part because we’re so accustomed to being misunderstood ourselves. This is a great quality when working with coaching clients, because I can so easily see their gifts and pathways to thriving and I can effortlessly operate from that frame in our work together, which tends to help them believe in themselves on an embodied level because it’s so clear I already believe in them. But in relationships, it’s often led to my seeing my abusers through rose-colored glasses or seeing potential partners’ obstacles to intimacy as far more surmountable than they themselves do, none of which helps me select for partners who are actually capable of meeting me.
I have a deep trauma imprint around trying to leave harmful situations – when I tried to legally emancipate myself from my abusive father at age 14-15, the court disbelieved me and returned me to the same custody schedule, which was both humiliating as well as harmful to me since my father had proved he could get away with his behavior – which means standing up for myself and my boundaries was unconsciously imprinted as a dangerous thing to do, which meant that even having boundaries at all felt dangerous.
I’m also one of those folks with the fear-arousal pipeline also known as a trauma pleasure profile – that is, the right dose of fear turns me on, and for me, that fear can easily show up as the fear of abandonment that makes inconsistent relationships feel so “passionate.”
Although it should go without saying, I’m also a fawn response as far as my main trauma response goes, meaning that when I feel a stressor or a trigger, my default bodily response is to be pleasing – to flatter a threatening person until I can get away safely, or to seek asylum in a person who seems capable of protecting me by offering my value to them.
And I also think there may be something to the idea that the fear-arousal pipeline is linked to the fact that the right amount of fear to induce a faint (“play dead”) response in me was also a turn-on because the faint response reliably got me into a state of surrender that I wasn’t always capable of achieving while “sober,” because I’d have been stuck in my head, because my body was desensitized from trauma. I’m wondering if that’s not in some ways exactly what “subspace” was – an eroticized faint response.
What this has meant for me historically is that neurologically speaking I am deeply susceptible to landing in a cycle of reactivity exerting my energy toward pleasing a person who isn’t looking out for my well-being.
I fall in love, and then I obey or please that (usually inconsistent) person for the dopamine reward. My brain thrives on the ongoing challenge of creating pleasure for them, I genuinely delight in their honest critical feedback of my performance, and I strive to avoid their rejection of me – and the incapacitating consequences it would cause in my body – at all costs, because losing my reward system means losing my dopamine supply and with it my will to live. I’m honestly terrific at it too, which is apparently one reason why being with me can be so confronting, because pretty much nobody is going to be as good at reciprocating pleasure as I am after all the formative training and conditioning I had around it in formal BDSM and seduction/pickup artistry. And I don’t know my own boundaries because having them was historically much more difficult than pretending I didn’t.
BDSM simply offered a structure by which I could put a name to the tendencies already happening in my brain – a structure that also provided clear rules, feedback, and options for atonement rather than abandonment if I made a mistake.
And none of this cycle – very little of it, anyway – actually has anything to do with calling in a healthy relationship with a compatible partner.
In fact it’s often diametrically opposed – with the exception of calling in boundary accidents or encouraging our growth, our beloved is supposed to delight in everything we do, not hold out a carrot for us to chase.
But the reality is that this is my brain, and I still have to live in it.
I’ve been calling in unconditional love, but the truth is I really get a lot out of the conditions, including my will to live.
And maybe it’s okay for that awareness to be part of the unconditional love I’m calling in – the awareness that my brain needs certain challenges in order to remain engaged and alive.
Maybe the trouble is that instead of being aware of this reward system and setting it up in a healthy, playful manner in my relationships, I’d been engaging in it unconsciously and allowing it to wreak havoc on my life. I imagine it’s much more difficult to try to convince an emotionally unavailable person inconsistently reinforcing my obedience to love me than it is to partner with someone who genuinely loves me and persuade them to be a little bit more selfish or demanding with me, to challenge me or to consciously and responsibly engage in the kind of shadow behaviors that they normally wouldn’t feel comfortable expressing to a partner. (As a former sex worker I don’t trust men who can’t bring their sexual shadow to me in partnership anyhow, because I know you all have one and if you don’t let it out with me you’ll split it off and either let it out somewhere else or repress it til you feel dead in the relationship. Maybe this isn’t true for every last one of yall but I’ve seen enough men from enough walks of life to know that it’s far more likely to be true than not.)
It’s pretty clear to me now why for the majority of my life I carried the belief that I’m burdensome in relationship. Because clearly I require a lot of creative stimulation, and it was easier to just be drawn to difficult partners than ask a normal person to hold space for my brain.
But one thing I teach in Week 7 of The Re-Patterning Project, as participants navigate the void of boredom in the wake of shedding their destructive coping patterns, is that we’re not exactly at a loss for problems requiring creative solutions at this junction in history. In fact, our survival as a species depends on it.
And whenever I think of my history with BDSM I think about what a missed opportunity I was, how poorly I was managed as a resource, how much I was able to accomplish when I set my mind to it and how tragically my skill sets were fizzled away by men who directed them towards useless, unsustainable ends.
And I think that if ultimately what my neurodivergent relationship needs come down to are structure, clear direction, honest feedback, ongoing pleasure-directed challenges (whether set up by me or my partner), and enough intimacy and guardrails to play with shadow, fear, and anticipation… that doesn’t seem so unreasonable.
In the right hands my abilities are a force of nature, as I’ve proved to myself these past five years.
In the right circumstances, the fact that I apparently always need to be striving towards approval could be channeled healthily toward creating more and more pleasure and expansion in relationship, as long as the standards for my partner’s approval are in alignment with the relationship’s highest good.
Hell, it could even be channeled toward bettering the world.
I finished the writing – though not yet the recording, which means some things are still unfolding and integrating – of the album this year, and I plan to wrap it up and shop it in 2022.
And then, if all goes as is foretold, I’ll be done with the twin flame initiation into the vibration of sacred union and whether I end up in a committed partnership right away or not, I’ll be done with the ascension work of removing the obstacles to it in my patterning.
It’s been a long six years but I finally feel like I’m down to the bare bones wiring here, and I’m ready to use it to build something sustainable.
Happy new year.