Flashbacks And Scenes

Author: Chris AKA Zena © used with permission



This note was prompted by some questions on #bdsm on EFNet/irc. What follows is my own opinion. I'm a librarian, not a therapist. Your mileage may vary, etc. This note deals with it primarily from the perspective of the sub/bottom being the one who has flashbacks. The topic of how to handle flashbacks while in scene was brought up. Questions asked on channel and come up with on my own.

What is a flashback?

From Bass, Ellen and Laura Davis "The Courage to Heal" New York, HarperPerennial, 1994

'Flashbacks are memories (of abuse) that are so vivid that you feel as though the original experience is happening again now, rather than just being remembered. Flashbacks may be accompanied by the feelings you felt at the time, or they may be stark and detached, like watching a movie about somebody else's life.'

Why do they occur?

Flashbacks happen because people are healing from some sort of abuse, often abuse that hasn't been dealt with fully in the conscious memory. Flashbacks often happen because something has triggered them for me. Some cue hits one of my senses and throws me back into a memory of the abuse. Any of the senses can do it. Sometimes it seems that nothing at all triggers the flashback and it has happened simply because I am working on a memory.

Is it 'bad' when they happen?

It's frustrating and difficult when they happen, but not actually bad I think. Generally the dom/top hasn't done anything wrong to bring on the flashback. The abuse and hurt happened long in the past, and the current expressions of hurt are not because of the dom/top. It can be a shocking and difficult thing to experience someone else's flashback, and something that should be talked about afterwards, not during. Flashbacks can be terrifying if you're the one flashing back. I do find that they help fill in details in my memory, help me reclaim memories, are a step along the path of learning to live with the memory, and help me reclaim parts of my body. For me flashbacks are an unpleasant but essential part of the recovery process. (Of course, I also run like hell from them if I can.)

Is there any way to avoid them?

I prefer to flashback with a few very close people who know how to take care of me when it happens. This means there are many times when I would prefer not to flashback. I am aware of quite a few triggers, and generally warn my play partners to stay away from them. I state that they are absolute limits, and if my partner can't handle that then we don't play. Online and phone can also trigger flashbacks, so I express limits there also. BDSM play is filled with potential triggers for someone who has been abused, and communication is essential.

Is it possible for them to happen without the top realizing it?

Sometimes I can hide minor flashbacks, and sometimes I have. For me flashbacks can range from all out terror to milder twinges of memories. I don't think hiding them is a good idea, since flashbacks definitely affect what space the sub/bottom is in.

Can tops/doms experience flashbacks also?

Of course. I generally figure that a dom/top has more control over what is happening in a scene and can avoid activities which may trigger a flashback. Every dom/top I've known has been human (even if they didn't want to admit it) and if flashbacks are going to be a problem for them they should do what is necessary to make sure they and their partner are safe, just as the sub/bottom should do.

What is an appropriate response when a sub/bottom flashes?

Everyone is very different in what they want. Most times the scene should stop. I want to come out of scene and deal with the flashback fully. I like to be restrained and then held, by human arms. For me flashbacks are a two-step process. First I flashback to the memory and wish to be restrained so I can struggle but not hurt myself. I usually then dissociate (also called zoning, leaving, floating, and a variety of other terms) and leave the body for a while but still want to be held. If possible talk about what is wanted ahead of time. If it hasn't been talked about, then follow your instincts. I wouldn't let someone who was having a flashback leave the room or hurt themselves if at all possible.

As someone who flashes, how can I prepare my partner for how to deal with this if it happens?

This is such a hard one for me. For a long time I felt a lot of shame about the fact that sometimes I had flashbacks. I probably still feel some since it is still a hard topic for me bring up with a potential partner. I really wish I could just avoid the topic and that it wouldn't come up. I've found the hard way though that flashbacks are much easier to deal with if people know what to expect. It is safer for me and my partner if they know that I sometimes have flashbacks and how I generally want them handled. I have an e-mail note that I send to people, since most people I play with I meet on net. It outlines my triggers, and the safe words I use. I use the word 'panic' to indicate that I'm having a flashback (which I also call freaking out). I figure if the note scares them away, that's just as well because we wouldn't be safe play partners for each other. I sort of figure that the note describes a worst case scenario and is sort of like fulfilling some full-disclosure request. 'This probably won't happen, but it could'. The note is fairly defensive. I also have a note that I wrote one time when I was alone and having a flashback, which I send to a few people who are close and might actually be dealing with a flashback with me. So that's how I've dealt with letting my partners now. Would love to hear other people's solutions





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