With the fourth book in my Rescue Me series—Nobody’s Perfect (soon to be released, but exact date still not set)—I had to dig deep into all kinds of emotional topics most Romance novels (erotic or otherwise) wouldn’t touch. My heroine, Savi Baker (Savannah Gentry in Masters at Arms), is an incest survivor who then spent a year being pimped out by her father to his business clients until she escaped from him at nineteen. She had been sexually used and abused since she was eight.
With this book, I not only wanted to address the aftermath of severe sexual abuse, but also to show that sexual healing and recovery are a lifelong, ongoing process—not something that happens in 23 or however many chapters before the Happily Ever After in a Romance novel. As my readers should have figured out by now, though (or they certainly will with this book!), I don’t believe HEA is the end in a relationship, but just the beginning. And I like to write Romance in a more realistic way, rather than as fantasy. So my characters always come back in later books to deal with continuing serious issues in their relationships. (For instance, Marc and Angelina still haven’t resolved the issue of “the lie” in Nobody’s Angel—and probably won’t until a later book, after what is revealed to Marc in Perfect.)
Fortunately, the series is written like a serial (plots and subplots carry over into subsequent books, so skipping around will drive readers nuts and they’ll miss out on the many layers of the story). I know that Savi and Damián, her man, are going to have plenty of opportunities to continue to grow and develop their relationship journey in the Rescue Me series books to come. (There are eight books planned in the series to date.) And I know that Savi won’t be “healed” by the end of this story, but she will have found someone who also is wounded, albeit from combat, and together they will heal each other. As Khriste Close, one of my beta readers, wrote to me recently:
“…(A)fter BETA reading for you, I am so very much in love with these two people and, well, all the others. I can definitely see from both points of view about how each one is trying to help the other cope. I am totally drained and mentally exhausted after reading what I have read, but also so much in love with Damián (and Savi) for how they are written as true emotional real people with major flaws, instead of picture-perfect annoyances.
“Those who do not like, understand, or “get” the book, storyline, or the emotional impact these two people have with each other and the reader will probably never get it, but then that is their loss. This is a beautifully written story about how two people are trying to get past the horrors of their pasts to try and get to where the future with each other can be something beautiful and not full of constant heartache and nightmares.
“I stand up and applaud the fact that you delved into a world that people always want to gloss over and not discuss—or even want to know exists, whether it is regarding the horrors of battle or the horrors of a childhood that never was the way a childhood should be. Going through life ‘numb’ is never a good thing.”
In Nobody’s Perfect, it becomes clear (for those still uncertain) that Damián isn’t a born sadist. Readers know from Masters at Arms that he turned to BDSM and sadism as a coping mechanism and a means to regain control of himself and his life after PTSD and depression over becoming an amputee left him emotionally wounded, as well. For him, an SM scene is like going on a mission.
And it becomes his mission, once Savi agrees to have him Top her, to use his sadomasochism skills to help her to reconnect with her body, her feelings—and to redirect some of the negative messages that have kept her paralyzed with fear and unable to connect with anyone but a few people.
While I was able to draw on some of the emotions of being an incest survivor myself, I had no experience with using SM as a “therapeutic” source of healing. (I chose the more traditional route with a decade of therapy.) But this being a BDSM Romance series, I wanted to delve into how sadomasochism and other BDSM practices can help a survivor reclaim her body, redirect the negative messages in her head, and begin the journey toward being a sexual being in a healthy relationship. (NOTE: I usually use feminine pronouns, but please note abused males also find SM helpful in dealing with their own past traumas. I’ll deal with one in Nobody’s Home, book six in the series.)
To portray these characters in a realistic way, I talked with people who are members of this community (some for decades) and who have used BDSM techniques to work through their triggers and sexual “hangups”—or are Dominants who have worked with others struggling with these issues.
A word of caution before I go any further—this type of edge play can be dangerous in the wrong hands. If you want to explore this type of play for sexual healing, first and foremost, find an experienced Dominant who is extremely patient and understanding and knows what s/he is doing. I have heard horror stories from those who went from childhood abuse only to grow up and choose partners who just continued to abuse them, only this time called it BDSM. We’re NOT going to be talking about those types of relationships here. The people I write about and who provide expertise for my characterizations always are in consensual, healthy relationships.
Let’s start with John Bacon (“Toymaker” on Fetlife), one of the Doms who has been very helpful to me in describing scenes and getting into the headspace of a Dom. His submissive, corie (“eirocawakening” on Fetlife) became a fan of my books while I was writing Nobody’s Hero, and she put me in touch with him via a Facebook group we’re both members of. In the course of twenty years in the lifestyle, John has worked with a number of abused subs to help them process their feelings, redirect negative messages, and, in the case of corie, establish an ongoing relationship.
Not everyone who has been abused is a good candidate for this kind of practice. Once I commented that Savi’s was an extreme case and John told me about a woman he knew who had been through so much worse. She wouldn’t feel safe unless she had locked herself in a cage while he was gone. Her issues were so severe that, after four months, he was forced to track down her family and get her checked into a mental health facility for treatment. John also said that if a submissive he was working with turned out to be an active cutter (self-inflicted cuts that aren’t life-threatening, but used to give the person an endorphin rush—which can be very addictive), he would patch her up and take her to a hospital with psychiatric treatment facilities, as well. But a cutter would come to use the SM pain as yet another addiction, and might even push the Dom to go further than is healthy. So, SM would not be a good choice for them.
Another of the subject experts I consulted with on my books (most especially with this one) is “Jennifer,” a clinical psychologist. When one of my beta readers wrote saying she just didn’t understand how a healthy sub who was abused would want to have someone inflict such pain on her, I thought I’d ask Jennifer if she could explain it from a psychological perspective. She replied:
“You’ve done good jobs at portraying [how] sometimes people are so numb it’s the only thing they can feel, or it grounds them back into their bodies when emotions are too intense; sometimes they need physical pain to express or ‘stand in’ for the emotional pain they experience or to open up the gates for them to express emotional pain…
“Sometimes people who aren’t wired that way just won’t get it because it’s such a visceral thing.”
Kellie Hunter, a submissive who also beta reads for me, helped me a lot in trying to understand the inability to cry unless her Dom puts her through a severe impact session in order to get her to break down and release the tears, stress, and emotion. (I cry at everything. Happy—cry. Sad—cry. So I really didn’t understand how it can be so hard to cry—but Savi has fought to close off emotions like anger, sadness, frustration. All of these emotions turned inward can lead to depression and stress, so it’s good to be able to release them. Kellie explained it as such:
“For me never crying started out as never giving my [abuser] the satisfaction of knowing that she hurt me. Then it became such a part of what I was made of, I just can’t cry without help now… So for me, [SM and impact play] is a way to let go, to be able to cry and get what I need to release emotions I don’t usually know how to release. For me, it is almost like a therapy, to get rid of the stress and tears that I hold inside.”
After reading one of the scenes where Savi is fighting back the tears, only to release them after a session with Damián, Kellie wrote: “You got the whole crying thing down perfect. It is exactly what I do, too—blink really fast so I don’t cry. And when I do [cry], it is like I can’t stop. It was like you were in my head.”
This isn’t going to be a light read—and readers will have to go well into the story before there is a breakthrough for Savi. I want to try to convey how hard it is to change those negative messages from childhood abuse—and could have used time transitions to move the story along to a positive resolution much faster, but I don’t think that is fair to all of my readers who also are survivors and know how extremely long and hard this journey to sexual healing can be.
Excerpt from Nobody’s Perfect
For a glimpse at the story, here’s a small part of the scene at the Masters at Arms Club where Adam (the uber-Dom there) is explaining to Savi why Damián is about to use a cat-o-nine tails on Patti, one of the club member’s subs. (Patti is the previously unidentified petite blonde we saw Damián whipping in the opening chapter of Nobody’s Angel.) Victor, Patti’s Dom, is unable to deliver that kind of pain. We’re in Savi’s head:
Damián’s swing grew harder and the smile vanished from her face. Patti’s back looked as if it would be scarred, yet there wasn’t a drop of blood, unlike what Savi had done to her arm in the past with a razor blade. Apparently, the woman had been whipped like this before, but Savi didn’t recall seeing scars on her back before the beating began. Maybe Damián really did know the limits he could go to with her without marring her flesh for life.
A gentle sadist? No, Adam had called him a sensual sadist.
Other than those few comments a few minutes ago, Victor stayed out of the scene now. This was between Damián and Patti. Savi looked around the room and saw that every gaze was glued on what was happening at the center post.
“He’s continuously gauging where she is and how much more she needs to get where she needs to be.”
Welts began to form on the woman’s backside. “How can anyone let themselves be whipped like that?”
“Patti’s a masochist. She doesn’t process pain the same way a non-masochist would.”
“Pain is pain.”
“Actually, no, it’s not. You probably learned in physiology, or was it anatomy?—I didn’t get that far in school. Anyway, I’ve read a lot about it. The body actually only feels temperature and pressure. It’s the brain that then interprets those sensations as pain or pleasure. That’s what makes pain so subjective—why one person is said to have a high tolerance for pain while another is debilitated with seemingly minor hurts.”
Savi had a high tolerance for pain, but she’d developed techniques to help her tamp down the pain out of necessity.
“Patti’s learned to embrace the energy the whip or cat delivers, rather than resist it, which actually will lead to her interpreting the lashes as pain eventually. Right now, Damián’s trying to get her to focus on the present rather than hide within herself where she doesn’t feel anything. He’s trying to get her to express the emotions she’s feeling that she can’t let out otherwise. It takes an extreme level of pressure from the whips to get through the defenses she’s built to cope over the years.”
He watched in silence as several more blows there delivered across Patti’s already red butt. “Patti’s coping mechanism of making herself numb has worked for her for a long time, but until Victor and Damián, she hadn’t really been living—merely existing.”
Adam could have been describing Savi. Her skin usually felt anesthetized, as if she had been injected with Novacaine from the top of her head to the soles of her feet. That inability to feel was normal for her now. She’d become accustomed to it. But that hadn’t always been the case, not in the years where she was perfecting the coping mechanism. She hated when Mari hugged or kissed her and Savi had been unable to feel. She wanted so desperately to feel her baby’s arms around her, but…nothing. Of course, she would go through the motions and return the affection, but had always been left to wonder what it would feel like to—well, feel.
Is that what Damián was helping this woman to do?
[end of excerpt]
Kally here again. For interviews with John Bacon, corie, Kellie, and others who helped me bring the story of Savi and Damian to life, please follow my Perfect Blog Tour, an 11-stop tour that began June 20 and will go until June 30. (There are $10 online bookseller gift card giveaways each day—and on July 1 we will have a drawing for a $200 online bookseller gift card.)
Link to main blog tour schedule:
Author Page: https://www.facebook.com/KallypsoMastersAuthorPage