A reader recently pointed out to me in email that in my Finding subspace post, I talk about subdrop but don’t define it. I even go so far as to say that it will be the subject of a future post, but then there is no such post – yet.
Well, I’ll tackle the questions here then : What is subdrop? How would I know if it was happening to me? What causes it? How can I avoid it?
First – What is subdrop?
As with everything in the BDSM world, these are terms that mean different things to different people in different circles and experience levels. I don’t know where the term ‘subdrop’ originated, but when I was first introduced to it, it was within the context and from the point of view of someone in the Los Angeles BDSM scene at the end of the 1990s.
The Los Angeles scene at that time was defined by extremes. Play was very rough, people’s egos were very large, status was very important, and drugs and alcohol were prevalent in order to make things even more extreme. I suspect it’s much the same way now, but I have no firsthand knowledge. I’m always a bit fascinated by how the scene differs from city to city, but that’s a topic for another day…
Personally, I think that mixing drugs and alcohol with BDSM scenes is extremely dangerous. Having a drink or two to cut the edge off things is generally regarded as safe, but that is a hazy line to try to draw, especially since alcohol reduces inhibitions. It makes you exactly the opposite of what you should be when you are impaired. It makes you bold when you should be meek, it makes you sure when you should question, and it makes you take risks when you should be cautious. When you couple those reduced inhibitions with cocaine, which was very prevalent in the scene in the late 90’s and you get some really bad things happening.
Tops would not realize how much force they were using because they didn’t feel normal, subs would take more than they should because they were impaired, or in the worst cases, subs would become non-responsive and Tops would fail to note the signs and assume that no reaction meant they should redouble their efforts.
I’m not aware of any permanent injuries taking place, but there were several people that just disappeared from the community after a bad scene.
But I digress… the point of this was that the definition for subdrop was given to me in the context of the ‘come down’ from a cocaine high.
I only did cocaine once. I steadfastly avoided drugs for the most part in that part of my life. I am too much of a control freak to do otherwise, but while I did not enjoy the high as much as I was told I would, I certainly got to experience the crash.
I’ve also experienced subdrop myself, and I can say that there are a great many similarities.
So – this is my personal definition of subdrop, based on my own experiences and through the filters which I have developed in which to see these things.
Subdrop is the state of physical, emotional, and psychological withdrawal from an intense interaction with another person.
My definition is simple enough to allow for more than the typical ‘in scene’ views of subdrop, but also requires that there be at least two personalities involved.
I think it’s entirely possible for a submissive to experience subdrop simply from being away from her Dom, whether there was a recent scene or not. She comes to depend on that personality – that buoying force that helps to keep her on an even keel, and when that is missing, it’s very possible to fall down into the dark places where one feels unsupported, into chaos even.
Subdrop can have many symptoms – in extreme cases it can even involve flu-like symptoms. The ability of the body to heal itself or make itself sick is well established through literally hundreds of years of study on the placebo effect. This is not limited to merely taking a sugar pill and feeling better when you have a headache.. there are much more intense reactions that are possible and that happen all of the time.
Subdrop is almost always accompanied by some amount of depression, lethargy, and anxiety. One person might feel nauseated, another might get headaches, it can be very much like short term withdrawal, and in a sense, it is.
Subdrop can surprise you as well. The expectation of someone new who has heard about it but not experienced it will be that it is something that is going to hit right away, once the the scene is over, but this is not necessarily always the case. Sometimes you can still be riding the high out of the scene and even into the next day or two and then subdrop will kick in and pull your feet out from under you. No amount of aftercare immediately following your scene can prepare you for that.
My partner just remarked to me after reading the first draft of this post that I might want to mention the above situation with delayed onset subdrop, and that when she tops someone new she always mentions to them that she will be checking in and available over the next 72 hours in case they have any issues. I think this is an excellent practice, and I wish I’d thought to mention it myself. She is a very wise and experienced partner, and I’m very lucky to have her.
In a BDSM scene, or in a D/s relationship, we establish extremely intense relationships that play exceedingly hard on our emotional and psychological state. While I’m not aware of any research that has been done on subdrop specifically, it has been shown through other studies on psychological reactions that a person can induce a dopamine response in their own brain from nothing other than thought. I am, unfortunately, thinking mostly about a study on religious fervor and how really believing in something can make you feel the presence of God.
I’m an atheist, but I did once have faith – true faith – and I know that the intensity of some of the experiences that I have had through BDSM are every bit as intense if not more so because they are accompanied by physical activities. One has to wonder if the self-mutilation that is often incurred in ‘primitive’ religions is not due to same kind of physical/psychological fervor.
In any case, the intensity of the things that we do and the drug-like effects of being in subspace combine to make for a very powerful intoxicant. Is it any surprise, then, that these deleterious effects may follow once the stimulus is removed? Of course, one must not put too much stock into apparent patterns without understanding the scientific processes beneath, and I’m afraid that not much study has been done there (yet… perhaps I should ask for volunteers? For Science!) so we run the risk of magical thinking.
So – with a little bit of hand waving and pseudoscience I’ve arrested the issues of what subdrop is, why I think it happens (this is the pseudoscience bit.. I shall endeavor to provide more rigor in a future post), how you can identify if it is happening to you, but not yet what you can do to prevent it.
The problem there is, I don’t actually think you can.
You can mitigate the problems that are caused by it. You can be sure to administer appropriate aftercare, and that has the largest benefit in my experience. Going through withdrawal with a sitter is so much easier than by yourself – the psychological impact alone is massive – but you still have to go through it. The best thing you can do is plan for it. Like with any drug, know that there is going to be a hangover effect and plan to deal with it. Plan for aftercare – whatever that means to you – and plan to be down and out for a bit. Drink plenty of water, cry if you need to, sit with your emotions if you have to, but resist the urge to wallow.
Take care of yourself.
If you are topping someone, set aside time to take care of your bottom.
If you are in a D/s relationship and you have to be away from your partner for an extended period, plan to spend extra time with them before and after the schism.
If you are a bottom, realize that your top may actually need aftercare as well.
Be mindful, be compassionate, be self aware and subdrop is not such a big deal, and it might not even affect you at all.
Let me know if you have questions, I’m happy to answer.
This was meant to educate, I hope you find it useful.
This was not a rant, but I am still Rant.
Postscript: For the first time, I’m going to ask you, my readers, for feedback. I don’t necessarily want to know what you think about this post (though I welcome that feedback as well) but I want to collect subdrop experiences. Have you experienced subdrop? What did it feel like? How did it happen? Did you engage in proper aftercare? Please let me know either in the comments, or through the Contact Me page, or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If I get enough responses to be statistically significant, I will publish the results in a later post and perhaps we can get some real data on the subject.