The Best Days of Our Lives

Sometimes, when I’m quite tipsy and out on the town, I’m struck by the sense that my friends and I rule the world. The city is lit up and glittering just for us. We are fearless and stupid and hilarious and we love each other. I feel the swells of hope and bravery reach high tide in my chest.

The problem is, though, that emotional abuse conditions you a certain way. Whenever I start to feel brave, or hopeful, or – God forbid – happy, I also start to feel a cold dread leak into my bones. If you’ve lived through emotional abuse, you’ll know that abusers never let their victims’ happiness go unpunished. You’re used to knowing, consciously or not, that whatever positive emotion you’re experiencing is part of the cycle of abuse – you’re in the honeymoon phase now, but you know that soon, the sky will fall in. Every time you feel like you’re getting less small, someone cuts you back down to size. Eventually, you might stop hoping or laughing or feeling brave altogether.

So when I feel like I’m on top of the world with people I love, my brain tries to slam on the brakes. It isn’t my brain’s fault – it has been taught that the more elevated I feel, the worse the inevitable fall will injure me. My brain tells me, “You’ll grow out of this. Sooner or later, you’ll stop having nights out, stop drinking, stop dancing, stop loving these friends – sooner or later, you’ll lose this feeling forever.” 

The thought is like a bucket of cold water in that it startles me, makes my chest muscles tighten, makes me feel like shit. I know I won’t be a dumbass student full of Jagerbombs forever – my brain is right about that. What if it’s also right about never feeling like this again?

Play parties – especially the chill, lowkey rope jams I often attend – aren’t much like nights out. The music is quiet. The lights are dim. I’m stone-cold sober. 

I’m on a mat, lying on my back with one leg suspended above the rest of me. My Daddy is tightening ropes around my shin just to make me writhe and squeak. It fucking hurts. He closes his fist and starts punching the rope that will later bruise my skin. Harder and harder, up and down my entire lower leg. He squeezes my calf and I almost scream.

From my position on the floor, I make accidental eye contact with somebody else on the floor – another bottom, also being tormented, also writhing and squeaking. I’ve never spoken to them before, but they take one look at my agony-filled face and smile at me. I smile right back, knowing that they feel how I feel, knowing that we’ll both glow with pride and endorphins when we’re done.

When the ropes come off and I’m scooped into a hug, I feel so warm and in love with the world. My legs shake in time to the music. The other bottom, the one who smiled at me, is receiving aftercare, too.

I have nagged and nagged at my Daddy to go and play with someone he likes. I’m in lingerie and full makeup, but there’s an empty bathtub in the venue (for some reason) and I’ve found that it gives me exceptionally good autism to sit inside. I watch, fascinated, as other people play. I recognise one of the songs on the playlist and smile to myself. 

Sooner or later, someone I know reasonably well comes and joins me in the bathtub. We sit side-by-side in our sexiest underwear and talk for at least an hour. I make her giggle a lot. We point things out to each other – interesting scenes that are unfolding and other people’s cute outfits, mostly. Another person comes and joins the conversation, kneeling in front of the bathtub. I let sentences about sex and kink and queerness fall straight out of my mouth, completely unfiltered. 

Every now and then, I remember that one of the loves of my life is in the other room, having pulled with my help. I remember the fizz of affection I felt when I caught the eye of another bottom earlier. I remember that these are conversations I would never have anywhere else.

I might grow out of drinking and roaming the town, but the number of older kinksters surrounding me suggests quite firmly that I won’t grow out of this. Which is good, because right now, I feel like my friends and I rule the world. The dungeon is dimly lit and decorated just for us.

Borderline Personality Disorder and Relationships

Image is a selfie of Morgan, a white blue-haired nonbinary person with multiple facial piercings, who appears to have been crying very recently: their nose is pink, their face is damp and their mouth is sort of pulled off to one side because they are too sad to smile. They're holding two fingers up to the camera in the peace sign and their face is framed by the fluffy hood of their coat.

I’m going to have to start this post with a disclaimer. I was referred to a psychiatrist for an assessment as to whether I had BPD in 2017, and their conclusion was that I had borderline personality traits but didn’t meet the criteria for an actual diagnosis. My theory is that this decision was reached in part because my existing diagnosis of autism accounted for some of my symptoms and my trauma-related stuff means that I suppress or downplay some others. Regardless, I don’t want to position myself as an expert on BPD, and I’m using it as a piece of vocabulary which explains my experiences whilst trying not to attribute everything and anything to a diagnosis I don’t actually have.

With that out of the way, here’s the post proper:

I sometimes refer to my BPD as “Big Emotions Disorder”.

If you’ve seen Disney’s Peter Pan, you might recall that Tinkerbell, like other fairies, is so small that she can only experience one emotion at a time, and she experiences it so intensely that it clouds her judgement and she seems to forget anything that she has felt or experienced in the past, as well as forgetting the possibility that she might feel or experience anything different in the future. That’s how I feel emotions.

It fucking sucks.

It doesn’t always suck, of course: when I’m happy, I’m Big Happy, and that can be really pleasant, as can other Big Emotions such as Big NRE, Big Stoned and Big Inspired and Determined. But even those have their pitfalls. Big NRE can cause me to lose all sense of perspective, ignore or misread red flags and rush into relationships that are, at best, not well-suited to me and my circumstances (and are, at worst and alarmingly often, abusive). Even plain ol’ Big Happy can be detrimental in that it causes me to forget that I am, in fact, mentally ill, meaning that I over-commit to things, insist to medical practitioners that I’m doing fantastically and am horrified when I plummet back into depression and/or anxiety. This doesn’t just occur if I’ve been Big Happy for a number of days or weeks; a few hours of Big Happy is all it takes for me to become convinced that I was faking the depression, anxiety and PTSD all along.

And then, of course, there are the “bad” Big Emotions. Big Sad feels like an all-consuming tidal wave of despair and can be brought about from something as simple as Tesco running out of my favourite cookies. Big Scared triggers my fight-or-flight response in mundane situations such as visiting a new restaurant. Imagine every unpleasant emotion a human can feel multiplied by ten and made much, much easier to trigger – that’s my constant, day-to-day, exhausting experience of emotion. The one that seems to have the biggest impact on my relationships, though, is Big Insecure (and its cousin, Big Self-Hatred).

When I’m Big Insecure, I cannot see anything good in myself. Even the things I’m usually proud of, like knitting tiny hats for premature babies, are warped beyond recognition in my mind until I convince myself I’m only doing those things to earn praise or to hide my true (disgusting) nature. I grow to firmly believe that my partners only stay with me out of fear of the consequences our break-up might have, even though I’ve tried hard to make clear that they’re not responsible for my mental health or safety, or that they stay with me because I’ve manipulated them, taking advantage of trauma-bonding and their individual insecurities and sometimes-low self-esteem to ensnare them, so they can’t even see how despicable I truly am.

On average, I attempt to break up with at least one partner at least once a month. I explain that it’s for their own good, that I love them so much I could burst but that’s why I have to turn them loose from my machinations, that I never meant to manipulate them but I know that I have done so and that soon, once freed from me, they’ll realise exactly how awful I was and be unspeakably glad to have escaped. And my partners, every single time, have to spend hours reminding me that they are autonomous adults, that they love me, that I am not all that my brain says I am and that I do this all the time. They promise me that if I ever want to break up with them for my own reasons I’m welcome to do so, but firmly remind me that I can’t just break up with myself on their behalf: that’s their call. If I continue to spiral, sometimes they get me to take the PRN medication I keep on my person for acute episodes of anxiety, and sometimes they prompt me to phone my mum or get another partner’s opinion on the situation.

They do all this knowing that in three hours’ time I’ll be right as rain, planning my next sixty blog posts or an entirely new project that will most likely never see the light of day.

My BPD can put a strain on my relationships because I experience my lows so intensely and require so much reassurance to dig myself out of them, but I work hard to make sure my partners aren’t walking on eggshells around me. I remind them that even if they’ve done something that sparked a Big Emotion, it’s not their fault that the emotion is so Big. I tell them often that I want to be told when I’ve upset them, done something inconsiderate or otherwise could change my behaviour, but I also provide them with templates for how to convey that information to me in a way that minimises my unhelpful Big Emotional response. I go to therapy and I do my best to implement CBT techniques in my self-talk as well as teach my partners how they can help me to use them: they often ask me what evidence I have that I’m a terrible person, remind me of evidence that suggests I’m not, and gently suggest I may be misinterpreting evidence so it better fits my schematic beliefs. I also find healthy outlets for my Big Emotions, like baking bread (which is a constructive way to beat the shit out of something for ten-plus minutes), singing loudly, ugly-crying at documentaries or films, long walks, bad sketches and, when all else fails, screaming into cushions until my throat hurts.

It’s a lot of work and it’s never-ending, for both me and my partners, but I like to look on the bright side. My engagement with therapy coupled with my determination not to become the self-centred delicate monster I fear I might be means that I have a huge amount of insight into my emotions and my thought patterns, as well as some sophisticated ways to communicate about them. My Big Emotions make me fiercely loyal, unreservedly affectionate and as emotionally available as it is possible to be. My disordered personality isn’t a bad personality, or even an especially difficult one: having BPD as part of my vocabulary means that I know what challenges I face in relationships and can come prepared with reading material and my own bread flour, which puts me at an advantage over neurotypicals who haven’t done such intense introspection and research. It doesn’t make me a better partner, but it does help me be a more prepared one.

I wanted to write this because so much media regarding BPD and relationships is about how to be a good partner to people with BPD, except for the truly unkind stuff which argues that people with BPD cannot be good partners at all. I wanted to put into the world something from the perspective of a borderline person who is doing their fucking best and who does, whatever Big Insecure says, have a number of fantastic qualities that make them an excellent friend, partner, family member, employee and whatever else they want to be. I wanted to be a voice that says, “I’m borderline and it’s hard as hell but it’s worth it, it’s so worth it to pursue relationships and love people in the unabashed, unreserved and totally unconquerable way that us borderlines do.”

I’m Big Hopeful that I’ve achieved that.

Let’s Talk About Toxic Triads

Greyscale photo of wooden triangles in differing sizes, some with jagged edges, tessellating with one another

Content note: this post is going to refer in detail to emotional abuse, consent violations, threats of self-harm (and irresponsible wielding of a knife) and generally shitty behaviour by an intimate partner. Please feel free to give it a miss if you think that it would be harmful for you to read details on any of those topics, and be sure to join me next week for a post about pride month.

Both of the relationships I’m currently in started out as triads.

In the case of my relationship with my girlfriend, it was a case of our mutual friend overhearing my asking my girlfriend out, and asking if she could be a partner to both of us. Honestly, I was drunk and a bit high, so I don’t remember much of that evening. (That became something of a theme.) We operated as a triad for about five months, then dissolved; after about a month of space, my current girlfriend and I got back together, but decided not to let our mutual ex back into our lives.

In the case of my Daddy and I, we met through somebody (I’ll call her C.) who fancied us both, and was definitely hoping for a triad situation to emerge. She introduced us, there was sex (again, erm, I was wankered), and then added the two of us to a group chat which had a DD/lg-themed name. Y’know, because negotations aren’t a thing you have to do before introducing that kind of dynamic into a relationship (/sarcasm). We were a triad for a few months, then,

In both cases, the third person in each triad – the one I didn’t stay with – behaved abusively. I still have some mutual friends with them both, so I’m incredibly frightened about divulging all of this, but I also started this blog with the intention of speaking truthfully and making other people feel represented and less isolated. I’m sure that the toxic triad isn’t too uncommon, and I’m also sure that there’ll be at least one person out there who feels bolstered and validated by my account of the shit I went through. I’m mostly going to discuss C.’s bullshit behaviour, because it’s more “visibly” abusive, and because I’m slightly less scared of her than I am of the ex my girlfriend and I share.

C. would express intent to harm herself, and then explain that the only thing that could make her feel better was sex.

In writing, that strikes me as patently unacceptable behaviour. My self-esteem is boosted by people thinking I’m fuckable, but 1. I don’t place that responsibility onto their shoulders (or genitals) and 2. I’m aware that it’s a flawed coping mechanism that I shouldn’t indulge. I don’t believe that anybody (least of all an ostensibly consent-conscious member of the kink community) can have so little insight that they would fail to understand that they were manipulating my Daddy and I into doing sex things by holding the threat of self-harm over us.

At the time, though, I never really had room to think this through. My Daddy and I were both interested in keeping her safe in the present, and we could think about the far-reaching implications of this manipulative bullshit later.

She ignored requests to not spend money on me, buying gifts I didn’t really need and then lamenting about how little money she had. I didn’t want to be ungrateful, but I already have a tendency to feel indebted to people, and her highlighting how impoverished she was because she’d bought me expensive chocolates or a corset made me feel yet more guilty and inclined to “make it up to” her somehow. (I ended up lending her about £700, which she didn’t pay back until after the end of the relationship – all whilst making purchases like those listed here.)

She also ignored a non-monogamy-related boundary I set (which was along the lines of, “please stop trying to get it on with this partner of mine because I’m insecure about it at the moment and he and I are still trying to figure shit out,”), and then cried when I explained that her ignoring it had made me feel unsafe around her. A few weeks later, she proceeded to ignore a boundary again, this time telling a crush of mine that I liked him in spite of me explaining I wasn’t going to get involved with anyone new for a while (partly because I felt that all my needs were met, and partly because I was crushingly overwhelmed by her).

This escalated; the resulting fallout involved me engaging in a self-destructive eating disorder behaviour, our Daddy leaving (walking out of his own house, in fact), and, when I went to follow him and check he was safe, C. physically dragging me away from the door. This was followed by her telling him, in our triad group chat, that if he didn’t come back, she would cut herself “to pieces”. Meanwhile, in his kitchen, she was brandishing a steak knife and shouting at me about how it couldn’t be “an empty threat”. My mum, who was receiving updates from me whenever I took my eyes off C., wanted me to call the police. When I suggested to C. that I might need to ring the emergency services because she didn’t seem to be safe (what with the knife and all), she only got more aggressive, and she cut into her thigh once, then tossed the knife onto the counter in frustration. When our Daddy finally returned safely, she yelled at him until he shut down entirely.

I thought I was handling the situation badly and causing her distress, and I hated myself for it. I blamed myself. And I still thought this was a relationship I wanted to maintain.

A day or two later, with the intention of patching things up and helping our triad continue to function, my Daddy wrote a lengthy message in our group chat explaining the emotional abuse he’d faced in past relationships, the ways in which C. had frightened and hurt him, and the reasons he’d walked out when he did. She had responded to it with something along the lines of, “I don’t understand what this means. Are you breaking up with me?”

And that moment, dear readers, is when my patience ran out.

My theory as to the existence of toxic triads is this: abuse victims find each other. Naturally, without intention, we gravitate towards one another. My girlfriend and I were both abused in similar ways by similar people; the same is true of my Daddy and I. We didn’t start out our relationships talking about this, but it made perfect sense once we’d disclosed our troubled pasts.

Abusers like C. find abuse victims and single us out because we’re vulnerable. They smell blood in the water: they can’t not know that we’re likely to assume their abusive behaviour is normal, and submit to it. The allure of two victims is too much to resist. You can pit them against one another, play off their shared and their differing insecurities, and they’re both going to assume that this is what triads are usually like, because their previous abusers have trained them not to question things. Plus, they have the added insurance of both victims being too scared to leave and thus lose each other. I remember thinking more than once, This relationship started as a triad. If I leave C., can my Daddy and I make things work as a pair?

The fatal flaw in this logic, though, is the assumption that we think all abuse is normal. (If that were true, we’d probably behave abusively ourselves.) Abusers don’t realise that we think abuse perpetrated against ourselves is normal, but we recognise that abuse perpetrated against other people is unacceptable. After all, other people are actually people.

This was C.’s downfall, and it was the downfall of the first shitty girlfriend I mentioned, too. I could be yelled at and coerced and even dragged around and taken advantage of while intoxicated, and I would never spot a red flag. But watching a partner have those same things happen to them?

I lost every shred of fondness I had clung onto for C. when she ignored and diminished the heartbreak and trauma that our Daddy had disclosed to her. At that point, I saw red, and I saw all the red flags. She had no intention of changing her behaviour to help my Daddy, our partner, feel safer. She was concerned only with herself.

My breakup message to her was so curt that her fiancé contacted me to tell me it was a dick move. I felt physically sick with anxiety, but my mum (a life coach, an abuse survivor, and somebody who’s known me for twenty solid years) forbade me from explaining myself any further. She said I’d only get sucked back into the whirlpool of gaslighting and manipulation that I’d been battling through for days before deciding to call it off, and in retrospect, I think that she was right – and that C. didn’t need an explanation anyhow. My Daddy and I had tried to explain, and she’d masterfully ignored us both, because she didn’t want to understand (or acknowledge) the harm she was causing.

I pushed myself out of my comfort zone in writing this post. I hope that it helps other people in toxic triads, or people who have left them, feel less alone and more understood. I hope that I’ve made those readers feel that they deserve their safety, and that it’s possible to break up with one member of your toxic triad without losing the other.

I also hope that y’all in the comments will be kind.

To find out more about abusive relationships, visit the Women’s Aid website, contact the National Domestic Violence Helpline, or Google the phrase “abusive relationship” alongside the name of your city to find resources based in your area. Stay safe, and remember that you deserve to be treated well.