I used the title of this article, The Higher You Fly, The Harder You Drop, as a caption for an image I posted on Fetlife years ago, a few months into my own BDSM journey. I was experiencing my very first Sub Drop; a phenomenon I’d heard of, yet, (naively) neither thought would happen to me—nor that it would feel so intense if it did.
The photo I posted was a selfie showing me soaking in the tub, pouting with a visibly bruised bottom lip and nipples, yearning for someone or something to help me out of my misery. That’s likely why I posted the picture too; I had no one to give me aftercare and was doing everything I could to self-soothe. Yelling out into the social media void in hopes of receiving something back—perhaps a few comforting words, a bit of sympathy, hugs (even if virtual), or at the very least a bit of attention—anything to distract me and make me feel less desolate.
I clearly remember the sense of hollowness and apathy that day, as I dragged my body aimlessly around the apartment, trying to engage in activities that felt productive, or at least like they had some value beyond nosediving into the closest soft surface to stare aimlessly, either at the ceiling or into my phone.
I also remember recognizing some of the symptoms from partying; I knew a thing or two about hangovers and comedowns. This felt similar, yet different. Since I hadn’t been numbed by any actual substances, at least not of the artificially added variety, I didn’t have that gross, nauseating sensation; the one that prompts you to stay in bed and order delivery cheeseburgers and binge Netflix. I couldn’t blame these pink elephants on having boozed and danced into the wee hours, and therefore they made little sense to me. Everything I had just experienced had been joyful and, and, apart from the odd drink I had in no way been intoxicated. Still, what I felt that day was rawer, more real and more hollow than any hangover I could remember.
My first-ever Drop happened on a Monday morning, after a full weekend of playing. I’d started Friday evening at a kink-party and had spent the remainder with my play partner at his place. One high had replaced the next over a weekend where the real world had seized to exist. When I figuratively floated back to my apartment the night before I’d felt a-ma-ZING! The sensation of my achy bum when as I fell back on the sofa with a cup of tea made me grin, and, not long after, I went out like a light the moment my head hit the pillow.
The next morning was like night and day. Instead of soaring, I had crashed into a ditch with no apparent way out; I was faced with the bitter reality that I’m indeed not above the rumored Sub-Drop.
I tried reaching out to my dominant play partner but to no avail; he was at work and not available to console me. After being close and deeply connected all weekend, he was suddenly cold and distant. His absence added to my feeling of alienation; trapped in a vacuum I felt the walls closing in on me.
What is Sub-Space and Dom-Space (or top/bottom-space)?
To understand what causes the Drop, both for tops and bottoms, we have to understand the altered state of consciousness—of our experience of reality—that can occur during intensive scenes. The Drop is comparable to a hangover because the Space entered during play has many similarities—both physiologically and mentally—to the altered states one can reach with the help of various substances.
Many BDSM-related activities, whether they’re predominantly physical or mental in nature, release endorphins that bind to the opiate receptors to naturally relieve pain while causing feelings of relaxation and calm.
Subspace | When pain is coupled with fear we may release the neurotransmitter Nor-adrenaline. This produces a natural analgesic to reduce pain sensitivity, while simultaneously increasing awareness. What we call Sub-Space is a concoction of the above, mixed with the cuddle/love-hormone oxytocin, the feel-good hormone dopamine, and the neurotransmitter Serotonin. (Paraphrased from Deviance & Desire)
Studies have also found that Sub-space is often associated with a “temporary impairment of the brain’s executive function capability [which is] often accompanied by feelings of floating, peacefulness, time distortion, and living in the here and now.” (From Vice)
Top-space | Although not talked about as much, this is the altered state of consciousness experienced by the top or dominant in a scene, and like Sub-Space, it has different phases and levels of intensity. While bottoms often report out-of-body, euphoric states, and even dissociation, tops tend to describe feeling highly alert and aware mixed with deep empathy, involvement, and emotional connection with their submissives. Some also report a high degree of excitement and thrill from the perception of power. In males, this might be a result of a release of the hormone Vasopressin which increases feelings of possession and territoriality. (Sources Sempredominus & Deviance & Desire)
In a previous article, Why We Love Rope, we ask thirteen rope enthusiasts, both tops and bottoms, what attracts them to rope bondage. Their answers clearly reflect the characteristics of Sub- and Dom-Space as described above.
While the two spaces feel somewhat different, they share many of the same physiological features. In a sense, the top and the bottom are on the same “drug” but with slightly different chemical proportions and effects.
What happens when we drop?
Having one, or several consecutive, intensive BDSM experiences (or scenes) is akin to taking a heavy dose of drugs—with the obvious difference that we’re not adding any harmful toxins to the body in the process. Much like with most drug-highs, they’re followed by a comedown phase, where, as soon as the effect wears off the body goes into a state of homeostasis in which it tries to restore itself back to balance. In doing this, it will create symptoms that are the opposite to those caused by the drug.
These opposite-symptoms are also brought on by the fact that most highs will cause a deposit of excess feel-good chemicals, such as Dopamine and Seratonin, into your system. After the fact, it takes time for their levels to build back up to normal, leaving you feel depleted and often depressed and moody as a result.
It, therefore, makes perfect sense that a Drop can be experienced as the complete opposite of the Top-or-Bottom-Space we were in before. When I had my first Sub-Drop, I was still under the influence of all those delicious chemicals released into my system when I arrived home, but as they wore off overnight, I crashed.
I had to experience a couple of deep and dark comedowns until I learned enough about myself to know what to look out for, as well as how to ask for what I need from my play partner or others around me.
I’ve found that knowing what to expect and not adding too much to my plate the day after a scene is the best place to start; anticipating the Drop is, for me, the best way to avoid the worst effects from it. Learning what kind of aftercare you need, both from yourself and others is like putting down a safety net filled with cuddly pillows that allows you to land comfortably. So, to answer the question posed in the title of the article, it doesn’t necessarily matter how high you fly, but that you learn how to land well.
Next week, Tess Dagger will tell you more about Drops and will give you all the tools to build the perfect safety net for you—and your partner(s) in a comprehensive guide to Aftercare!
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