The Doll’s Revenge: a Shadow Healing Ritual

I lean in close to the Doll’s ear and whisper: “You’re so much better than a real girlfriend.” I continue kissing her, enjoying her passivity. After a minute or two I’m surprised to feel her hands and arms starting to move; and then, suddenly, she’s alive! She turns me over onto my back and straddles me, overpowering me, pinning me down firmly. As she looks down at me below her, her eyes blazing, I feel a shudder of fear.

“You’re a horrible person,” she says in a cold, robotic voice. “Look at how you treat women. No wonder they leave you.” I feel scared, angry and hurt at the same time. How the hell did this Doll come to life?

Shadow Healing Ritual with Newman Alexander and Dossie Easton

The scene is going perfectly to plan. As negotiated, I spent the first twenty minutes playing with M____ as if she were a sex doll: only responding to my kiss and otherwise totally inert.

This scene is for me. It’s a Kinky Healing Ritual to help me look at the fear of abandonment that arises around the women I fall in love with. In the scenario she’s a sex doll and I’m treating her like my girlfriend. For the first half of the scene she’s completely still, but then when I say the magic words (“You’re so much better than a real girlfriend”), she comes to life and starts taking revenge on me – for the way I’ve treated both her and my previous girlfriends.

It was hot at first, pretending to come home from a busy day at the office and finding this beautiful, almost-real girl dressed like a Manga character, lying inert on the bed waiting for me. I hugged her tight and whispered that I’d missed her. She didn’t respond. I stroked her face and kissed her cheek. She didn’t respond. I asked her if she wanted to have sex before dinner. She didn’t respond. I told her I was happy that she wanted to have sex too and started to undress her. Then I kissed her full on the mouth, the only action to which she was allowed to respond. (She kissed me back, but in a very soft, still way.)

She turned out to be a fantastic kisser and I spent ages making out with her while exploring her inert body with my hands. Normally passivity is a turn-off for me, but in this “Real Doll” scenario I find it quite exciting. More importantly though, there’s something in me that does control the women in my life, that does treat them a bit like dolls, and this is what I wanted to bring awareness to through the Ritual.

After a while of kissing and touching her, I noticed that I was feeling shame as well as pleasure. How could I enjoy touching someone who doesn’t respond? There’s this ambivalence in me around empowered women, a fear that they’ll overwhelm and hurt me. And they all leave, of course. So some part of me is always striving to have control, to keep things safe. In real life it tends to express itself more subtly than in this scene: as with many of the Healing Rituals I create (for myself or others), the aim here is to make the pattern explicit, to bring it to the surface.

I get back into it with The Doll, pushing my tongue into her mouth and stroking over her panties. I can feel from the slightest quivering that in reality M_____ is quite turned-on by this – the Doll fantasy is something she enjoys too – but I try to put that to the back of my mind. For this to really touch me, I need to believe that I’m in love with a doll because I can’t handle an actual flesh-and-blood woman.

After a while of exploring her body, I say the magic words: “You’re so much better than a real girlfriend.” This is her cue to start coming to life. We’ve talked about this at length, about my guilt for the way I’ve treated previous partners, my longing to get punished for it, how I want to be free of the pattern.

As she overpowers me, I feel a lot of fear. I know this place from childhood, being small and weak in the hands of an angry woman. Back then it was my mother; now it’s this irate doll who’s been abused by the loneliest, most hurt version of me.

Theatre plays an important role in this work. It seems that our brains don’t quite know the difference between something that really happened and something that we recreate. For this to work though, the scene needs to be done with enough conviction that the players can lose themselves in it. I find it hard to really immerse, but somehow I’m in it enough for the emotions to come up. When I was holding her as a Doll and telling her how happy I was that she’d never leave me, I felt a deep loneliness rising in me. Now that she’s coming to life, I can feel my shame.

She begins to bind me: quick, precise, aggressive. “No wonder your last girlfriend left you, look at how you treat women,” she says, barely looking at me as she pulls the rope up to the hanging O-ring, raising my left leg with it. I let out a little howl, the insult smarting more than the rope. “You’re not a real man,” she throws in for good measure.

After she’s secured me she starts to hit me with her hands, the flogger and the Stick of Joy. As I’m rather scared and tense, I feel the strokes intensely. The pain smarts and stings, full of aggression and female rage. I sense that a small part of her is saying this for real, sharing the frustration of many women who dislike being controlled by men. I sense that there’s something archetypal and profound, about the scenario we’re playing out.

She ties me some more and says more mean things. At some point I get angry and tell her to fuck off. I struggle against the bondage but she’s done a brilliant job and I’m not going anywhere. It’s not the nurturing bondage I’m more accustomed to so it’s hard to let go into it, but I feel her presence holding me and I relax a bit. And I’m still on edge, not knowing what’s coming next.

She starts to pinch and punch me. It’s right on my edge. I feel the hostility and even some hatred in the strokes. It’s what I want: I want to touch that place of deep shame in me, the part that feels I really deserve this. I want to feel it so I can access it more fully. It’s not that I want to release it – I know all too well that this only happens when something’s truly ready to move, especially something as deep as this. It’s more that I want to be able to go there, all the way down, to touch the murky damaged parts inside. Although I’ve tried many approaches, I find this type of psychological theatre the most effective for healing deeply-held patterns.

The pain gets more intense, the words meaner. I don’t have much resistance left, I start to wail and howl with each stroke. There’s something brimming, a barbaric yawp, a giant FUCK YOU waiting to be roared out. But just as I’m getting close to that point, the two women doing bondage near us ask if we can quieten down. It’s an awkward moment, as I’m close to a fuller expression of hurt and anger, but M_____ switches direction and starts untying me.

She keeps hitting me though and I tell her I might need some tenderness. So she sits on top of me and asks me if I’m really ready to stop mistreating women. Will I promise to do better? I say I’ll try. She looks into my eyes again and tells me that she’ll hunt me down if she sees me doing anything like this again. Another shudder of fear. It lands.

After a little while I’m unbound and we cuddle softly. I know I could’ve gone deeper and it also feels like a good start. This topic runs very deep, beyond the personal to the collective, and I need to keep digging.

After some time we go to get food together and hang out in a friendly way. It feels right to transition slowly in this case rather than bringing things to an abrupt close. I’m feeling rather fragile and a bit disoriented, and it’s good to still be with M____ as things begin to settle.

The release comes the next morning, as is often the case with me. I wake up groggy but in a bright mood, feeling the energy of Xplore still running through me. I’m exhilarated by all the adventures I’ve had and the connections I’ve made. Suddenly without any warning I begin to weep. I realise it’s not just the session – my best friend died suddenly a few weeks ago and I’ve been trying to give space to the grief. Here it comes, along with a rush of gratitude for my life and all the people in it.

I cry in fits and starts for nearly an hour as waves of emotion move through. It’s a powerful release, the first since Jon died, and I sense that the session had a lot to do with it. These layers of shame are hard to reach; once they’re revealed, my body-mind has a natural wisdom in knowing how to deal with them. But they’re also clever layers, well-concealed, resistant to being brought into the light of day. It feels good to give them space to breathe and for anything that’s ready to go to be released.

This theme is very close to the surface for me right now and it felt good to do the Doll scene with M____. I know I can work more in this area, uncovering deeper layers of the controlling patterns I have with women and finding ways to do things differently.

M____ felt like a good counterpart, especially as it was her first time doing this kind of Healing Ritual and also being so mean to someone. In fact I didn’t realise quite what it was going to touch until we got into it – initially I thought it would mostly be erotic while touching into the issue. But as soon as the switch happened and I went into a strong fear response, I realised that the scene would go much deeper than I’d expected and I let myself go into it.

I am constantly fascinated by how we can heal our body-minds through scenes like this, where we enact (or re-enact) something that carries a strong charge for us. In this case, the scene grew out of mutual fantasies and desires, things that turn us both on, with some of my ‘stuff’ woven into it. I often find this to be an effective approach: the erotic charge brings more libido to the scene, which in turn supports us both to open up more.

There’s something about these Shadow Healing Rituals that’s so effective, so potent and so surprising. They tap into our body-mind’s natural healing intelligence, our ability to befriend things and transform them ourselves. The enacting, or re-enacting, works beautifully because it turns an abstract problem into something lived and experienced, both visual and kinaesthetic, that allows a dialogue between the conscious and unconscious parts of us.

As with all things we need to be careful to find the right line between recreating a situation and retraumatising ourselves. This takes skill and awareness, but more than that it requires compassion from both giver and receiver. As long as we stay tender and open in our hearts and allow things to flow, we can feel and sense the moment when it’s about to tip over the edge into something that’s too much for us. And the healing often happens right on that exquisite edge.

Next April I’ll be co-leading a week-long residential retreat with the legendary Dossie Easton, author of Ethical Slut and Radical Ecstasy. In this week we’ll be exploring this profound work and giving you the chance to create your own Shadow Healing Rituals. Find out more >>

What goes up …

It’s exhilarating when we drop our defences and open up. We are lucky to have some many places where we can have these ‘expansive experiences’: from the wild spontaneous creativity of burningman (and its many satellites), through sex-positive events like The Summerhouse Weekend or Xplore, to personal growth workshops that Sacred Pleasures and others offer. The content may be different but the end result is the same: you feel expanded, fearlessly vulnerable and vulnerably fearless. Wide open.

Returning to the ‘default world’ after one of these events can be tricky. In these spaces we glimpse how we can be with others and how groups of people can be together – and it’s often breathtakingly beautiful. We dare to do things we wouldn’t otherwise, stretching boundaries, pushing out of our comfort zone, showing up with more of ourselves than we usually do.

Then it’s time to return and we realise that, even though we’ve changed, the world around us has stayed the same. What the fuck? As well as this realisation, there’s a natural come-down from getting so open and high – whether that’s been achieved naturally or by other means. This article gives a few tips for riding ‘the drop’ and coming out the other side with the learnings integrated, ready to expand and open up once more.

As with any advice, it’s general and not every point will apply to every person. So if there’s something here that doesn’t work for you, please ignore it – you know what you need better than I do. Still, I hope that there’s something herethat’ll support you through those tender droppy feelings.

(Note: some years ago I wrote an article about ‘the drop’ from a more spiritual perspective. If you want to read that one, you’ll find it here.)

I really welcome your thoughts on this article and also any strategies you’ve found more or less effective for dealing with the drop. Please post at the bottom if you feel like it.

Know that the drop is normal

There’s nothing weird about feeling a drop – in fact, it would be weird if you didn’t. Why? Because you just let your guard down, opened yourself up, dared to take risks and had new experiences. Just this alone would be enough, but you might also have generated (or ingested) chemicals that put you into an altered, ecstatic state. (Cool aside: research found that yogis who do ecstatic meditations showed very similar neurochemical patterns to those who take ecstasy. There are many ways up the mountain.)

After a high there comes a low; after expansion there comes contraction. This is normal and natural, it’s the Law of Return. We can’t go out there without coming back, but it’s helpful to know and recognise that the journey back is uncomfortable, even painful at times. Knowing that this is normal and not beating yourself up about it (“why can’t I just stay like this forever?”) is a great place to start.

Be kind to yourself, do lots of self-care

There are many ways to be kind to yourself. Self-care is a highly personal business and it’s important. For some folks, it’s holing up at home and not speaking to anyone for three days. For some it’s meeting up with friends to share the experience. For some a hot bath is pure heaven; for others a dip in cold water does the trick.

Although there are no hard and fast rules about self-care, there are a few things worth mentioning:

  • try to eat nutritious and tasty food regularly
  • do something to get your heart-rate up – whether that’s a trip down to the gym, a walk in the park or a playfight
  • avoid emotionally-draining people and situations
  • don’t overpack your schedule

Whatever makes you feel nourished and loved is worth doing in the days following an expansive experience. Not only does self-care make you feel better in itself, but you also feel better about yourself for doing it – so it’s a double-win.

Reflect on what you’ve experienced

One of the things that really helps us to integrate a big experience is to reflect on it consciously. This can take many forms, including creative ones. I love to share my experiences, as talking about what I’ve done helps me to cement the memories and provides me with learnings I might’ve missed during the experiences themselves. (An important note: please be aware of what you say as many of the experiences you’ve shared involve others. Talk about your own experience but don’t breach confidentiality.)

You might like to draw, paint, write, dance or sing your reflections. The medium doesn’t matter as long as it helps you reflect on what’s happened.

As well as reflecting on all the amazing things that happened, it’s worth going back over the challenges you faced. I’ve had a lot of expansive experiences over the past 15 years, and I notice a pattern: at each event there’s a moment when things become really tough, then there’s a big letting-go (usually a cry) and then I’m ‘there’. After a few times of reflecting on my experience I spotted the pattern – and as a result I’m able to move through the sticky moments quicker and find that valuable let-go with less struggle and resistance.

Whatever you’ve experienced, there’ll be some gifts in it for you to take into the rest of your life. Reflection helps you to harvest these gifts.

Reach out & connect

One of the things I find hardest after an expansive experience is being alone in the days that follow. It’s not surprising: I’ve just spent several days with wonderful people, all of us letting our guards down and being as authentic as we can. Now I’m back in my flat in Dalston and it can feel lonely on my own there. (Of course this isn’t true for everyone, some people are overjoyed to have alone-time after all that people-ing. I talk about this more in the next part.)

It’s a great idea to reach out and connect with people if that feels supportive for you. This could be a bunch of people you went to the event with, the wider community via FB groups or just a few friends who ‘get it’ and will give you space to be yourself while you navigate the drop. I find it helpful to share a bit about my experience and to allow myself to be vulnerable about how I’m feeling now. But you might find that just hanging out and talking about other stuff works well too.

I really like to arrange an Afterglow, a little gathering for me and some friends I hung out with at the event. This is a great chance to reflect together on what you’ve experienced, get some oxytocin flowing and share some mellow times together a few days after the event.

Many of us are blessed with an emotional support network to help us through the drop; however if you don’t have that or you feel nervous about burdening friends, there are other ways. A lot of events offer post-event support structures: for example, The Summerhouse has a Wellbeing Team who are available after as well as during the event. So if you don’t find you’re getting the emotional support you need from those around you, please reach out to whatever support the event offers. Whatever happens, I recommend not suffering alone.

Take time for yourself

Reaching out is very important. So is me-time. For those who are more introverted (i.e. those who recharge their energy by being alone), this is pretty obvious. For those who mostly get energy from being around people, it can sometimes be harder to see how valuable this me-time is.

Although there’s a temptation to crave more and more contact after an expansive experience, taking time for yourself supports the contraction that naturally wants to happen. Expansion isn’t inherently good and contraction isn’t inherently bad – though you might have a preference for one over the other. What’s important here is balance, the recognition that ‘what goes up must come down’.

Finding the right balance between reaching-out and drawing-in is highly personal. There are no right or wrong answers here and it might vary from event to event even for the same person. The key is to bring attention to what you’re doing and try to find the right balance for yourself.

Feel your feelings

I hate it when people give this advice so I forgive you for getting annoyed with me at this point! However it’s generally true that feeling your feelings is the quickest way for them to move through you and not get stuck.

For the past few months I’ve been using the metaphor of rooms in a house. When difficult feelings come up, I often sit in the room next door to them. This means that I can hear them banging away and they disturb me, but I’m not able to engage with them fully and find ways to befriend them.

What I’ve been practising lately – though it’s still very much a work-in-progress – is to get into the same room as my feelings and allow myself to be deeply engaged with them. I was a bit skeptical about this at first, fearing that it might feel like wallowing in negativity. But in practice I’ve been finding it surprisingly effective: when I let myself feel the feelings more intensely, they pass quicker.

You’ll have your own way of feeling your feelings and I’m sure you’ll know some of the ways in which you might avoid or numb them. (I wrote more about this here.) As you’re navigating the drop, I recommend finding ways to feel your feelings so they can move through you.

Seek out the next adventure

As I wrote this headline I wondered if it’s good advice or not, since there can be a compulsivity to rushing onto the next thing. However, done right it can be powerful to begin looking for the next expansive experience as part of ‘coming down’ from this one.

One of the reasons for this is that it gets easier to have these expansive experiences the more (and more often) we do it. I have often used the metaphor of big iron gates. The first time we try to open up, our gates are rusty and heavy from having not moved for many years. (Most of us develop fears around opening up through painful experiences and learn to keep our gates closed. The default world supports this.)

As we open up more often, it’s like we’re oiling the gates, cleaning up the rust and helping them to open and close more smoothly and with less effort.

As well as being a valuable way to step in and out of expansive experiences more easily, this skill of opening and closing your emotional gates yields other gifts. It means that, when there’s a possibility for deeper connection to happen (either with one person or in a group) you can open just the right amount. By working those gates regularly, it becomes second nature to drop-in with just the right amount of openness. But this takes practice and going through the cycle of opening-up and closing-down regularly helps with that. (I wrote more about this in a previous article, which you’ll find here.)

This too shall pass

There are very few things that are universally true, but this adage seems to be one of them. Whatever is happening right now, it shall pass. Whatever you’re feeling right now, it shall pass. In the end, you too shall pass. Nothing stays the same forever – particularly not our emotions!

The cycle of expanding, revelling in our expanded self, contracting and assimilating the experience is normal, though each person experiences it differently. This too shall pass. You’ll find your way back to somewhere similar to where you were before the event, with hopefully a bit of extra joy and wisdom from the experience you’ve had. And just as this drop will pass, the next expansion will pass too. These ebbs and flows are completely natural and the best way to ride them is to accept the inevitability of the passing rather than grasping and holding on.

Meditation and mindfulness help to live ‘this too shall pass’ as a daily practice. These practices teach you to observe things as they are, and through this observation you learn how often and quickly things change. This ‘witnessing’ enables you to create a bit of space from your emotions, so you can observe them without being ruled by them. By doing this you keep a bit of yourself still and calm, even when it hurts, knowing that this too shall pass.

There’s always more to say but hopefully you’ll find something in these suggestions to navigate the drop more smoothly. The drop is an inevitable part of the process, but it doesn’t need to be torture. As you cultivate more skill at navigating the difficult emotions that arise after an expansive experience, you’ll feel more confident to dive in deeper, knowing that you can hold yourself through the drop that inevitably follows.

And in case you’re having a particularly tough moment and forgetting why you keep doing this to yourself, let me share this beautiful passage from Jeanette Leblanc’s article Let Yourself Be Moved:

We all have moments of brilliance – experiences that wake us up to the sheer beauty of the universe and chip away at our cynicism and distrust. Interactions that feed our souls, open our hearts and convince us that just possibly-maybe-perhaps life really is inherently good. And those moments, my sweet friends, only occur under certain circumstances. When we are safe, or brave, or distracted, or bad-ass-crazy-enough to lower the veils, dismantle the walls, and blast the hell through that numbness into a place of deep feeling.

Brilliance never settles for superficial. Brilliance only happens when we let ourselves be moved. And brilliance rarely feels entirely gentle. Yes, it can be transcendent and awe-inspiring and all kinds of fabulous. But it can also be utterly terrifying.” (Read the full article here.)

You were brave enough to step into an expansive experience. If right now you feel bad, remember that any high is accompanied by a balancing low. You can’t have one without the other: you’ve let yourself be moved and life won’t be quite the same again. Thank you for daring to do it and good luck with navigating the drop. This too shall pass!

As I said earlier, I really welcome your feedback and any strategies you’ve found to be more or less effective for dealing with the drop. Please post below if you want to, to support yourself and others to navigate the drop.

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From Nowhere to Elsewhere: sex-positivity for burners

The odds are stacked against us when it comes to sexual liberation. Everywhere we look we are told that there’s something wrong with our sexuality: too much, too little, too weird, too kinky, too normal. This is our collective expression of shame – the feeling that we are not enough – and when it comes to sexuality we have plenty to work against. And as with most things we can’t quite feel in ourselves, we turn it outwards: making each other wrong and limiting what’s possible.

Then along come people like Ruby May and I, inspired by our teachers Dossie Easton, Barbara Carrellas, Fakir Musafar, Joseph Kramer and others, with a big sign saying “You can”: as long as it’s consensual you can do anything, be anything, feel anything you want. It’s all about permission – living in a world where we are so constrained, it’s vital that people feel they are allowed, that they are welcomed as they are.

This is why I was so attracted to the burningman culture, which seems to be all about saying YES to who we are and breaking free of individual and collective limitations and constraints. So after many years of flirting with the idea I finally got my shit together and made it to Nowhere (a European regional burn) in 2012.

Faerie at Nowhere 2012

I thoroughly enjoyed my time in the desert but I was struck by the attitudes to sexuality I encountered there. Like everything at a burn, there was a broad spectrum, from the wonderfully switched-on and sex-positive Touch & Play (who I camped with) to young folks who only seemed capable of sexual contact when thoroughly bladdered – and quite a bit in between.

I recalled my friend Katie Sarra‘s distinction between shame-free and shameless sexuality. Those who are shame-free are considerate, mindful and conscious with their sexuality – aware of the power it contains and in control of how it’s used and directed. By contrast those who are shameless have to be bold and brash to push through their unconscious shame. This often expresses itself as ‘really going for it’ – usually with drugs and alcohol as a support. The extreme of shameless behaviour is something like Ibiza Uncovered, which is uncomfortable and a bit painful to watch.

Overall there seemed to be more shameless people at Nowhere than shame-free ones. It was a pretty hedonistic, let’s-get-mashed kind of event anyway – but it was striking how little ‘action’ happened during the day, when people were more sober. I noticed that my frank, direct approach – “I’m really enjoying hanging out with you, would you like to play?” – was met with surprise and limited success; whereas the more traditional approach – “let’s talk about anything but sex while shuffling up to each other” – seemed to do much better.

I’m useless at that so I ended up without many playmates during the festival. When I arrived at Schwelle7’s Xplore Festival a few weeks later, where my direct approach was met with considerably better results, I realised that the culture at Nowhere and I were not compatible. It saddened me a bit, since I had wanted to go to a burn for so long – and at the same time I recognised that there was potential for rapid change within this alternative culture.

So you can imagine how excited and happy I was when Ruby May told me about her project Elsewhere, combining what we’ve learnt as sex-positive teachers with the playful, dynamic, co-creative culture of the burners. It seemed to me that this was exactly what we needed to bridge the gap between these two compelling sub-cultures, so I jumped at the chance to co-facilitate the first two Elsewheres (London & Berlin) with her.

Since then Ruby has taken Elsewhere to Prague, Copenhagen and Vienna – and in a couple of weeks’ time we are back in London to do it again. It feels like an enormous gift to help people overcome shame around their sexuality and then create a space where they can be free to express themselves in all their shades and colours. With this beautiful double-whammy of permission in place, amazing things can happen – and we know from previous Elsewheres that they often do!

Would you like to discover what’s possible when you are given permission to express yourself without shame – sexually or otherwise? If so, we’d love you to join us for Elsewhere London. Be part of the co-creation and find out what can happen when you are allowed to be more of who you are.

| Find out more and apply to attend |

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