I was brought up with some very conservative and, some might say, old fashioned views and attitudes about how men behaved. Firstly, when it came to women, we looked after them, we held doors open for them, we let the precede us wherever we went and, under no circumstances, did we ever raise a hand to them. Now, some would say those were old fashioned attitudes and others might say they were just simply teaching me good manners. Those behaviours that I learned, still serve me today.
I’ll accept that the “not raising a hand” one has caused me some issues down the line. I abhor violence in any form, and domestic violence is abuse, pure and simple. However, in a D/s context, there can be an element of inflicting pain, be it spanking, the use of a belt or some other implement that I’ve always had some difficulty reconciling with the attitudes of my upbringing. I know that there is a world of difference between consensual impact play and abuse, but it still causes me difficulty at times. I’ve heard submissives talk about experiencing a “sub drop” after an intense session. I have definitely experienced a “Dom drop” where my inbuilt inhibitions against hurting people come into conflict with the pain/pleasure dynamic that has just been played out.
That, however, is not what “Toxic Masculinity” means to me, however. In a way, I should be grateful, it’s not something I’ve had to experience to a great extent.
As a child, my step-father could become violent when he had a drink in him, but this was an exception rather than a rule. It did, however, set me on the path to my own form of self destruction.
Going back to the attitudes of “how to be man” that I learned, the most damaging one was that we do not show weakness. We keep our emotions under control. From that viewpoint, my step-father’s occasional lapses were signs of weakness.
As I grew older, I learned to keep my emotions firmly controlled at all times. I didn’t show anger, I didn’t show pain, I didn’t show sadness, but nor did I show joy. I am, of course human, so while I did not display emotion outwardly, I felt them inside.
Now, throw in my struggles with depression since my late teens. Because of my “self-control” I had no outlet for what I was feeling. I turned those emotions inwards just like everything else. The seeds of my destruction were sown.
I’d had a couple of episodes in my late 20s where I finally sought help. Medication and counselling brought some relief, but the truth is, they just helped my push things deeper below the surface.
Skip forward to my mid 30s. The first warning sign was a headache that developed above my right eye. I’ve always been prone to headaches and migraines so at first I took no notice. The fact that it continued for several months should, however, alerted me to the fact something wasn’t right. Then came the increasingly low moods that became deeper, and darker and more frequent. These were accompanied by the feeling that I was sobbing internally, yet all the time I kept my outward mask firmly in place. Finally, the tremors in my right arm started and the descent began in earnest.
Years of locking everything away finally erupted from me in one giant explosion. I couldn’t stop crying. I couldn’t stop shaking, I didn’t want to be alive. I stopped eating, I stopped sleeping, I became even more insular than I already was; I was existing, not living.
A decade and a half later, I am still recovering from that breakdown. I suspect I will be for the remainder of my life. There have been numerous relapses, there has hardly been a day since where I haven’t longed for some sort of oblivion.
I am, of course, now completely open about my illness, but the damage is done. I was a “typical male”, I didn’t talk about my feelings because to do so was to admit to weakness, and I am now living with those consequences.
Three quarters of suicide victims in Scotland are men. So far, you could say that I’ve been one of the lucky ones; I have survived for 30+ years and now no longer keep things bottled up.
Perhaps boys don’t cry, but men can and should. Toxicity isn’t prevented by only directing it at yourself. If anything it just amplifies its destructiveness.