On Self-Care, with Mistress Adah Vonn

I had the privilege a few weeks ago of chatting over breakfast with Mistress Adah Vonn. Here are choice portions of our conversation. Please note that this is only part 1; part 2 can be found on her blog.

Empress Wu: I’m here with Miss Adah Vonn. We’re having our breakfast, drinking our tea. How would you like to introduce yourself? Like how would you self-describe?

Adah Vonn: As a domme?

EW: As a person.

AV: Mmm. I’m gonna say, I definitely like the “sensual sadist” thing. I’m a very spiritual person. I think a lot about the energies of the universe, and karma, and stuff like that. And in different language, as well, because I feel like a lot of people connect to that, even if they call it “God” or whatever else. You know, same language, but different words, in a way.

EW: Absolutely. Language isn’t necessarily prescriptive in that way. 

AV: Yes. Exactly. So I’m trying to be a more grounded person in that way as well. I’m reading more, going outside more, especially doing the self-employed thing--it’s so easy to get just wrapped up in the online and administrative side of things. But I find that mental health-wise...I spend a lot of time working on my mental health. It’s been a long journey, but you just gotta keep going.

EW: Yes! 100%. All these routines—it’s so funny that you talk about it in that way, because something that I’ve realized recently is the ways in which self-care has been totally co-opted to mean the exact opposite of what it actually means. Like when people say something like, “Eating doritos in bed and being on my phone for 4 hours #self-care” I’m like what the fuck are you talking about.

AV: Yea, not so much!! I’m a firm believer that true self-care is building a life from which you don’t need to escape. And like you said, it’s the routines and the habits that you put in place to take care of yourself even when you don’t have the time to sit in bed and eat junk food.

EW: I think there’s a very fine line between making yourself really wrong for the things you have done that might not be taking care of yourself, and actually seeing those destructive habits as the self-care itself. And I think that regular, good ole-fashioned things like taking a fucking shower and making food for yourself is definitely self-care. Somebody asked me a question recently on a periscope that I did with La Maison du Rouge like, “What makes you feel really confident?” And the thing that makes me feel powerful and confident is my ability and confidence in being able to take care of number one.

AV: That’s important, and I think it’s also not given a lot of credit in our society. Especially in past generations, I feel like there was a lot of “You need to be providing for your family, and you need to be an active member of your community!” And of course those things are still true, but there also is a validity to taking care of yourself, which I feel is kind of pushed to the wayside.

EW: Absolutely. And also your ability to show up for other people is dependent upon your ability to show up for yourself. And I’ve noticed that when I’m not taking care of myself, I will take care of other people as a distraction. I don’t know if that’s something you’ve ever done.

AV: That is absolutely a great way to put that. [both laugh] I’ve never thought of it in those terms but I do tend to project my feelings a lot and I have a big people-pleasing side too. So it can be really easy to put other people first and not even realize how much I’m draining myself. Can’t pour from an empty cup.

EW: And there are all these things that I read from other people who say—and I’m saying this with a grain of salt, because there are a lot of situations in which other people can take advantage of you—but a lot of times what I notice when other people say “This guy USED me, and I felt so powerless in that situation. I gave him EVERYTHING and he didn’t give anything back.” I have thought that before about somebody, but really what that was was me giving something to somebody so that I could impress them, and be the hottest thing they’ve ever seen, or the kindest, sweetest person that they’ve ever seen. And then I turn around and wonder, “Well why aren’t you giving me all these things that I’m putting out for you?” And that ends up being me not giving that person love out of a place of true generosity; I’m giving them something out a place of wanting to be validated as “good” and then wanting that to be reciprocated, and then punishing them when I don’t speak that as an expectation.

AV: “Expectation”—that word there. Realizing that we have the power to change ourselves and control our behavior. That’s been a big thing with me in all sorts of relationships, realizing not to put expectations on other people. Because like you said, it can get all mashed up, and all of a sudden you’re not happy how things are because maybe you’ve been overextending yourself. Like you said, “I gave them everything.” That was a choice that you made. That was your action that brought you to this place.

EW: And I think that also has applications in D/S dynamics, from both sides. I’ve given people everything, because doing that was so much easier putting the work in for myself, and facing and confronting the things that I needed to confront for me. Because when I do it for another person, there are actually lower stakes in it. When I do it for me, there are 100% stakes in it.

AV: Of course, because it’s your life.

EW: EXACTLY. It’s nightmarish! Life is a fucking nightmare.

Mistress Adah Vonn in all Her glory

Mistress Adah Vonn in all Her glory

AV: Tell me about it. What is this walking hideous dream. [both laugh] And I’ve definitely been on both sides of that coin, too. With one of my first regulars, I definitely was way more invested than he was, had to realize that, and take a step back. And then I’ve had someone who came by and was leaning way too heavily on me. He was almost using me as his therapist, you know, because we do have an intimate relationship with people, but boundaries and expectations are important.

EW: Absolutely. I’ve definitely experienced submissives who are wildly brilliant and wildly creative. And they’ll arrive, and I totally understand what the appeal is. The appeal is here is a person who will, in theory, tell them what to do and give them direction in their life and take care of their shit for them. All they have to do is pay her X amount of money and do a little bit of manual labor and take some pain and maybe all of it will be gone.

AV: That’s a great point. I think that’s what drove me out of online domming as well, because you get a lot of people who expected you to be invested in a lot of ways that really aren’t reasonable.

EW: And you could never show up for them in the way that they want you to show up for them, because the only person who could actually show up for them in that way is themselves.

AV: Ding Ding Ding Ding Ding!

EW: What does it look like for you to love yourself when you’re feeling threatened? Like for example if you experience any kind of shame or embarrassment and you feel yourself at the brink of the spiral, what does disrupting that pattern look like for you?

AV: Well, definitely eating protein is a big first step. I get super hangry and my emotions get really volatile if I haven’t eaten properly. And just stepping back and reminding myself that I am human and flaws are beautiful and imperfections happen, which isn’t always easy in the moment, when you’re in the throes of things. It feels so dramatic. And being in recovery helped me with that a lot. Not only do they have “just for today, “ but I will shrink down to “just for this hour” or “just for this minute, what do I need?” And sometimes that’s not always pretty.

EW: Wait what is “just for today”?

AV: “Just for today” is one of the AA clichés, where “I don’t have to stay sober forever, I’m just going to do it for today.” And you carry that into each day, so that way you build a full, sustainable life. There are definitely extremes to everything, you have to find balance, but living in the future too much can feel so overwhelming. Same with living in the past; it can keep you from achieving things. To some extent you have to live in the present. I’ve found this to be a good one. Like I said I’ll shrink it down to “just for this minute”, especially when I’m really upset. Like you said, if something is going to make me spiral, what do I need in this moment? Maybe I need to be alone, maybe I need to call a friend, maybe I need to cry, maybe I need to scream. And I’ll let myself do that. Okay next minute: what do I need now? I just figure that out. 

I find that just observing how I’m feeling, by giving it some curiosity instead of animosity. Because it can be so frustrating, “Why am I feeling this way?! This doesn’t feel good.” Versus “Oh, look at that, I’m feeling really anxious right now.” And then the next moment, “Oh, not so much.” And just watching the waves.

EW: The ebb and flow.

This is going to be kind of a long story, but I did this beautiful workshop last week that was centered around pain and the ways in which we engage with pain. Pain is something that is within our body. It’s a blocked network or an unmet need, or there’s something that’s happening or maybe we’re remembering. Maybe it’s not even the pain itself, but we’re remembering the sensation of something similar that was very painful. So there was this dichotomy created between synaesthetic modalities of treating pain and anaesthetic modalities of treating pain, in which an anaesthetic modality is one that is adopted by the pharmaceutical industry in the United States, where whatever it is that you’re experiencing, we’re just going to shove it down and make it go away as much as possible through the use of specific chemicals, which is essentially how we developed the opioid crisis in the United States. So you take the pain and you do whatever you can to push it down until that can’t happen anymore, in which case you take another step to continue repressing it. While a synaesthetic modality is essentially honoring your pain and working in synthesis with your pain to hold space for it and allow it to release in whatever means it needs to be released.

AV: I love that

EW: This sounds silly, but I did a training seminar one time where there was an exercise called “Making your headache disappear”. And a person with a headache would walk to the front of the room, and another person would guide them through the experience of having a headache. So they would say, “Ok, you have a headache. What shape is it right now? If you had to prescribe a color to it, what color would it be? Would you name your headache? How does it feel—where exactly is your headache in your head? What’s the texture of your headache?” So assigning specific language to allow that person to be present with the pain. I think it’s just such a helpful mode of being with whatever you’re experiencing.

AV: Right. You’re giving it that curiosity and space to be what it is. Which I also believe is so important because trauma stays in our body, whether it’s something major or minor. A lot of times we’re kind of trained to respond, “I’m fine, I’m fine” whenever people ask if we’re ok. When really maybe you’re not fine!

EW: And it’s okay to not be fine!

AV: I think it’s possums who, when they play dead, it’s because something was chasing them and they’re scared for their life. So they pass out. And then, as they’re waking up, they actually move their legs and they start running faster and faster, and they kind of shake all over, and then they’ll pop up.

EW: That’s so cute! For anyone reading this interview, right now, Miss Adah Vonn did the most amazing reiteration of these possums coming back to life.

Just observing how I’m feeling, by giving it some curiosity instead of animosity ... just watching the waves.

AV: A little demonstration for you. But it’s the same thing as doing yoga or giving yourself a good cry and letting it all come out instead of being stuck in your body. Where’s it going to go? You have to work it out somehow.

EW: Yes! It has to become external somehow. And that’s where I think having a really good support network comes in. I would love to create a network of dommes, other pain specialists. Something that I do with my wife is we will call each other or we’ll be in communication with each other whenever we’re experiencing a breakdown, and something that we’ll discuss is what we’ll call the anatomy of your upset. So when I am feeling really stressed or really anxious, I’ll call or text her and say, “This is what happened, this is what I’m experiencing a breakdown around, and this is what it’s like to be in my world. It feels like stress, it feels anxious, and I feel like I don’t have enough X, Y, or Z.” Or, “I have too much X, Y, or Z. And what I’m feeling right now is a tightness in my chest, or I’m feeling flushed, or I have cramps. What’s the associated memory with this physical response? What are the other times I have felt like this?” Sometimes, you experience an emotional breakdown, and your body reacts to that emotional breakdown, and then your body gets imbued with muscle memory, which contributes further to the emotional response. So acknowledging, “the other times I’ve felt this way was x, the first memory I have of feeling this way is x, and what I’m responding to probably from that first memory, and not something that is happening right now.”

AV: Yea, not building up the story of what happened and just recognizing it for what it is. That’s really great. And that makes so much sense to me, especially as an anxious person. If you have one panic attack—oftentimes with people having their first ones, they’ll call the hospital. They feel like they’re dying.I’ve had times where I feel like I’m on the verge of it, but I’m able to breathe through it. It doesn’t feel great, but it also doesn’t last forever. I think the hardest part is not buying into it. It could be so easy to just get wrapped up in the strong emotions. That can even feel good in its own way sometimes.

EW: Yes! It absolutely feels amazing! Are you kidding me? I mean having a panic attack doesn’t feel amazing, but the feeling of being angry feels great sometimes.

AV: It feels powerful.

EW: it’s a certain amount of righteousness that you get to jerk off to, emotionally.

AV: You are not wrong. That’s been a big part of my journey too. Realizing, yes, I have very strong emotions, but they don’t control me. I am still in control. Which can be hard to do in the moment. It definitely takes practice. Like you said, I think the recognizing of those patterns so consciously is such a great idea. It makes so much sense.

 Miss Vonn became an independent Dominatrix to build unique connections with people. She curates a fully-equipped, private dungeon in Poughkeepsie, NY to safely explore power exchange and vulnerability with clients. Quality communication turns Her on.

Find out more about this sensual sadist at AdahVonn.com