Hi pups (and others)!
Today’s blog is about how my first play session as a pup helped cure my OCD. That’s a pretty bold statement, but it’s absolutely true. It made my first pup event one of the most important and revelatory experiences of my life, and I’m going to share it with you today.
So when I was nineteen I developed obsessive compulsive disorder around food. For four years I lived in fear of my food being contaminated. I could no longer touch my food with my fingers, even if I’d just washed my hands. If something came in a packet, I had to hold the food using the packet to eat it. And god forbid something fall on the floor: even if the packaging was sealed, I had to throw it away.
My diet was terrible. I lived off food that required minimal preparation, because when you can’t touch anything, cooking and washing up becomes hugely complicated. So I made do with sweets, noodles, tinned soup, and eggs fried until they were black. I had to boil my cutlery before use and ate out of the pan because I didn’t trust my plates. You get the picture. My culinary life sucked.
It didn’t help my sex life either. It’s pretty difficult to get off with people when everyone wants you to start with a kiss. And there was no way I was going to put my face anywhere near someone’s junk, because I couldn’t work out how to disinfect my whole head afterwards.
After university I started going to kink events properly. My favourite was the now sadly defunct London Fetish Fair, which had a large puppy play area run by one of the stallholders. I was heavily into pony play then, but I’d been interested in puppy play for years and this was the place to try it. I’d had my first experience as a pony pulling a cart earlier that year, and was in my kid-in-a-candy-shop phase. I wanted to try everything.
Unfortunately, I was incredibly nervous, and ummed and ah’d about getting down on all fours for months. Ironic, really, considering that I’d just finished training as an actor and had no fear of doing stupid things in front of an audience. But to act like a dog in public? To perform and be one with a core desire? Almost unthinkable. I found the thought of moving from my role as a human into role as a pup on a par with the worst stage fright I’ve ever had. I still get like that even today, eight years later.
But I still wanted to try being a puppy. In the end I approached being a puppy in the same way as I approach roles as an actor. I did my research. I learned about how dogs think, and move, and react. I knew that, as in pony mode, my pup mode would live in the present. I wouldn’t be concerned with the future or planning ahead. As for the past, my human concerns as a human would have far less significance. What does a dog care for shame or embarrassment?
I remembered the importance of throwing myself into a role as well. In theatre there are many ways for people to get into character, but the most important lesson for young actors is to get up and start. Nothing flourishes if you stay transfixed by the things you know. To shake off my human worries and embrace the pup role, I had to dive in. I almost had to take myself by surprise, before my anxieties had a chance to counteract my preparation and my desire.
I remember standing at the edge of the play space, trying not to think about psyching myself up. To my right, a dog carrier with a fluffy white bed. The floor, grey rubber matting, liberally scattered with dog toys. I took off my shoes, and dropped like a stone to my hands and knees. I had no mask, no other costume. All I had was my desire and my research, and my internal monologue saying you’re a dog now, so act like one.
And so, as a nervous young pup, I retreated into the dog carrier as best I could, turned around a few times, and pretended to have a nap.
You’re a dog now, so act like one. That was my motto. I focussed on making sense of my surroundings through the lens of being a pup. Example: when dogs go to sleep they turn around a few times to get comfortable and curl up. I imagined I had a tail and my nose was touching it. Example: dogs are sensitive to small sounds and changes in their environment, and turn to look. I did so. At every moment my internal monologue raised the question: how does a dog react to this? - and I followed the answers’ lead. If I caught myself thinking like a human, I shut it down. I only wanted to consider the world through a pup’s eyes.
And that’s when I saw it. A dog’s rope toy. A tennis ball-sized knot of blue and white rope, casually tossed on the ground. How does a dog react? - I discovered it, as a dog discovers a new favourite toy. I sniffed it all over, and looked at it from different angles. I barked at it.
I picked it up in my mouth and took it back to the dog carrier.
I spent the next hour gnawing on the toy. It didn’t matter that it had been on the floor. It didn’t matter that I didn’t know where it had been, or who had touched it. The dog doesn’t care. As the dog I didn’t know about germs. I didn’t think about the potential for a horrible evening on the toilet. All I cared about was the toy, and the feel of it in my mouth; its flexibility; its tensile strength.
This was a huge breakthrough. I’d gone deep enough into headspace that my human concerns no longer mattered, and that included my OCD. At the moment I saw the rope toy, it was more important to me to play the dog well than to concern myself with whether or not I’d get sick. My OCD was still there, but its presence was dulled. I was operating under such a different set of rules that the crippling anxiety didn’t have a chance to interfere.
That evening I fried eggs with the yolks still liquid by the end. Next day, pasta. The day after, I chopped my first vegetable in several years. I’d proven to myself that I could pick up a strange toy from the floor with my mouth, and nothing bad had happened. And if that was okay, what else? My fears turned out to be brittle, and broke easily, and I never looked back.
How about you? Do you have any first-time experiences you’d like to share? If so, I'd love to hear from you in the comments section down below.
As ever, stay safe and play well,