At the age of three, Janis has taken to climbing onto the kitchen counters, over the backyard fence, up into the trees. Once her parents had to call the fire department to get her down.
Janis's mother masks her fear for Janis's safety by raging. "She used to spank the hell out of me," Janis explains.
"I know she was just afraid something would happen to me," Janis continues, "but the spankings were daily, on so were the screaming and yelling."
"What would you say?"
"Oh, she'd tell me I was a bad girl, stupid, no good, a thorn in her side, stuff like that."
When a child is spanked, especially on the bare bottom, the vibration of the impact can resound and stimulate the child's genitals. The pleasure is then merged with the pain, creating a template wherein pain and pleasure are fused.
"To try and keep me safe, she would tie me up," Janis continues.
"How would she do that?" I ask.
"Well, she used a harness and would hook it to the clothesline, so I could slide up and down the line, but was restricted by the length of the cord tied to my waist. Or she would tie my hand or my leg to the playpen or crib."
"What was that like for you?"
"Well, at first I was furious, and then I was humiliated, especially when my brothers and sisters had friends over. Then I would tethered to the clothesline like some wild animal. If I cried or complained, my mom would come out and hit me some more."
It is dark in the dungeon as Janis puts on the finishing touches of her outfit, readying herself for her first trick of the night. She can feel the anticipation of her first session.
Her heart beats rapidly, and her mouth is dry, her breath shallow. Janis is already high as she tied the final knot into the harness.
Janis is a dominatrix. She re-creates the horrors of her childhood in her sexual torture chamber; only this time, Janis is in control.
"Sometimes I go too far," Janis says with a distant look.
"How so?" I ask.
"I just get into it that I lose track of where I am. I just want more intensity, more pain, more humiliation. They will yell for me to stop, and I can't. I just keep going. Sometimes I scare myself. It makes me wonder what I'm capable of doing."
"Are you the top (sado, the giver) or the bottom (the maso, the receiver)?" I ask.
In entering a sexual encounter, Janis does not expect nor want a loving, nurturing experience. For her, a sexual act requires danger, risk, pain, and humiliation. Janis does this because it is hardwired into her.
"Have you ever orgasmed without pain?" I ask.
"No, nor without being humiliated," she tags on as if it were an afterthought.
"I also get a better high when I am with a woman," Janis explains.
"Why do you think that is?"
"I am sure that it's because of my mother. I remember the hate I felt for her, and that's how I feel when I do a session with a woman."
Attraction to same-sex partners is often confusing for heterosexuals; however, it is not uncommon. Addicts' choices for acting out mirror their original trauma, which often leads to behaviors that do not necessarily reflect their authentic sexual selves.
For Janis, understanding the orientation and preferences is vital for her healing process. First, it will reduce her confusion and second, it will reduce her feelings of shame. Once Janis realizes her reenactment is a mirror image of her abuse, the power will diminish, and so will the high.
"You ruined it for me," Janis says with a slight smile.
"How so?" I ask.
"You took all the fun out of it."
"You mean, once you understood why you were doing the behavior, it no longer provided the high?"
"Yes, not only does it not work, it disgusts me," she says to her own surprise.
The high that once masked Janis's shame has been replaced by her ability to feel and be present. No longer a robotic caricature of her abuse, Janis can be her true self and find healthy sexual expression.