Pain comes in many forms, shapes, sizes, and… people. Every person you see, meet, bump into on the street or online is in pain, has been in pain, will be in pain.
Pain is everywhere and in everything.
When I was going through a particularly overly sensitive period, I used to avoid the section in the supermarket which had bouquets of cut flowers because I was convinced that I could feel their pain, hear them screaming, crying as they slowly and agonisingly died.
I can’t recall exactly when that weirdness seized me. It lasted for a long while. I even wrote about it on my blog but it came on long before then. I’m not sure why I needed to believe that I could feel the pain of cut flowers.
“People are afraid of themselves, of their own reality; their feelings most of all. People talk about how great love is, but that’s bullshit. Love hurts. Feelings are disturbing.
People are taught that pain is evil and dangerous. How can they deal with love if they’re afraid to feel? Pain is meant to wake us up.
People try to hide their pain. But they’re wrong. Pain is something to carry, like a radio. You feel your strength in the experience of pain. It’s all in how you carry it. That’s what matters.
Pain is a feeling. Your feelings are a part of you. Your own reality. If you feel ashamed of them, and hide them, you’re letting society destroy your reality. You should stand up for your right to feel your pain.”― Jim Morrison
I think it may have been a way to feel my own pain without feeling it as being mine.
I learned to hide my own pain from an early age. My pain, like me, was a nuisance to others, to the adults. Their pain was always greater than mine, more important, more complex… mine was simple and stupid, a nothing. I’d grow out of it while they had grown up and into theirs.
In my family, pain was a competition. If I got a cold, my mother had the flu, and my father would get pneumonia.
If I complained about being hurt by something someone had said or done, my mother would tell me a story about something someone had done and said to her which was ten times worse and had ripped her heart out forever.
My father didn’t like joining in that competition because feelings were a weakness, but if he heard about what had hurt you, he’d file it away for later use against you.
Razors pain you,
Rivers are damp,
Acids stain you,
And drugs cause cramp.
Guns aren’t lawful,
Gas smells awful.
You might as well live.”
― Dorothy Parker, Enough Rope
If my father wanted to express his own pain, he would use other people to do it for him. His favourite tactic was to tell them about his terrible daughter, how she didn’t love him enough and how sad that made him 😦 , then that person, an adult, would deliver his message to me, a child.
I often did not know the person whom my father sent to me and they did not know me.
They were a stranger to me and I was a stranger to them, but still they felt comfortable approaching me and insisting that it was rude of me to refuse to talk to them.
Besides, I wasn’t required to talk, I just had to listen. They knew everything they needed to know about me, and thus they were perfectly justified in telling me that I was a brat, should be nicer to my father who loved me, and be grateful for all that he did for me.
I knew my father didn’t love me (and not just because my mother kept telling me he didn’t). Sure he would say he loved me… when he had an audience, witnesses. Wasn’t he the greatest father in the world! Right, kiddo! Smile for the camera (aka the eyes of others).
Yet each thing he did proved his lack of love again and again. But I was not allowed to know this… I was told that again and again, that I was wrong, it wasn’t true, what a horrible thing for a child to say or think about a parent.
“It would be too easy to say that I feel invisible. Instead, I feel painfully visible, and entirely ignored.”
― David Levithan, Every Day
One time, when I was about 8 yrs old, I confronted him about his lack of love for me. It was Christmas. My mother had refused to drag us to Rome for another round of Let’s Pretend We’re a Happy Family. So my father came to London.
He hated London and spent the entire couple of days he was there trying to figure out how to start a fight which would allow him to return to Rome as a victorious victim of an awful wife and child. That was easy to do because my mother was also spoiling for a fight to get him to go away yet leave her as the saintly martyr who had once again tried to make things work but he was too irascible.
I can’t remember what it was that made me confront him, it may have been the gift he gave me, I think it was a bracelet from the airport gift shop (most of his – shit I have to get that brat something to appear like a thoughtful daddy – gifts to me came from the airport). Or it may have been due to the fight over Christmas lunch. I knew he was trying to get away from my mother, but… what about me?
You see, as soon as he had achieved his goal of getting away I would be left having to deal with my mother and her pain which she would courageously appear to shoulder by herself but which she would actually take out on me.
Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer reminds me of being screamed at for watching it even though I was doing so very quietly – it wasn’t about that, my mother was angry and needed to vent but she also needed for it to be my fault so she could be righteously angry.
My father would wind my mother up and then leave… me with her, and since I looked like him, and I couldn’t leave like he did…
“He who makes a beast out of himself gets rid of the pain of being a man.”― Dr. Seuss
So that day I’d had enough… I wanted him to stay, I wanted him to love me, I wanted not to be left.
Do you know what he said to me when I asked him why he didn’t come to visit me more often? Apparently it was all a misunderstanding on my part – I was supposed to visit him if I wanted to see him more often, why did I not do that, did I not want to see him, did I not love him?
The worst thing about that moment was that afterwards, when I was lying in bed alone crying as quietly as possible so my mother wouldn’t hear me and get mad at me for disturbing her and not keeping to the code of no tears ever unless she wanted tears from me…
I accepted his version of the situation – it was all my fault that he couldn’t see me, spend time with me, that he didn’t feel love for me. I was never around, I was living in London to go to school there… why wasn’t I living in Rome at our family home going to school there. How could I have done that to him!?
It wasn’t until many years later, after processing information which I hadn’t really understood when I was younger, that it dawned on me – Hang on a minute…
I was a child and he was an adult.
I was at school in London because he had refused to register me as existing in Italy, he hadn’t registered his marriage either, and since I wasn’t registered, didn’t officially exist, I couldn’t go to school in Italy (or so I was told by my mother, she may have lied somewhat, but the fact that my father legally remained a bachelor without children in his country was indeed a registered fact).
There was also that other issue of his grandiose sense of self-importance which had caused him to be convinced that I would be kidnapped if I stayed in Italy (it was around the time of the Getty kidnapping). I think he sometimes wished I would be to confirm his status, but he also didn’t want it to happen as he would not want to pay the ransom (he’d worked hard to make that money) and that would make him look bad, would ruin his carefully crafted facade.
“You think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read. It was books that taught me that the things that tormented me most were the very things that connected me with all the people who were alive, who had ever been alive.”― James Baldwin
All of what I am sharing in this post, is not to engender sympathy, empathy, pity… I don’t need any of that. I might have once wanted some, but you rarely get what you want when you want it. You often get it later when you don’t want it anymore because the need for it has passed.
It’s a bit like a magic spell – For it to work you have to let it go. It can’t go out into the universe and bring you back what you wished for because you’re hanging onto it too tightly keeping it from doing what you want it to do for you.
I survived without it then and am fine without it now. I no longer need that kind of sustenance.
I’m sharing this because last night while browsing the internet, reading posts, I clicked on a link in this post – Astrodynamics: Happy Thanksgiving to my readers, I give thanks to you
and ended up on this blog – Brilliant at Breakfast – reading the blogger’s penultimate post – Au Revoir, y’all….
and then I read her last post and clicked over to her new blog – Brilliant at Breakfast Rebooted – and read on her most recent post the following words:
“These were the kind of people whom I truly believe that Mr. Brilliant, who hid the self-loathing I’d never known he had until the last months of his life behind a façade of “No one I didn’t meet first is cool enough”, would have absolutely found to be “cool enough” for him.”– Jill of Brilliant At Breakfast Rebooted in The hardest thing about getting older.
There was something in this bit – the self-loathing I’d never known he had – of those words which cut to my core.
How could she not know, I wondered, self-loathing is so obvious, it’s in everything a person says, does, is – and then I stopped being obtuse.
I’ve self-loathed for pretty much my entire life, and most people who meet me, spend time with me, get to know me as well as I will allow…
Which reminds me of this post, an excellent read – maybesomeday2016: Manipulative People – which I also read last night.
…tend to, for the most part, think I’m the least likely candidate for self-loathing.
I know that because when I admit to one of many forms of self-loathing, people tend to look surprised and argue with me about it, often using me as evidence against myself – You’re always smiling, laughing, happy, confident, above it all like you haven’t got a care in the world, etc, you couldn’t possibly know what self-loathing is.
Or they do that other thing, where your pain becomes a competition – you don’t know self-loathing like they know self-loathing, you don’t know pain like they know pain, you’re lucky compared to them, you should be thankful, grateful because you’ve had it easy, they’ve really suffered whereas your suffering is frivolous, the whining of a spoiled brat, the whinging of a person who has a splinter, a papercut.
“Pain is strange. A cat killing a bird, a car accident, a fire…. Pain arrives, BANG, and there it is, it sits on you. It’s real. And to anybody watching, you look foolish. Like you’ve suddenly become an idiot. There’s no cure for it unless you know somebody who understands how you feel, and knows how to help.”― Charles Bukowski
When they do the latter… off I go time-traveling back to the inception point of my self-loathing.
I was contemplating my own self-loathing last night after shutting down my contact with the world and people beyond me for the next few hours.
In the darkness of soon to be sleep, I wondered if I had really loathed my self or if it was more a case of absorbing by osmosis the pain around me of others which often takes the form of loathing.
An image came to mind of my child self feeling good about her self, but when she tried to share that beyond herself she’d hit a wall. A harsh high grey wall, which hurt to touch. If she stepped through it the stone would seep into her, trying to reach her heart and turn it to stone too.
“There’s no coming to consciousness without pain.”― Carl Gustav Jung
I think what helped me to survive was that deep down, buried as far as it could be to hide it, covered in mud, in stinky disgusting detritus to keep it safe, was a love for my self.
But as I grew up, I grew to forget it was there. The more I had contact with the world and people beyond me, the more the loathing increased in volume.
There was always something wrong with me or so everyone felt obliged to tell me… and I think for a moment, when they did that, they felt a little less loathing for themselves. They passed it on to me like a slice of cake, here have this, eat it… EAT IT! Have some more, don’t refuse it, it’s good for you, nutritious, nourishing… and someone has to eat it or it’ll go bad and that would be a waste, you don’t want to waste a precious resource do you.
“But who can remember pain, once it’s over? All that remains of it is a shadow, not in the mind even, in the flesh. Pain marks you, but too deep to see. Out of sight, out of mind.”
― Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid’s Tale
The other day I wrote a post about the people who drive us crazy. One of the things which people do which used to drive me crazy was – the dismissal.
I’m sure you know it well, all people do it, and there are millions of variations on the theme.
The one you’re probably most familiar with is the – Cheer up, it can’t be that bad, things will get better! – often coming from someone who feels so much better about themselves after they’ve said that to you, so much so they might even brag about it to others.
Oh, I met a depressed person today and told them to cheer up, I’m so positive it’s infectious! I’m spreading the love around! Sprinkling happiness everywhere I go! Those random gestures of kindness are so important to give to poor pitiful souls!
But scratch that pretty positive veneer and you’ll most likely find someone who is running away from their own pain, and the pain of others scares the crap out of them, like a big boulder heading towards them to crush them.
“In the face of pain there are no heroes.”
― George Orwell, 1984
All of what I am sharing in this post… why am I sharing it here in a post on my blog? Why do I do this? Is it to pass the pain on or… is it perhaps to chip away at the stigma of being in pain and admitting to it openly without feeling ashamed, thinking that you have to hide it behind a socially approved and acceptable facade?
Initially sharing my pain in posts was just about finally letting it out after years upon years of not doing that. It was terrifying to do that. I felt so vulnerable. I often called myself an idiot afterwards… and wanted to delete it all.
But slowly, mostly thanks to you, those of you who were brave enough to share yourselves and your own pain with me without needing to dismiss mine in the process, but instead acknowledging mine and acknowledging your own…
You respected my pain because your own suffering taught you to do that instead… and you helped me to respect my own pain.
For you I am very grateful and thankful.
Thank you for sharing!
Doing this like this became healing.
“There are ships sailing to many ports, but not a single one goes where life is not painful.”
― Fernando Pessoa, The Book of Disquiet
My partner, every now and then, says to me something along the lines of: You will let me know when you’re in pain, right? Please don’t hide it. I don’t want you to hide it from me. I know you do that because you don’t want to burden me, but… don’t do that. I want to know.
He mainly means physical pain, since he can usually tell when I’m in an emotional or mental funk. But even then he may not know why or what, and would like to know so that he doesn’t fill in the blank with anxious imaginings.
It always touches me when he says that… and also makes me feel the pain of how I have dealt with my own pain.
“In misery we seem aware of our own existence, even though it may be in the form of a monstrous egotism: this pain of mine is individual, this nerve that winces belongs to me and to no other. But happiness annihilates us: we lose our identity.”
― Graham Greene, The End of the Affair
I just got so used to people not giving a shit about my pain, of people dismissing it because my pain was never good enough, never painful enough, not as important as their pains, my suffering was not suffering…
…or it was too painful to be allowed out of its cave, it made others uncomfortable, spoiled their positive with a negative, was toxic waste to be put in a barrel, sealed and dumped in a deep trench in the ocean… because that’s not going to come back to haunt us.
So it’s taken me forever and a day to believe someone actually gives a shit about me.
It has also taken me another forever and a day to break the habit of dealing with my own pain by ignoring it until it goes away, or until I no longer feel it, putting it on a shelf and focusing on whatever is ailing someone else because that is more important, they’re more important than me…
It’s hard to not smile, laugh, and appear fine when I’m not fine because smiling and laughing have helped me to hide, and protect myself from attack or further attack.
They were there for me when no one else was…
“Perfer et obdura, dolor hic tibi proderit olim. (Be patient and tough; someday this pain will be useful to you.)”― Ovid
Right at this moment in time, I am fine. I am feeling happy, and making hay while the sun shines because in life you never know…
What awaits up ahead.
But you do know what lies behind. All those things which awaited you up ahead in the past.
In the past when I felt fine, when I felt a fleeting moment of happiness… I was always afraid to enjoy it, embrace it, because time after time it got ripped away by someone else who loathed seeing me happy. How dare I be happy when they were in pain!
It happened over and over until I became ashamed of both feeling pain and not feeling pain. I felt obliged to loathe myself so as not to increase someone else’s self-loathing. I wasn’t doing that out of the goodness or compassion of my heart, but out of a selfish desire to protect myself.
Even now, there’s a tiny bit of me which whispers – there’s someone out there watching you who wants to steal your happiness from you, but they won’t tell themselves that story, they’ll tell themselves one which has them as a hero vanquishing a villain. They’ll feel justified inflicting pain on you, and will think you deserved it.
“The cure for pain is in the pain.”― Rumi
But those kinds of whispers serve a different purpose than they did before. Now they are there to remind me of something else.
Of someone else.
A someone else who experienced a something else who is a part of me, who was me…
That’s it from me…
…Over to you
Featured image is Recalling the Past by Carlton Alfred Smith