I feel a lot. Of pain.
And when I feel it,
that’s all I feel.
In The Princess Bride, our hero Westley is on his way to rescue his beloved Princess Buttercup when he is captured, thrown into a dungeon, and tortured nearly to death.
Incredibly, Westley is able to withstand the physical pain by “transporting his mind.” He closes his eyes and conjures up happy, loving images of Buttercup.
I wish I could be more like Westley.
I do the opposite—I fixate on, obsess over, and become consumed by negativity. It’s as though… if any hidden pain might exist, then I have to find it and feel it, lest I be blindsided by it.
Even if I was only being pricked by a pin in that torture chamber, that would be the only thing I feel. In 100% of my brain and body.
And I would forget about Buttercup.
"Man's suffering is similar to gas... it will fill the chamber completely and evenly, no matter how big the chamber. Thus suffering completely fills the human soul and conscious mind, no matter whether the suffering is great or little."
—Viktor E. Frankl
Sticks & Stones
may break my bones, but words will shred me to a million little pieces.
Apt for someone who is(/describes themselves as) 10% body and 90% soul…
*I’m much more sensitive to emotional, over physical, pain.
*(Which, I now realize, is not exclusive to me or even to those similar to me. There are many instances where people uses physical pain as an antidote to emotional pain—cutting, for example. Yet I rarely hear of anyone ask to be cheated on or lied to in an attempt to distract themselves from a gunshot wound. Anyway—)
When I got my feelings hurt, because it would hurt so much, I’d react with the emotional equivalent of someone being physically tortured.
I’d cry, yell, use sharp and hurtful words to retaliate even stronger. Say the most intense, pointed translation of everything I feel. My ability to express myself is usually my greatest asset, but in these times it becomes my most dangerous weapon. I communicate so, so fucking well how hurt I feel that my defense morphs into offense. I turn the blame around, strip the other person of respect, suck out every last ounce of their dignity. I decide what they meant, how they feel, who they are by writing in every last detail to this painful narrative that I spun in my head.
Then I’d break up with them. Defeated and hopeless, myself.
This explains the on-again, off-again nature of most of my relationships. I’d quickly become convinced that the only way to escape the pain in the moment is to escape the situation as a whole.
This is my reflexive, visceral, primitive reaction to pain. Like a mouse caught in a mousetrap—panicking, squirming, desperate to get out.
This is Round 1.
BEFORE YOU JUDGE ME FOR BEING CRAZY… I (obviously) know how irrational and toxic I’ve been when pain gripped me. I don’t condone any of that and if anything, am subconsciously offering this public admittance as a form of atonement.
So. Crazy? Have been. But I’m also like. A pretty smart person. Extremely self-aware and articulate (if you’ll let me suck my own d for a sec.)
Once the storm calmed, the debris cleared, and I was no longer blinded by my own emotions…
I was able to see things for what they were, not what I’d made them to be:
Why he said/did what he said/did.
Why that didn’t mean he didn’t love me.
Why, also, it was particularly triggering for me.
How he could’ve said/done it better.
How I could’ve reacted less destructively.
After slamming the door, after 50 missed calls, after forcing me to take the space…
He always came back to me. For Round 2.
And he was always impressed by my ability to self-examine and take accountability for my own process.
My apologies always meant something.
Problem is, Round 1 had already done did its damage.
the pain from trying to avoiding pain
First of all, I played myself because now the issue is my reaction, instead of the hurt I was reacting to. To this day, I don’t think he knows what he did because we never got around to addressing it. We only really talked about My Crazy, not His Fucked Up.
Second, losing myself in hurt meant I surrendered my dignity and self-respect to my lowest parts. It distorted how I saw myself and what I deserved. I still get flashbacks of myself standing barefoot on the sidewalk, tears streaming down my face, watching him drive away.
And worst of all, it made me forget the good things. Not about him, not about the relationship, but in life. My existence became about the pain—being in it, or getting away from it. I forgot about all the Buttercups in the world for months or years at a time.
In the end, I did the most damage to myself.
“There is a great deal of pain in life
and perhaps the only pain that can be avoided
is the pain that comes from trying to avoid pain.”
In an attempt to preemptively shield myself from getting hurt, I isolated myself, manipulated situations, and took people’s accidental offenses as signs to cancel them immediately. I had no room to let people be human because I had no tolerance for anything even uncomfortable.
Everything was dangerous. Everyone was a threat.
I allowed no one the power to push me into another Round 1.
But of course,
this is not how life works.
I realized that “not being consumed by pain” doesn’t mean rejecting intimacy with others, rather, opening up space to be okay with discomfort, with even pain.
Because no one can love me perfectly—or even understand what that entails.
I had to learn to control myself, not anyone else, because
It’s not about what anyone does to you,
It’s about how you let yourself be(/not be) affected by it.
I am no longer at the mercy of anyone’s words, actions, or neglect. Not because I push them away, but because I simply refuse to be that girl crying on the sidewalk.
Yes, people will hurt me. Even the ones I love. But I’m fuckin’ old now. I have shit to do. And the world isn’t gonna stop and wait for me to calm down.
I can’t afford to not forgive, anymore.
People in pain
If you can relate to being the Girl In Pain, please know that this jump to being able to handle myself is not proportional to how this piece is paced. It did not happen overnight. I’m only able to write this after 2 years of being removed from the relationship that sparked these thoughts. 2 years of building up my self-image to be clear enough that someone else seeing it differently doesn’t make me see it differently.
I still have my moments of being less poised than I’d like, but that’s a part of me being human, the way I can now let others.
I’ll close with a letter my ex wrote to me 2 years ago—one that, honestly, did not make sense to me until recently:
To Jessie & the Girl in Pain,
You're afraid. I understand that. You've been through hell and you'd never want to go through that again.
What you fail to recognize, however, is the fact that you've never left. Perhaps the accumulation of your experiences and the ways they have affected you are so powerful that they have, in a way, become you.
Or rather, you've become them. Your pain is your identity.
I am sorry I ever hurt you, with my carelessness.
But I can't apologize for not having the foresight nor capacity to truly understand how deeply these things affect you. I can't apologize for not wording things the best way, or needing some extra time / discussions to come around to an understanding - I can't apologize for being me. For trying. For being human.
Yet there is nothing I can do should you choose to refuse perspective. To see that "the pain is familiar, but the situation is not," and how that is enough to question your pain and response. Because I am capable of causing you this much pain, I must be, on some level, untrustworthy, inauthentic, and necessarily distanced. I am a threat to your well-being.
You will choose to fight and say that "it is the same as cheating to me," when objectively, it's not. You will choose to find ways to blame me for your emotions, or lack thereof. And you will choose a reality based on your emotions, or lack thereof.
To preserve your identity - to protect yourself from further pain - you will find ways to push me away. You will wait for the other shoe to drop, for the next "fuck-up," for the next "too-good-to-be-true," for the next "I can't believe you'd do this to me.
At least, I will.
You will justify your hurt, and you will justify hurting me, in return. And I'd hurt you back, and you'd hurt me back again.
You will learn to hate me, eventually. And, when enough time has passed, you will tell Jessica to remember me as another guy that caused you pain and couldn’t take it away.
You're the most beautiful thing I've ever seen. Watching you move last night was a dream. But I'm not sure who I'm looking at, sometimes.
Jessie wants to with me. The Girl in Pain doesn't.
One Loves who I am, the other doesn't trust who I am.
Do you know who you are? Do you know who you want to be?
Do you want pain? What lessons do you need from pain, and what can you do without?
Who do you want to be?
Whatever you decide,
I'll be here anyway.
Love, All Ways,