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Chasing Pain.

8 November 2017

I love pain. Physical pain. Emotional pain. Doesn’t matter. Pain burrowed inside me at a very young age and has lingered there. My affection for this pain has expressed itself in myriad ways, throughout my life. But it’s formative. Antiquitous. Pain is at the bedrock of who I consider myself to be.

I was five years old, sitting in the back of the family station wagon, playing with the Swiss army knife my father had given to me, as we drove over the Cascade mountains through Ellensberg on out way to my grandmother’s house in Connell, Washington. I pressed the little blade against the palm of my hand and dragged it deep in the simian crease. Blood welled up. And I thought, “I know I can do that, if I have to.” It didn’t occur to me to wonder why I’d have to. I just knew I could. And that felt like it gave me power.

When my parents divorced, I was told, “You’re the man of the house now. You have to take care of your sisters.” I was six. My whole life had just been burned away and the meaning of that for me was, stand up. Press the pain back. Childhood over. You’re a man now. Of course, I failed at that. Obviously I would. But the pain of being told I had to be a man, and the pain of failing at it, were both incorporated into my sense of myself as a conduit for endurance.

We went to family therapy, briefly, when I was about twelve. My stepfather – a terrible man – told the therapist, in front of me, that he was jealous of my relationship with my mother. I needed to back off and let him have her. Now, it was true my relationship with my mother was close – too close, probably. I needed a separation. But this interloper making the demand, when he was the one tearing my family apart?

I imagined myself as a crumbling column. I wasn’t much. But I was the only thing left. A marble column of cracks and pockmarks. My sisters had both left home to live with my father, or at boarding school. At the time, I saw them as fleeing, quitting. I understand now that they endured far worse than I did. But at the time, my sense was that I was the only thing left standing, the family, the world, teetering atop this column – only I was left intact. Everything laid upon me.

The fantasy of a child, of course. But the sense of self as unbreakable, and yet infinitely fragile, solidified. I am made to endure endlessly: the thing that doesn’t break. The thing that goes on and on and on.

This was recruited into my depression, my anxiety, and my alcoholism. I saw the misery I endured as simply the natural state of things, and as some profound trial that I was undergoing. There is a deep selfishness to it. I found glorious martyrdom in my pain. I wrote bad poetry. I cut myself in the bathtub. I made myself unlovable.

The truth is, I loved being in pain. I admired myself for enduring pain. I sought out pain to prove to myself I was the greatest of the martyrs.

As I began my journey in sobriety, and in therapy, I slowly relinquished this toxic obsession with being miserable as if it were a nobility. Time passed. My understanding grew. But one thing never left me. I still love the pain.

But I have a different relationship to pain today. I still seek it out. But my life has become about conquering pain, not existing in it. I still hurt. I hurt in long, glorious stretches where my body shrieks in acute misery and my lungs beg to collapse. But I am not hurting for the pain anymore. I’m hurting to pass through the pain. I keep hoping there’s a revelation on the other side.

I dream one day I will run through a curtain of rain and into a wide valley of light and meadow. That I’ll spin, amazed, in the high bright sky above the path down from the mountain to the shore. The place on the other side of all this pain.

But I don’t know if that place is real for me. Or if it would mean anything, if the pain weren’t the bas relief of its warmth and comfort.

I run to hurt. Because I still love the pain.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Aimee permalink
    8 November 2017 23:20

    I am sorry that I never spared much thought for what it was like at home for you and for our sister after I left – or was expelled from – home. As you intimate, I had my own problems at the time. And I was dealing with them much the way you were, except of course that I was writing GOOD poetry.

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