This morning, I was reminded of the many times I have had the conversation with other people who were in pain, who were at the stage of “this is killing me” and “I can’t survive this.” And talking with them about my belief that when we feel that way, what we are really saying is we wish the pain would be fatal, that it would kill us, because it hurts so badly we want it to end, we want it not to be survivable.
But it is, almost always, survivable.
I have known a lot of pains, a lot of the kind that I wished I didn’t have to live through, and I have always survived.
In my non-upbeat way, what I am trying to say is that if you are in the kind of pain that has you, consciously or unconsciously, wishing it would end, even if that meant you would end, too, you will almost certainly survive it, and eventually it will almost certainly fade.
And I hope reading that helps you to hang on until it does.
There are some hurts, I admit, that never seem to fully disappear, like grief, but they do tend to recede to less excruciating levels, and to ebb and flow, so that they aren’t constantly felt. And even those pains that evolve without disappearing will usually allow us to have some better moments in between their surfacing again.
I am not speaking in absolutes, because I know there are people whose experiences are different than mine. I certainly don’t pretend I know all things with perfect accuracy, and there are few things that are going to pour salt in the wound of a relentless agony like some asshole telling you they know your experience better than you do.
Even if our experiences may have been similar, not everything about ourselves and our resources and our circumstances and our supports or lack or supports is going to be identical.
I can’t know exactly how you feel.
I can only offer this indirect communication of my subjective experiences and thoughts, in the hope that maybe some part might speak to you in a way that is helpful, with full disclosure of their subjectivity, and that they are not an offer of a one-on-one personal connection.
However bad what you are going through now is, however badly it hurts, however much you wish this was not happening or was over, however little help you have, however much the mere suggestion that your pain might not kill you makes you want to rage and scream that it is fucking killing you – because in your agony there is no past or future you can conceive of as your pain holds you in a present that, absent the sense of before and after, feels like eternity – it is probably survivable, and if you can allow yourself to believe that even a little, if you can think of any reason at all you would like it to be, I think it becomes more likely to be so.
Even if you can’t, I hope you will hang on, anyway.
I have, many times, when I swore I could not go on without a reason, and could not conjure a reason, gone on anyway. It didn’t feel good. I didn’t get some epiphany or some longed-for assistance. In the long run, those experiences changed the person I was, I am, and not always in ways I would have chosen or that I like. I wish I had had more opportunities to learn through joy and love and safety than the thornier paths my life has tended to take.
But I am here, and alive.
And to the best of my ability, though I have been through a lot of pain and loss, I have maintained the promise I made to myself many years ago, in the seemingly-eternal darkness of my childhood, that I would never, no matter what, allow myself to become what was done to me. That no matter how cruelly I was treated, I would not give in to becoming a person who used their own pain to justify doing harm. That I would do my best to help, even when it cost me something, even when it cost me a lot. That I would not deny anyone their humanity, not even the people who did me harm. That I wouldn’t lie to myself that I hated where I love, because the loved caused me pain or couldn’t or wouldn’t be in my life.
That I would decide who I am, I would decide how I behave, and not pretend that how anyone treated me, what anyone said about me, what anyone felt about me, what I got or lost or was denied, decided for me. That I would keep trying, and hopefully learn how to do better than I had, and one day, get to where I was the person I wanted to be and living the life I wanted to live. That I would keep trying, even if I never got there.
And I don’t mean trying to be a saint. I swear too much, for a start. And perfection is a myth. And there are people I don’t like, and things I am impatient with. My intention is not to spend my life giving without limits or boundaries or regard for my own feelings. There are rare times when I have been in a state where I have genuinely lost control. I have regrets, and shame, and aspects of myself I wish were better.
And listing more of my flaws is probably not going to help you, and I am not feeling like a good long self-flagellating sesh, myself.
And it is not to say I always feel good about myself. Much of the time, I feel like shit. I don’t want to be hurt. I want the people I love to love me back and treat me like it. I want my actions to result in what I want, what I need, not in pain. I don’t want to suffer because of other people’s choices. I wonder if it is stupid to hold myself to a standard that those around me don’t, one that renders me more vulnerable and my hurts more prolonged and expansive than they might be otherwise.
And I keep trying to do it anyway.
And I think maybe it is why I have survived as long as I have.
There is a powerful value in knowing we have the strength to stand by what we believe is right when it is tested, including by our own fuck ups and failures and self-flagellating over those. As admitted, no shortage of all that, here, for sure.
There is some healing to be had, over time, as pushing back against greater weight eventually refines your belief, your sense of self, into something stronger. Maybe eventually strong enough to lift the weight off and toss it away altogether.
And there is a degree of satisfaction in proving to yourself that what other people tell themselves isn’t possible or is too difficult, when they let themselves off the hook for behavior that is damaging to others, is entirely possible, and they are full of shit, because you make yourself the proof that another way is possible.
Maybe not so satisfying as having someone else prove it is possible to your benefit. Kind of a more spiteful version of Ghandi’s “Be the change you want to see in the world.” Then again, Ghandi did some questionable things in his personal and public life, so who am I to assign motive to his words? Maybe there was some spite there, too.
Maybe what I can offer to you, if you are in the midst of your own night that seems forever, is to suggest that you make something that matters within you, not dependent on anyone or anything else, your reason to keep on going. Something no one can take from you but yourself.
If you don’t feel your value enough in this moment to believe you can commit to it, find a picture of yourself when you are so young you can see your sweetness, your innocence, your potential, your inherent value as a human being. If you have no picture, just remember yourself at such an age, if you can, or look at some child in your life who you love, and remember you were once that small and vulnerable and full of life and promise, too. I’ve found this helpful in the past, and have since heard other people with better formal credentials than me advocate the same practice.
Promise that child you were that you will be the adult who takes care of them, who protects them, who sees to it that they get to have the sort of life with joy and love and respect that they deserve. Even if – especially if – you didn’t have that adult, as you deserved to, as we all deserve to, when you were a child. Look at that picture, remember that child, when you want to give up, so you remember why you can’t give up – because you are that child’s future life, and they deserve to live, and live a good life, and you can give it to them.
Fight for yourself like you would fight for that child, because you are that child’s future. And you both deserve to live to see better days.
I am over here, on my futon-of-last-resort, with my spite and my hope and my sadness and my seemingly endless fight to get to happy times and my seemingly empty reserves of energy to carry on, typing away into the data collection void, rooting for you.
We all have so much more strength than most of us will ever know, because it is largely revealed when it is tested by adversity, and we make the monumental effort to lift the weights that are crushing us instead of lying broken beneath them. And the need to do the latter usually arises from the additional painful obstacle of there being no one around to help shift that weight off of us – and I think the weight of that sadness is what most often keeps us from trying, because we decide if there is no one within arm’s reach who values us enough to help us when we are in terrible pain, to help save our lives when we are on the brink of destruction, our lives have no value.
And that is bullshit.
You were once a sweet, perfect baby full of hope and potential, full of life, and your life’s value has not decreased because you have grown taller and lost a little skin elasticity. It isn’t dependent on whether anyone, including the people who made that life, treat your life as valuable as it is. The value of your life came into being along with you at birth.
You are still full of hope and potential, and if no one around you can see it, then all the more reason to get to work shoving those weights off of you, so you can leave those assholes behind, and find the people who will value you as you value them. And so you will know what it is to have your life valued by someone, because you will be demonstrating that your life matters to you.
Join me and maybe-spiteful Ghandi, and be the person who sees value where others might not, beginning with yourself, and then use your newly-swole emotional bod to help dig out other people being crushed the same as you.
You can even do it while you are still down on the ground. You don’t have to be in good circumstances to help someone else. People can lean on each other and weep together simultaneously, it really isn’t hard to do. It can be as easy as freely mixing metaphors.
I am down in the dark with you, and I am still trying to be helpful to the extent I can, to the few people left around me, and anyone else who is in the badlands, trying to find their way out.
And maybe getting out from under whatever shit has us feeling pinned to our pain will be difficult, but it is easier if we work with others we know and trust, and if we are alone, it still beats the hell out of getting squished and feeling like we deserve it, like we aren’t worth the fight if we can’t know for sure we will win.
I would rather get squished fighting to the last squoosh to get the hell out from under than lie here getting squished by my own failure to give a fuck about my fate.
Best chance I have, we all have, is not to give up.
Don’t give up.
Say “Fuck this squishing bullshit, I deserve better than this,” and heave.