Thursday, March 28, 2013

Fifteen Days of Gratitude 15.11: WHAT DOESN'T KILL YOU (just leaves a baldspot)

What doesn't kill you may just maim you. What doesn't kill you will instead resort to identity theft and then purchase sixty adult videos from pay-per-view with your credit card. What doesn't kill you leaves you with severely debilitating psychosomatic conditions, which may or may not be covered by your insurance. What doesn't kill you leaves you balding. What doesn't kill you accidentally shrinks your pants in the dryer and gives you a stress related, jaw-disfiguring meteor-zit on your chin, and then pats you on the butt and sends you to your high school reunion. What doesn't kill you makes you wish it really had just gotten it over with and actually killed you.
Rubens, Thetis Immerses Achilles in the Styx
All this to say, I hear so many people chanting "what doesn't kill you makes you stronger," but I'm not convinced they mean stronger, and I'm actually not convinced it hasn't killed them.  I looked up the definition of "strong", and I highlighted the parts that stood out:

1 having the power to move heavy weights or perform other physically demanding tasks
• (of an argument or case) likely to succeed because of sound reasoning or convincing evidence: there is a strong argument for decentralization.
• possessing skills and qualities that create a likelihood of success: the competition was too strong.
2 able to withstand great force or pressure: cotton is strong, hard-wearing, and easy to handle.
• (of a person's constitution) not easily affected by disease or hardship.
not easily disturbed, upset, or affected: driving on these highways requires strong nerves.
• (of a person's character) showing determination, self-control, and good judgment: only a strong will enabled him to survive.

But some people have a different idea for stronger, like an urban dictionary version. Sure, what doesn't kill you often makes you "stronger"... if by "stronger" you actually meant "bitter, vengeful, and crazy as a feral cat in heat." "Strong" people sometimes look like they're related to "Persistently Angry and Miserable" people. I hate to be the one to tell you this, but being bitter and vengeful is not strength, it is weakness. Being crazy as a joker, on the other hand, I hear that might actually make you physically stronger, depending on your prescription.  I read somewhere that holding onto unforgiveness is like drinking poison, and expecting the other person to die. Crap. That's like "Suffering from depression? Try Debilify! Side effects may include suicide." Bitterness is a gaping, unhealed wound, which is, I think, the opposite of the look you're going for. No one gets very far while they're wounded. Just watch Jurassic Park.

I think our response to pain has something to do with this whole "killing me stronger" thing...

1 physical suffering or discomfort caused by illness or injury
• mental suffering or distress: the pain of loss.

I'd like to expound on the notion of pain by giving some examples of little pains and big pains, which I have we all may have experienced at some point:
  • Ridicule
  • Being tuned out
  • Being taken advantage of
  • Bounce houses
  • Being talked about behind your back by someone you trust
  • Humiliation following visible failure to locate public restroom
  • Realizing someone unfriended you, and you can't figure out why
  • Figuring out why
  • Taking 10 bags of clothing to Platos Closet and being told "We were able to buy 8 of your items" (out of EIGHTY)
  • Losing someone you love
  • Being the designated driver for a person who doesn't remember where they live, but who keeps forgetting to remember that they don't live in a field. ? Exactly.

Okay. So I know that the knee-jerk reaction to pain is to push yourself away from the cause of the pain. Also, break things. Find out someone lied to you: lash out verbally and/or destroy their person/property/reputation. Find out someone two-timed you: accidentally back into their house with your truck. Two times... "Tawanda!" Feel hurt and discarded: immediately decide that I hate them, I'm sorry I met them, their haircut is ugly, and I didn't even like their dumb jokes.

Yeah, oh, I'm strong and tough. Never gonna get me again, oh, I'm so angry, oh you wouldn't believe the toughness and the anger, oh see how feisty/cute I am when I'm mad, look at the memes I made, don't you wish you had me back now that I've posted all these pictures of myself with my revenge outfit (it's a bra)? What I'm really doing is being spastic, disassociating, and lying to myself. Pretty much a guarantee that it will happen again. Doesn't it seem like anger addresses the symptom (pain) rather the cause (sadness, rejection, betrayal, disappointment, embarrassment)? When I skip pain and go straight to anger, I'm cheating myself, and negating every choice I ever made before the moment of injury. I mean I guess you can just stumble through life like a drunken toddler... In the famous words of Paris Hilton "I don't really think, I just walk." No waayyyyuh. So there's always that. Is pain really so bad? Yes, of course it is. But can you imagine if we treated our physical injuries with the same brute disregard with which we handle our emotional injuries?

You're jogging along, good for you, oh you just love to jog. You don't see a hole in the asphalt, you fall and hurt your ankle, ohhhh it hurts so much, oh the worst pain in the world, it's probably infected already. So you get up, started yelling at your (maybe) broken bone, cursing the hole, and telling yourself every day "I'm never jogging aGAIN!" You start posting bitter Vaguebook pictures saying really "strong" things like "Trip me once, shame on you, Trip me twice, shame on me... #betterwithoutyou #joggingisforsuckas #sluglife." You start making fun of the people, throwing tortillas at them as they jog, and holding solidarity meetings at the YMCA. But you never get your ankle looked at, you'd rather just not. Sure, it's no longer a "weight-bearing" ankle, but its fine because you don't plan to use it ever again anyway, that's how you hurt it the first time, duh. Icing and elevation is for suckers. But uh-oh, what's this? Suddenly, one day, you look outside and its so sunny and bright and you find yourself missing the thrill of running. Oh, look at all that sunshine, oooh don't think, just run! Run like the wind! So you take off sprinting through the front door but the shooting pain is so monstrous you throw yourself on the lawn and scream like a banshee, because you've got... I don't know, gout, or something like that, and now you've also got grass stains.
I hope this seems really really stupid to you... good, because it is. But this is pretty much exactly what we do with emotional pain when we refuse to acknowledge it, because anger makes us feel more in control. First we go put trust and hope in someone (friend, family member, romantic interest), because we like them, we like ourselves when they're around, and we want them to make us feel something (smart, safe, pretty, needed, respected, talented, wanted). When they do something that brings out feelings we didn't want to feel (unwanted, inadequate, insecure), we lose it and start saying crazy crap like "I'll never trust again" or "I'll never let anyone hurt me" or "I'll never let myself need anyone"...which is about as rational as "I'm pretty sure this is a broken bone. I'd better never walk again" and "serves me right for going outside" Well, that's an overreaction. And it's also a lie. You're forgetting that you got hurt because at one point, your desire for something outweighed the risk of pain that was associated with it. And that's nothing to be ashamed of. Desiring is good! ...But know what it is you actually want, what you're really hungering after, and try to want things that are good for you. If you really enjoy running with scissors or dating other people's husbands, I want to suggest branching out.

It takes a discerning palate to recognize what we're really craving. We can't just eat everything in sight the second we realize we're hungry. We're not bears.  Have a little self-respect? I think its very much about recognizing our vulnerable spots, and not destroying them. Because vulnerable parts, the parts of us that need others, they don't need to be gotten rid of. Unless you're Hitler, he was all about weeding out the vulnerable. Besides, if strength really is partly about showing good judgment, then that means we can't just indiscriminately remove all vulnerable parts in order to dispense with the burden of having to be careful with anything, or anyone. (I have done this for years: I called it "casual dating"... where we say things like "I'm not really looking for anything serious right now," but we mean "let's spend too much time together with no strings attached so I can start to get unjustifiably upset about things." It's sort of like Jim Gaffigan's spin on Vegetarian Hot Pockets: "For those of you who don't like meat but would still like diarrhea.")

I'm grateful for pain because it's honest. If it's emotional pain, it will not kill you. I mean, you'll probably want to die. Pain just draws attention to parts of us that need tending to. Just don't do a lot of Facebooking during this time. We're begging you.  If our hearts are like engines, pain is the "check engine" light. And for the love of God please check that engine with a mechanic. Or perhaps a therapist, or a priest, so long as he keeps his hands where you can see them. Mother Theresa had this to say about pain and love: "I have found the paradox, that if you love until it hurts, there can be no more hurt, only more love." I think I have to believe her. Being bitter is like burying our hearts in a box underground, and that's just plain lazy because it means we don't have to take any responsibility for the way we interact with others. That is not the way! But loving is the way, and what I've known of love so far has shown me it is worth every scar, especially since they're emotional scars, and those aren't disfiguring kind.

1 comment:

Becky Moriarty said...

If our hearts are like engines, pain is the "check engine" light. And for the love of God please check that engine with a mechanic. Or perhaps a therapist, or a priest, so long as he keeps his hands where you can see them.

i love you. :)))))
Except for socially, you're my role model.