One of the things I love more than anything (up there with wine and chocolate and music and friendship) is brilliant writing. Of course there is much brilliant writing to be read, from Shakespeare to Tolstoy, to Elizabeth Gilbert (personal fave) to Leonard Cohen. From bloggers to songwriters to newspaper reporters to inspired clergymen (and women) to my own mother, there are thousands of brilliant writers among us.
But for me, what truly blazes my bonfire is when that brilliant writing makes sense of issues which far too often seem eternally non-sensical. Emotional issues. Relationship issues. Deep-seated, ever-broiling, universally-experienced heart issues. You know, the ones that we mere mortals are all most likely to sweep under the carpet because it is just too much damned work to confront them. When brilliant writing attacks sensitive topics unashamedly, ripping at them like hawk on roadkill until nothing is left but bloodstains and truth, that is what I love.
And when it comes from the most unexpected of places? What a divine treat!
This brings me to emotional pain. Not mine personally because these days, surprising as it is even to me, I am quite a happy camper. I’m talking about the emotional pain I see around me far too often. Typically attached to the freshly-dumped (and fresh can mean anything from a few weeks to several years). Because even though the dump-er may feels some remorse or guilt, they know their reasons for dumping. They are able on some level to intellectualize the experience which allows them to move forward, away from wherever they did not want to be, toward wherever they hope to go.
But that poor dumpee. The pain I see these people clinging to is like some kind of perverse life raft. They foolishly hang on, choosing grief and tears and despondency, sorrow, melancholy and then more pain because at least it makes them feel something. Isn’t that a lyric? “I’d rather feel hurt than nothing at all.”
Maybe a good line for a country song but in real life how about NO? How about you’d rather feel good again? How about you’d rather be happy? How about whatever (or whomever) is causing you that pain is not the only remedy for it? I mean really, that’s sort of narrow-minded thinking isn’t it? There are at least a thousand roads to happiness and chances are your pain-inducing past partner is not currently reading your map. Unless you’re just looking for a midnight quickie (like the song). And that is just another creepy life raft.
I have been both the dumper and the dumpee so I do have first-hand knowledge of how all this works. Which brings me to the brilliant writing.
My new friend Caroline has recently learned the tragic (not really) tale of my past decade (she read my autobiographical cookbook) and wrote these words in an email:
I love that you are so honest about yourself and what drives you. How many people hide behind a wall of excuses and extenuating circumstance for their infidelity? It’s very refreshing when someone actually takes responsibility for their actions and boy, you stand there straight and tall and say yes, I did it! My heart chose and I would rather trust its calling and step onto a new path with hope, than live my life in the shadow of that monumentally selfless act of giving up my dream.
The monumentally selfless act of giving up my dream. MY dream. Important word, because last time I checked we only get one life and if I don’t chase my dream, who will?
But, when eleven years ago I optimistically stepped onto that new path, choosing my heart and its calling, the object of my heart’s calling tripped over a mountain of foreseeable yet (for him) insurmountable problems. Yes sir, that is when I became the dumpee. Because when you can’t surmount a problem you dump it. And let me tell you when you have dumped (as I did) and upended many lives, and then been dumped by that same person for whom you dumped, the emotional pain shows up with a steamer trunk and pretty much moves into your guest room and locks the door.
And this is where Caroline (who calls herself ordinary, silly girl) really shines:
Emotional pain is a funny old thing isn’t it? It is made worse when we focus on it and yet that’s exactly what we do! Over and over. We don’t like it of course because it hurts us. Sometimes we can lose ourselves in temporary distraction to avoid it. It can be acute, all-consuming and then just disappear in a flash of its own lie, or it can be chronic and deep, lingering on, sometimes for a lifetime. It hides itself in our comfort and is a master of disguise, attaching itself to things we value. How we react to our pain can give it the power to be master over us, govern our choices, mislead us into thinking that its the most important aspect of our emotional well-being and we set our minds to making it go away. We are constantly try to vanquish it.
But … what if we say no? What if we let it stay, like a whining dog who keeps pawing at our legs. Let’s say you can put it on a leash and tie it to the chair. It’s still there being noisy and demanding, but now you can get on with other more important things. It can become a background noise as you get used to it and after awhile its presence stops bothering you. Eventually you can see it as a measure of the importance of something lost, something no more. It can now be embraced as a friend, a part of your regard, something that gives meaning and value to the events in your life.
Damn. This is brilliant stuff.
Because nobody expects you to banish your pain, ignore it, cover it up with makeup or ship it off to Alaska. When you’re hurting, you’re hurting. But I love this concept of tying it up. Taking control of it. Yes, you know it’s there, yes you know it’s probably hanging around for awhile and yes if you really feel the need you can go pet it anytime you like. But you are now in charge. And if you feel like it by golly you can just go do something else for awhile, knowing the pain will be there panting and whining the moment you need to scratch its ears.
This of course takes huge mental acuity. You cannot allow the pain to control your thoughts, your feelings, your actions and your responses. Many people think this is impossible. Many people (especially those in pain) assume that our feelings and our thoughts are just there. Nothing to be done. They just show up willy-nilly and take charge of our soul. We are at their mercy.
Nope. Put them all on that leash. Do it consciously. Do it every day consciously. It’s like working out at the gym. Pretty soon, if you do the work, you will be in charge of your pain.
And then YES that pain will become background noise and that is exactly what you want. You may never drown it out completely. Some pains are just persistent that way. But YOU will be the master because dammit you own the leash, you own the chair it’s tied to and you have all the food. Feed it or not, your call. Just don’t untie it.
Because you being in charge is the first step out of victim-hood. You being in charge is the first step to letting go of the pain and focusing instead on that exciting new road to happiness. It is there, trust me. There is always a new road to happiness. But you must be available for it.
Thank you, Caroline. Like I said … brilliant. Now let’s have some wine …