I Eat My Pain

 

In Jackie Summers’ experience, people are always telling you to “just get over it” when it comes to emotional pain. They rarely, as Jackie does here, tell you how. 

 

There are three schools in the art of transformation.

In the first school a man is walking along his path when he encounters a poisonous plant. He considers the damage the plant might inflict on him, turns around, and returns from whence he came.

In the second school the poisonous plant obstructs the path of another. He reflects on the potential harm it could cause and decides to detour. He goes around the plant and circumvents danger.

In the third school, advancement on the path is once again impeded by the poisonous plant. The man whose progress this plant impedes, contemplates his options, and makes a different kind of decision. He sits before this venomous vegetation, and removes from his satchel, a knife, a fork, and a napkin. Carefully, he cuts the plant into tiny morsels and begins to ingest it. He allows himself to become one with the essence of the plant and the poison. The poison is no longer poisonous to him because it is now a part of him. They are one and the same: good and bad together, no longer in disharmony.

This ancient Yantra was shared with me years ago, and resonated instantly. The tertiary path is typically the choice I make, but I was never able to properly articulate why. Then one night, my good friend Insomnia stopped by for one of her frequent nocturnal visits and found me channel surfing. Together we watched one of my favorite movies of all time.

Those of you familiar with The Princess Bride know it to be “a classic fairy tale, replete with swordplay, giants, an evil prince, a pirate, a beautiful princess, and yes, some kissing.” For the uninitiated, it is a tale of true love.

The Hero demonstrates his perspicacity of the above Yantra when he challenges “the Sicilian” to a battle of wits. The game is simple: one bottle of wine, two cups, and a deadly poison. The Hero pours both wine and poison, and sets goblets before them. The Sicilian is asked to chose a cup: whoever survives, wins.

After a dizzying display of intellect, and some trickery, The Sicilian chooses. They drink, and the villain launches into a victory gloat. Mid-diatribe, he keels over dead. When Princess Buttercup asks how her savior bested the fiend, our Hero admits to some deception of his own: he’d poisoned both goblets. He, however, was unaffected by the poison because he’d spent years building up an immunity to it.

This was a clarion call in my mind. The Hero confidently, consciously, deliberately imbibed poisoned wine, because to him it presented no danger. I harked back instantly to my Yantra; my third school of transformation.

It only took several drops of poison to kill the Sicilian. In order to build sufficient tolerance, the Hero must have imbued minuscule amounts of the toxin, suffering deathly ill-effects each time. Upon recovery, he would have had to subject himself to ever increasing amounts, over the course of years. Each time the effect of the poison would be less pronounced, as he developed a tolerance. As Sun Tzu taught, he “created invulnerability in himself.”

This has always been my approach to heartbreak.

Nietzsche’s oft repeated maxim “that which does not kill us makes us stronger” may be true, but it’s a damn shame what you can survive. While there’s veracity in the essence of his statement, that which does not kill you still hurts like fucking hell, and without proper care and attention may leave you subject to re-injury. The basic principle of inoculation, however, still applies: allow yourself a tiny dose of an antigen, and your immune system will produce antibodies.

Which is why when relationships end, I’ve learned to sit with my pain.

♦◊♦

When love ends, everyone will tell you things you already know. The initial sympathy will die down and eventually be replaced with “get over it” and “just move on,” but nobody can tell you how. As stated above, there are three schools in the art of transformation.

The first is letting yourself become jaded. It’s so easy to just give up, to lick the frosting off your pity cake, and choose to allow fear of being hurt again to deter you from the path of love. You’re transformed, into someone who’s lost hope.

The second is avoidance. You can try to bypass your pain, but avoiding anything keeps you vulnerable to it. Any issue you try to ignore is certain to resurface, and usually at a most inopportune time. You’re transformed into an accident waiting to happen.

The third is to actually allow yourself to feel what you feel. There’s no anguish like heartache; it’s inescapable. Trying not to feel pain, however, is delusional. I’m not encouraging extended self-indulgence, or extolling the virtues of self-flagellation. There’s nothing cute or enlightened about falling and choosing to stay down forever. But in order to truly transform into someone who can not just walk, but run the path of love fearlessly, you have to accept the inherent dangers. Like the Hero above, boldness can be acquired by digesting your pain in teeny tiny bits, over time.

Make no mistake, the hurt, will hurt. But by being present with it, you can vaccinate yourself. Suffering itself is not the path, but the ability to embrace your whole self—light and shadow, bright and dark moments—will give you the confidence to approach love audaciously. The path of love is the most rewarding anyone can choose, but it is not for the feint of heart. I eat my pain, not because it nourishes, but because the lessons it provides prepares me for the path ahead.

There may or may not be “a classic fairy tale” in my path. There will definitely be some kissing. And whether or not my pain leads me to true love, I will live the words of Kahlil Gibran’s “The Prophet”:

To know the pain of too much tenderness.
To be wounded by your own understanding of love;
And to bleed willingly and joyfully.
To wake at dawn with a winged heart and give thanks for another day of loving;
To rest at the noon hour and meditate love’s ecstasy;
To return home at eventide with gratitude;
And then to sleep with a prayer for the beloved in your heart and a song of praise upon your lips.

© j summers 2011

photo: emzofc / deviantart

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About Jackie Summers

Jackie Summers is an author and entrepreneur. His blog F*cking in Brooklyn chronicles his quest to become a person worthy of love. His company, Jack From Brooklyn, Inc. houses his creative and entrepreneurial enterprises. Follow him on Twitter @jackfrombkln and friend him on Facebook

Comments

  1. Beautiful! Thanks!

  2. Wow, this came at a really interesting time for me. I published a post today about how I am doing the exact opposite of what you counsel here, even though I know it’s wrong, and I’m reading Radical Acceptance, the philosophy of which you encapsulate perfectly here. Lovely post, and one I will be thinking about.

    • Hilarity, I read your essay on stages. It’s incredibly hard but so necessary to move forward, eyes open, heart open, lessons learned. I wish you strength and flexibility on your path; may you be impervious to past pain and totally vulnerable to new.

      JFB

    • Radical Acceptance is a great book! I’ve read it and re-read it several times. Somehow, when the going gets tough, I always have to read it to remember to stay present and feel the pain.

  3. Ahhh, to be bitter and jaded. I still have yet to enjoy a relationship, mostly as a result of the endless nightmare that represented my “childhood.” I am actually debating whether or not I should ask out a beautiful woman on a date… one who seems like she may like me. I can never tell whether a woman is attracted to me or not, mostly because I do not like myself and cannot comprehend the thought of something showing an interest. Combine this with the fact that of the ~100 women I have asked not a single one has given me a yes, and you have quite a negative outlook.

    The fear of rejection is intense and horrifying. The fear of what will happen should I get into a relationship is also horrifying. Having someone care about me, want to know me, like me, love me, is incomprehensible. The act of being vulnerable and open with another person, open with the emotions I have kept bound and shackled in the darkest recesses of my being. It would not be fair to share my burden with another person; it would not be fair to share the unspeakable nightmares with another person.

    Then, of course, there is the inevitable end. The agonizing, brutal, crushing pain. Reliving the realization from childhood of there being no love.

    • First, practice accepting all of your emotions. Get used to knowing how you really feel. If you’re accustomed to blanketing over your feelings with anger or apathy, you may even be overwhelmed. It may take awhile to get into the habit of knowing how you feel.

      If all you feel is anger, the anger is hiding what you really feel.

      Once you’re used to handling your daily feelings, start thinking back to your childhood and what happened to you. If it’s too horrendous, get professional help.

      It is very much worth the trouble, getting to know yourself and your feelings. Feelings occur for very necessary reasons; they’re necessary to survival. Civilization tells you to ignore them, for reasons that only serve civilization. If you can get away from all that nonsense (“men don’t cry”, “suck it up” et cetera), you will get better.

  4. Fascinating concept!!! Definitely one to think about!

  5. Beautiful post, Jack.
    I am careful to not to prescribe a dose of ‘get over it’ to someone in pain. Even so, I occasionally catch myself offering Hallmark card platitudes to someone in pain. It seems to be the expected response. As if the current culture of healing has more to do with returning to normalcy {whatever that is} than with actual healing.
    The experience is wasted if you do not gain strength or wisdom from the pain.
    Couldn’t agree more…
    ‘I eat my pain, not because it nourishes, but because the lessons it provides prepares me for the path ahead.’

  6. Jackie, I simultaneously love and hate reading your pieces. I love it because Jesus H. Christ you’re a helluva writer and these columns hum! Ironically, I hate it for the same reason and because it reminds me how much I need to improve! ;-)

    But I think you left one very important thing out of this piece.

    “Anybody want a peanut?”

  7. Ahhhh yes, Jackie! Once again your words emanate with me exactly!

    Society doesn’t allow us our pain, does it? We’re not even allowed to grieve the dead for very long before we’re expected to get over it. Thank you for sharing this analogy from one of my favorite movies. Beautifully stated.

    • T, you know I think “society” can fornicate itself. The one thing we all have in common is pain; denying it doesn’t do anybody any good.

      JFB

  8. I love your posts, Jackie. Please keep them up… you’re fantastic.

  9. Wow this is so true and something I wish I’d heard or read about a decade ago.

  10. So raw and inspiring! Thanks

  11. I’ve always wanted to be a banker, but didn’t know how to get past the complicated amoral code. Now I know how, and my career can finally take off. Thank you.

  12. Mostly123 says:

    Really liked the article Jackie – a compelling argument for taking the bold and courageous path. In practice, I myself have always been somewhat more partial to the Daffy Duck philosophy (“I’m not like other people, I can’t stand pain- it hurts me!”) but as time goes by one begins to realize simple truth that life cannot be lived in a perpetual state of pain-avoidance. It’s better to make peace with it, and use all the tools that come your way; even your pain.  

    Really liked the Princess Bride reference too- got me thinking about another movie from the 80s:   

    “Pain and guilt can’t be taken away with a wave of a magic wand. They’re the things we carry with us, the things that make us who we are. If we lose them, we lose ourselves. I don’t want my pain taken away! I need my pain!” –Captain Kirk, from “Star Trek 5″ (awful movie, but a great quote) 

  13. letters2mary says:

    This is absolutely first rate both in style and content. Too frequently our response of first resort is “make it feel better” which is palliative but leaves us a mile wide and puddle deep. Life requires encounters with all manner of things which we would like to step around, but there are reasons why “avoidance” is classified as a defense mechanism.

    So happy to have discovered this writer.

  14. I shake and fight, cry and piss, moan and groan with MY stuff.
    I read this hoping to find a sword to slay my stuff.
    But oh…its about pain of lost-love…not about MY stuff of pain.
    Sh&t !
    It was off to such a great start too!

    Can I sit before that plant?
    Can I devour it?

    I thought I had been doing so for the past 30 years.
    But i guess not.

    I’m guessing that I take bites of it
    fully knowing its gonna hurt me more.
    Its gonna make me sick!
    Its gonna nearly kill me.

    i bite from it.
    It still sits there and heals.
    Its still ‘that plant.’

    I can’t kill it unless I devour it
    and make all of it mine.

    Sorry to restate the obvious above…but dang man! i get this!!!
    Thank you!

  15. Jackie, you’ve somehow summarized the past nine months of my life. To say “I get it” would be a gross understatement. Thank you.

  16. MCaulfield says:

    Thank you for the reminder to be brave :)

  17. Wow. I don’t read much on the GMP anymore and honestly, this caught my eye because I thought it was a about literally eating. And I thought it was written by a woman. Neither were true. But damn, what a great piece. Having recently finalized my divorce, I found myself nodding over and over and over. . .

  18. Vivian Casanas-Cruz says:

    A beauty! Very well explained. Thank you for sharing. Love Kahlil Gibran. Once, I made a play about his life.

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