Returning to Pain

It continues to be a time of deep reflection and soul searching.  The moments can get so overwhelming that I can only hope that I’ve hit an era of purging, of watching the wrecking ball go at old outdated structures, and clearing the way for something new.

One of the biggest pitfalls for Type 4 people on the Enneagram chart is dwelling.  But I don’t necessarily need a personality analysis to tell me that.  One of my biggest pitfalls has always been dwelling, of coming back to bad experiences and over-identifying with the pain & hurt — of over-identifying with getting hurt — and finding myself in a world of sad songs & tears & unresolved issues.

Sometimes things come on their own volition.  They’ll show up like uninvited guests, under the guise of giving me a clearer view on things — things I glossed over as they were happening only to now reveal themselves in full.  Moments that hit me all at once with how terrible, how unfair, how manipulative they really were — moments where I am furious with others for what they did and furious with myself for allowing it to happen.  I harness that — or try to, at least — and say, “See how this makes you feel now? Use that as fuel to make sure you never get into something like that ever again.”

But sometimes I call them over like a vulnerable lover in the middle of the night.  I invite them back in and relive moments and feel the heartache and grief and anger and pain.  Relive, and then perversely proclaim, “I never want to feel that way again for as long as I live!”

…But how can I proclaim I never want to feel that way again and yet revisit the feeling like an old friend?


There is merit to such a return.  One of the biggest mistakes in horror movies is moving on without making sure the villain is really dead.  If you want something killed off, make damn sure it won’t resuscitate — because it will come back with more force than before, now out for blood and their pound of flesh.

And I know in some ways this behavior has been my saving grace, dredging the grime to the surface and holding it in the air until it dries out and blows away.  But sometimes I dig it up and bring it to the surface with hope — or at least intent — to air them out until they shrivel up, only to watch it all skim the surface and settle back down.

And I repeat the process, again and again: drag up if only to watch from the surface as it swirls around and returns.

It’s a dance that does nothing more than exhaust my arms and muddy the water.  And I keep going at it, fueled by the desire to get rid of the muck, to free it into the open air, to have my waters clean again.  But something stops it from breaking the surface tension, something keeps it within set parameters.

It makes me wonder if Sisyphus was ever really cursed, or if he deliberately would let his boulder slip away and roll back downhill again, so he’d have something to do, something to focus on, a reason to go uphill.

There’s a line in Anais Nin’s journals.  I wept because I lost my pain and I’m not yet accustomed to its absence.  I  have to wonder how much I let that pain and heartache be my companion, to the point that I feel a pang of loneliness over the idea of departing from it.

I’m now in the season of sad anniversaries.  There is this 30-day span of death — it will be a year next week since my siblings’ mother passed away, a year in September since my brother-in-law passed, two years in September since my father passed — this rabbit hole of a reminder that, at one point, the hits just kept coming and the pain wouldn’t stop.

It’s a tantalizing rut to get stuck in.  To remember all the hurt from those years, from beyond those years.  To rehash the anger at people who neglected or abandoned you in your hour of need, at people who made a tough time tougher.  To sit in the middle of how it all felt back then, because you’re fooling yourself into thinking this is exposure therapy, that you’ll emerge with things a little more processed.

It’s an easy time to over-identify with hurt and loss — and with being someone who gets hurt.  It’s an easy time to return to pain, as if it’s the only thing I know.

But at some point it has to stop.  At some point, I have to dig up the dredges and be brave enough to let them fully air out — and be braver still to let the wind take them away.  To become accustomed to an absence of pain.  To recognize that life doesn’t lose depth because you are not gripped with emotion.

To stop ripping the scabs from the wounds just to watch them bleed.  To stop returning to pain for the sake of pain.

If I truly want this to be an era of purging, the wrecking ball has to be allowed to strike until the structure collapses — and the cleaning crew has to be allowed to take away the debris.  I do myself no favors standing in the wreckage, remarking on how the old has been demolished and yet surrounded by remnants of it.

There’s a line from one of Kesha’s newest songs: You gotta learn to let go, put the past behind you.  Trust me, I know the ghosts will try to find you.  From her song “Rainbow”, which has become a bit of an anthem for me this week.

There’s no stopping my processing, my desperate drive to sort out the past until something feels balanced.  I will always want to make sure that the villain is good and dead.  But there’s a stark difference between that and standing around the body, waiting for it to attack.

And it’s exhausting, trying to press forward.  Trying to crawl out of the rabbit hole and stop yourself before you fall in again (which you will, eventually, inevitably).  It’s frustrating to know your pitfalls and yet get stuck in them anyway.

But there’s an additional line from that song that strikes at me: I can’t lose hope.  What’s left of my heart’s still made of gold.

Ironically, when I first heard that line, I gravitated towards the phrase “what’s left of my heart” — a focus on what had been broken, on what I’d lost, on pain, pain, & more pain.  But outside of that trapping, this song is a reminder myself that I have to press forward, finding ways to get out of these ruts and to let go and to recognize the difference between processing and dwelling.

Because the beauty of letting the wrecking ball demolish and letting the cleaning crew take away the debris is that you’re eventually left with a good-as-new plot of land, and a chance to really build what you want to build.

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