Transcending Pain

Pain is relative. That is, everyone deals with or experiences pain in different ways. No one knows exactly how another person feels their pain. They only know that that person is experiencing pain. Pain can be physical or emotional or have elements of both.

Science cannot measure pain so they give up trying; far too difficult, far too much money to spend on something so impossible to define or quantify. They can measure the amount of oxygen in the blood by a simple test but pain is so nebulous that, ok we’ll leave that ’till later. But they never get to ‘later’.

A friend of mine experiences constant pain. She has CRPS which is Complex Regional Pain Syndrome. It’s like putting your hand in iced water and leaving it there forever. The pain in people without CRPS, the hand will numb eventually but those with CRPS, the hand remains in that tortured state between intense cold and intense heat and sometimes both at the same time. For her the pain is there all the time.

Medication for her is only occasionally effective. Her only recourse then is to change her relationship to her pain, embracing it rather than wasting energy fighting it, constantly trying to push it away out of her consciousness. She changes her perception of it by the use of mindfulness whereby she is at one with it, being with it, letting it be.

For her, this has changed her life from one of a constant battle of resistance to an acceptance of what is. She is no longer defined wholly by the syndrome wearing it as a badge of honour to one where it is just one simple aspect that makes her a complete human being. She is so much more than the sum of that individual part.

I am like her, so close but so far. I understand her to a depth others would struggle to reach. My pain is emotional. My journey is also one of acceptance against the resistance I felt for many decades.

There is something about me that people are not willing to face or accept. They spend years railing against it and constantly push at the barrier they erected to stop their pain but at the increase of my own. They do not care about me; only that their life is made better by ignoring me at best and vilifying me at worst.

As we grow, people find something that is different about us so they can bully us. Anyone showing attributes even slightly out of what is considered ‘normal’ becomes the focus of vilification or ridicule. You see, they bully us because their self-esteem is so low, and since it takes too much energy to increase theirs, they would rather lower the self-esteem of someone else.

For a lot of us there are things we can do to bring us into the pigeon hole of ‘normal’ so we can find acceptance. And many of us try but find the cost far too much. There are those of us that exhibit something so innate, so essential and instinctive, that it is impossible to alter.

For over forty years, I hid major parts of myself in a box under the bed leaving them at home in an attempt at reducing the bullying and vilification. Every time I came home from work I would find that box and join again to those parts in the box. Eventually, I forgot the box even existed and continued life in a daze, depressed and miserable, wondering why my life was so tortured with self-hatred, anger and fear.

Anything you try to suppress always leaves echoes on the surface that people subconsciously pick up and so single you out for further negative focus. Everyone likes to be accepted, to be acknowledged. I was rejected, abandoned, denied; all feelings that created great emotional pain. To gain any attention, and since I couldn’t get positive attention, I chose negative attention and so became the jester, the play thing to everyone’s whims.

When you spend so much time in suppression, everything about you is suppressed, hidden and buried. My gift was with art and design. As a child I would spend hours drawing with pencil and crayon. That gift was tempered to such an extent that it almost vanished. Even then, with a vastly reduced ability, I could still produce ‘outside the box’ thinking in art and design and in later years, software and web design. What could I have been had I been nurtured rather than sequestered by those around me? What could the world be like now if everyone was nurtured rather than squashed because they were considered to be outside the pigeon hole called ‘normal’?

To minimise the pain of suppression, I unconsciously chose to allow the blank canvas that was me to be covered in the paint of people’s needs and wants thereby hiding the true me in the process. I became the good quiet child, the acquiescent adult, the obedient servant to everyone’s desires.

There comes a point when the pain of suppression becomes far too great. I could easily just paint over what others had created on the canvas of me but that would leave all the unexpressed anger, frustration and rage hiding underneath.

No, I had to find a way of removing their paint to discover the pristine canvas once again. I could then paint my own shades of harmony to create my very own picture of me as I see myself; the real me, a complete expression of my soul.

I now knew the box existed but I had to go on a search of discovery to find it again. This is not easy when I would rather blame everyone else for my pain. My first step was to own completely all my pain. If you give others responsibility for your pain, they will own it and not you. You cannot let go of something you don’t own.

Once I had sight of the box, I then had the choice to open it or not. Most people would turn and run as far and as fast as they could. But then for me, the taste of freedom was far too great an impulse. To be free from all this self-hatred, anger and fear was the only driving force large enough to face the unknown.

On opening, the box contained the withered remnants of my inner child struggling to breathe the oxygen of love I could not find for myself. From that box, all the self-hatred, anger and fear came tumbling out and covered the landscape of me. I had to own this emotional pain, really accept it was mine and no other. I had to take full responsibility for it as I had secreted it all away in the box for decades unwilling as I was to view it. Life is, after all, about choices, consequences and responsibilities.

Using mindfulness, I faced all that my inner child threw at me for my attention. With mindfulness, you feel what is right here right now, without pushing it away, without distraction, without following the mind as it travels along thought pathways to yet another distraction. You see, when you anesthetise the pain it goes away for a moment but returns all the bigger in time; and you lose the opportunity to discover the source of that pain.

Staying within the pain, embracing it fully and completely, it will give up its answers. Anger cannot exist on its own. Anger is a response to an underlying cause long forgotten but still echoes in the subconscious waiting for resolution. The answer to pain lies in the pain, by staring intently at it, with intention. Anger cannot hold your gaze for long but the clue is that anger is just a guardian for something below that is all the more painful. Anger is a barrier we erected to stop us from looking.

And what about me was so heinous? I am transgendered. This is the ‘something’ I cannot change. Transgender is a label that describes 10% of me. Changing the world is not possible but I can change my perception of it. By transforming myself and the way I see others, and the relationship I have to my pain, I can begin to understand the answer to the biggest question of all. Why?