I’m in the middle of book three of the Lords of the Underworld series by Gena Showalter, The Darkest Pleasure. This is Reyes’ book, and he is host to the demon of Pain. This guy has a serious issue with cutting, a disorder I’ve never understood, although it seems to be the preferred method of self-destructive behavior for American Millennials. These poor souls, like Reyes, seem compelled to inflict pain on themselves. Without it, apparently, they don’t feel alive. How terrible to be so desperate to feel—something, anything— that the sting of the knife in one’s flesh is the only available relief. In the book, Reyes’ demon exhorts him to administer pain, emotional and/or physical, either to himself or others. I’ve written several posts on the human tendency to avoid pain at all costs—even the cost of perpetual numbness. But what about the other side of that coin-—the pursuit of pain at any cost?
I don’t understand this affinity for affliction. But it is quite prevalent in many guises throughout society. We pursue pain in our athletic activities, our professional lives and in games of one-up-man-ship with friends, family and strangers on planes, trains and automobiles. We wear our pain as badges of honor, and some of us base our whole identities on our painful experiences both past and present. As I started to think about it, the pursuit of pain seemed almost as universal as its avoidance. Clearly, Gena Showalter has tapped into a universal truth in her depiction of Reyes and his demon. Who knew?
I think we’ve been told to “feel the burn” since the days of Jane Fonda and Richard Simmons (if you have no idea what I’m talking about, Google “sweating to the oldies” and make me feel old—just don’t tell me about it). In every exercise class I’ve ever taken, I’ve been told, “No pain, no gain.” So we look for pain, and we wish for pain, and we revel when we feel it. How twisted is that? I’m pretty sure new research has come out that repudiates the “pain is good” theory of exercise, but many continue to seek discomfort in pursuit of bulging muscles. Which seems highly stupid to me; pain is our body’s way of telling us that something is wrong and that we should stop what we’re doing, not double down on the activity. But that’s not how we roll, now, is it? Burn, baby, burn.
And what about pain in our professional lives? Here on the East Coast, in cities like New York and Washington, DC, the more pain we endure in our work, the better workers we are. Here, only sissies work an eight-hour day. Twelve is the bare minimum to be considered a good employee. And for those twelve hours of cubicle hell, we don’t need no stinking overtime. Overtime is overrated. We’re nobody until somebody notices that we get in before anyone else and we leave after everyone goes. Then, and only then, are we considered big league material. And the pathetic part is that we mostly inflict this stupidity on ourselves. We admire the idiots who’ve never heard of work/life balance, and we’re sure the world will end if we’re not putting in more time than Charles Manson is serving. Crazy. In the real world, if you can’t get your work done in an eight-hour day, you’re not very good at your job. We should be judged on quality, not quantity.
And what about those of us who delight in cataloguing our aches and pains in loving detail? We can go to websites for “my arthritis”, “my migraines”, “my cancer”, and “my diabetes.” I don’t want that shit. But so many of us are invested in our illnesses and injuries. We pay more attention to our pain than to our pleasure. To the point where our pain becomes our pleasure, and not in a cool BDSM kind of way like we’re living in one of Cherise Sinclair’s Masters of the Shadowlands books. Nope. We’ve just learned to love pain, crave it, even, so that it becomes that measure by which we validate our lives, just like poor Reyes. And like Reyes, we’ve stopped resisting so that we embrace the pain and give it a loving home. And how twisted is that? As twisted das a severely arthritic hand, I guess.
I just don’t get it. If it hurts, stop doing it, fix it, or run the hell away from it. I saw a graphic on Facebook (talk about pain—but that is another topic entirely) that said that women should pursue men who make their lipstick run, not their mascara—love it!). We should not accept pain, even though, as the Buddha said, pain is inevitable. But it is not eternal, because nothing is. Further, while pain may be inevitable, suffering is not. We don’t need to build whole identities around pain. We could, and here’s a novel idea, build our identities around fighting our pain, and not making a home for it. The question for me is this: if we’re not housing the Pain demon, like Reyes, why are we so happy to accommodate all of the pain in our lives. So, let’s let learn from Reyes and let go of whatever pain we can and seek out the pleasures that this life offers us lest we end up hosting Pain for an eternity.