Feeling pensive tonight. Brooding, in fact. I thought about eating or drinking my feelings, but I’m getting a little old for that nonsense. At the same time, a glass of wine and some cheap Chinese takeout do lend a sort of authenticity to my current mood.
If you’ve followed me for any length of time, I’ve written more than once about pain. Not so much physical pain, but mental and emotional pain. Not that I consider my writing to be overly depressed; yet pain is a topic that comes up over and over in my ruminations. Why? We’ve all endured emotional anguish. Some of us have found our way through, some have not.
Feelings were not permitted in my home growing up. You were shamed, punished, or taunted if you showed hurt, sadness, any softness or vulnerability. The only acceptable negative emotion was anger.
I spoke once that pain comes in many varieties. I was speaking of your own pain, caused by something you did directly, or that happened to you directly. What about the pain you feel on behalf of another? That empathic, empty, helpless pain as you watch someone you care about hurt. There’s not a thing you can do to help or assuage their feelings. It’s the helpless part that bothers me the most. Especially if it’s a pain you know, because it is something you went through yourself. The helpless feeling comes because we can’t truly feel another’s feelings. Emotional pain should be scaled, like physical pain. My cat died in my arms; that was like an eight for me. For someone else, it might be a six. Because we can’t gauge or truly experience someone else’s pain, we don’t know what might make them feel better. Or at least I don’t. As good as I am with words (and let’s face it, I *can* turn a phrase…), this is where I am often truly speechless. I don’t know what to say, how to say it, should I hug them, should I leave them alone…what?!?! What is the right thing, the best thing, the most comforting thing I can do? I usually find myself saying I’m sorry they are hurting, and then telling them to call me if they need anything. But that seems so weak. What I want to say is something like, “It pains me to see you hurting. I want to make you feel better but I don’t know how, or if you would want me to.” Something along those lines- like, tell me what you need from me so I can be there. Or if you want to be left alone, tell me and I’ll fuck off for a little while. I want to be a good friend when people I care about are hurting, but I don’t know how. I guess that’s what I’m trying to say. And I wonder if my weak offers of condolences and assistance do more harm than good.
I like analogies, and when I come up with a good one, I like to share it. A favorite is that relationships are like a two-person rowboat. I may have a new favorite now, and that is the idea that watching someone you love endure pain that you yourself have experienced is akin to watching them walk on a bed of hot coals. You can’t walk on the coals for them and take on that pain…yet you’ve been there and you know how fucking hot those coals are. And as you see the pain in your loved one’s eyes, and see them wince, you wince along with them because you were walking on those same coals not long ago. However, you’re helpless. You can’t walk on the coals for them. All you can do is walk along beside them on the cooler ground, encouraging them and holding their hand.