“Achievement of your happiness is the only moral purpose of your life, and that happiness, not pain or mindless self-indulgence, is the proof of your moral integrity, since it is the proof and the result of your loyalty to the achievement of your values.” – Ayn Rand
Pain. When we’re small our mothers slap our hand away from a stove top so we don’t burn, hold our hand when we’re going down the stairs so we don’t fall, tell us to squeeze our eyes shut while shampooing our hair so we don’t get soap in our eyes. So from a very young age we are programmed to believe pain not only hurts, but is bad and must be avoided at all costs.
I’ve been wondering about the affect of this training? When we are in pain we now not only have the pain but feel culpable for allowing ourselves to be in a situation capable of creating it. I shouldn’t have been near the fire; I should have been holding someone’s hand; I should never have opened my eyes. But I’m here to ask – what the hell is so wrong with being in pain?
Pain, as we all know, is the body’s mechanism of warning the brain of a credible threat. This hurts – move now! And because buried beneath our higher-functioning, reasonable cortex is that primeval instinctual base that saved our ancestors from falling asleep on cave fires, our bodies can barely tell the difference these days between a broken heart and a broken leg. Same pain function, same functional warning.
We live at a time when it’s just not okay to have anything wrong with you. We seem to have whittled down the definition of “normal” to a goddamn toothpick. They give out anti-depressants these days to “treat” menstruation, HRT to “treat” menopause, Rogaine to “treat” baldness, Viagra to treat willy-nillys, psychotherapy to “treat” sadness. We’re even told we have to “Soldier On” if we’ve got a cold! I’m not allowed to have a miserable cold? No. Soldier the fuck on. (I know you all have that jingle as an ear worm now and I don’t care – why should I suffer alone).
When Rhett Butler challenges Scarlett on the existence of a hell, she assures him she knows there’s a hell because she was “raised on it”. That’s powerful stuff right there. It doesn’t matter whether hell has a postcode or not – it simply exists for anyone raised on it. Much like the teachings we absorb about pain, it becomes more than the abstract possibility of paper-cuts and bruised hearts, and more of a real physical place that we wall up each time and promise ourselves never to return to. Our bodies have no false-alarm system. Even though you’re not going to die from emotional pain, our body behaves as if the threat were as credible as a knife wound. You can’t fight pain and I suspect all the new-agey do-gooders telling me it’s a learning experience are just smart marketers profiting off of the fact that as a race we’ll do anything to avoid pain in the first place.
Emily Dickinson wrote: “After great pain, a formal feeling comes. The Nerves sit ceremonious, like tombs”. So is that the pay-off? That tomb/womb like peace that inhabits nerves exhausted raw? The necessary emptiness that is just a part of the body’s other remarkable management strategy – a type of anesthesia? ECT never cured anyone of anything – it just induces a post-seizure calm. Band-aid anyone?
If happiness is the proof of moral integrity and loyalty to the achievement of goals we may all be screwed. Watching the ship sail away…there it goes…going…going…
High time someone ‘fessed up and said it’s okay to take a pill, take a drink, and get on with it.
Bloody Ayn Rand…