Love and Pain

I don’t think I’ve ever been significantly wounded by a stranger, in body or in mind. Statistically, you’re more likely to be raped, assaulted or murdered by someone you know well, than by some random nutter. It’s the people we love and trust who have the most power to injure us, and that’s a lesson most people learn quickly.

It’s a very natural response to want to avoid that kind of pain once you’ve been close to it. Only where there is deep trust can there be the anguish of betrayal. If we do not trust, we cannot be betrayed in that way again. Only the people we love unconditionally, utterly, with all our hearts, hold the power to break us entirely. And sometimes they do. Some of them do it because they do not love us in return. But not all. The hardest ones of all are the folks who shred us, and love us, and still need us to love them in return.

We do not ever get to keep anyone. Loss is inevitable, because if nothing else does it, death will divide us from everything, so far as we know.

For a long time, I saw no difference between love and pain. The measure of how much I loved was also the measure of how much pain I experienced. I opened to love conscious that I was also opening myself to wounding. There was no shortage of wounding. The nature of love, and life, I had felt, is that we tear each other apart, an unmaking process that strips us down to our most essential selves, or breaks us entirely. Where love and pain are the same thing, fear will always be in the mix too. Love becomes the anticipation of pain, the fear of betrayal. Love becomes fear.

I still think all of these things are true, but I’ve travelled a long way in the last six months or so, and I can see there are other stories as well. Betrayal is not inevitable. To love someone does not inevitably mean giving them permission to take you apart. There are other ways to learn that do not make you bleed and weep.

Love is also compassion and patience. It is a shared faith and a dedication to companionship. Love has the power to heal as well as to destroy, to give as well as take. The kind of ‘love’ that forever reduces, diminishes, strips down and undermines, is something to look at hard. Stripping away can be a process of refining and improving, but it can equally be brutal and pointless. If love turns you from rough stone to shining diamond, that may be something to embrace. If it grinds your stone self down into sand and blows you away to nothingness on the first wind, is that really a gift?

It has always been in my nature to love people. I took too much wounding, and I withdrew, pulling tight into myself and being wary about who I loved, and how much I let myself open to that. I became fearful of giving anything of myself, and especially closed to letting myself care for anyone new. Being protective, I isolated myself. I don’t have to do that. I had something of a revelation late last night, about the possibility of feeling love without drowning in pain at the same time.

I have absolutely no idea how anyone else relates to any of this stuff, but it’s been an odd sort of journey, and I thought it might be helpful to share it in case it does turn out to have wider resonance.

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