Tuesday, 10 March 2009

Pain and Life

It seems the conversations at Nine Deuce's on BDSM are trickling to their end. A good thing, on all counts, but I did want to respond to this. That thread basically discusses whether pain can ever be a good thing, including whether "pain play" is an acceptable term or an oxymoron. I'll give an excerpts from one of Laurelin's comments to make it clear, but I don't want to dwell on quotes. Those who want the whole story should read the entire thread.
It is not the pain from exercise that is good for you- that’s just your muscles complaining that they’ve been worked out. Now it may be a good sign for your health, but the pain is *not* what is good for you, the exercise is. BDSM fetishizes pain itself, says pain is good, can be good. Pain is not good for you, even if it is a sign of having exercised well, it in itself does you no good. It is the body’s warning. And it goes without saying (or should!) that exercise pain is itself a different feeling to pain from injury.

I know BDSMers use the term ‘pain play’. That doesn’t mean I accept the phrase as valid. I don’t. Pain is not play.

My only answer is something very personal. I don't pretend this is science, or even that I or my opinions on this are all that usual.

I've been through hell and back. Chronic pain is a daily occurrence in my life. I'm scarred and torn and put back together.

And what happened when all that occurred? Dissociation. Psychic death to spare myself the agony. Numbness. Pulling away from everything, and incapacity to feel.

Nerves are working or they aren't. What do they do when they work? Signal pain or signal pleasure.

Pain and pleasure are a package deal. Pain and pleasure are what you get when you choose to live.

Some people seem to think the choice in life is between pleasure and pain. It's some great battle, demons arrayed on one side, howling and charred, and angels rising sun-kissed on the other, wings glistening.

And when Patriarchy falls or when trauma releases its hold, Pain will die and life will be soft and pure for always.

I don't see it that way. I know how to kill pain, and the same off switch that kills pain kills pleasure.

When I chose the long process of healing rather than staying numb or suicide, I chose it all. I chose pain and pleasure as a package deal.

I chose to live, and choosing to live meant choosing to feel.

There is no magic land where life is free of suffering. Refusing to allow it to ever have positive significance is fine if it helps you, but that doesn't make it go away.

Pain and pleasure together have a name.

It's not a difficult name. It's not a strange name. It's not even a multisyllabic name. It's a nice and short little name that feels good in the mouth and on the lips and tongue.

That name is life.


Anonymous said...

Well spoken, Ms. Trinity. Err... Or written...

It's a sad statement of people's comprehension that they insist that many of the dualities of which existence is formed are mutually exclusive. Either one way or the other. Male or Female. Active or Passive. Hot or Cold. Right or Wrong. "Vanilla" or Fetish. Pleasure or Pain. Yang or Yin. Especially when the fact is that these things are each actually a continuum, wherein many people fall in between the poles and only a few stand at the extremes.

It is depressing that those once dedicated to fighting that very form of thinking are so quick to fall back into it regarding things that they do not (or choose not to) understand.

Trinity said...

Thank you. :)

"It is depressing that those once dedicated to fighting that very form of thinking are so quick to fall back into it regarding things that they do not (or choose not to) understand."

Yes, exactly.

Anonymous said...

Being uncharitable, I doubt Lauralin has done much exersise and is basing her comments… well, nothing particularly substantial.

Actually the pain of exercise is good for you, it's how muscles grow and become stronger and more refined and more capable of doing what is asked of them, it means too that how you think and feel about the movements you are doing is changing also.

Sometimes the pain during exercise is entirely psychological, and thinking about what you're doing in a different way can literally turn something to be endured into something delightful. And often the things you hate the most, that cause the most struggle are the same things you come to love, which bring you closer to yourself.

I far prefer the ache and tiredness and pain, and having to find my way into my body in the morning, than the dull lifeless empty ache of never trying to go beyond myself.

Or to be simpler, there's good pain and pain pain.

(anyway, just to say i love your blog)

Anonymous said...

This is so exactly on the mark that i almost cried reading it. In a good way, i mean. Thanks for that.

Dw3t-Hthr said...

This is ... utterly tangential, in a lot of ways, but I want to quote a bit of a book I'm currently reading as part of my pregnancy and childbirth research:

"The claim that undrugged childbirth can be a euphoric, life-transforming experience attracts no small amount of ridicule. Reporting on the threefold rise in U.S. epidural rates between 1981 and 1997, magazine and newspaper writers could not resist such sarcasm. One elated columnist announced that the 'reigning cult of birth as an athletic event' had been overthrown at long last. The real orgiastic moments of childbirth, she declared, as those 'simultaneous with that first welcome sensation of anesthetic coursing through one's veins.' And yet, among the natural childbirth books of the 1980s are many photographs of undrugged, laboring women who appear truly caught in the throes of ecstasy--or at very least, who look powerful, wild, and unafraid, including one in the midst of a breech delivery. Why are we so eager to sneer at these images? I don't remember anyone ever laughing at our high school foodball team--true believers in catharsis of physical pain--when they chanted 'Blood makes the grass grow!' as the ran onto the field before cheering throngs."

From Having Faith: An Ecologist's Journey to Motherhood by Sandra Steingraber.

And, again, not as tangential as it might look, isn't it?

Pain and pleasure and life.

(I should expand this thought over at my place at some point.)

Trinity said...

"The real orgiastic moments of childbirth, she declared, as those 'simultaneous with that first welcome sensation of anesthetic coursing through one's veins.'"


I don't have anything against anesthetics or analgesics of various kinds. Sometimes we need them.

And I'm fine with people making very different choices than I would.

Still... sometimes I think this generation is born addicted to Vicodin or something.

We're weaned on painkilling. I don't get it... or like it.

It's like, "ooh, pain, KILL IT."

I... don't... fit in... here.

Dw3t-Hthr said...

Betcha ND's crowd would think that my intent to have a midwife-assisted homebirth is just fucking great, and more woman-centered and whatever else. Certainly dodging the patriarchal shit is part of my reasoning for it.

But there's stuff in my processing around this that isn't precisely kink, but has a lot to do with pain/life/being, not to mention that epidurals tend to lead to chain-reaction medical conditions: epidural slows labor, add pitocin to speed labor, pitocin puts baby into distress, quick we need a C-section. If the choice is between pain and getting etherised out of experience and without necessity, I choose pain.

Pain is not my enemy.

Alcibiades said...

I'm curious as to how you'd feel about pain not only being a part of the package deal with life, but also a necessary one to make life enjoyable.

To wit, this post:


Anonymous said...

We're weaned on painkilling. I don't get it... or like it.

It's like, "ooh, pain, KILL IT."

I... don't... fit in... here.


I posted again on the subject over at mine - my earlier post, "My Relationship with Pain" has the following passage in it:

Pain at her cruellest and meanest best. She is no fun, but she is there not only as an obstacle, but as a friend - because although my life becomes much smaller, yet she challenges me and forces me to respond. She says to me not only "you are alive", but, "you will WORK at living!" And I meet her challenge.

I can only echo Dw3t-Hthr - "Pain is not my enemy".

I know it's wrong of me to make moral judgements, but I have a tendency to imagine that those who hide from pain are likely to be the ones who will flee the burning building, while those who know pain are the ones who will be making sure everyone else gets out first.

Trinity said...

From the post you linked, Snowdrop:

"On top of that, of course, there is my experience with depression. Depression is the antithesis of pain, it really is. Everything is heavy, dulled, senseless, dead. It isn't pain, it's the pain of being without sensation, the pain of having no pain."

Yes, this is how I experience it too.

Anonymous said...

This is a stunningly beautiful post, and it really resonates with me. The numb blandness they seem to be advocating for is really quite disturbing to me.

Being able to feel, and, (to a larger extent than I'll usually admit) re-learning to feel is how I can tell that I can recovering from my own trauma. The idea of an avoidance of pain for me is, like you wrote, dissociation. And, to an extent, depression. That slate-grey fog of nothingness.

Life is pain and wonder and joy. Life is understanding and managing pain when it's necessary and when/how you want and accepting it as you see fit when you can. I'm getting a tattoo in exactly 12 hours, and it's going to hurt. Probably a lot. And I still wouldn't want it to be painless, because the rush of endorphins is almost as lovely as seeing the new design for the first time.

Trinity said...


You win. There is nothing more to say than that you just WIN.

And have a damn sexy brain.

Trinity said...


You win. There is nothing more to say than that you just WIN.

And have a damn sexy brain.

hexy said...

Great post!

Even those most firm crusaders against any form of self harm within psychiatry have had to acknowledge that it tends to be adopted by those prone to dissociation because it works to re-associate you with your body.

Alcibiades said...

That means a lot coming from someone whose writing I respect so much, Trin.

Anonymous said...

"Life is pain and wonder and joy"

I think some people, i.e. those arguing for the painless existence, read this as:

If a=pain, b=wonder and c=joy, then:

Life = a+b+c


Pain = Live - (wonder+joy)

(i.e. Pain is Life without Wonder or Joy).

But we experience it as:

Life = a*b*c

Therefore, if a=0, then Life = 0

(i.e. if there is no pain, then there is no life)

(I'm trying to rephrase Pain = Life/(Joy*Wonder) into the masochist experience - I think it looks something like "Pain is life stretched across joy and wonder"?)

antiprincess said...

that is really poetic.

Gaina said...

I think my physical pain informs much of my art. The thing is, when you're 'wired up all wrong' your nervous system can actually give you some cool side effects to make up for the shitty aspects of physical pain. Mine are being able to 'see' sound and 'hear' colour. This gives me lots of room to literally give my pain colours and shapes.

It's trying to translate that into a language everyone else can undestand that's the bugger! LOL

fallible said...

This reminds me of the Tao and some concepts in buddhism, particularly relating it to Mephisto's comment. Moving past a spectrum conceptualization of what had been identified in our culture as either/or dichotomies is difficult but I also find it personally liberating. It could be argued, I suppose, that there are some things that are purely good or bad, for example, but I would be hard pressed to think of anything that has NO positive or negative ripples.

"The whole world recognizes the beautiful as the beautiful, yet this is only the ugly;
the whole world recognizes the good as the good, yet this is only the bad.
Thus Something and Nothing produce each other;
The difficult and the easy complement each other;
The long and the short off-set each other;
The high and the low incline towards each other;
Note and sound harmonize with each other;
Before and after follow each other.
Therefore the sage keeps to the deed that consists in taking no action and practises the teaching that uses no words.
The myriad creatures rise from it yet it claims no authority;
It gives them life yet claims no possession;
It benefits them yet exacts no gratitude;
It accomplishes its task yet lays claim to no merit.
It is because it lays claim to no merit
That its merit never deserts it."

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Rus-women.com said...

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