There is a special club, unofficial though it may be, for those who know, through first-hand experience, the most extreme levels of pain. I speak not of recreational pain. Pain with safe-words cannot reach the levels of which I have in mind. No one in their right mind would consent to it, either in giving or receiving. And there is something all the more powerful in pain that cannot be escaped. Yes, it is a very special society that knows that pain. And no one ever wants nor volunteers to be a member.
Most people in the globalized free world have the luxury of never knowing this pain. Most people can watch scenes of gore, blood and suffering without it overly impacting them. Because they do not know… and probably, happily, never will. They can romanticize the baser human acts. They can look at monsters and lust after them. They do not know. How could they know?
When you stare into the abyss the Abyss stares back at you. So true! But I use this quote out of context on purpose. When you have been in pain at that high a level, trapped by your own body, when the pain gets so great that the whole world dissolves, that your whole self dissolves, you see it… you see the Abyss. It is Pain. Everything is Pain. It is an experience akin to being so high that the world dissolves, but in opposition to anything pleasurable. So “high” is not the right word, but no word exists in the English language for such, and perhaps rightly so… let it remain nameless.
But when you have been there… when you have looked into the abyss, had it look back at you, had it become you, have all that is you stripped away… then, and only then, you are a member. And such knowing cannot be unlearnt.
Members of this club are generally invisible to others, except in that we make non-members uncomfortable for reasons they cannot understand. We have a strangeness to us similar to a warrior who has seen too many battles. Just having experienced that level of pain makes us to a certain extent, though we may not wish it, intolerant to lower expressions of pain in others. “Oh, God! It hurts so much!” You have no idea… philistine.
But it makes us more compassionate as well. We don’t—we can’t—look at scenes of gore, blood and suffering without wincing. We know just how real that pain is. We don’t like it, and rightly so. Often times we become healers ourselves to be there for others like ourselves. Because that level of pain is inherently isolating and fraught with loneliness. We know. And we can see it.
Most people who, for whatever reason, have had chronic pain try to hide it from the people around them. Because, sadly, most people just can’t handle it. Observers more often than not make it worse by panicking or getting hysterical or add to our troubles by putting their emotional pain-as-witnesses in the mix. Far too many people don’t know how to detach with kindness. And if we’re in pain, we cannot afford to be around, let alone deal with, unproductive behavior like that. So we hide our pain. But we cannot hide it from our own kind. When you stare into the abyss the abyss stares back at you.
It’s a form of bad wisdom. It’s wisdom that most of us would wish we had never gained, but it is wisdom nonetheless. There is a certain serenity gained from knowing what we know. The noise of the World is turned down. Priorities come sharply into view. Things that once seemed like they mattered are now trivial. Or rather, there is no longer the obligation to react to such things as we once did. A sharp line is drawn between what’s actually important, and what society tries to tell us is important.
And that is perhaps what makes other people—non-members—so uncomfortable. They can sense, whether through body language or the thousand little decisions all of us make every day, that we no longer play by those rules. We are outside their understanding of right and wrong, good and evil. And to a certain extent, that makes us much more dangerous. Our strength has been tested and proven in the field. We do not cave as easily to threats of bodily harm. We know better.
I was once walking to my car late at night, dressed for dancing, when three large, thuggish men started walking towards me. I looked at them, as they obviously had ill intent, and thought to myself, Fine. You wanna play? No problem. Oh, sure, you may hurt me. But I promise you, I will cause you more pain than you even knew existed. They stopped. They reconsidered.
They crossed to the other side of the street…
…Because I was a member of the club, and they weren’t. I was willing to go there. I’d been there before. I knew I could make it back. They weren’t so sure. And they weren’t about to risk it.
Smart move. Because as a member, I don’t know when, or if, I would have stopped.
And if you gaze for long into the abyss, the abyss gazes also into you.
Seems my timing is apropo...