Pain Is a Battering Bastard … And More (Part 1)

Hand clutching fence
Image by Leland Francisco (CC BY 2.0)

Once upon a time my dom was nursing me through some truly horrific cramps.

I was not very lucid. A particularly vicious cramp took me by surprise, and I found myself whimpering our safeword.

I will never forget the look on his face.

To cheer us both up, he told me that I had a belly god, a dark and hungry one. I loved that, because one of my favourite lines of poetry was “The body is a temple of pain.” And unfortunately for this masochist, whatever lived in my temple had developed a real taste for smiting.

I looked for that poem fondly when I started this blog. But either my memory played me false, or we have better translations now. Please brace yourself. For me, at least, this is kink-proof material.


Nothing has changed.
The body is a reservoir of pain;
it has to eat and breathe the air, and sleep;
it has thin skin and the blood is just beneath it;
it has a good supply of teeth and fingernails;
its bones can be broken; its joints can be stretched.
In tortures, all of this is considered.

Nothing has changed.
The body still trembles as it trembled
before Rome was founded and after,
in the twentieth century before and after Christ.
Tortures are just what they were, only the earth has shrunk
and whatever goes on sounds as if it’s just a room away.

Nothing has changed.
Except there are more people,
and new offenses have sprung up beside the old ones –
real, make-believe, short-lived and nonexistent.
But the cry with which the body answers for them
was, is, and will be a cry of innocence
in keeping with the age-old scale and pitch.

Nothing has changed.
Except perhaps the manners, ceremonies, dances.
The gesture of the hands shielding the head
has nonetheless remained the same.
The body writhes, jerks and tugs,
falls to the ground when shoved, pulls up its knees,
bruises, swells, drools and bleeds.

Nothing has changed.
Except the run of the rivers,
the shape of forests, shores, deserts, and glaciers.
The little soul roams among those landscapes,
disappears, returns, draws near, moves away,
evasive and a stranger to itself,
now sure, now uncertain of its own existence,
whereas the body is and is and is
and has nowhere to go.

Shudder. I know I writhe and fall and bruise, and I love it. But not this. If it works for you, that’s great, but Wisława Szymborska has succeeded in blacking out my kink-coloured glasses.

So I scratched that poem from my list of blog ideas. But recently I was reminded of it while tweeting angrily about my chronic pain.

To be honest, I was a lot more sanguinary than that.

“Ow! Ow! OW! What do you think? My bloody tailbone is talking to me in bloody tongues! My wrists got tired of zapping me with lightning and they called in the bloody reinforcements! OW!

Why was this tweet-worthy news? I’ll tell you.

Yes, my body likes to non-consensually hurt me. It’s a bitch bastard. And I have nowhere to go, like Wisława Szymborska’s poem says. It really is unnervingly like an abusive relationship as described by the great feminist writer Margaret Atwood:

you fit into me

you fit into me
like a hook into an eye

a fish hook
an open eye

Unfortunately, I know the kind of relationship she’s talking about. Except it was mutual in my case. My wonderful cramp-nursing belly-god-quipping partner and I broke up because we decided to stop being bad for each other. Pain had become the order of things. It filled every space, but we couldn’t imagine life without each other, so surely it was love, surely it had to be right?

It took a ridiculously long time for us to even see that we could leave the pain behind. When your boots are gone, that’s when you really need to walk.

Reader, I left him. We stopped hurting each other.

I’m so glad I’m getting to that point with my body, too.

Part 2 features 17th century poetry and science fiction. And I wasn’t even trying to be weird.

6 thoughts on “Pain Is a Battering Bastard … And More (Part 1)”

  1. I love this post. I love how you chronicle your changing relationship to pain and how it reflects so many other things about your emotional landscape. Pain has always angered me. I’ve always fought it and railed against it. Interestingly, as I get older, I’m finding that I have to relax when one of my (chronic) pains flairs up – my relationship to pain is changing and now I try to sink into it, and not get attached. It may be an odd thing to say, but I feel that pain is, in some ways, very useful. It tells you a lot about yourself. It’s hard to lie to yourself when your confronted with the bald, true you that suffering brings out. And I’m not even a masochist. :) But then again, as a top, I *really* respect pain.

    1. Your comments always make me reread my writing to find out if I really did what you said! And you are right about pain being useful and revealing – but you’re way ahead of me. I simply don’t have that distance.

      Then again, when I’m scening, distancing myself from the pain is the last thing I want to do. When that happens, it represents some kind of failure by me or the top. I wonder if that striving for surrender, or at least raw reaction, carries over into my vanilla life? Hmmm.

      Your comments are way too interesting. :)

  2. Relationship with pain. Hmm. Just have to comment on this one. In the aftermath of the horrific fracture last year, I think I have something to say about it (*). I was told fairly early that the outcome might not be good. Looking forward to an ankle replacement surgery in 20 years’ time. Meantime, live with it.

    In my teens I read a book, one of those long-drawn political intrigue novels of ancient China. In one description on how to survive torture they talked about the ebb and flow of pain, how one breathes through it. Reminds me of a description of the Lamaze technique, though no personal experience there I’m afraid. Or maybe I’m mixing up the novel with with the technique.

    All I can say is that there are good days and bad days. Most times when I don’t pay much attention to it, it goes away by itself. Not ignoring, just accepting it’s presence and carrying on with what I’m doing. An old friend who doesn’t need you to fuss over them. But I know if the pain manages to incite a negative emotional reaction – regret, anger, grief – it’s going to hang around longer. I’d done the the best I could under the circumstances becomes almost like a warding mantra.

    Under a different context, I deal with pain with pretty much the same principles. Except that the experience is by choice. Accept, disperse, sink into it, let yourself be engulfed by it. Is there really a difference?

    (*) This comment specifically excludes the excruciating half an hour between the fall and the morphine injection. There is no preparation or technique to handle that. Unless one gets a limb mangled on a regular basis.

    1. Tjan, you can ALWAYS comment, there’s no need to save it for special occasions!

      With your thrilling history of injury, you’ve had a lot more experience coping with chronic pain than me. And your attitude is clearly healthier. But I think we deal with pain in different ways. I simply can’t, er, enjoy it without tension and panic and the humiliation of pandering to someone else’s sadism. And you know I rigidly suppress all those emotions in everyday life. My first reaction is still to tense up and resist, but after that I do try to do the relaxation and acceptance thing. It hurts less that way, yes. But I think the most effective vanilla coping mechanism for me is simply dissociation.

      To clarify about those tweets, I was happy because I was surprised by the pain – I was no longer automatically initiating the relax-and-dissociate pain management process without thinking about it. And the point when I started getting really and truly depressed about the pain last year was when I finally sought medical help and got iatrogenic complications instead. I had already pretty much accepted that I’d never type again, so what really sent me over the cliff was the thought of enduring everyone’s helpful suggestions for the rest of my life. Especially my nearest and dearest. It was a pretty awful time.

      I suppose you are right, there is a parallel. When it’s fun, I don’t react directly to the physical pain, it’s all about someone else’s emotional sadism. And when it’s not fun, I can shrug off the physical pain, but it’s other people’s reactions that really do me in.

      P.S. I don’t know another soul on earth who could do what you did in that half-hour before the morphine. You are just better at pain, all kinds.

What do you think?