Tag Archives: pain

The rules of hurting

We’re all going to hurt each other.

I’m not saying you should feel comfortable with that, nor should the notion grant you permission to hurt people left and right, but it’s true. You will hurt every single person you love – and every single person you love will hurt you.

The degrees will vary, of course. Not every pain is a death sentence. Sometimes it’s something simple, unintentional, like an ill-timed joke about your hair or forgetting someone’s anniversary when they were counting on you to make the cake. There are different levels of hurt.

Here are the rules of hurting:

  1. It is your job to tell people when something aches – even if you think they should know. Our thresholds for pain are so wildly unique that at times we must guide each other to the wounds that have been poked through our skin – even when you still see blood on their fingers.
    1. Rule one can be disregarded in two circumstances.
      1. If the person has committed bodily harm against you, there is no need to tell them about it. For example, if a man punches you in the face, do not return to him – even if he was drunk and claims he can’t remember his fist colliding with your jaw.
      2. If you have told the person before that their actions hurt you and they’ve made no move to fix it, you are under no obligation to tell them again. You can. It’s your life. But repeating oneself is tedious and hope can be most dangerous here.
  2. To paraphrase the brilliant Louis C.K., when someone tells you that you’ve hurt them, you don’t get to say you didn’t. If you have a strong bond, it hurts to find out you’ve hurt someone you love. But to trample over them and fill the air with excuses or reasons why their pain isn’t your fault is cowardly at best. We’re all going to hurt each other. That doesn’t mean we should allow our friends to hurt by our hand.
    1. Make amends, not excuses. If you can’t stop hurting someone you claim to love, please let them go.
  3. Just because you’re hurting doesn’t make you right. Those thresholds I talked about earlier? Those levels of sensitivity that guide us throughout life? They do not give you room to be cruel or vindictive. Your response to being hurt should not be to hurt someone else. And let’s be clear – having that drive doesn’t make you a monster, but acting on it does.

There are aspects of life in which you do not get a say. You don’t get to choose whether you’re chronically ill or disabled. You don’t get to choose where you come from. But it is my fondest hope that you get to choose who hurts you. It doesn’t have to be the family in which you grew up. It doesn’t have to be anyone who proved themselves unable to care for you in healthy, constructive ways.  I can’t wish you a pain-free life. But I hope you find yourself in the position to surround yourself people who will balk when they’ve hurt you, who will throw up their hands and hold you and make strides to never injure you the same way again.


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My feet are ugly.

When I was little, I jumped down a flight of stairs and landed in a laundry basket. Four children had leapt before me, but I was the only one who got hurt. I broke two toes and the growth plate in my left foot – then hobbled up the stairs, watching the blood spread under my skin, until my foot was a blotchy mess. My mother rushed me to the ER.

An hour later, the doctor showed us the x-ray and confirmed that yes, my foot was broken. One toe was snapped clean in half. I remember wanting to touch the bone pieces, but the pain was immense and my stubbornness was not fully realized.

They set my bones, wrapped my foot in heavy cast material, and eventually sent me home. Soon after, I began using my broken foot as a weapon against mean boys (always boys, always mean). More specifically, I decided to kick the shins of every boy on the playground who teased me.

It was the first time I felt weaponized.

Every time a boy would make fun of me or call me names, I’d run up and kick them as hard as possible. Almost all of them started to fear me, but with the sort of childhood fear that is nearly indistinguishable from respect. The vibrations from my cast connecting with their shins jostled my healing bones. I had to bite my tongue as I kicked to avoid crying out alongside them.

And it made my feet ugly.

I am comfortable with this ugliness. I find some peace within it – as if this small allowance is proof that I cannot be reduced down to appearance. My feet are ugly, but that’s never made me any less worthwhile. The toes on my left foot are proof that I can heal after being broken, but more than that, they are a reminder that I am strong. I’ll never forget walking up the stairs that I had just flown above, the humility in gritting my teeth and stumbling to my mother on broken bones.

I wonder if that’s how Icarus felt, his back a mess of wax and expectations, as he plunged into the sea. I wonder if I’ll feel like that again.

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