O Sweet Suffering

The mistress we sometimes tolerate for far too long

Suffering can be addictive.

It’s somehow deceptively easy to fall into: like a sweet, soft, warm voice, calling “Come here” in an oddly sexy way that many of us have a hard time ignoring.

“Um, okay,” we shrug and then without much thought, we’re neck-deep in another brutal workout, another mistaken relationship, another frustrating job, or another social event that we attend with a smile while we are secretly dying inside.

Why Do We Willingly Suffer?

Maybe it’s not the suffering itself we crave but the relief afterward … or the sympathy of others who see and know what we’re going through or have gone through.

Suffering recognizes suffering.

But whether it’s exercise, nutrition, personal relationships, work, or that neighborhood group you just can’t quit, we all find ourselves at some point putting up with what we would rather not tolerate and then many of us hit this same spot, the one where we say:

“What the fuck am I doing?”

Maybe you reached it in your joggers and hoodie, getting into your car in the dark for another 6am workout, so broken and hurting that you’ve limped to the garage and suddenly as you sit there in the dark, willing yourself to start the engine because you really don’t want to be late, you see your hands on the steering wheel and you feel the sharp edges of your broken spirit and you think, “Oh no. I have to stop doing this.” And you don’t go. You return to your warm house. It’s time to rest for a little and maybe for a lot.

Or maybe you reached it at work when they said, “Come into the office” during the pandemic and you did but you looked around at your maskless co-workers and you imagined you could see the droplets of the virus being cast from their mouths with each word and every laugh, moving towards you like the slowest-moving, tiniest villains in any movie ever. And you said nothing right then but quietly packed up all your personal things, sneaking them out to your car on a number of trips, because you didn’t want a scene but you knew — you knew, you knew, you knew — that when you left for the day that you weren’t ever coming back.

And all of us have reached that point in love when the light bulb of heartbreak switches on and you suddenly know you will live in its glare for months and years to come.

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Is Your Soul Appalled?

The author Elizabeth Gilbert says we will tolerate so much suffering and nothing can pull us off it (no friends, no advice, no intervention) until finally — FINALLY — we reach the point where our soul is appalled and we can go no further. We simply can’t live life in that way anymore.

Appalled.

I know I’ve reached the point of no more at various points in my life. Points where I knew that, in order to move forward, someone was going to be hurt … and it could either be me again or someone else.

And I chose someone else.

Every time, I felt like a jerk in that moment. I think we all feel like cretins in that moment. Almost every one of us. Total cretins. We have decided to not take the blow, not absorb the suffering, not put the comfort of others ahead of our own.

Bruce Springsteen has a line for this. (Yes, he has a line for everything.) He says, “You want it. You take it. You pay the price.”

Paying the Price

Because, ultimately, all of life is not about you putting the comfort of everyone else above your own. That is needless suffering.

As a gay woman, I know all about putting the comfort of others above my own. Our society yells this message at the queer community in a variety of ways, more vehemently in some parts of the nation than others.

  • Don’t look that way

  • Don’t kiss that person in public

  • Don’t “flaunt” your gayness

  • Can’t you just be like everybody else?

And I’m here to tell you it’s a messed-up way to live.

So don’t. Because you don’t have to.

Pay the price. Take a look at your life today and decide where you are suffering and for what reason.

  • Some situations may be totally valid

  • Some things should continue as they are

  • Your suffering might be temporary or necessary for your growth in particular situations

But if you’re listening to the Siren of Suffering and your soul is appalled – STOP. Assess. And, if it’s warranted, make a break for daylight like your life depends on it.

Because it does.

Better that you make a run for freedom and fail. Or turn around. Or maybe — just maybe — succeed. Your soul was not made for suffering alone. You are made for so much more.

Life, as always, is right here in your hands. Decide: What will you do with it?


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