Craig / Toronto / 02.03.16
From a very young age I have had a very comfortable relationship with physical pain. And for as long as I can remember I have always known why. Physical pain to me was always something that I felt I could contain in a way. To control. Emotional pain always seemed to rip me apart and be utterly out of my hands. Comparatively, physical pain always seemed easy to navigate. In a way, no matter how much physical pain I was in, I was always aware and somehow relieved that it hurt a lot less. I took comfort in that. The things that caused me emotional pain as a kid scared me to death. They frighten me to this very day - a little boy inside of me always afraid the end may be nigh and that it will inevitably be his fault. Compared to that kind of fear, a broken bone has never held much weight.
My first career was in professional wrestling. There my body was at home in a world it understood. I work best in a space where my body can be used aggressively. Fully. And it never mattered how hurt I was. No matter how long it took me, I got up every time and happily came back for more.
Early on I was diagnosed with bulging disks in my lower back, a hip that I was told at the time would likely need to be replaced at some point and a neck that was no longer as capable of protecting my spinal cord as one might like. I have been tested three times for a broken neck.
Recently – and entirely expectedly - all of my symptoms have escalated.
General thinking would have it that I have abused my body but I rankle at that assessment. My body is meant to be used. And used hard. I have no desire to escape this life unscathed. Physically or emotionally. I don’t believe that in a perfect world we don’t get hurt. And it is more often the attempt at avoidance of hurt that ultimately does us the most harm.
Yet as I stood in the gallery that night looking at the opening of This Body Project, reading about the pain of silence, of not paying attention, of not honoring, of not giving enough love...What was my response? I have made a life of putting my body and heart through a grueling program of living. An insistence on not stopping. An insistence on fighting to the death. Hidden behind an outlook of “tough it out/always be grateful” has hid a miserliness about my own suffering. A simultaneous hyper-awareness alongside a convenient ignorance.
I have pain, always. Always. But I realized that I never really told people too much about that. How often – if ever – do I truly acknowledge that out loud to anyone? How often – if ever – do I ever truly acknowledge that to myself?
There is a particular kind of vulnerability I like to keep to myself. I have made a life out of toughing it out and being strong. When an emergency happens I am happily the one to sort out the details. Talk to the doctors. Figure out a care program. Contact the friends. Be useful. Be brave. Don’t show the trembling fear. Don’t melt. Don’t stop fighting. Because if there was one thing I learned more than any other as a kid, if you can’t take care of yourself, you’re through. You’re dead. There is nobody there to catch you.
I think that’s probably the reason so many close friends talk to me of my capacity to care now. I care – or attempt to care – because I never want anyone I care about to feel the way I have felt. I want everyone to feel safe. Because the better part of my life has been based on not feeling safe. I know the weight of it. And I don’t want anyone to feel that way, ever.
I don’t hate my pain. It is a reminder to me always that I used my body in the way I saw fit. I will happily pay for that for the rest of my days. And I do truly get that this body is only here once. And the last thing I want to be thinking when I die is that I didn’t wring out of it everything that I could. To do so would be ungracious. I will always go hard. I am full contact everything. It is my prayer of gratitude for being here.
But writing this piece has driven me deeper into my body and made me infinitely more aware of the pain and power that reside there. Power in seeing. Power in taking ownership. Power in acknowledging the responsibility that is uniquely ours and ours alone. About facing and reconciling a particular lack of self-care. A kind of refusal to acknowledge that is mirrored in my life and bones. Something about the way we hide our vulnerabilities. Our soft, penetrable stomachs. About the ache that resides there. About a certain alienation that comes when we avoid or deny.