Ever since this pandemic began, it seems like there’s no shortage of torment everywhere you look.
/ˈtôrment/ severe physical or mental suffering:"Their deaths left both families in torment."
I know the world wasn’t exactly hard up for bad news before 2019 but filtering out news was standard for a certain subset of people since 2016—and before—for mental health reasons. That’s the thing about privilege, you get to ignore problems that are deliciously far away, instead of in the literal air you breathe. Way to bum us out, air.
So, with all these people dying, locally and globally—and I include my friend Rose, who died by her own hand last December—it seems like it’s not been a real chipper time here in the US of A. I have both friends and clients experiencing a great deal of anguish now; technically still alive but dying on the inside.
Up until some months ago I was feeling a little on the none-too-chipper side myself, and the agony I was witnessing around me seemed to be inflaming my own. Since I exist as much in the energy world as the physical one, I felt clearly that I was carrying something that wasn’t mine, until I saw the reason for my torment and decided to let it go. I’m sharing because this isn’t something I always knew how to do…
Years ago, my partner had a tough heartbreak with the first woman he had real feelings for since his wife had died. The relationship was relatively short but after it ended, he spent months driving through a certain intersection on the way home from work and gazing wistfully left in the direction he used to drive to her house.
One day, he told me, he just got tired of being “like that,” so he decided he’d suffered enough; he wasn’t up for any more agony. The next day, he didn’t even change his route, he simply stopped engaging with the feeling.
“Oh yeah?” I replied, fake casually, “And how’d you do that?”
I remember this interaction because we hadn’t been dating long and at the time it seemed like a giant red flag. Was he implying that people could just “change how they feel?” Clearly this man was a guiltless Gentile, I mean, what kind of putz can stop suffering on command, how insensitive to those among us who suffer from mental health issues and furthermore…
“Well, no, otherwise,” he continued rudely over my internal mental spiral, “it’s like you have these Planned Moments of Sadness in your life and you kind of get addicted to them in a way. You can get stuck in the nostalgia of it and so the scab never heals.”
It hit me then but took years to penetrate: It is possible to get addicted to torment, even the word itself is aptly named from the Latin torquere, meaning to twist. We can ‘torque’ our own emotions into a taut ache because we feel we must torment ourselves.
verb /tôrˈment/ cause to experience severe mental or physical suffering: "She was tormented by her past."
Tomorrow is Yom Kippur, the Jewish day of atonement, in fact, this last 10 days were meant for reflection and amends to those we have harmed. Though I’m not Orthodox, spiritually it makes sense to apportion the torment to a certain time of year that has a finite end—guys, we are not supposed to suffer indefinitely.
In Buddhism, the physical nature of reality is at the very least misleading and, in some strands of the faith, considered to be a literal illusion. Since this life thing may be but a dream, why not choose an enlivening and hopeful one, if we can? Even the Catholics can absolve themselves of sin with penance, can we all just take the ‘hair shirt’ off for a minute?
It’s worth noting that there are quite a few video games with Torment in the title, and since it’s been recently proven that behavioral realism does not increase IRL aggression in players, we could just treat life as a game, with the opportunity to level up if we’re skillful enough.
A month ago, in a quiet moment, I saw clearly that I had been carrying survivor’s guilt in my body. Who was I to take up valuable oxygen, when four and a half million people have died of this stupid virus, not to mention Rose? Also, Afghanistan, Darfur, Syria, white supremacy, misogyny, loud chewing, low talking… on and on… perfectly good reasons to feel bad.
So, I decided to actively choose not to be tormented, moment by moment, letting those Planned Moments of Sadness pass through unfettered, without becoming a lifestyle choice.
Even though we’re asked to fast tomorrow (I don’t for medical reasons and won’t be torturing myself about it, see above) what is required of all of us is to retain deep empathy for the world’s suffering, without having to take it all onto, and into, ourselves.
Ideally, we can save masochism—and sadism for that matter—for the bedroom. That sweet torment administered with love…
Photo of @siennahayes.model by Randy Yokomoto
I loved this, Susanna. And, as always, you make me think and laugh.
Beautiful Susanna and perfectly timed... My relationship with a woman also named Rose, ended a few months ago. It may have the sparks of renewed love in the wind, though for now is over. And it has been tormenting me so. Time to let the torment gooooo.