When you step into a boxing ring, you know what’s coming. The wet slap of a glove in your eye socket, the jaw-rattling right cross that shakes your teeth inside your mouth guard, even the burn of the ropes on your back when you are corralled by your opponent.
For those of you who will never set foot in a ring, here’s another way to look at it: when it’s time for a shot from the doctor, you see the needle, you look away and the sharp sting follows like the farewell of a bee on a burning Summer’s day. Pain is real and bright and it usually announces itself before it comes so you always know what happens next. But in our day-to-day lives, we spend most of our time avoiding any unnecessary discomfort. Therefore when you meet someone who ignites your heart, you do whatever it takes to avoid any pain.
Everyone has something to hide. Whether it’s a secret crush or a hidden rage or a crippling emotional problem, it can lie buried beneath layers of designer clothes, well-honed muscle or a frozen smile that masks the real feeling inside. Sometimes it bubbles to the surface — usually when we least expect it. The crush is revealed after a couple of drinks, the rage is ignited over a tiny slight or the emotional barrier crumbles even though you are in the warm, safe confines of a relationship. So why do we hide the things that make us human? Why do we hide the beat of our heart and the truth in our soul? Because we are all afraid of getting hurt.
So how do we avoid the pain? Some people become someone else, leaving their true nature behind to make someone happy. They deny who they really are to become someone else; someone they believe is the one their partner wants. That’s not to say that some people can’t keep an open mind and try new things with a new partner, but some people completely transform themselves into a false representation of who they are and what they want in order to keep the relationship alive.
Some people say things they don’t mean because they believe it’s what the other person wants to hear.
They say: “I love you” when they are not sure if that’s what they are feeling.
They say: “That sounds fun”, even though it’s something they hate. They say: “Everything’s fine” even though it isn’t.
Saying everything is fine is something we do every day. People say: “How are you?” and we say: “Fine, thanks”, even when we are the furthest thing from it. Can you imagine if everyone answered honestly when they were asked how they were doing?
No one would get anything done, and we would end up sharing our personal lives with complete strangers. Maybe that is why we don’t do it.
When someone you don’t know asks you how you are doing, what do you think they would say if you said: “My dog just died” or “My boyfriend just broke up with me” or even if you went the other direction and said: “I’m awesome. I just got a blowjob in the parking lot of the tanning salon.” The reason we say it is that “fine” is what people want to hear. So that’s our programmed response to hide how we truly feel.
We hide things in other ways, too. Suppose you have a crush on someone you see every day in the gym or behind the counter at a coffee shop or even walking past your window. Do you say anything? Not likely. And why is that? To avoid the pain of being rejected or finding out they are already connected or even the fact that they don’t share your sexuality. So we say nothing and daydream of what it would be like to talk to them, to hold their hand, to kiss them as rain pours down around you.
The problem with this situation is simple: what if none of that is true? What if they are just like you, timing their workouts to coincide with yours, making sure they are behind the coffee counter just to see you or taking the route past your window in hopes that one day you will say something? Hiding from pain means losing the opportunity to find something spectacular in another human being.
Pain doesn’t always count on someone else. There are the hidden fears that we disguise so even the general public thinks we are something we are not. The pain of hiding what we truly are, whether it’s a sensitive poet, a terrified virgin or even a player with a checkered past can be immense.
The poet becomes a callous smartass, the virgin trumpets endless fictional conquests and the person with the skeletons in his closet reinvents himself with a bright and shining halo. But we all know who we are when we look in the mirror, don’t we? All of us lie in the dark with whatever secrets weigh heavy on our hearts while trying to avoid the pain that may come from revealing our true faces.
When we tell people we are something we’re not, we lose our identities in what they want us to be. When someone rejects you or laughs at you or merely ignores your existence altogether, it’s not because there is something wrong with you, it’s because what they want and what they truly need is not reflected in you. And if it is, and they can’t acknowledge that, then they are the ones hiding from pain. They are the ones denying themselves the joy of finally being able to be themselves with you because they are afraid.
The saying goes that misery loves company. Well guess what? Fear loves it, too. When someone tells you that you can’t achieve what you want, sometimes it’s because they are living with the fear of failure themselves. When someone tells you that you are not good enough for them, sometimes it means that they are afraid you might decide that they aren’t good enough for you. When someone tells you that your relationship is over, sometimes they are afraid that because they truly love you, they might lose you somewhere down the line. Why suffer and face the pain, when fear is easier to live with? Or is that even living?
Let’s face it — most people are living their lives without an ounce of courage. What you have to realize is that courage is not the absence of fear, but realizing that something is more important than fear. It’s not just that we fear we aren’t good enough or smart enough or pretty enough, it’s that we fear how amazing we can truly be. It’s scary to be awesome. Believe me, I should know. But giving up fear means you have to embrace the pain that will definitely head your way.
See, without pain, without sacrifice, we have nothing. Pain is what makes us human. Pain illuminates us and guides us and forces us up off the mat to fight again. While we are drowning in pain, it blinds us, trying to trick us to see if we are strong enough to live to fight another day.
When it passes, we are triumphant. We can see for miles and our heads clear of the clouds of doubt. How much pain you feel is usually directly proportionate to how much you feel the emotion it is linked with whether it’s the dedication you have to achieving a goal or the capacity to love with all your heart. Pain can be the best teacher you have ever had, because anything worth having — whether it’s love or freedom or a knockout in the third round — is worth every drop of pain that leaks from your body. Fear no pain. And find out who you truly are.