By Annaliese Meyer
I’ve been wondering lately how a genuinely fun and seemingly meaningless moment can suddenly alter itself into a monstrous mental pit of horror. Like casual sex or a drunken dance party: one moment you’re moaning or laughing and the next you’re crying in the shower or vomiting on your pillow. Somehow our self-destructive actions never fail to disappoint us in the kick back. But what is self-destructive anyway?
In my opinion self-destruction can be subtle. Like for instance my recent adventure in branding myself. At the time it seemed pretty innocent but as time passed, the more I looked at the scar on my arm the more I wondered why I would do such a thing. I began to wonder what exactly was the purpose of this? Was it the pain or distraction or God forbid, was it both?
Prior to the event in which I convinced by sister’s boyfriend to brand me with the tip of a lighter, I had just been visiting my niece. I cooked my overtired sister a meal and danced around the house trying to bounce my niece into an early slumber while my sister ate. Then I enjoyed listening to my brother-in-law’s records while sipping on some port.
I had done something very grown up and something to be proud of and yet as my evening progressed and as I ingested too many precarious substances, I felt the need to burn my flesh.
It was like I had gotten sick off of being too responsible and wanted to do something juvenile.
When I awoke the next day, extremely hungover with a self-inflicted burn already filling with puss, I felt like an idiot. But that’s exactly what I wanted, right?
I find that too often we, as youths, are drawn the proverbial flame in the sense that we are drawn to experiences that we use to test boundaries. These experiences can often be destructive, but they are illuminated none the less because of the uncertainty of whether the event will result in pleasure or pain. We float around them like a fly, testing the heat, coyly moving back and forth, just to see how much heat we can actually handle. Now I’m not saying the flame isn’t necessary. You fuck your ex a couple of times and eventually you’ll learn why it’s no good.
However, I think we can also get caught up in the thrill of these self-destructive actions. Unfortunately there appears to be a cool factor that surrounds them that can convince us that things like getting wasted, being disillusioned, or participating in toxic relationships are acceptable.
Therefore I think it might be time to dig deeper. Because the fact is, the tools that are used to participate in self-destructive behaviour — whether it be a person, bottle, joint or a lighter — have a specific meaning to the individual.
We pick these things to get lost in or use for a cool story to beat the insecurity, anxiety or the sheer terror that life offers. But when the wound heals or the hangover passes, nothing has actually been conquered. Sometimes all you’re left with is a badass smiley scar.
My evening was fun, but I wonder what would’ve happened if instead I’d just sat in silence and let that anxiety or whatever I felt finally hit consciousness. I may have cried and have had a really shitty night, but through a process of just experiencing it I may have also deflated the impact and influence of my anxiety. Maybe I would have learned something.
So in the end perhaps there is equal wisdom in joy and pain, it is just harder to see the value in the latter. The emotional pain I felt the night I branded myself is still hard to describe. I can use the word anxious, but what does that really mean? It’s so relative that it becomes nearly impossible to fully understand.
However, I think that is common. A lot of what we feel as human beings is ambiguous. In fact, ambiguity can often cause even more anxiety because we can’t treat what we can’t see or define. So perhaps accepting the ambiguity for its mystery and letting it run its course without attempting to hide is the cure; just simply living it.
More than anything I believe that these states of unrest have something to tell us. Maybe it’s about school, work, or a hidden passion but these tacit emotions mean so much more than we realize. They have something to say, and I think whether or not we listen is crucial to our over all well being.