'interesting if true, but so what?' -- managing the long-term injuries to sexual wellbeing

Cleaning the house today, I am listening to Clarissa Pinkola Estés’s The Joyous Body: Myths & Stories of the Wise Woman Archetype, and was moved to write about something she said that I think is profoundly relevant to those of us who are trying to heal from the wounds inflicted on our sexualities by a sex negative culture or by sexual predators.

She says to take full care of your hurts. Take full care, and then if it still hurts, she says, tell yourself, “Interesting if true, but so what?”

Here’s why:

If you shift focus away from pain, it begins to mediate pain. If you shift focus away from concentrating on the pain that you feel in your body, it begins to literally mediate the pain neurologically; it doesn’t meant that it goes away entirely, it means that the focus has shifted and the pain becomes in background instead of screaming in foreground. And that applies to chronic pain in particular – it doesn’t apply to pain that’s from some kind of big accident of some sort and screaming in the middle of the roadway. This is for the kind of pain that is chronic.

She goes on to describe the bone pain she has experienced since she broke her leg when she was a child; and she describes all the things she does to manage her pain – tai chi and soaking and using a cane and, when absolutely necessary, pain killers.

“The majority of the time, if I do all I can that is gentle in intervening, I say, “Interesting if true, but so what?” and I go on with life, I find that that scream is all the way down to a murmur most of the time.” … Full health means, given the condition that the body is in right now […], taking full care. It doesn’t mean being able to jump up and down and leapfrog and turn cartwheels all the time. Full health means that I am still standing and that I am still dancing, and that the dancing is the point, not the pain.

I worry that this will sound dismissive of that pain, when it is, in fact, the deepest way I can imagine of honoring the ways we all walk around every day with these wounds. Notice that the first step is: Take full care.

Take. Full. Care.

Do you have a painful wound? Okay. Have you done all the things you can to manage that painful wound and help it heal? Have you sought information and guidance about helpful strategies? Have you built a brace of love and compassion to hold the wound as it heals? Have you enlisted loved ones to help you maintain that brace of love and compassion? Are you practicing, every day, the art of keeping your wound protected from the people who would, as Estés puts it, “steal your hope”?

Are there things you could, in principle, do to manage your pain, but you can’t because of practical realities? Okay. You’ve done all you can. And gradually, practical realities may change. Or they may not. So keep your eyes open… and still, each day, take full care.

Healing hurts. If you break your leg it hurts, and it continues to hurt until it is healed. Putting a cast on it does not, in itself, heal the leg; it only creates an environment of holding that allows the leg to heal gradually. You would never say, “I’m taking full care! Why does my leg still hurt?” It still hurts because it’s healing. That’s normal. Taking full care does not mean you will be free of pain. Taking full care means you’ve done all you can to promote healing… and now you can turn your attention to another sensation, another domain of your life, another activity.

Take full care.

And when it is the kind of injury that may never heal, when you are simply living with pain indefinitely…. still, take full care. Every day.

And once you have taken full care, simply allow the hurt to exist in the background, and turn your attention toward the dancing that you can do.

And if reading this makes you go, “BUT EMILY MY PAIN!” I say, “Have you taken full care? If not… take full care. Enlist loved ones to help you take full care. Take all the care that you pragmatically can. And then once you have taken full care… your pain is interesting but not the point. The dancing is the point, even if you’re doing it in wheelchair or a bed.