I would first come to understand the concept of suffering as a child. Back then, to suffer was often the result of actions taken by the adults throughout my young existence. My mother was one of those adults. Sometimes, I would gather enough courage to tell her of my ordeal. On the occasions that didn’t begin with some profanity-laced tirade, punctuated by “There’s nothing wrong with you.”, she offered a memorable phrase. “Other people have it much worse”, is what she would utter before shooing me away so she could self-medicate.
This phrase, I would later find, was told to my mother by her mother. My grandmother learned it from her parents. It was a way to trivialize the concerns of children by making them seem small when compared to “other people.” The desired effect was for a child to learn their worries were subject to an unspoken hierarchy. Instead, this notion had an adverse effect on my relationship with suffering. While I was able to internalize what I was being taught, it reduced my suffering until it became…trivial…even to me.
This would eventually take the form of obliviousness to my own personal suffering as I aged. Other people have it much worse, right? I pressed on in the face of nigh-insurmountable trauma while incognizant of the toll my ignorance would take on every aspect of my existence. I possessed knowledge confirming there were indeed other individuals with lives much worse than mine, but this life was mine alone. “To each their own”, says the great proverb. What that proverb fails to mention is that your “own” can come from someone else.
The path to holding space for my suffering and subsequent trauma was riddled with the bones of my ancestors. The individuals of my bloodline had to tell themselves that other people have it worse as a way to mitigate the cycle of black pain. It’s the same pain that brought black pride while treating the importance of mental health as nothing more than “white people shit.” When my mother uttered her catchphrase of “Other people have it much worse”, I would much later realize that she was talking to herself too. My journey, while still in progress to this day, would lead me to BDSM. That was when I came to understand suffering in a new light while resurrecting my relationship with it.
After consensually dealing out suffering to others, I often wondered why I’d chose to do so. Furthermore, I pondered why someone would be an agent in their own suffering. Where I’d once withheld attention to my personal suffering was now the drive to better understand it and its appearance in the lives of others. I would find my attitude towards suffering was rooted in trauma. The expectations I had for my existence included suffering as an inescapable certainty with no regard for consent. I eventually chose to distribute suffering because I COULD choose, which was in stark contrast to my previous experiences. So why would anyone elect to be an accessory to their own suffering? Because they can.
Here, suffering is optional and space is erected in its name.