I call it torture, you call it life.
There are times when I don't know what else to call life. Times when my heart is gripped so hard in my chest that it feels as if each heartbeat is a struggle. Moments when the suffering that is life seems so never ending that every single taste, every single smell, all of my sensations are all being filtered through pain. When my chest feels so tight that I can't believe I was just able to take another breath and that even as I draw air into my lungs over and over, a part of me wishes it would just stop. Not in a suicidal, slash my wrist kind of way. And not in a tie the noose around my neck put my finger on the trigger and just fucking pull it kind of way. It's more subtle then that. It's more insidious. Life is torture during those moments when you have just woken up in the morning, you do a sleepy, little stretch and for a brief, flickering millisecond of a moment everything feels fresh, renewed, reborn. And just as your mind and your heart are reaching towards that glorious feeling of rebirth, you wake up just a little bit more and like the weight of a mountain, the fact that life is torture comes crashing down on you and you are buried underneath an avalanche of regret and heartache, sickness and despair. Life is torture when you've put your faith and trust into someone and then realized what a desperate and utter mistake that was as you scramble to reclaim what you've lost. It's torture when each waking moment seems to fill you full of panic and that even as you desperately cling to sleep, you dream of falling or of being completely abandoned by the one person you never wanted to watch walk away. Now don't get me wrong...I don't feel this way all of the time. When I wrote my column for S&L a couple of months ago about redefining and embracing love, I was in the midst of riding high on how incredible and awe inspiring life and love could be. My heart was open to thoughts of limitlessness and revolution, growth and change. And when it comes time to write my next column, I might be reaching towards those feelings once again. But at this moment, I call it torture. You can call it whatever the fuck you want, but life feels like torture to me.
We've all felt this. Every single person on this planet has had moments of crushing insecurity, blinding emotional pain, suffering that goes beyond description. This is nothing new to the human condition, it IS the human condition. Anyone who tries to tell you that they have never suffered through depression is fooling you in an attempt to fool themselves. The person who tries to tell you that they are not damaged is only damaging themselves further by telling that lie in the hopes that you will believe it. Sure, I know that there might be some lucky people out there who have only dabbled in the top layer of Dante's Inferno, but those people are few and far between and most of them aren't drawn and attracted towards the punk scene. Most punks I know are very familiar with every level of hell's inferno and have traipsed through each one multiple times.
And yet every day, we continue to get up and struggle to find the cool wash of hope that we need to soothe the daily combustion of life. Some people find their relief in drugs, and I'm not talking psychiatric medication. I'm talking pot, speed, pills, heroin...all of the drugs that numb you out and give you an illusion that you are free from the torture. Drugs can be so seductive that way. And I'm not saying that I'm above being seduced by the desire to be free from sorrow and despair. Just a few days ago, I was collapsed on my bed staring up at my ceiling, consumed by dread and panic and I found myself tossing this question over and over in my mind: How many vicodin would I have to take to stop my heart from hurting so fucking bad? Would four give me enough relief from this sorrow that I might feel as if I can breath again? Six vicodin might make the agony lessen. Eight? I don't know. I don't take pills to get high and the only reason I had the vicodin in the first place was cuz of a back injury, so I had no idea what a pill party consists of. All I knew is that I wanted to just numb the fuck out. I wanted to shut down my feelings, turn off my heart, and be able to look around me without every single thing being a reminder of something dreadfully painful. But instead of seeing just how numb I could become, I jumped up off my bed and desperately started to write. I put pen to paper and let my mind release some of the torture. Let the pounding ache in my head take form through words. I'd rather feel my pain. I'd rather write incoherent ramblings of a tortured mind then deny my pain. I'd rather be curled up on my bed in fetal position, rocking myself and stifling my sobs so my neighbors don't hear me screaming, than numbed out on pot or heroin. As seductive as it is to think that a drug can magically turn off all suffering and sadness, drugs are actually just the ultimate act of postponement. You can completely shut down while you're high, but all of your problems and all of your heartache are simply on hold and waiting to seep back into you the moment your high is over and done. Same with alcohol. Drinking takes the edge off of the sharp desperation that cuts and tears apart the fabric of life, but every toss of the bottle is just a nod to the same kind of denial that drugs offer. I can just hear somebody out there saying "Dude! Then just stay high and drunk and then you'll never feel any pain! “Just party all the time, man!" and of course, that's an option. Anything is an option. But what kind of life is that? Drunk all the time. High all the time. Sure, it might sound like utopia to some fucked up people out there, but it sounds like yet another circle in Dante's hell that keeps people spinning around and around.
Years ago, I lived in Richmond, Virginia. Situations in my life had escalated and spun so completely out of control that I felt as if each step I took only crippled me further. People I thought I could trust betrayed me, strangers who didn't know me were harshly judging me, and I got caught up in a whirlwind of emotional destruction that threatened to break me. It was during that period of my life that I decided to get the words "I call it torture" tattooed on my right arm and on my left arm, the words "You call it life" which are lyrics from the Dystopia CD titled "Human = Garbage". Sometimes, I get asked by people not involved in the punk scene what the writing on my arms says and when I tell them, a look of confusion flickers across their face and the person will usually stutter and act disturbed and drops that topic like a lead balloon. I guess in regular society, they don't admit to how fucked everything can be. They just go out and get married, have kids, accumulate debt, buy expensive things, work competitive, corporate jobs that consume all of their passion, retire and play golf, remember their glory years of high school, and then they die. Now THAT life seems like overwhelming, mind blowing torture to me. When punks ask me what is written on my arms and I tell them, almost every single person has just slowly nodded their head in agreement and said "cool" or something along those lines. For some punks, life is torture because of the injustices that all things living on this planet have to face. The suffering of animals, the exploitation of humans, the destruction of the earth...all of those things can make us look at life and realize just how insanely out of control and desperate this situation has become. For me, life is torture for all of those reasons, but also because my heart is capable of feeling so much. When I love, it is with complete abandon and with a feral hunger that consumes all. When I give, I want it to be with everything I've got and with nothing to lose. When I connect with someone, I want that connection to come from a place so deep within me that the connection I've made becomes like a lifeline that keeps me from getting lost. When all of those aspects of my life are on and running, then my heart feels so full of life that it just wants to explode. And when I suffer loss on any or all of those levels, then my heart does explode... it gets blown to bits by disappointment, sadness, despair, anguish...and that is when I call life torture.
I found an image in a fanzine years ago that has always stuck with me. It was a full page drawing of just faces, except each face had no distinctive features on it and it was all very stark and even though the faces had no real eyes or mouths, the curve of the heads and the shading and shadows of the images made the drawing look like a page full of grief. At the very bottom were the words, "You are not the only one who cries". Writing this column is my way of letting myself and other people know that nobody is ever alone in their suffering, and that even if it seems as if everyone else's lives are great and incredible and amazing, that there is someone out there curled into a fetal position, stifling their sobs, and wishing for a release from the pain. Just like you.