Sufferer’s Guilt: The Suffering of Others Does Not Negate Your Own

(Yesterday, I lapsed in the daily update goal I’ve set for the month. Nothing came to mind by way of a topic to write around. More accurately, a handful did, but I couldn’t find a structure with which to work it in as a progression of the last two. As I put my mind to thinking of one for today, one came to mind – one that, refreshingly, does not center around myself as the primary subject.)

After the last post I wrote about managing the lingering constant pain that things leave behind even after you’ve worked through them, the nature of suffering, and the need for self-compassion, the story of a dinner I hosted a few weeks back for my friend David, a serviceman in the Navy that had just returned stateside. We planned dinner for Friday at the beginning of the week, and as it ran its course, the event took on a social nature. What was meant to be a private personal get together became a group gathering. Immediately after getting home from work, I set to cooking a party-sized batch of fried potato tacos and sides of beans and rice to go with it. The night was a success and a very good time, and as it wound down to its end, it found only the guest of honor, myself, and two other very close long-time friends still standing.

As we enjoyed chill house beats into the early hours of the morning and basked in each others’ company, the conversation took one of those unexpected turns towards the serious. I’d been doing some pre-emptive cleaning inside so as to not have to deal with it in the morning. When I joined the rest of the group out in the balcony, I walked into the conversation as David was throwing out some sort of hypothetical thought experiment, I don’t recall what it actually was, that had to deal with the afterlife and the promise of paradise. He was pushing for Christian heaven with a veracity that felt almost missionary. We indulged, and with the other 3/4 of the participants being in the agnostic/secular humanist camp, had a very intoxicated philosophical discusssion (that probably wasn’t as intellectual as we all felt it to be in the moment).

After awhile, we called him out on his zeal and asked why he was so ardent about paradise-in-the-skies heaven. “I just want everyone to be happy” he answered as he entered the beginning stages of crying. Now, my friend David, he’s one of those one-in-a-million kind of good guys. Always quick to help out a total stranger, and generous to a fault. It’s something that you admire while at the same time feel frustration at his refusal to give much weight to how his good will often results in the neglect of his own best interests. Again, at this point we were into the early hours of the AM and were properly filled up on libations, so the three of us bore down on him with that “brutally honest tough love” and exectued it with a pack-like finesse. Or, in an unfluffed way of saying it: we ganged up on him pretty hard. I want to say that it we overdid it and were way harsher than we needed to be, but in retrospect, it was one of those times where the situation really did call for it. Otherwise, we wouldn’t have broken past that whole wanting-everyone-in-the-world-to-be-happy layer of misdirection and gotten to what was unconsciouslly really talking about.

David had been given up for adoption as a very young child, and though he had the fortune of, as I’ve been told to believe, meeting and having a good ongoing relationship with his biological mother over the recent years as an adult. Unbeknowst to us, which looking back is embarassing to admit I wasn’t on-point and keenly already aware of, that dinner took place right after the one year mark of the passing of his beloved adoptive mother.

Now, here’s where I can’t help interrupt the narrative with myself. I’ve been writing about my whole emotional-depravation stoic attitude ever since I first took it up. Though I’ve been left, as recently recapped, completely bereft of self-compassion and feeling, it hasn’t made me a completely caring asshole. In fact, falling into that black hole and pulling myself back out of it has made exponentially more compassionate for others than I used to be. Sure, I can’t empathize to that insane degree I used to be capable of, but I’ve also been down that depression spiral that I never would have thought could happen to me. And not only can I logically not be the only one, there’s plenty of posts and status updates on the web to back me up on this.

The three of us shifted over into supportive-caring-theraputic friend mode, and seemingly pulled off making him feel better about his mother’s passing. For a couple minutes at least, right before another unexpected left turn happened and we had him back to broken down and crying. This time, because he didn’t like himself — because he had to have been born defective in some way, enough to the point to where he didn’t want to be kept and was given up for adoption. While we three were once again able to collectively (and supportively) address why he shouldn’t carry the weight of his biological mother’s choice all those years ago on his own shoulders, the part that I did almost all of the speaking on was over the idea of not liking himself as result. If I’d had a tape recording of that moment, I’d be a transcription job and some supplemental writing & editing away from having a good few good weeks worth of content taken care of.

I drew on all my years of self-loathing and depression over similar-if-not-the-same thoughts he was throwing out, and didn’t stop talking until I felt sure that he was in a better place on that matter than he was before I started word vomitting all over him. I’ve been down that path, and I wouldn’t wish it on anyone; I would become that overbearing supportive person I could have used to keep me from falling myself to keep anyone from having to go through that. Especially on him — David is too good for that. He’s the kind of person this world needs more of.

The night ended on a good note, and he messaged me with thanks the next day; that it’d been a very helpful and needed healing experience. Now that the story’s told, I’ll circle back to what it was that made me choose this to be my next entry and the meaning behind the post title.

Throughout the talk earlier in the night, David kept circling back to feeling so silly for feeling so sad when there’s so much greater suffering in the world. What gave him the right to feel sad about mourning his mother after all the time they had together when people across the world are going through such far worse tragedies. Very much like I was able to opine profusely on the matter of him “not liking [him]self”, so to was I able to do so on the idea that other people’s suffering would trivialize and invalidate his own.

As I spouted on about how objectivaly illogical and unnecesarily cruel to himself that notion was, all I had in the back in my mind is how often I’ve said the very same thing to myself. And I quote:

“Considering all the greater adversities that other people are facing and conquering every passing day, this tireless determination to tell the story of my own makes me feel that I must either be really in love with myself or addicted to dwelling in my past misery.”

As much as I’ve flip-flopped back and forth on the matter myself, addressing it with the pure objective clarity that comes with weighing in on someone else’s problems permanently locked me onto one side of the argument — in the end, fuck what everyone else’s problems are, you’re not stuck having to live everyone else’s lives. You’re a person and human being, born with the right to not have to be perfect, and with that comes hardship, sadness, pain, and sorrow. The fact that other people do, for whatever different reasons they may be, does not deny you the right to your own.

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