I have a new and weird relationship in my life. Twice a week, I slip away to meet a younger guy who likes to hurt me. He praises me when I can take a lot, and he encourages me to try harder when I resist. When I come home, I’m aware of my body in a whole new way…and I keep going back, even though I ache from our previous meeting.

Physical therapy is not easy.

When I began this treatment for my shoulder problems, I didn’t realize it was going to hurt so much. My previous attempts at physical therapy, for my lower back problems, had involved more passive techniques. But I had a very different attitude back then, and if I’m honest with myself I see that there are many things they wanted to have me do or do with me that I simply refused. I would not consent to endure any discomfort, even though it might bring healing, and I wanted immediate relief. And, quite frankly, a part of me probably just wanted to get more painkillers and go home.

What I and this gentleman are doing now is aimed at improving my range of motion and building strength in new places…constructive action. I’m truly interested in treating the underlying problem, and I am willing to endure discomfort in order to do it. Even as I ache, I feel gratitude for these signs of the changes recovery has made in my outlook.

During the sessions, he tells me to let him know when the pain is too much.  Like someone engaging in consensual pain play who has a “safeword,” I have the ability to stop something when I judge that I must. It creates a dilemma for me, though: I don’t always trust my perception of pain.

Painkillers were my drug of choice when practicing my addiction. This meant that I habitually overestimated my pain level, even to myself, in order to get more of them. This habit sank into the levels of my consciousness, aided by the destructive effects of opiates on the body’s natural ability to process pain, until my pain threshold was pathetically low and I responded to any degree of pain with overwhelming anxiety.

My personal experience of recovery involved becoming willing to be in pain if that was what it took to stay clean, and I’m grateful to say that my average pain level has declined over time. Today, because I am so aware of my previous habits, I think I might have a tendency to underestimate pain in a situation like this, or try to take intense pain because I think it’s the mature thing to do.

So when do I call out my safeword as he digs into scar tissue or rotates my arm through agonizing arcs? How do I know when my pain at home is bad enough to justify skipping an exercise? It’s that balance thing again. No real answer, but it helps to be aware of the question.

This feels too much in my head as I read it…I don’t want to leave it like that.  I want to admit that I feel scared. And vulnerable. And I worry that it won’t improve. Though I may have a safeword with him, I don’t have one against the constant aching or the sudden jolts of pain that answer movements. I’m powerless, and I don’t get to take a pill or push a button for quick relief from distress.

When I feel vulnerable, I want to distract myself from the feeling. But after I’m done running through the potential distractions and saying either “won’t do that” or “did that, didn’t work” to each one, I have no choice but to relax into the sensation. Soften. Yield. Be human, damaged, imperfect and in pain. After a while, if I soften into it, I am not afraid any more.

2 responses to “Safeword

  1. You’re speaking of surrender. 🙂

  2. I love the metaphor.

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