This question came up in an essay I read recently, and when I pondered it, it confused and bewildered me so much I had to write about it.
I’m always amused when movies about olde tymes show someone travelling with just a single small suitcase. Especially when they’re wearing crinolines and huge hats that you just know require multiple boxes and trunks and people to carry them. When we talk about emotional baggage I think about this comparison; the difference between people who can get their baggage all into one small carry-on versus the people who need a trunk.
Me, I carry my pain in two big steamer trunks. I imagine them as being like those gorgeous old Louis Vuitton wardrobes, with lots of little drawers and compartments, and the rod that pulls out for things that go on hangers.
One trunk is for my physical pain, and the other is for my mental/emotional pain. Sometimes there are items that could go in either trunk, or that get stored in the other trunk from where they might normally be kept because those things could fit in either place, such as anxiety about health issues, or physical pain than manifests from trauma, but mostly stuff stays in its own trunk.
Asking who I would be without these trunks full of pain is a tough question.
Without the physical pain, I might be more athletic, more outgoing, more extroverted overall. I might work in a career that was physical, that required a full day’s worth of movement and effort. When I think of life without that pain, I think of all the things I might have been but that I have missed out on; a gymnast, a ballerina, a tightrope walker. I also think of all the things I could once do but am no longer able to, such as singing, dancing, or even knitting. This physical pain equates to loss, and that adds to the mental pain.
Who I might be without that mental and emotional pain is a question so vast, I’m not sure it can be answered. I’ve lived with this anger and trauma for so long that I don’t know who I might have become otherwise.
Happy, well-adjusted, probably living in Halifax, married to someone, couple of kids, house in the burbs? The idea of that doesn’t make me happy, though, and there’s no guarantee that would actually be a happy life. Shit happens to everyone, everywhere, and even without the pain I carry with me, I don’t think that life would have been satisfying for me.
But if I could purge my trauma, who, or what, might I be?
Thin, maybe, given that so much of my trauma is related to weight issues. And so many of my weight issues (and now physical pain issues) are related to trauma.
A whole lot less angry, that’s for sure.
Maybe someone with more friends. Able to hold down a job where I have to interact with others in a friendly manner. Generally more extroverted.
Lighter, I feel as if I might be lighter, in many different ways, from physical size to attitude to general intellect. If not for the pain, I’d have just been a nice, normal, middle-class, middle-aged lady, with no incentive to push past that, to search out something else. To read and learn. To fight the things that everyone hates but puts up with because they can’t be bothered or are too scared. I’d definitely not have been drawn to punk and everything it represents.
I don’t honestly know if I’d like the person I might have been without the pain; she would have been too nice, too eager; too easily controlled and manipulated. When it goes this deep and for so long, that question is like asking someone to strip back their whole personality and determine who they might be in the future based on who they were as a toddler. I could Marie Kondo that steamer trunk of pain but then it would be almost completely empty.
So while the question is a fair and reasonable one, and comes from a place of exploring trauma, it might be easier to Marie Kondo the question itself and selectively purge that steamer trunk based on what things in there are still sparking some kind of joy or contentment, or which are at least useful in some way.
When your anger is so deep that it forms the entire basis of your personality, it’s hard to strip it all away just like that. It’s hard to even imagine existing without it.
I do get the point of the question, but attempting to answer it seems futile. Reflecting on what my trauma has caused me to lose in my life doesn’t make me feel especially better; in fact it makes me a feel a lot worse. (And looking at the good things my pain and trauma has brought into my life, things I’d never have known or experienced if I had not fought against everything that was hurting me, is a whole other story that absolutely cannot be ignored.)
Ultimately I’m not sure I can let go of that anger and pain. I’m not sure who I would even be. And clearly, that’s part of why it’s so hard and terrifying.