Last weekend I sped to Pal’s first thing to get my once-a-month cheddar round fix. The cashier hadn’t even shut the window before I was digging my grubby hands into the bag, searching for my first hit of deep fried, cheddar and potato filled goodness. I could feel the heat blistering my fingers as I aimed the fireball at my open mouth. As soon as I popped it in and bit in half, atomic cheese lava exploded, coating my tongue, gums and roof of my mouth, scorching my throat as it inched its way to my stomach. Tears sprang to my eyes as I frantically grabbed my tea and sucked it down trying to put out the fire, but alas, the damage had been done. This exact scenario has played out with every single order of cheddar rounds I’ve purchased and the outcome is always the same. Apparently I am a masochist.
Like the cheddar round situation, far too often in my life I find myself doing things that I know I shouldn’t do, knowing the effects are going to be negative, most of the time because I’ve already repeated the same mistake many times over. But humans have the uniquely stupid ability to disregard horrific outcomes when the instant gratification is good enough. And maybe, like a masochist, the pain becomes so associated with the pleasure, the two become interchangeable- you can’t have one without the other. To be honest, I now can’t eat cheddar rounds unless they are straight out of the fryer, because in my mind they just don’t taste as good unless they’re sun temperature. For a heroin addict, would the high feel as good if they didn’t feel the piercing of a needle breaking the skin? Would an alcoholic savor that first sip as much without the old familiar burn as it went down? In reflecting on my own life, would the things I consider my greatest accomplishments be as great were it not for the struggle and hardships I endured to get there?
It’s easy to examine past relationships or friendships and observe this same behavior. One would think being hurt by the same person over and over would have the same effect as a child touching a hot stove- they get burned and learn not to do it again. But maybe the factor that’s missing is the pleasure. If the child’s favorite toy were hypothetically inside the hot stove and being able to play with it required getting hurt, would they continue to burn themselves repeatedly just for the satisfaction and joy the toy brings? It’s easy to be able to justify the hurt we put ourselves through when the payoff is something that brings so much happiness, if only in the short term.
In the end we have to determine just how far we can walk this line between pleasure and pain before it starts to do lasting damage. Your taste buds will always grow back no matter how many times you burn them, but how many times can a heart break before it can’t be repaired? There must be a limit to the masochism or else someone will eventually get hurt. In the BDSM community, this is known as a “safe word,” and I’m starting to think I need to appoint a safe word for my life. When our behavior starts to become detrimental to our health or happiness, we need to have the sensibility to recognize it and stop, even asking for help if need be. I certainly can’t explain why us humans are so pleasured by torment. But from here forth I am making my safe word “woodpecker,” so when you see me in line at the Pal’s drive-thru too early on a Saturday morning, feel free to shout it at me. Lord knows I need the help.