Experiencing pleasure — at least, the absence of pain — was always my priority. But taking my pleasure first often guaranteed I’d deal with pain later.
With most vices, this is the order of operations; drinking precedes a hangover, getting high precedes flunking a math test, spontaneous sex precedes all manner of undesirable outcomes, endless-chocolate-cake-cookies-and-ice-cream precedes unnecessary weight gain.
In the name of pleasure, I spent 25 years of my life in pain.
The drinks I took to make socializing easier made me say and do things I regretted. The pot I smoked to take the edge off my pretest stress made me forget the difference between sine, cosine, and tangent. The crappy food that tasted so good that it distracted me from how bad I felt always left me feeling more anxious, more tired, and further and further from OK.
A quick yum seemed always to be followed by an extended yuck. I stayed blind to that clear cause-and-effect association for a long time, answering every period of pain with more pain-inducing pleasure.
I feel tired just typing that sentence.
Like onions, Dante’s Inferno, and the grunge clothing aesthetic, pleasure has layers. There’s the surface layer, cheap and fleeting, the thin outer skin. This is where I lived for years. I assumed it was the only place to be for a pleasure-seeker like me. There, I struggled to find the right combination of distractions and ingestibles to make the pain stop. Living my life felt like very hard work. I kept at it until the mental, physical and emotional pain became intolerable.
Then, in a moment of desperation, I became open to a new idea. I wondered whether, just maybe, healthy people might be onto something. What if exercise — hard work that it is — could make me feel … better? I decided to try it, to really throw myself into a regular exercise routine for one month, if for no other reason than to be able to say I’d given it a go and it hadn’t worked, so there.
Appropriate, consistent exercise was hard work in the moment, but left me feeling better every single time. Because I’m hard and dark and edgy, my feelings about this are still mixed.
Let no one doubt: I'm still a pleasure seeker. My wellness journey has been a study in exploring deeper layers and levels of feeling good. Today, I understand that daily, lasting pleasure comes as the result of work, like exercising, cooking healthy meals, and getting eight hours of sleep. The results — a body capable of going on hikes with my toddlers, a head that can focus 100% on my work, and a heart bubbling over with gratitude at the life I get to live — more than make up for the work I put in, even when it’s hard to stay on course.
Much like my body got used to my vices, it has become accustomed to the work I do that results in pleasure. A workout that was hard in April is easy by June, but leaves me feeling similarly awesome for about as long. With practice, the work takes less effort, but I continue to enjoy delicious repercussions day after day.
I don't doubt that there are deeper layers and levels of pleasure I have yet to explore. I imagine the deepest layer is freedom from desire itself, the absence of wanting — true, unambitious peace.
I’d think more on that, but I’m already late for the gym.