Ever had your heart broken?  Ever broken a heart…and then realized what an asshole you were?
Ever experienced a kind of “connection” with someone from your past…perhaps a “first love”?  Or maybe someone gifted you with compassion and a kind of “in the moment” intimacy when you were, indeed, hurting?
No…?  If not, perhaps you’re one of those rare individuals impervious to emotional anguish.  Congratulations!  Now, move along…this essay is probably not for you.
​Still here…? 
There are various, clinical ways to examine the manifestation of mental pain.  Eliana Tossani, Ph.D. is a Clinical Psychotherapist and professor in the Department of Psychology at the University of Bologna in Italy.  Most members of her esteemed profession have, until recent years, examined the phenomenon of “mental pain” from the perspective of physical pain…i.e., constant, chronic physical pain contributes to, and is often the cause of mental pain.  It’s no coincidence that “pain management” doctors have created a generation of opioid addicts.  They justify it as helping prevent suicide among their chronic pain patients.
Ms. Tossani sees it differently.  In an editorial she wrote for the Journal of Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics in 2012, Ms. Tossani studied the results of lengthy mental pain – as examined by her contemporaries – in the absence of physical pain.  Sparing you the grim details, the upshot of her research suggests to Ms. Tossani that physical pain often is the direct result of what people define as “mental pain.”  Putting it clinically, “Disinhibited central pain can be described as ‘psychic pain,’ and represents an overresponse to negative images and stimuli.  Subjects feel unhappy, guilty, agitated, and experience painful ruminations.”
Translation:  evidence of a “broken heart” can often be found and quantified, years later, by tangible tissue damage in the chest muscles from sustained grief, be it over loss of a loved one, or some perceived hurt or rejection, inflicted or received.  Mental pain, if chronic and pervasive enough, creates physical pain.
Experiencing one of those “painful ruminations” years ago, I wrote a fragmented piece of poetry, contributed to the “Burlap Vault” – my pet-name for a burlap bagful of a lifetime of random thought-fragments…that occasionally fester into a completed poem, years later.
Recently resurrecting that incomplete fragment, I decided to re-imagine it the way we sometimes view past relationships.
The Big “What-If”
You know what I’m talking about:  what if it had all turned out differently?  Or, “what if I’d only done this or that, instead?”  You understand the impulse to second-guess oneself.  (I know this about you because you’re the person who clicked the “Read More” button ;-)
In our more frail, self-aware moments, we look back from the distance of time and place.  We often describe such past brushes with emotional pain in more wistful, bittersweet terms.  We may even describe our distance from that pain with interstellar phrases; how often have we whimsically prefaced such an event as occurring, “In a past life…”?  (Indeed, theoretical physicists now insist upon the existence of parallel universes.)
Now, imagine you sit in a chair, fatigued, and fall into the briefest nap.  When you open your eyes, you are in another place and time, experiencing something primal as if for the first time…when you suddenly awaken.  The dream lasts only seconds, but feels like it went on for much, much longer.  Time is distorted.  Every sensation is tangible:  touch, taste, if you were actually there.  Who's to say you weren't?
Pouring in those tortured brain synapses, stirred in a bittersweet emotional broth, I found myself with a new offering – one that took me back to look into the mirror of my own self-doubt, when I was someone else…”light years gone.”
The result is ‘The Sweetest Pain.’
Digital art and magic, H.J. McEnroe
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