Just passed through the anniversary of a pretty serious life trauma on February 23, 2014. Looking back on that time in the future, I think I will always call it The Year of Pain.
While I was in the thick of it, especially for the first six months, everything hurt so badly that I could barely stand to remain alive, on most days. And if I hadn’t been surrounded by so many people who cared about me, who were patient and giving and reassuring about my helpless agony, I probably wouldn’t have.
Work during the Year of Pain was extremely slow. Writing was largely impossible. I struggled to perform the most basic tasks. I couldn’t think properly–my mental focus was obliterated. My life was pain, and pain is a very selfish house-guest. Pain demands such constant attention and energy that it is nearly impossible to do anything but wait on it hand and foot.
Looking back on it now, I realize that I’ve not only been in pain, but also in transition. It made me realize why so many of the werewolf movies I’ve seen over the years depict states of transition as agonizing, grotesque, and shaming–horrifying to ourselves and others.
Kinda like this. But imagine it goes on for months.
And retrospectively, now that the worst of the pain is over…and the transition is nearly complete, at least for me…I understand all the werewolf movies much better than I ever did in the past.
The agony of the change in these films represents the pain of many physical, emotional and personal transitions in real life. And the way that these changes are depicted represents the tremendous fear and shame that most of us have about revealing our true selves to the world. Which is pretty obvious and has probably been stated many times before, in various ways, by people much smarter than me.
But understanding something intellectually is not the same as living it firsthand.
The human skin that splits and peels away in those movie moments of transformation…is Shame. I guess for most people it represents the confining clothing that our parents sewed for us as children, but really we can form a social persona at any time. Our present-day friends and loved ones can be just as horrified to see our true selves as good ol’ Mom and Dad.
Or at least, we sometimes believe that they would be.
The times and places that werewolves tend to make this transformation in the old films and stories is also not accidental. The transformation in the movies is never permanent–it’s a brief, agonizing, hateful surrender to dark forces. It happens rarely. Once a month or so, when we can no longer contain the “beast” within. Probably about as often as some people visit a sex worker, say. Or go on a serious binge of drinking. Or get in a fight.
And it happens in the dark. At night. Often in isolation. And it causes the victim agony and fear to imagine that anyone they love might see them make this transition. And the werewolf is certain he or she would hurt or kill anyone who witnessed it.
The Hour of the Wolf is Shame’o'Clock. Or at least, that’s how it is in the movies.
I think it’s no accident that the one snippet of imagery which struck me hardest in 2013, in a year of so many excellent films and so much great television, was this werewolf transformation scene from Hemlock Grove.
In retrospect, watching the scene again…I think the thing that makes it so moving is the courage and the vulnerability of the boy in the moment. The pride on his mother’s face. The awe and acceptance from his new best friend. The kid is “coming out” in the most visceral and painful way, and there’s no way to make it free of pain, but….these are two people who are THERE for him when it happens. They accept him.
They can even see that he’s beautiful. That the wolf that emerges is amazing.
In real life, you often go through transformations that are permanent. Transitions you can’t control. Some of them are natural and inevitable and slow, like growing older. And sometimes they are sudden and shocking. And they hurt.
Acceptance is the only thing that makes it better. Having someone stand by and continue to love you. Continue to accept that even in your new form, you are you. And you are still awesome.
You just have better teeth now.
Fortunately in my case…the end result of the Year of Pain is not at all bad. I like the new me. I think she’s going to have a better life in a lot of ways than the woman I was before. She’s going to be a better person. A larger and more generous contributor to the lives of others. A much happier person herself.
And everyone who matters? Still loves me. And stands by me. And the fact that they stand by me is the reason that they are the ones who matter.
Pain is a bitch to live with, but I’m finding as it starts to pack its bags and leave the premises that I’ve learned a lot. And I’m starting to be amazed and genuinely pleased with the things I’ve figured out about myself. And I’m genuinely looking forward to a brighter future.
Also…now I have claws.
Beautiful, beautiful claws.