Anthony Bourdain: Pain is Personal


Like most of the people I know or follow on Social Media, I spent last weekend mourning the loss of Anthony Bourdain. Much like the vast majority, I did not know him personally. To be honest, I am a little taken aback by the level at which his suicide has affected me. Not that I didn’t expect to feel sadness––I totally expected that. I guess what I was not prepared for was the amount of time I would spend reflecting on my own own life and examining the darker places I have been during my forty-six years living it. In short, this one feels personal.

I have been a fan of Anthony Bourdain’s for almost fifteen years. When my husband Mike graduated from a local culinary program, a friend of ours gave us a signed copy of “Kitchen Confidential.” As a lover of words, I hold a deep admiration for those who can do beautiful things with them, and reading Bourdain was reading magic on paper. I was an immediate fan. Since his death, I have read many beautiful tributes to him (too many to remember), but one that stood out to me was how even in his first book, Bourdain’s prose had the ability to cut right through the writing. There are some writers whose voices are so clear that you can instantly identify them. Bourdain was one of those writers, his voice unmistakable, right from the start.

After hearing the horrible news, I found myself scouring the internet trying to make sense of it all. I wanted to know why. I managed to find a few salacious articles from some bottom feeding entertainment publications and dug in. Reading the articles did not give me the answers I was looking for, they only made me feel worse––like I was being made privy to information that I was not meant to know, and prying into things I had absolutely no business prying into. After sitting with my thoughts I was reminded of one of my favorite Henry Rollins quotes:

“I think about the meaning of pain. Pain is personal. It really belongs to the one feeling it. Probably the only thing that is your own.”

At that moment, I decided “why” was unimportant. Anthony Bourdain did not owe me, or anyone else for that matter, an explanation. I know that a lot of people will say, “Well, what about his daughter?” I can’t even begin to imagine the pain and anger she has been feeling these last few days, but I can pretty much guarantee that no “explanation” is going to fill the deep hole that will be in her life for the rest of her days.

When I was a child, my mom told me fairly early on that the scars she had on her arms were her own doing. I can still see them to this day, random in pattern, all over the top of her forearm, elbows to wrists. I suppose another “cutter” would recognize what they were right away, but at the age of five, I had not been exposed to the practice of “self-mutilation,” which now goes by the softer term, “self-harm.”

During my childhood, my mother moved away from the superficial wounds she inflicted on herself as a teenager to wounds that cut much deeper and were not so randomly placed. During those two times (that I can remember), I was “sent away” to my dad’s, but not long enough for her wrists to heal completely. I was told my mother had been in the psych ward. I knew she had tried to kill herself, I just didn’t know why. Why was a question that would plague me into my early thirties––“Why was I not enough for her to want to live?” I am fairly certain that those who knew Bourdain intimately (especially his daughter) will at some point be haunted with a variation of the same question.

It wasn’t until after my mother’s death and I experienced my own dark days that I began to understand that quote, and how Rollins really gets to the heart of the matter.  We may know someone in the most intimate of ways––as a daughter, a lover, or a close friend––but we can never fully know their pain. During that bout of depression, I did not want to live. I took a lot of pills in an attempt to numb myself from feeling the loss, but after awhile there weren’t enough Roxies in the world to make me whole. I can try to convey the vast emptiness in which my mother’s death left me, but the torment I felt when I was alone at night on the couch reliving her final days is impossible for me to put into words.

“I think about the meaning of pain. Pain is personal. It really belongs to the one feeling it. Probably the only thing that is your own.”

One of the things that frustrates me the most after a highly publicized suicide is how quickly people want to attribute it to “mental illness.” I understand that “mental illness” is a broad term that is used rather loosely; however, I think making that assumption is dangerous. Dangerous for many reasons, but for one, I believe it diminishes the veracity of how close so many of my fellow empaths have been to crossing that line. Feeling intense pain and wanting it to stop is not a mental illness issue, it’s a human one.

The headline of one of Sunday’s local papers read, “French investigators conclude that Anthony Bourdain’s suicide was an impulsive act.” As an impulsive person myself, I immediately began to think of my darkest moments, and how rather “matter of factly” (at times) thoughts of suicide had come into my own mind. When those thoughts appeared, it was almost as if I was disassociated from myself. I was just trying to identify a way to not have to deal with my pain, and I had either A) run out of drugs, or B) was all out of ideas. Let’s face it––most addicts (and I do consider myself one) or former addicts (if there is even such a thing) are simply people who have never learned “healthy” ways to process pain.

When I had those thoughts, it wasn’t that I did not love the people around me, or thought that they were “not enough.” It wasn’t even that complex really. It was just that I wanted the pain to stop, and I could only think of one way to stop it. Oddly, going through that dark time after my mother’s death helped me to understand (as much as I could) what drove her to see only one way out of ending her pain. It was then that I was finally able to stop judging her choices in life, and began to understand that they were completely independent of me. That is a very hard conclusion for any child to come to, and it’s something that I hope does not take Ariane Bourdain thirty years to understand.

The truth is, we are all more fragile than we would like to believe. Even the Punk Rock Chef, who had a lust for adventure, an insatiable curiosity about the world, and who taught us the importance of breaking bread with people who live in far away places (particularly with those we have been conditioned to fear), had his limits. If nothing else, the last few days have taught me that knowing “why” Anthony Bourdain made the decision to take his own life is as personal as his pain, and no matter how hard I try to understand that, I never will.

Author: Cynthia Tarana is a heavily tattooed Ex-Con with no college education and very bad punctuation. She currently lives on Long Island, NY where she pays extremely high taxes, likes to drink, rage against the machine and shop at the GAP.

Contact Cynthia at 2100hours@optonline.net

Twitter: @BookingGoddess

Read Cynthia’s Articles/Essays Here

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