“You can’t avoid pain but you can choose to overcome it.” – Paulo Coelho
We all have it.
It is the residual aching from loss, failure, and betrayal. It is having to live with the mistakes you’ve made, the decisions made by others and the fallout from them.
The pain reminds us that what happened was real and drives us to never let it happen again.
Much our lives are devoted to avoiding pain. Our brains have set up all sorts of defenses against pain and we say phrases like “I’ll never do that again” to gain some sort of control over it.
But despite the good intentions and protections we’ve put in place, pain is inevitable.
Pain is my constant companion. We’ve been hanging out for many years now. At certain times in my life, Pain has been a long distance friend— he’ll write, call, leave voicemails and text messages every once in awhile but for the most part, Pain and I didn’t connect all that much. But in other seasons, Pain decided to move in with me. He followed me to work, to school, to gatherings with my friends and family. Pain sat in my car, laid in my bed, got a membership to my yoga studio and joined my gym.
Pain was everywhere.
I learned to make peace with pain being part of my lifelong journey, but I’ve also decided that pain isn’t going to be the theme of my life. I want to have a plan for my pain.
I know that some traumatic events in life will never leave me and that I’ll think or talk about them for years to come. But rather than feeling the same gut-wrenching, panic-filled rage and shame with each recollection, I want to be able thing reflect on my life knowing how painful times were without reliving that feeling each time it comes to mind.
I think about it like breaking a bone. When you break something that was meant to whole, it can be ridiculously painful. There are moments of agonizing, consuming hurt. The healing process is lengthy and hard. But when you heal and tell the story of how you broke that bone and how you recovered, you don’t actually physically feel that pain anymore.
You don’t feel that pain anymore because you recognized that something was wrong, felt the pain, decided you didn’t want the pain to stay and went through the process of healing.
When it comes to our emotional pain, some of us never go through these stages and we’re left feeling the pain from a wound possibly many years old.
I thought I was doing well in my journey to be released from pain. I was in therapy. I was reading the right books. I was listening to lectures, podcasts, sermons, and meditative mantras. I was talking about my pain to my friends and family. And yet, I was getting nowhere. I still had PTSD episodes, and the night terrors wouldn’t cease. I still felt like a shell of a person. I was hanging out with Pain each and every day.
I was trying so hard to get rid of the pain by actions that I didn’t allow myself to sit in it.
I thought that if I sat in the pain I wouldn’t survive it. I thought there was no way to mourn and make it out alive. I thought that if I allowed myself to really feel and embrace it, I would be stuck in the pain forever.
That, however, isn’t how it works.
Inviting the pain in is what saved me.
Letting the pain in is giving yourself permission to fall apart, but it ISN’T saying that you want to stay that way. It is feeling the full weight of it all, all the anguish and heartache, and acknowledging how awful it was.
The point of feeling your feelings is to create room for healing to happen. This space is created from emotional release.
Instead of striving to get better, push the pain down, or attempt to numb it, I faced it.
And it was really, really messy.
Suddenly I’m the girl that cries all the time.
I listen to a certain song- I cry.
I shop at a certain store- I cry.
And suddenly I’m the girl with anger.
I drive past a certain neighborhood- I start hitting my steering wheel over and over.
I listen to a triggering voicemail- I throw my soccer ball against the concrete wall.
I gave myself permission to express what was happening inside of me, no matter what it looked like.
It is me actively deciding not to hide from what is real to me.
And it left me with room in my brain to unpack how to become mended.
Feeling your feelings ISN’T the same as trying to torture yourself with your shortcomings or trauma. It is simply taking hold of a feeling when it comes, bringing awareness to it, and being kind to yourself about experiencing that emotion.
Pain isn’t pretty and it doesn’t require a pretty process. The important part is that you’re doing it. Living a healthy life on the inside is a great image but it is absolutely terrifying to do the work to get there. But it is one of the bravest, most rewarding practices you can do.
Through owning my pain and then going through the practical steps of healing (for me, I love therapy and intentional self-care), the broken bones of my soul don’t feel so painful.
I feel released.