This week I want to explore the emotion known as pain. In its mild form it would be considered discomfort, disappointment, or discouragement. In its intensity it is known as devastation that can be so overwhelming it is debilitating. Whether it is a fleeting moment or months of grieving, pain can be misunderstood and underappreciated.
I have yet to write about my mother’s battle with dementia because frankly I don’t have the clarity or words to give this journey the justice it deserves. However, without diving in too deeply, this experience has been without a doubt the hardest thing I have ever had to deal with. There are days I feel numb and others where I feel my guts are being ripped out of my body. It is a pain that can be as subtle as a lamb and if I am not careful it can turn on me with the ferocity of a lion.
Over time my emotions and unaddressed thoughts have been building. Seemingly out of nowhere, I will unexpectedly feel a surge of pain that runs from my stomach to my chest. Against my better judgment and wisdom, when I feel the emotionality overcome me, my first thought is to quickly distract myself. I turn on something funny or watch something mind numbing on tv, till the lump in my throat dissipates.
At this juncture in my life, I know better. Pain does not disappear; it morphs and seeps into your thoughts and actions. It is habit and fear that causes me to pick up my armor and flee when my eyes begin to flood with tears. I’m not afraid of crying, rather I’m scared that those tears may unleash a floodgate of emotions that my spirit is not strong enough to weather.
The truth is we all are not only strong enough to handle pain but destined to be shaped by the gifts that it delivers. Just as the sun parts the clouds and rain brings life to the world around us, with pain comes beauty. It is an inevitable part of all of our journey, so how do we lean into pain and embrace hurt when our mind tells us to protect ourselves at all cost?
Accept it, do not reflect it. We usually have two responses to pain, ignore or fight. I have ignored loss and pain to such a degree that I have woken up in the middle of the night from sobbing in my dreams. Just as you address physical wounds with bandages, your mind and spirit call on you to bandage the wounds of the heart. Meet the pain head on and accept that it is here. Acknowledge the why behind the hurt and all the associated doubts and fears it elicits. Give it a name and call it out. Treat pain as a doorway not a holding cell. It will not be until you acknowledge your vulnerability that you will begin to realize your fortitude.
Give yourself the grace to renew. Pain helps us explore the fabric of who we are. Fall into the pain so you can dance with muscles of spirit you did not know you had. Loss or defeat will cause your heart to split open; take a gander of what you are made of. Pain often will transport you through time to moments you forgot existed or points in life you will never be able to forget. You will see an evolution of self that has been through tough times and challenges before. You may just realize how often you have been able to overcome the odds or rebound from tragedy to become a stronger individual.
Pay it forward. Pain has a unique ability to cause us to explore past relationships and the impact they had on who we are. You will notice the interactions that made a profound impact, for good or for bad, on who and where you are now. It will also dictate what kind of person you want to be for yourself and others. You may see those that hurt and lied to you causing you to pledge a life where you will be different. You may see those who helped you when no one else cared and vow to look out for those in need. Notice those interactions and people who have come and gone so that you can build the character you want for yourself.
Take a moment for gratitude. It may sound crazy to be grateful for pain. Sometimes (or most of the time) life has a way of making us think we are invincible. We become so wrapped up with the stressors and “wants” in this world we seldom feel time pass. We take moments for granted, while yearning for a life full of meaning. We set our focus on the future or in the past, overlooking the now. Pain has a way of shining a light on the volume of insignificant things we focus on. Thanks to pain, in a split second nothing else matters. All of a sudden, our dirty house, never ending “to do” list, and daily frustrations disappear. You have an instant wake up call to be grateful for the time you had with loved ones, those who are by your side, or the lessons you have gleaned.
You are strong enough. If you read nothing else in this post, please hear and feel this sentiment: You Are Strong Enough! Your legs may shake. Your spirit may falter. You may fall to your knees in a moment of desperation. You will get back up. Time will wash over you and give you the strength you need to rise. You are strong enough to look at pain as a partner of growth instead of an enemy in life. Pain is not going to kill you; it is your response to it that will impact your wellbeing. You will survive with opportunities to honor others, be a stronger person, or do things differently. Your spirit is a muscle and without pain you would never get an opportunity to see how strong you are capable of being.
We must reject the idea that disappointment, loss, grief, and hurt are enemies. Life is messy and I have faith that when my journey comes to a close it will be those moments of pain that delivered me my greatest lessons. In times of loneliness, I learned to love myself. In times of need, I have learned to give. In times of loss, I learned to be grateful for the love I have received. In times of struggle, I have realized my resilience. Fight to search for the beauty in every hurt and the completeness that comes from a life filled with both tears and laughter.