Nothing will quite steal your joy like others making light of your pain. As a child, when you share your pain with others and they dismiss it or, worse, ridicule it, you quickly learn not to share it. Personally, I learned not to share my pain. And I learned not to look too closely at it myself. If others made light of it, it must not be important. I should just pretend I didn’t feel the pain and move past it.
It doesn’t work.
A couple of summers ago, I broke my foot. Only, I didn’t know I broke my foot. I just knew that the morning after I moved into the upstairs bedroom of the house I moved into, I woke up in terrible agony. My foot hurt so badly that I could barely put any weight on it. A few years before, I’d been in a wreck and the doctor had told me I would probably eventually develop arthritis in my feet, so I assumed that this was what I was feeling and that I just needed to learn to live with it.
For six months, I tried. I took maximum dosages of pain relievers and kept right on walking. (At one point, I was walking 3-5 miles, 3 times a week.) And I kept hurting. And finally, one day, I woke up in so much pain that I had to admit to myself that something was really wrong and that I couldn’t (and shouldn’t) live with pain like this anymore. I went and got an x-ray and found out that I’d been walking on a broken foot for six months, and that by doing so, I’d actually aggravated my injury. It took months of rest and therapy to get back to “normal.” And still, when I’m on my feet too long, or if I push myself too hard, that foot’s the first thing to start aching.
Lesson learned: listen to my body and try to take care of it along the way. Healing is far less painful that way.
All of us go through difficult, painful episodes in life that hurt us. That’s normal. It’s not just something that’s happened to only me. We’ve all been hurt. And everybody handles the pain differently. The fact is that the pain must be dealt with.
How do you deal with the pain?
Personally, I’ve tried to treat my emotional wounds just like I treated that broken foot. I’ve taken a maximum dosage of “pain relievers” and kept right on walking. I tried partying in an attempt to feel happiness, while also being surrounded by people. It didn’t work. I learned that I could feel just as sad and lonely in a crowd. I tried drinking. The problem with that was that it worked a bit too well. And looking back at my family history of alcoholism, I was too scared to keep that up. I saw what recreational drug use was doing to the people around me and decided that the consequences were just too much for me to bear. I tried religion and instead of healing me, it just magnified my pain with condemnation and judgment.
Finally, one day, I woke up in so much pain that I had to admit to myself that something was really wrong and that I couldn’t (and shouldn’t) live with pain like this anymore. I sought help. (Well, really, help sought me.) And I found out that I was broken. That all of my years of pretending I wasn’t had actually aggravated my injuries. And now, I’m taking care of myself (including medications, therapy, and TONS of support) to get back to “normal.”
Margaret Feinberg says, “The process of mourning is like a long exhale. Expelling sorrow can feel like it’s emptying us of life, but it’s crucial to breathing joy more deeply.”
I didn’t want to feel pain. I didn’t want to mourn. But I had to. And I will admit it – the mourning process doesn’t feel good. (Neither does therapy for a broken foot.) But it has to be done. And the breathing metaphor that Margaret uses is such an appropriate one. I remember after my Mom quit smoking – which she had done all of my life – how much cleaner life felt and how much more deeply I was able to breathe. I want my whole life – the emotional part too – to feel that clean and deep. And so I’ll take the time. I’ll feel the pain. No matter how long it takes or how deeply it aches. It’s worth it.
This post is part of a weekly discussion on Margaret Feinberg’s book, “Fight Back With Joy.” You don’t have to read the book to chat with us! But if you have written a response to this week’s chapter, hop over to my co-facilitator’s site and link it up at the widget you’ll find there.