Healing: On Coping with Pain
by Emily Morris
I just came to that awful realization that I’m sure many of us have come to before: healing is a painful process.
It is not something that is done quickly or easily, and it is also extremely painful sometimes. The only silver lining here, as far as I can see, is that when we are in pain, we can realize that it is due to the healing, and therefore, it is normal/okay/not something to stress about.
Still, of course we stress about it. Here is what I tell myself in order to try to calm down. Maybe it will help you too.
1. This is where I am because this is where I need to be right now. Deep breath. I am here because there is something I need to learn. Deep breath. I will learn something while in this state or while coming out of it.
2. I can call or text a friend who I know is empathic/sweet/who doesn’t have the tunnel vision/problem-solver mentality. I can tell my friend that I am in pain + I can listen to him or her respond. Good friends get right into the puddle with me, and often, somehow end up lifting me up out of it.
Regardless of their empathic nature or lack thereof, a friend gives us a more objective perspective, one that we maybe can’t quite see while we’re in the middle of our pain.
3. It is what we do with our pain that counts. We will all feel pain in our lives. It is what we do from there, from that wretched place/moment/painful feeling that matters. What can we do with our pain that will help us, or that will simply not create more pain for ourselves and/or others?
I have found that there are two keys to working through our pain healthfully: self-care + release.
We can love ourselves in whatever ways we know how. We can snuggle up on our couches and cry to Coldplay for a straight three hours. We can drag ourselves to the gym and spend an extra ten in the sauna post-workout. We all need self-care Saturdays, Sundays, or Tuesdays sometimes. No one is immune to pain.
And alternatively, when we need to release some of it, we can run, we can paint, we can scream into pillows, we can find reasons to laugh. Of course, none of this is easy. It takes energy that we often do not feel like we have — but we do have it. We do have energy because clearly, we are putting energy into the pain, into the feeling of it all. So, let’s choose where we put that energy instead — let’s instead do the work of processing the pain consciously, with an eye on the outcome + the product of our actions.
If we put that energy into self-loving actions, even if that just means listening to sad music for an afternoon, we will come out on the other side feeling better. We will feel whole and stronger because we integrated that pain into ourselves — we accepted it and processed it and let it just be. We said to the parts of ourselves that are in pain,Hello, pain, you are welcome here. I love you. I will hold you until you feel better. And then we sat, and felt it, and maybe cried.
In doing the work, in the processing of the pain, I think often, we find our grace. We find our cores, or our authentic selves. Because when you’re there in it, in the middle of the weight and discomfort of the pain, you have nothing to lose. You just are. And there is something so powerful about that raw humanness — something powerful that we all share.
In her book, Start Where You Are: A Guide to Compassionate Living, Pema Chodron writes,
“Life is glorious, but life is also wretched. It is both. Appreciating the gloriousness inspires us, encourages us, cheers us up, gives us a bigger perspective, energizes us. We feel connected. But if that’s all that’s happening, we get arrogant and start to look down on others, and there is a sense of making ourselves a big deal and being really serious about it, wanting it to be like that forever. The gloriousness becomes tinged by craving and addiction. On the other hand, wretchedness — life’s painful aspect — softens us up considerably. Knowing pain is a very important ingredient of being there for another person. When you are feeling a lot of grief, you can look right into somebody’s eyes because you feel you haven’t got anything to lose — you’re just there. The wretchedness humbles us and softens us, but if we were only wretched, we would all just go down the tubes. We’d be so depressed, discouraged, and hopeless that we wouldn’t have enough energy to eat an apple. Gloriousness and wretchedness need each other. One inspires us, the other softens us. They go together.”
I hope that helps. Or at least maybe you were distracted for a few minutes. Enjoy your Friday, friends. This too shall pass.