People have a need to feel their pain. Very often pain is the beginning of a great awareness. As an energy, it awakens consciousness.
– Arnold Mindell
I’m subscribed to Hazelden’s Thought for the Day via email. Each day, a reading from a meditation book comes across the net to my email account, and each day I’m inspired by some writing that details another person’s experience, strength and hope in healing from some painful life issue. When I read the above thought for today, I thought, hell, yeah. Pain has been the single biggest driver in making changes in my life. Let’s face it. It’s hard to make changes. Unless there’s a big motivator – i.e. pain – why would I do it?
I reeled with pain after my first divorce, but it wasn’t a big enough motivator for me to get some help for myself. I was still inexperienced enough to think that I just made a bad choice of mates, or I just wasn’t able to sustain THAT relationship. I stayed asleep because I didn’t listen to pain. Frankly, I wasn’t in enough of it yet. By the time I had a failed engagement and another failed marriage, I realized the common denominator was me. Since I didn’t know how to fully process emotional pain and heal it, the pain from those failures just piled on top of each other, and I hurt… BAD. I hurt enough that I couldn’t figure out how to stop hurting, and I’m a smart gal. I had to admit that there was something I didn’t know, and I had to reach out to others who’d felt the same kind of pain. This time … I healed.
When I look back, it took about 3-4 years to really do the work and the healing necessary to heal the pain AND to develop behaviors, community and a way of life that would help prevent that kind of pain from happening again. Considering my entire life span, that’s a short investment. I no longer use substances – food, alcohol, or men – to distract me from my pain.
I still feel pain. I feel pain often. The keyword is feel – I FEEL pain. I’ve learned this about emotional pain. It hurts as bad as any physical pain. Sometimes it even manifests as physical pain. Ever have a heartbreak, and your chest really feels physical pain? It’s also like physical pain in that I can’t just ignore it or cover it up. Ever have an injury that you ignored? As you compensated by shifting weight off the affected area or quit using the muscle, other parts of your body get out of whack because the load shifted? Eventually I’ve got 2 problems instead of one. That’s what happens when I ignore my emotional pain. I overeat, and then I have a weight problem ….. or even worse, a health problem. If I’d have taken care of the damn pain when I felt it and let myself feel it, I’d be done.
I see feeling pain as efficient. I’m busy, and I like to have fun. I like to be happy. I still hurt, and I still have pain. So now, I talk about it with somebody. I keep boxes of Kleenex around my house all the time. If you ever cry at my house, I won’t offer you one. I’m not going to stop your tears or tell you subconsciously by handing you a Kleenex to clean yourself up. If you want to clean yourself up, you are welcome to all of the Kleenex I have. But, I’d first recommend that you cry. I’d recommend that you rail against what’s ailing you. If it’s a person, curse them out. If it’s a place or thing or situation, get angry, be ugly and cry if you need to. Anger is always a secondary emotion, so there’s hurt in there. Sometimes I have to lean into the anger to get to the hurt. Once I accept the hurt and feel it, the anger subsides. Got an anger problem? You got a lot of hurt underneath there, baby. I’ve found that I have to let myself feel the more vulnerable emotions, so I can quite wasting valuable energy being mad or feeding stuffed feelings with all kinds of stuff that causes secondary problems. It takes me a little bit of time and energy to process pain. It will take a lot more time to clean up secondary problems like health issues, addictions and messed up relational issues. Feeling pain is efficient.
Let me cry. Let me be sad. Let me be angry. Let me do all of the things I need to do to feel my emotions. If you are uncomfortable with it, then let yourself be uncomfortable. What’s wrong with being uncomfortable anyway? Are women uncomfortable when they have babies? Aren’t people uncomfortable when they go to the dentist? Aren’t you uncomfortable when you make ANY life change? Change is uncomfortable at some level even if you’re happy with it. Think of feeling your feelings as a way of being uncomfortable in moving from one state to another. I found that if I allow myself a little time to feel my feelings, I fairly quickly find my way to joy. Worried if you let the tears go, they’ll never stop? That’s a myth. Tears stop. It may take awhile, but they’ll stop when you move through the emotion. Emotions are energy. Keep them bottled up, and they steal your energy or misdirect it in trying to keep them hidden. If I’m numbing out or ignoring pain, I never get to joy because that other stuff is still inside. Think of stuffed emotions like a caged tiger. If I keep a caged tiger around just for fun, I have to feed it. I have to take time out of my day to buy and prepare food, clean the cage and feed the damn thing. If the tiger gets out of the cage, I have to expend energy to catch and re-cage it. It’s always there even if I look in the other direction when I walk by. I know I have to do the hard thing that I need to do to really take care of the problem. And, if you think a tiger is an exaggerated analogy, think again. Our feelings can eat us, kill us or maim us if we don’t take care of them. The irony is that we can just open the door and release the tiger. The tiger will take care of himself.
Pain has been my biggest motivator. It was a huge motivator for me to get help initially. It’s a motivator today for me to make changes. It’s a motivator for me to keep doing things that work. I’d be lying if I said I welcome pain today. I don’t. I call somebody and let them help me sort through the trigger. Once I sort through the real issue, I let go of what I can, feel what I need to and make changes if necessary. The motivator to make the change … I don’t want to feel that again. It’s just more efficient.