"I learned to look at the pain, rather than hide from it. When I refused to look at it honestly, it grew like a shadow in a childhood bedroom. My pain seemed to sense fear; fear was the fuel it burned in order to run through me. To disarm it, to look at the pain honestly. took time. I had to learn to inhabit my body. It's a difficult thing to sit with pain and just be. To sit beside it, acknowledge it and be whole in its presence. to experience pain in that way, I had to constantly remind myself that it wasn't me. It was just a sensation. I was bigger than the pain and I could withstand it, it wouldn't kill me. I would survive it." Dr. Rana Awdish, In Shock
I've been reading this exceptional book, In Shock. An ICU doctor, Awdish was pregnant when things went horribly wrong. It's telling that I'm about halfway through the book. Awdish has been through critical illness, has been actively dying and now, after a very long journey, has returned to work. She still doesn't have a correct diagnosis.
I'm struck by her changing relationship wth pain because I've seen it in my own life as well as in the lives of the people with whom I've worked, be it physical pain or emotional pain. It's a natural reaction to pull back when the pain shows itself. It's part of the evolutionary gift that teaches us to stay away from fires and sharp sticks. It keeps us from getting hurt.
Ironically, once we move beyond the fire in the cave, it also keeps us from healing. When we resist our physical pain our bodies tighten up, which has a way of making our pain only worse. Our hearts harden, which makes the pain only worse.
With emotional pain we try to ignore it. I'm not sad. It's not such big deal. I have no right to feel this way (as if our pain is only legitimate if we can make a court case for it.)
We shame ourselves for having pain, which does nothing to make us feel better. We tell ourselves that we shouldn't feel such things, and yet the feelings persist.
If the pain is going to be there, maybe we do well to sit with it and talk with it. Fix a cup of tea, curl up on a comfortable sofa and have a conversation. Our pain can be eloquent, if we are brave enough to listen.
What's the message in our sadness? Are we missing someone whom we've lost - or is that someone our Selves? Sometimes dissatisfaction comes because we're chasing that next shiny object and are spending too much time trying to create Pinterest worthy lives. Dissatisfaction tries to call us back to our true lives when we've drifted away - or run away from them as fast as we can.
I've been in one of those clutter clearing out phases lately. It seems to happen more often now -- maybe because at midlife I just have more stuff and I'd like for my family to think kindly of me after I'm gone. Perhaps one of the underrated tasks of midlife is clearing out emotional pain.
We clear out the pain that we never should have held onto in the first place. We just didn't have a wise adult in our lives to tell us that the mean girls weren't right about us, and so we've kept their judgments stuck in a back pocket for all of these years. What a delight to pull it out and see it for what it is - rubbish. We are not who they said we are.
Some of it is pain that we just couldn't deal with in the moment. When I cleaned out our family home I had to rent a storage space for a while because there were things that I just couldn't get to in that moment. I needed time to go through them in a more leisurely, less emotional time.
The pain we carry can be like that. The love of your life died and you thought the grief was going to take you under but you still had children in your life who needed a parent so you boxed away the bulk of your pain. Or when one parent dies you become caregiver for the other parent and there's just no time. Or in the moment of the hurt or of the loss you just didn't have the tools or the support to deal with it. Now you do.
It's not always easy and I wouldn't call it fun, but there's something healing and liberating about listening to what our feelings are trying to tell us -- and then being able to let them go.
It's not a long word. It can be a complete sentence. Yet it can be such a struggle to speak it out loud. In the August masterclass of Good Life @ Midlife I'll talk about why it can be hard to say no, and how to change the script.
It's available to all members of Good Life @ Midlife, along with previous master classes. To find out more and to join us, go to https://www.heartcallings.com/membership.