Wondering how to accept pain and move beyond the past? The answer seems a little counter-intuitive, but you must “move toward” your pain, not away from it.
Humans tend to avoid painful things, and our first reaction is to withdraw away. Think about that first time you accidentally touched the hot stove: you likely yanked your hand back, drawing it toward yourself. However, not all pain is physical or as cut and dry as this situation.
Sometimes, there are emotional wounds that also cause us pain. Other times, we might do something that causes us discomfort at the moment but the benefits are worth it long term.
It doesn’t serve a purpose to keep your hand burning on the hot coils of the stove, but there are several reasons for you to go through other discomforts. Your resistance to feeling your emotions is making it hurt more. Understanding your pain, instead of trying to make it go away, will make you happier.
Lode Dewulf’s illuminating Tedx Talk
Mr. Dewulf begins his Tedx Talk by explaining how we have all been “well trained” in the pain curriculum:
What physical and emotional pain can you remember experiencing as a young child? I remember my mother and father fighting, but I can’t recall how devastated I felt when my parents split up.
Subconsciously I know it must have hurt when my dad wasn’t around anymore. I remember the neglect and abandonment I received under my mother’s care until I went to live with my grandma.
Once there, I experienced broken promises from my mom, emotional and physical abuse from my grandma, and the pain of feeling like an unwanted outcast from my peers. Mr. Dewulf says that we are all “Patient Experts By Experience.” What have your experiences taught you?
He explains how pain is “that big elephant that lives in most rooms of our life and that we prefer to ignore or suppress.” Painkillers are the second most prescribed class of medicine, not to mention how people try to self medicate their physical and emotional pain with other substances.
Can there be another option than living with pain, suppressing pain, or ignoring pain?
“The best way out is always through.” ― Robert Frost
How does walking through our pain help us leave the forest?
For years, I tried to manage the agony caused by my childhood in two primary ways. The first was to exert as much control as I possibly could on the world around me. I held myself and everyone around me to impossible standards.
Next, I kept trying to achieve more things that “someone like me” wasn’t “supposed to.” I focused on getting a Bachelor’s and then a Master’s degree. My husband and I have been married for 18 years with two children. I didn’t develop a drug or alcohol addiction.
Most people are shocked when they learn that my mother was an addict, a stripper, a felon, and that she went into the witness protection program when I was in high school. I had zero contact with my father from the ages of 5-18, because of a custodial kidnapping accusation.
My grandmother, who raised me during that time, was emotionally, verbally, and physically abusive. Yet I thought I had somehow escaped the trauma because I didn’t go down that same road.
But I have anxiety and depression. I had unexplained pain throughout my body, and the doctors still don’t know what is wrong. Their best guess is Fibromyalgia. I got tired of playing this guessing game at the doctor’s office, and when my daughter decided she wanted to see a therapist, I made the same decision. That singular decision has been life-changing.
The first thing that my new therapist did was to recommend the book “The Body Keeps The Score.” I would recommend for anyone who has experienced trauma. It explains so much about what happens to the brain and how that affects pain.
The more we spoke over the last year, the more her words, “avoiding all of this is not the same as accepting it,” made sense to me. The best way out of the forest is through it.
Sitting in a scary corner, building a city in your mind, and ignoring the woodland creatures does not take you out of the forest. It might make being lost in the forest the most comfortable way to be lost in the woods, but that is where you are.
Leslie Becker-Phelps, Ph.D., reminds us that, “Accepting reality leads to change like denial never can.” Denying the years’ worth of pain I had suffered was creating more anguish and only making it worse. Dr. Phelps reminds us of the Buddhist formula, Pain x Resistance = Suffering. We must accept how we came to be who we are to move forward and be our most authentic selves.
“Trauma is hell on earth. Trauma resolved is a gift from the gods.” ― Peter A. Levine
How to learn to accept your pain
The first thing that needs to happen is learning to accept your reality. Like I said earlier, pretending not to be lost in the woods, no matter what you make, being lost in the woods, look like, does not change the reality. I had a traumatic childhood.
Even though some aspects of it were terrific, like Disney vacations, food, and every material thing I wanted, it does not alter the reality of what happened to me.
Yes, I realize that things could have been even worse; I had to accept that what I had going on was traumatic. For years, when I would say something like, “my mom left me multiple times during my life, but it’s ok,” I denied my reality.
My feelings, thoughts, and sense of self deserved validation. I never let myself experience the pain authentically. In those moments of looking at how ugly it was, we find the strength to carry on and cope and learn how to heal. Instead of trying to be this successful person who pretended that I had made it through unscathed, I embraced who I am and renewed my love of writing.
Through my writing, I reached other people struggling with traumas of their own. Resurrecting the writer I always wanted to be, in a way that helps others, enabled me to leave behind a professional job that did not fulfill me.
I am walking the path I was meant to, for the first time in nearly 20 years—the feelings of rightness and peace that come from knowing who you are, helped in my healing process.
The future I used to have mapped out doesn’t align with my goals and desires. That is ok because we are humans, and we can change our lives’ trajectory by making different decisions. There is some fear, even some pain, as we have to leave our comfort zones.
Removing one brick at a time from our carefully built walls is painful. Yet, it is worth it in more ways than I can express. My family is content, and we are thriving. I love where I am now, and every decision I make is furthering the future I crave.
“The gift of life, gives you the greatest opportunity to live and chance to rise above any situation. With hopeful attitude you can overcome any struggle.” ― Lailah Gifty Akita
The pain gets better
After a year in therapy, a year of writing, and leaving my old job, my joint pain has subsided. It still happens randomly, but it has been about eight months since it hurt to push the blanket off me.
I had weight loss surgery a few weeks ago, even though I am terrified of needles and had never had surgery before. The pain in my knees and back is infinitely better. More importantly, I can write and speak about my childhood without sobbing.
It is difficult to stop avoiding the pain you have learned over your lifetime, but it is worth persevering through it. Avoiding it will only make it worse in the long run.
You deserve to live the best life possible, and you are strong enough to face it. I know this because you already survived what tried to break you. Find that survivor inside of yourself and take the next step.
You will cry a lot, it will hurt a lot, until one day it won’t hurt as much. Healing is a process, but it is the key to being a happier, healthier you. After all:
“Our most beautiful dreams are born from our most unpleasant nightmares.” ― Matshona Dhliwayo