Updated: Dec 30, 2019
Sometimes, even after you’ve made changes in your life and started treating yourself well and loving yourself (taken healthy patterns of action) and been real with yourself (you know, stopped blocking acceptance by denying reality) and are taking steps (or baby steps…or crawling) towards the life you dream of, you still will have what (I love this phrase) Natasha Adamo calls “pain contractions”.
Pain contractions are, well, they are contractions: intense, INTENSE spasms of pain, usually occurring before the next breakthrough to emotional freedom.
They are technically short-term in reality, but because they are SO painful they feel like they are going to last forever, which gives this distorted “must act now, no point in holding off any longer” urgency to destroy what you’ve been building (space between you and a toxic relationship, depression that makes working on anything constructive feel not only pointless but also physically impossible, the urge to comfort eat and/or overspend and/or lash out at others, etc.).
Some of the most powerful information I ever read was Natasha Adamo saying, “Pain contractions are always here to pass, never to stay.”
Because before that I never realized that was true.
Because I never gave the pain a chance to subside (and a chance to let myself heal), and because when one hit, it was unbearable-on-every-possible-level-I-can’t-believe-my-body-can-contain-this-much-pain awful, I would immediately pack to go somewhere.
Where would I go?
On a “dang fool adventure” into the Land of Endless Dignity-Ejection. It was a well-traveled land I grew to know well.
My passport had all the stamps:
Begging to be taken back
Begging not to be abandoned AGAIN
Begging to be loved
Begging to be understood
Begging to be told I am worth something
Begging to accept all the blame (this really happened)
Begging to be lied to
Begging to be paid attention to and listened to
Begging to be understood
Begging for help
Begging to be run down and verbal abused
Begging to be needed as an endless cheerleader and doormat…
And my wayward backpacking companions? People who perpetuated the cycle as much as I did.
I’m actually writing this as I go through a pain contraction that has lasted several days, and it’s all the worse because wounds that I was sure had healed under 15 inches of fibrous, bulging scar tissue feel as if they have all ripped apart at once so that what *was* a heart feels like a ruptured mess of gook.
I’m fighting anger and upset at the phone ringing; upset at the phone not ringing; the sadness literally is making me physically exhausted; I can’t catch a break in my sleep because my brain is working overtime sorting through the trauma with the most vivid, painful dreams; and instead of being able to cry it all out it’s culminated into a mass that seems to be caught in my throat and is choking me (I’d literally be gasping for air at times).
Also, there are several events coming up that I am absolutely dreading.
Been there too?
I know I’m not the only one who has (or is) going through this.
So what do you do when you are *STILL* hurting?
And WHY is this STILL happening to good people like us?
What do you do when you’ve followed all the protocols on Wikihow?
When you've gone out with people you know, and met new people over a lovely meal (did that last night, check),
Watched funny movies (did that last night as well, check),
Petted the cat (check),
Petted the dog (check),
Opened a present (check),
Tried to do-the-chores the pain away (check, check, check, check, check)?
What do you do when you’ve done all those external activities that should be getting your mind off of it...but some how decidedly do NOT, and in some perverse way seem to magnify the fact that you still miss someone, even if YOU KNOW they didn’t really exist the way you believed they did?
Still hurt that someone treated you bad, still wish things had worked out differently, still hate your current job, AND, as hard as you’ve believed in your hard work paying off and believed in your dreams...are starting to lose hope or just feel inescapably weary (or both)?
What do you do when you’re sure you’ve been doing all the right things (you’re sure because you felt like you were flying again there for a minute) and you find yourself face-planted in the ground in impact crater so deep it may as well be a bottomless pit?
· YOU HURT BECAUSE YOU CARE:
I think one of the most comforting things I ever read was a book called Life 101: Everything We Wish We Had Learned About Life in School--But Didn't (The Life 101 Series) by: John-Roger and Peter McWilliams.
It is a pretty amazing and comprehensive book about life and succeeding at it, but one of the parts that I needed most to read was talking about grief and emotional pain.
I remember wondering why I was hurting so much. I was actually angry at myself for feeling so much pain, so deeply.
Knowing that the pain was because I cared took a lot of the edge off. Not only did it let me make some peace with myself (I wasn’t a masochist, I was actually a good person), it helped me make peace with my pain. Why was I hurting so much? Because I cared so much. And being able to name the cause of my pain *enabled* *me* to *disable* *it*.
It was a process, but later down the road, knowing that I had cared about something that was no longer worth caring about freed me to stop caring, and eventually stop hurting about it.
· THIS TOO SHALL PASS:
It will. I absolutely KNOW that feeling like it won’t pass, but it will. Everything does. *Especially* pain contractions.
· THE ONLY WAY OUT IS THROUGH:
Ever been on a really long road trip before, with just enough money for the gasoline to make it to where you were going, and no way to stop somewhere for the night? The road goes on and on, HOURS LEFT, by yourself, utterly exhausted (anyone else have trouble sleeping before a trip?), already been going for HOURS, the weather bad, shoulders in so much pain it was radiating to your head, nauseated, and did I mention exhausted?
You just wanted to be where you were going to, in a comfortable bed, and for the pain to stop? It took everything you had to make it there on those trips, right? And the one thing (okay, two things—I liked to listen to The Grassroots non-stop) that kept us going was knowing that we couldn’t stop because the only way out was through. Right? Remember that?
It felt like FOREVER (I STILL remember how interminable and miserable it felt, and this happened years ago for me), but there was no feasible option except to go through it. No one could come get me and my car full of stuff. I was on my own.
The same thing happens when you get tired of being fat and decide to lose 20 pounds.
Losing weight hurts like hell.
You’re hungry, tired, your body is a mess trying to adjust, and all that fat is releasing years worth of stored toxins that literally make your body feel as if it is being poisoned.
Oh, and for some reason, it’s almost impossible to sleep well even though you feel like you just developed the world’s worst case of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.
I guess this is what they mean by “building character” because if you can stick with this for over a month and a half, you’re pretty tough stuff and can stick with quite a few things in life. Maybe this why most cultures encourage fasting as a spiritual practice.
I didn’t have the money for liposuction or anything like that, so the only way out of being fat was through (through the pain).
The good news is that this is formulaic:
Pain of Inaction > Pain of Things Staying The Same = Success.
You just have to harness the misery of being unhappy to get you through the misery of working through it.
It actually doesn't take that long before the misery of working through it turns into the JOY of working through it! And that's when you know you are on the right track!
At least one of these options will result in Future-You being happier. Maybe the best advice I ever read was “Do something today that your future self will thank you for”.
· BEING GRATEFUL, EVEN FOR YOUR PAIN:
Sometimes I have to play the “Glad Game” (from the book Pollyanna by: Eleanor H. Porter in 1913), which means I have to genuinely feel grateful that my pain took the form it did (because everyone *will* have pain of some sorts) and not something even more unmanageable or worse.
One reason that this is helpful is that it loosens the power of the pain a great deal to own it, instead of feeling like it owns you.
The other reason this helps is that it draws attention to the resources you DO have to help you out of the situation. If you are grateful that you have X, Y, and Z in your situation (as opposed to being in the same sucky situation but also without those comforts), your brain can start thinking of creative solutions with the tools it does have.
This can be an extensive list if you really think about it (whichever apply to you): eyesight, operational hands/limbs, freedom to come and go freely, the ability to move your body, the allergies you don’t have, time, a safe place to sleep, internet access, the fact that you aren’t *always* in debilitating pain and therefore can think straight most of the time, etc.…
Remember that so many of the blessings that you use constantly are things that some people can only dream of and will never have on this Earth.
I’m not saying this to bring you down and certainly you shouldn’t feel guilty.
What I am saying is go shopping at YOU*Mart: you do have gifts that you can MacGuyver to play the Game of Life with, and it’s even better when you can use your pain itself to your advantage: for example, I wouldn’t be able to reach out and connect with and help others if I myself hadn’t gone through the pain I did.
· BE GRATEFUL FOR YOUR LACK OF PAIN:
Are you no longer waking up next to a lying, cheating, disrespectful a**-hat (or waking up to the empty spot said a**-hat was SUPPOSED to be occupying)?
Are you no longer taking their emotional (and/or physical) beatings?
No longer being blamed, gaslighted, coerced into behaving against your principles and well-being, mind-f*cked, toyed with, treated as unimportant, ignored, made to feel hard to love and easy to abandon, repressed, oppressed, supporting a lazy a** (emotionally, financially, or both), throwing your dignity away?
You, my friend, are free in one of the best uses of the word, and the sooner *you* can internalize that, the sooner you will feel better.
And you know what? It is okay to be shallow on this.
One of my favorite books is Island of the Aunts by: Eva Ibbotson. At the end of the book, one of the characters, Aunt Myrtle, has a best friend who is a selkie that wants to change back from his human form into seal form, which can be accomplished if one cries 7 tears over him, which Aunt Myrtle agrees to do.
Aunt Myrtle is devastated at the thought of her best friend leaving her, and the first 6 tears pour out...
and then all of the sudden, she realizes she won’t have to take the swimming lessons that he has insisted on giving her every day in the ice-cold ocean…
and as thoroughly “as if her tear ducts were plugged by cement” Aunt Myrtle can’t cry that 7th tear because she is so relieved.
Be Aunt Myrtle.
Harness your relief to stop the sorrow, be it a clean kitchen sink that stays empty or a bed that stays made or floor sans dirty clothes all over it or not having to shave or a person who refuses to contribute not being there anymore or a lack of nagging and criticism...
Whatever little (or big) nuisances and indignities that worked on your nerves that you have had the pleasure of bidding adieu to, APPRECIATE THOSE.
· ACKNOWLEDGE YOUR PAIN:
Sometimes (I know we all do it because darn it, it seems like the best solution at the time), we deny, fight, bottle up, or try to escape (in whatever forms) our pain.
Because pain hurts!
BUT, if you don’t own your pain, your pain will own you, and that’s never good because hasn’t anyone told you that misery likes company?
Pretty soon a whole bunch of pains (many self-inflicted, because pain must be dealt with in some way or another) will be owning you. You can’t lie to yourself about this one. You know you’re in pain.
Be a midimalist.
Don’t fight it, but don’t focus on it and wallow forever so that you die inside.
Let yourself grieve.
How do you grieve?
Feel what you’re feeling. It helps a lot of people, including me, to write it all down. Get it out and then STARE at it. There it all is, in little black marks (or rainbow ones, if you used gel pens!). That internal riot is suddenly contained on a nearly-one-dimensional workable rectangle.
· PRAY: I mean yes, this is totally optional, BUT, it’s scientifically proven that giving your problems to God is good for your health. And it really does ease what feels like impossible burdens. When you surrender your pain, the burden isn't all on you anymore.
Bob Dylan sang it best when he said, “The wheel’s still in spin, and the losing now will be later the win.”
Don’t give up.
Accept that this pain is a sign that you are a caring individual and that pain is a side-effect of living (that is going to get better). None of this is forever.
You’ll get out because you are going through it. And that’s the best sign in the world because the only way out IS through.
Leonard Cohen said that best when he sang, “There is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.”
Those cracks are how the light is getting in. I want you to hold onto that thought.
I love you so much. We’re all in this together.
Your Soul Sibling,