Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Lean into the pain...

Many years ago, at a writers' conference, the keynote speaker told us to "lean into the pain" as we went through life.  Especially through life as writers where to know pain is to write about it.  Life is painful.  By it's very definition.  No one gets out of it ... well ... alive.

In this address, the speaker's example was about a phone call she'd had with her teen age son.  Something nasty had happened at school which had hurt him badly.  These four words, "lean into the pain", were her advice to him.

Boardwalk at Murrell's Inlet, SC - my path in life one day this January
Frankly, it puzzled me.  What did she mean by "lean into the pain"?  Why would this be helpful?  After all, our culture is all about alleviating  not feeling, pain.  We're bombarded with advertisements for this pain killer and that.  For this condition or that.  It would seem that our entire focus is on ways to avoid pain, or even potential pain at all costs.

But pain, although painful, is not all bad.  Pain gives you limitations which need to be heeded i.e. don't walk on a leg when it's broken.  Don't ignore the pain from a burn or wound, but rather treat it - appropriately.  Keep your bare skin away from open flames lest you get burned.  Pain makes you aware that something is wrong.  Pain needs to be heeded in order to be healed properly.

I forgot about that keynote speaker for almost two decades.  If you ask me now, I can't tell you who she was or what she spoke on, but I do remember those four words:  lean into the pain.

In 2011 after several years of remarkable recovery and progress through all the past debris that coated my life, things went downhill big time.  Fast.  I had two stress breakdowns back to back.  I lost my job.

A couple of weeks later - my path beside the Grand River in Kitchener, ON
based on a petition submitted to management and HR by my (now former) co-workers while on a protracted leave due to the damage caused by the stress breakdowns.  Accused of many things.  Unsubstantiated allegations.  No one, not even the union, defended me.  Like the log being thrust by the heavy current down the river to places unknown and unwanted in the picture above, I was caught, trapped, in a free-flowing situation which I could not control.  By currents too powerful to escape from.  Unable to protect myself against allegations and reprisals.  Defenseless.

Several months passed in which I worked on healing.  Continually assaulted by emotions, thoughts.  Battered.  Bruised emotionally.  The situation although now in the, not so distant, past was continually with me.  Haunting me.  Tormenting my mind.  Even in sleep it was always there.  Nightmares.  First thing on my mind when I woke up in the morning.  Always in front of me.  I could not escape it, no matter how hard I tried.  No matter what techniques I used.  No matter how many times I went to counselling sessions.  Always in the forefront of my mind.

One day during our regular appointment, I asked my counsellor why these thoughts and images wouldn't go away.  Wouldn't be silenced.  Why, even months later, they were still with me all the time.  Awake or asleep.

Her answer?  You have to face the horror of what you went through before you can put it to rest.

I realized at that moment that there is a difference between a nightmare and horror.  A nightmare you wake up from.  Horror you don't.  You have to work through it.  Slowly.  Painstakingly.

You have to lean into the pain.  Experience it fully.  Face it.  Stare it in the eye.  And don't be the first to back down.

The same path as above - less than two weeks later
Completely different
Then, and only then, can healing begin to take place.

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