Cooping with pain

Emotional turmoil; the desperate breaths you take when your lungs feel beaten and perforated after you lose someone you love. The physical pain in your heart that causes you to clutch your sides in order to keep your crumbling body together after rejection. Staring at your ceiling with eyes cried dry and an exhausted body without the relief that tears can bring, when you miss someone. Whatever causes it, emotional turmoil is very much part of our everyday life. It is so present that one can hardly live withoutever experiencing some form of emotional turmoil, except maybe if you are a yogi or someone of the like who is so close to the divine that the earthly swings do not touch you any longer. For the rest of us however, we will endure pain. We will experience loss. We will grieve in some form or the other. And as many people as there are experiencing these emotions, as many different approaches there are for dealing with them.

Take for example the numbing approach, or the easy-button approach as Glennon Doyle Melton would call it. This approach deals with emotional pain (at least partly) through some sort of numbing action. Whether you use booze, or drugs, are endlessly watching series, having lots and lots of sex, sniffing glue or stop sleeping or something drastic like that, the actions are all intended to take away our pain. With our actions we try to fill the hole that pain, sadness, despair and their friends have created. However, our actions can only partly fill the hole, the hole itself can never be entirely filled by them, so instead of taking the pain away we end up just numbing it. We are diminishing our sensation of pain until such a level that we feel like we can either deal with it or ignore it. I am not unfamiliar to this tactic and sometimes it does help a little so we do not need to deal with immense pain at a moment that we cannot handle it. I have to say though that I do not use booze or drugs for this, but rather the slightly healthier options of sleeping less, watching loads of films and eating comfort food.

Another tactic is to immediately start looking for a solution for the ‘problem’ where your pain originates. If you lose your job and you have no income anymore, you start searching for a new job. Or if you are so stressed out you cannot eat or sleep anymore, you find ways to take it easier right now. However, not all pain and turmoil originates from a place that you can fix. How about the immense pain you feel after you have lost someone? There is no solution in that situation. Whatever you do, it can never bring back our beloved who has passed away. Or the less extreme, but still very present pain of being rejected and having your heart broken. You can try to ‘move on’ or ‘get over someone’, perhaps through dating or trying to force them out of your head and heart, but ultimately we are not over someone until we are. This is a very annoying vicious circle that can only be broken after our feelings change for this person (which is the one thing we do not control). Also, sometimes even when pain does originate from a place that we can fix, we might not want to do this.

For me the solutions above are not really an option. I might use them sometimes, but in the end there is only one thing I can do to move past emotional pain and turmoil. Basically what I do is… nothing. As simple as that and also as hard as that. It might sound simple, but to do nothing about the pain you feel or the turmoil you experience can seem almost counter-intuitive. My ‘doing nothing’ is not referring to the lack of action about pain, but more to the acceptance of the existence of the pain. My ‘doing nothing’ refers to letting the pain exist without forcefully trying to get rid of it.

Some people I know are definite solution-tactics. When you are in pain and they feel there is something you can do about it, they will advice you to do so. When you are on the painful love side of an unrequited love fairytale, they will advice you to do something to get over this person. Either put ideas about them aside and push them out of your head or start dating, anything to get over this unreachable person. Admittedly this is a very sweet goal of them, but if something like this is directed at me I only become angry. At that moment it feels like my pain is somehow wrong and that is has no right to exist. This feels horrible, because there is no way I can get rid of the pain. It will not go away by wishing it away or by focussing on other things, the pain will go with me wherever I am. The only thing the solution-tactic does for me is that I do not feel seen or heard in my state of utter pain and despair; oftentimes the pain even gets worse over time, because I cannot speak about it anymore. If there is no way for me to live through the pain and get it all out, it just sticks around, somewhere deep inside where it starts to fester. When I, after a while, cannot take it any longer and start talking about it, there is this huge mess that I have to deal with, a much bigger mess than I had before I tucked the pain away. I have done this once (through my own volition) and noticed its devastating effects, so I do not intend to do this any longer.

Nowadays I gave space to the pain, it is allowed to be with me and I am allowed to feel it. I do not care how long it will take until the pain starts to reside. I know from experience that infinity does not actually last that long, so I can patiently wait for my pain to have lived its course. This does not mean that I always talk a lot about it, it just means that I do not purposefully NOT talk about it. If I wish to talk about it or when I need it, I certainly will. Whether that is a conversation with someone else or a monologue that I have with myself, I will talk about it. And I will wait. Just wait. Wait until the pain aspect of the event starts to wear of. Wait until it does not have me in its claws any longer. Wait until it is ready to let me go. Then, and only then, I move on. In the meantime I do whatever practical things I can do to make the process easier, faster or less uncomfortable, but in this process I will never again shoo away the pain I feel. The pain is there, it is real and I will accept that reality. For me that is the only way to deal with pain and the only way I can help others with their pain: by allowing it to be.


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