Pain, Glorious Pain

Girl in Grief

Let’s get raw and real. Let’s address the inevitability and necessity of pain in our lives. I am quite sure that very few of us want to go there, yet so many of us have experienced it on unspeakable or unimaginable levels that it seems a meaningful topic. That emotion seems to be handed right to us, rarely without an invitation and with a skilled proficiency enviable of the most expert professionals within your favorite field of study.

Since I just stated emotion, you know I’m not talking about the physical sensation of pain in the body. That’s an entirely different realm that is best left to those who practice healing. There isn’t a medication, a cast, or a surgery for the emotion of pain.

Here is where you may introduce the argument for antidepressants or similar common prescriptions. That’s okay. I’ve been there and done that, too. This is not about depression as a diagnosis and associated treatment. This is simply Sunny’s view on pain. I’ve had my share of it, sure. So have you. We’re not going to compare and contrast experiences, just take an honest and open look at why pain is so necessary and yes, so glorious.

Take the pain that appears with death, for example. For those of us who have experienced the raw pain that presents itself with a death, it seems the most intense version of pain available. Death of a loved one, death of a beloved pet, or death of your dreams. Each of these may draw a level of pain that feels excruciating and downright unbearable.

It is crucial to fully understand that death itself is a circumstance. All circumstances are neutral. This was a mind-blowing concept for me, but think about it. Death happens. All day, every day. When death happens to someone that you love very dearly, you don’t experience the pain until you know it about it. Maybe it’s a phone call or a a message in person. In the worst cases, maybe you were there and you saw it happen. Regardless, it remains neutral until you have a thought about it.

That thought could be something like, “I’m devastated”. The thought in turn generates a painful emotion you might call agony. It’s not just sadness or sorrow. It’s becomes agony when you think, “This is devastating.” Then you react by sobbing uncontrollably, cursing your god/creator/the universe, and/or (my personal favorite) numbing and suppressing.

My version of numbing in the past has involved throwing myself into the gory details of the aftermath of death (i.e. paying final bills, notifying every creditor, cleaning out the apartment, going to probate court, and forwarding Dad’s phone number to mine so I could personally tell every caller and relive it all over again in my mind each time). Once that flurry of activity faded along with all of the funeral flowers that I brought home like a consolation prize, I numbed with alcohol. I didn’t want to feel that pain.

I taught my brain (not my self, but my brain) how to escape through that exercise. And so I created these neural pathways over time that put my subconscious mind on autopilot. Don’t want to feel this emotion or that one? Have a drink or three. That will make it all better!

Here’s the rub. As Brené Brown explains, “You cannot selectively numb emotion.” You cannot say, ‘here’s the bad stuff I don’t want to feel’…without losing joy, gratitude, and happiness.” When it comes to numbing, it really is all or nothing. Numb it all or be open to experiencing extreme discomfort, including pain and agony.

It took me far too long to reach the understanding that emotions such as pain, agony, deprivation, discomfort, and grief are part of the human experience. They are a perfect application of the phrase “a necessary evil”. It feels wrong to embrace them or lean in to those feelings. Every part of my mind wants to fight it if I’m feeling strong or suppress it if I don’t want to feel it at all.

The problem with suppressing is that eventually the pain presents itself again. And again. And again. Until you finally deal with it. Live in it. Let it run through you. It is a necessary part of the human experience. If you can feel it, you know that you are alive.

The reality is that without pain we can’t know what true joy feels like. Without anger, we don’t know acceptance. Without emptiness, we don’t know how amazing it feels to be fulfilled. And yes, without war, we don’t know peace. Life is about contrast and acknowledging the existence of it. Darkness and light. Ebbs and flows. Yin and yang.

And so pain can be glorious if only for the realization that we are alive. Being human can be an absolute bitch sometimes, but it’s one that I would choose again and again, especially knowing that pain itself is temporary. All of our feelings are. So choose to live the full experience. Embrace it. Bask in the glory of it.

It doesn’t interest me what planets are squaring your moon. I want to know if you have touched the center of your own sorrow, if you have been opened by life’s betrayals or have become shriveled and closed from fear of further pain. I want to know if you can sit with pain, mine or your own, without moving to hide it or fade it or fix it. 

Excerpt from “The Invitation”, Oriah Mountain Dreamer

Photo credit: x1klima Girl in Grief via photopin (license)

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