In the aftermath of a traumatic experience, many of us become vulnerable to the fad diets and exercise gimmicks of the self help world. But there are no shortcuts to doing the necessary, long-term work of processing your pain.
When I was in college, I worked at the fitness center. Every year just before spring break, my colleagues and I fielded the same question: “How do I get buff for spring break?”
Without fail, the question would be posed two weeks before the first day of spring break, and like clockwork, we’d deliver the bad news: “You’re screwed.”
I’ve been working out since I was 14, and I went on to become a registered dietitian. If there’s one thing I learned over my years as a health nut it’s this: There are no quick fixes when it comes to health. No diet, no machine, and no workout plan can get you where you want to be overnight. You have to work at that shit.
Exercising has to be like taking a shower—it’s just something you do (almost) every day. Eating has to regularly, consistently involve balance, variety, and moderation.
I think it’s the same with pain.
Many of us have come through traumatic experiences, and we’re left in a space that makes us vulnerable to the fad diets and exercise gimmicks of the self help world.
Stop telling your story.
Find a distraction.
But you know what? Nothing works. Because there’s no substitute for going into and processing your pain. No one and no thing can do that shit for you.
Like a Mother
I first started really thinking about this when my minister quoted Jim Morrison one Sunday morning. “You should stand up for your right to feel your pain,” he said.
“Yes!” said my inner crunchy, feminist self. I worked as a writer and editor for midwives for eight years, and I birthed a nearly ten pound baby with no pain medication. I know about this.
There’s no shame in pain medication and no badge for toughing it out, but too often birthing women are pushed towards silencing their pain. It’s uncomfortable for others to see a woman wrestling with pain. She says whatever she wants. She makes awkward, loud noises. She requires extra, labor-intensive comfort and support from real live humans.
We don’t tell women about the upside of pain, like the endorphin rush that follows and encourages mother/infant bonding. We don’t talk much about the fewer lacerations and quicker recovery time many women experience after an unmedicated, vaginal birth.
In our culture of quick fixes and aversion to discomfort, no wonder I feel as if something is missing from the way we’re encouraged to get through divorce and continue on with life.
Feel It to Heal It
I’m no therapist, but I’d venture to say that the work involved in healthfully processing the pain of divorce involves time and a willingness to feel and let go. And from experience I can say this is not a one-time or time-limited event. It’s a continual willingness to dive into the pain and shed into a new reality over and over again. Some dives are deeper than others. Some are more intense than others. But we have to be willing to face our pain again and again.
Only then do we get to sport our genuine rock-hard positivity muscles. Only then do we look like those beautiful lotus flowers that bloom up from a bed of mud. Only then do we get to hold and nurture the new life we’ve worked so hard to birth into being.
I’ll leave you with the full Jim Morrison quote:
“People are afraid of themselves, of their own reality; their feelings most of all. People talk about how great love is, but that’s bullshit. Love hurts. Feelings are disturbing. People are taught that pain is evil and dangerous. How can they deal with love if they’re afraid to feel? Pain is meant to wake us up. People try to hide their pain. But they’re wrong. Pain is something to carry, like a radio. You feel your strength in the experience of pain. It’s all in how you carry it. That’s what matters. Pain is a feeling. Your feelings are a part of you. Your own reality. If you feel ashamed of them, and hide them, you’re letting society destroy your reality. You should stand up for your right to feel your pain.
One final note: When I said there’s no shame in pain medication, I meant it. Sometimes the pain is too much, and we have no business hanging out in it. Therapists, medication, support groups, and close friends are there for a reason. Don’t be afraid to use them.
Have you taken the time to feel your pain? What daily habits might help you start to own it?
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