I’m just going to hide this post behind a warning, because this post is as the title suggests, about pain. A further disclaimer – it’s not meant as a commentary on anyone’s life, health, or choices other than my own.
“Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional.”
I sat down at the beginning of the year to write a reflective post about the year that was 2015. Two and a half months later, the above quote is the best summation I’ve found. In looking back at my posts from the year, I realize just how little this blog reflected the substance of my life. The post in which I talked most about my reality came down quickly when I realized it sounded as if I were making light of another person’s pain (I wasn’t doing so intentionally) and telling too much of a story that wasn’t mine to tell (guilty as charged on that count). So here’s a bit about my reality last year.
2015 was a year of pain. There is, of course, the Very Serious Illness that I mentioned early in the year. A second VSI was diagnosed in fall. Along the way, there have been no shortage of things to cause physical discomfort and pain- surgeries, 100+ stitches, skin grafts, needle pokes by the dozens, mystery fevers, and a severe allergic reaction to a medication are just a few of the highlights. Then there are the pains in one’s head. Anxiety, anger, fear, and stress have been as much a part of my daily reality as the physical pain. I can’t convey what has gone on in my head-space over the last few months, but most of it makes Munch’s The Scream look like a happy face.
American culture, as a whole, looks at a pain as something to be avoided at all costs. If it hurts, we will do whatever we can to ameliorate the feelings. Even talking about it is to be avoided and I’m guessing that I’ve made at least one or two people uncomfortable when they read the previous paragraph. My personal take on pain is this – pain is a warning that there is something that needs my attention and if I simply try to make it go away, I am doing myself no favors.
At the beginning of 2015, I made a decision about whatever was to come – that I would intentionally lean into whatever pain and darkness that came my way, rather than running from it. There were many opportunities to medicate away whatever I might have been feeling at the time, but as long as I could remain reasonable functional, I opted out of using medications. Obviously, one does not go through multiple surgeries without some lovely medications, but on a day-to-day basis, there were choices to be made. I chose pain over escape.
I am not a masochist, but rather, someone who believes that shying away from that which is uncomfortable is a spiritual hindrance. I cannot do the spiritual work that has been tasked to me without a willingness to explore places and ideas that are outside of my personal comfort zone. Shadow work happens in states of discomfort; liminal work happens in those places where we choose not to normally dwell. This has been a lifelong lesson for me and there have been times in my life when I’ve chosen to flee from that which causes me pain. No more, however.
By leaning into the pain, by acknowledging and examining it, I was able to better cope with the things that were happening to and around me during the last year. By not hiding from my fears, I was able to make more informed decisions about my health and how to best manage my illnesses. By allowing some deep emotional pain to be recognized and its origins understood, I was able to part ways with a job that I felt I couldn’t afford to lose even though it was contributing to my ill health. By not hiding from that which was uncomfortable, I was able to take back control of many aspects of my life, some of which had slipped from my control long before the year began.
So, yes, 2015 was a year of pain… and of hard-won lessons, time spent in shadows, and difficult growth. What it was not – it was not a year of suffering, because I would not allow it to be. It’s a choice that I make every day.