Through Pain, Amen

 Image credit: Dylan Spitz

Image credit: Dylan Spitz

“We either allow ourselves to feel the burn of our own pain or someone we love gets burned by it.”

I’m 5 foot 2. A slim “wears Target clothes like it’s Burberry Fall ‘18 off the runway” 25-year-old. I’m kind, but no one’s doormat. I have aces up my sleeve that I picked up and placed there when others thought they’d pulled one over on me. I’m aware, of myself and others, almost to a fault. Or to my biggest advantage.

Once, four years ago, I told my therapist, “I know how to tell you exactly what you need to hear so that I don’t end up here every week.” 

“Why haven’t you?”

“Because I know I wouldn’t be hurting you, I’d be hurting myself and those I love.”

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We get hurt all of the time. Little lies that pile up until they’re drowning us all. Big transgressions that bury us under avalanches within minutes. We get to decide what to do when the weight of the pain starts making its way towards us. We can stand still, brace for it, then deal with healing bruises, broken bones, torn apart egos. 

Or we can do the opposite. We can throw our partners in life at the avalanche like their frame will be enough to stop it from catching up with us. We can run until we’ve traded floors covered by snow to ones covered by rocks, we could hop from one to the other pretending that the avalanche hasn’t turned into tsunami waves. Pretending that the hourglass isn’t running out of sand.

We can create fantasy worlds out of thin air, try to capture them on film in hopes of trading in transitory for permanency. But shaking the Polaroid picture faster won’t make the pain that lives under skin disappear. Living life that way just turns every step you take into a spike to the heart, every step you look back on as a deeply seeded reminder of how far you’re walking away from your integrity, how much closer you are to your day of reckoning, how escaping and running aren’t doing anything but bringing you full circle.

I believe in emotional resilience as a skill we hone and needs to be practiced. It can’t be masked behind big egos, big followings, or big tempers. It’s rooted in who you are when you’re sitting in the silence and waves hit. Nothing big can fit into it because it calls for us to be small and to think small. 

When pain hits, and should you choose to stand still, your focus isn’t “Where will I be a year from now?” it’s “Where will I be a minute from now?” Will I have tapped into my inner strength as a way to remind myself that I am in fact able to navigate pain without hiding in fear? Will I have projected onto others the big fears of “What if this comes to head? What if in 20 years we don’t know how to stay?” 

What if we learn to stay still for five minutes first while visiting with pain and uncertainty? Then we can figure out life.

Because that’s how pain is handled. I do short prayers. “Through Pain, Amen.” God knows what I’m asking for when I bring my pain to Him. It isn’t for Him to feel it for me, it’s for Him to give me the strength to feel it for myself. Because that's where growth happens. To feel your own pain is to be able to look in the mirror and confidently say that you own every part of yourself, not just the parts that others deem "good." Pain is the most visceral reminder that we are worthy of love and belonging just for being ourselves. 

It's also the most divisive reality — there are those who choose to survive and those who choose to thrive.

Surviving looks like hurt people hurting people. And the thing is that it's hard to pick those people out in a crowd. Those who never deal with their pain look like everyone else. They roll their necks when getting off cross country flights. They flirt, embrace, they even love. Then they’re triggered. Then they combust. The pain can’t stay within because to them that's death, so, instead they turn into sprinklers going off at full force, dousing everyone and everything around them. Because in moments of fight or flight, flight looks like hurting others just to escape your own pain. 

Letters are illegible because the ink has cried on pages. There’s no way to reach them because phones in rice won’t save the connection. If you love them, you stand there wondering how to stop them from going off, all the while your clothes are getting soaked and you’re feeling pounds heavier. Eventually you walk out of the range of the sprinklers and accept that shutting them off is rarely, if ever, a matter of love, it’s a matter of trust.

You surrender and pray that your person will learn to trust themselves enough to know that life isn’t about walking away unscathed, it’s about trusting you’ll make it through even when it feels like you’re drowning within. To trust that you are more than capable of withstanding pain is, for some, to accept that the world is more than just happy feelings. 

I’ve met people who crumble under the weight of knowing that. People who would never accept that to be true because if they did they know they would have failed at the one task the world asks of us - to learn to be brave. 

I didn’t want my people to have to watch me go off like a poorly installed sprinkler system. I didn’t want a participation trophy for simply surviving. At 20, I learned that what I wanted for myself was at the other end of staring at my own pain. I want love that stays, to know that I’m anchored in myself and to let that remind me that I can get through anything, to not be afraid to trust my ability to love someone without hurting them. 

So, I chose to show up in my life, through pain, in love. 

Admittedly, thriving is harder to come by and fleeting when you do reach it because it’s not a single moment. It is a series of moments that remind you that you’re on the right path even when it hurts more than you thought a single person could withstand. Those are the moments too when we’re at risk of hurting those we love the most. And we’re all capable of causing that pain. Up against wall, with fear lodged in my throat, and pain making my entire body tingle, I’ve had to be careful with how I use my words. I can rain love on someone or I can use my words to make them feel a version of what I’m feeling. 

I’ve had to be careful. I’ve had to sit in awareness. I’ve had to think of brown eyes and think of what good it would do any of us to multiply pain, when we could just navigate through and subtract. 

We could lose some of our weight in water instead of making those around us pounds heavier by dousing them. We could learn to invite people in and to let them stay, instead of leaving them no other options but to walk away or find death at the hands of a sprinkler. 

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The truth is, pain doesn’t have to be navigated without support, even if most of it does have to be experienced alone. Thriving teaches you that lesson. When you begin to trust that you will survive sitting through pain,  you begin to experience pain as an opportunity to grow and a series of moments to be proud of.

A friend recently posed the question, “How does it feel to love so free?” 

It feels like healing. Like a scar on my thigh from being reckless and taken care of, all at once.

It feels mine. Like the words for the tattoo. 

It feels costly. Like I know its weight in gold because I know its weight in pain.

It feels like finally belonging to a team. Because it’s my reminder that I am wanted as I come. 

It feels like thriving. Because you can’t own love freely without first trusting that you’ll know how to take care of it, that you’ll know how to stay, during hard times. 

It’s surrendering to love being hard, being painful, looking like staying, looking like walking away when the sprinklers turn up. Because the biggest act of love isn’t sitting on a sprinkler so the water can temporarily stop, it’s trusting that they’ll figure out how to turn it off on their own.