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Change hurts.

Sometimes change hurts a lot.

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I find that change hurts a lot when it cuts close to the bone, when it touches on something deep from the past, when it challenges some long-held belief or defense mechanism that you desperately do not want to let go of, because to hold onto it equates to survival in your own mind. Even if that is no longer the case. You might be reliving a reality that is long gone.

Change hurts.

You may be sitting there, and you notice that you’re breathing. You take a breath in, and then you take a breath out. And you’re surprised, not even surprised, shocked. Not because you were trying to hold your breath, but because it seems inconceivable that you are still breathing at all. It seems unbelievable that the entire world hasn’t frozen in place.

You may be afraid to move because there is a knife lodged somewhere deep inside of you, and any movement could shift it, and any shift could drive it deeper still, or cause it to cut some critical artery that means you bleed out. You are afraid to move physically, you are afraid to move emotionally. The pain is balanced so precariously, and your main focus is keeping it there instead of letting it slip.

Change hurts, and sometimes the pain makes it feel like the change might not be the right thing to do. Because if this change was so good, why would it hurt so much?

This is a lie. Sometimes positive change hurts a hell of a lot. It hurts for a reason. It hurts because it is hard for you to do something different. Or maybe it hurts because you are afraid. Or maybe it hurts because you just jammed a surgical instrument into an old wound and ripped it back open again so it could finally heal cleanly.

That is not to say it’s a good idea to seek pain simply for pain’s sake. It’s okay for things to be easy sometimes. It’s okay for things to be good. It’s okay to let yourself be happy.

The truth is, the pain is just the pain. It doesn’t tell you what to do. It simply tells you something is going on, and whatever it is, you might need to pay some attention to it. You might want to think about how you are going to respond to it. Maybe there is something active you want to do, or maybe you just want to sit there with the pain for a while. Maybe both.

Nowadays, when I have the time and space, I try not to hide from the pain. I don’t confront it either. I exist with it. I let it be with me. I bring my mind back from all of its distraction techniques and circular games. I want so badly to castigate myself, because this distracts me more effectively than almost anything else, but every time I start, I simply stop and redirect. No, I’m going to be kind. No, I’m going to be kind. Over and over, for however long it takes until it settles.

And then there is the pain I was trying so desperately to avoid. And it is terrible. It is the knife in my gut, it is the air in my lungs, it is naked and wretched and it is a part of me.

Change hurts.

And then it dissipates, and it is sad but also clean, and it is hard but also okay. Sometimes another wave of grief comes later, and another, and another, but once you’ve allowed one to wash through you, the worst of the terror is gone. It simply hurts. And then it hurts less. And then it hurts more. And then it hurts less again.

Change hurts. And then you come out on the other side.

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I don’t really like pain, and I don’t like to feel uncomfortable. Sometimes I daydream about my ideal life, when I have fixed all my problems, have everything I want, and am exactly where I want to be in my career.I will never achieve that ideal life. And thank goodness, because if I did I’d be bored stiff…in which case I would have a problem, wouldn’t I?

Seth Godin published an insightful post last week entitled “Trading in your pain,” in which he outlines two common problems we can have due to our relationship with pain.

The first is the “if only” syndrome. We think if only something (fill in the blank) happens, then everything will be great and we won’t feel pain/discomfort/ uncertainty anymore. If only I meet the right person. If only I buy the right house. If only I remodel. If only I get an agent. If only I sell my first novel. If only my sales figures exceed a certain golden number. If only I win this award or make that bestseller list. If only I get this promotion. If only I was better or had more or …

That’s not generally the way things work, though. Whatever “if only” you’re hoping for (and I’m holding out for several myself), even if it happens, it will open the way to new challenges, new problems, new if only’s, and new pain as you strive. That’s okay. It doesn’t mean you’re not doing well. It doesn’t mean you’re not good enough. It’s just life.

The second is the “fear of change” syndrome. We sometimes become comfortable with a certain flavor of pain or discomfort, and we hold onto it really tightly so we won’t have to deal with another, unknown flavor instead. We become frozen. Stagnant. Afraid of success and the new problems success will bring us. Afraid of a different failure mode and how that will make us feel.

Behind the GateWriters who don’t write are having this second problem. They are used to dealing with the failure mode of “I suck because I’m not writing” and don’t want to address whatever issues might come up if they actually did write: “I suck because I’m not selling” or “I suck because I’m not selling enough” or “I suck because now I have to make business decisions” or whatever.

But I see this problem everywhere, not just in writers. We make ourselves at home with a certain problem, and settle in for keeps. And in the process, we get stuck. We can’t move on; we can’t grow.

Our identity and our personal narrative become entwined with our pain. I’m the girl whose mother died when I was only nineteen. That’s not who I am anymore. It is, however, who I could have been. It is who I was for a period of years. And then I let go and moved on. Instead I’m the girl who loved her mother very much.

Pain can be your friend. It will be lurking nearby for your entire life, and that’s okay. It means you’re alive, and it reminds you that you care what happens. It can push you forward instead of holding you still. It can give you focus instead of causing you to scatter. It can make our priorities clear to us.

If you could shed one “if only” or do one thing that makes you frightened, what would it be?

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