Last week I wrote to you about life being beautiful, even when it is hard after yet another winter in COVID and the extension of my divorce. As with many of us, these past two years have been full of pain for me alongside joyful moments. Leaving domestic violence saved my life and began to lay the groundwork for my children living free of abuse. Yet the system in which I am divorcing poses its own challenges as many systems do.
Living through the pandemic, alongside my family and friends, has also been traumatizing not only for me but for the people I love. As yet another winter rolled in with no change to the stressors around me, for the first time in a long time, I was able to see that pain is part of life and oftentimes it is out of our control. I’ve often written about fear as a guidepost, but the acceptance of the pain that true trauma and hardship bring is real. I’d like to say more.
As a small child, I thought that life was always supposed to be happy and that happiness was the destination we were all working toward. I was taught, as a girl, to modify my emotions to keep the peace and others comfortable. Any type of negative emotion was seen as something to be avoided and punished. Being uncomfortable or causing discomfort seemed to be a cultural “No” for women where I grew up.
I am lucky enough to have a mother who at home allowed us to feel our full range of emotions (and I had a lot) but even with this outlet, I was conditioned to feel shame over negative and loud emotions that often came from fear, pain, and my experiences with injustice. Happiness was where we were all going and how other people deserved to feel. The full range of negative emotions I felt (and still feel) were not welcomed and are still not welcomed in many places.
You see in a world where comfort and happiness are the prizes, discomfort is seen as the enemy. We are sold an awful lot of bullshit from the stories politicians tell, social media, and marketing firms about how to stay small and comfortable. Feel pain? Vote for me and I’ll fix your suffering. Feel pain? Follow my beautiful life on Instagram, then copy it. Feel pain? Buy another…fill in the blank to numb it. Feel pain? Just pour another glass of wine mama. All these ‘solutions’ when the real answer is, “feel the pain; first nurture your own heart and soul, then ever so slowly step back into life.”
Pay Attention to You, Not What the World is Telling You
Our society is gaslighting us by telling us that life is supposed to be warm and fuzzy all of the time. If we question our own discomfort, leaning into how we feel, we are challenging the system of power that is designed to keep us small. In my recent experience, if you speak loudly about discomfort (like domestic violence) shame is rampant because speaking about pain makes other people uncomfortable. I can write with 100% certainty that other survivors have had this experience when they have spoken about their abuse. Perhaps, in my lifetime, that percentage will decrease.
But here’s the thing. None of us, none of us, go through life in a bubble feeling happy all of the time. Happiness is fleeting and if we are using it as a meter for our life we will in fact miss our lives. Joy is a long-lasting emotion that can live with pain. I’ll write more about this later, but today we stay with pain.
How many of you have been raised to believe that pain is a scary, avoidable emotion that needs to leave your life as quickly as it came? And how many of us have had life experiences that are outside of our control that caused the pain? I’m guessing all of us. At the end of one of Glennon Doyle’s recent podcasts, her daughter Tish Melton sings. One line in the song has stuck with me week over week. “I hit rock bottom, it felt like a brand new start. I’m not the problem, sometimes things fall apart.”
This line stays with me because so many of us are not only told to avoid pain but told that when bad things happen it’s our fault especially when we are talking about abuse. Or that if we are feeling pain our job is to hide the pain to keep everyone comfortable, because everyone else being comfortable keeps us safe. It’s a loop that ultimately leads to shame and, as the brilliant Brene Brown writes, “the only way to eradicate shame is to talk about it.”
Pain & Shame
So, if pain and the strong emotions surrounding this pain are part of life, why should pain something to be avoided? The real answer is it should not. Pain is just part of life. It’s nothing to be ashamed of. It’s not something we need to race past to get back to happiness. It just is.
And alongside pain just being part of life, joy is also a part. Sitting with pain and allowing others to know about your pain heals your own experience with pain and, in cases of abuse, can save the lives of others when you speak out. The more we allow pain to be part of life, the more we can tackle head-on what is working in our lives, how to nurture ourselves through life’s challenges, and how to protect others from the pain others are trying to inflict on us. The small subset that is.
It’s OK to say what hurts. If we swallow our pain and push on into, “fine,” just to demonstrate we’ve won the golden ticket of happiness we will in fact miss our own lives. Pain happens. Hard times happen. How we navigate the pain is not only the roadmap back to our own hearts but will help to build a more true representation of the human experience.
If you are living in a situation where pain is happening because another person is causing it, this type of pain is not OK and not what I am writing about. I am writing about the pain that comes from feeling our own emotions and human experiences. If another person is hurting you, in any way, the kindest thing you can do for yourself is to leave. Yes, it will hurt, but that pain is worth it. The pain you are feeling from abuse is never, not ever OK.
Pain within is a compass. It tells us how to care for ourselves and how to leave what is no longer serving us. Happiness is a guise as a final destination. Freedom is what we all deserve. Freedom to be who we are, feel what we feel, and live our lives as close to our soul as possible.
I don’t know about you but I’m not raising my little men to be happy, I’m raising them to be free. Free to feel every part of their human experience knowing that first mama and then their own hearts is a safe space to land.
P.s. This one’s for you Kiki