Transcript from May 19, 2011 Blog Talk-Radio Show, A Fine Time for Healing
We have, or will all experience shattering times or violations in our lives that wound us deeply. To quote Thomas Chandler Haliburton, The memory of past favors is like a rainbow – bright, vivid, and beautiful; but it soon fades away. The memory of injuries is engraved on the heart, and remains forever. Pain is unavoidable; no one escapes life without suffering it. Whats important is how we deal with those events. Feelings are meant to be felt. The fastest way through suffering is to allow and trust the process.
So, why is it so hard to let go of our hurt? Pain comes in waves; it is part of the cycle of life. The problem arises when we find ourselves stuck in our pain. We may feel heavy-hearted, close ourselves off, constantly be on guard, or resentful.
There is a wellspring of possible causes for our torment. We are all unique and each of us reacts differently. Often the unresolved pain that we suffer as adults is deeply ingrained in us because it stems from childhood wounds.
Coping skills are not innate; they are a learned behavior. If we are lucky we learn healthy ones from our parents or guardians who model the proper behavior for us. But what if they never developed those skills themselves? Who do we learn from? I came from a home of chaos and confusion. The word cope was not in our dictionary Words like anger, anxiety, denial, depression, blame, and victimization were. Learning to cope was an uphill battle for me, filled with trial and error mostly error.
Without healthy coping skills, just as we often do with physical pain or injuries, when emotional pain hurts too much to comfortably feel, our instincts tell us to hide it, cover it with a bandage, or take a substance to relieve it. These are not coping skills; they are temporary fixes, makeshift survival skills. We begin a pattern of building walls, running and hiding from pain, and stuffing it doing anything we can to avoid facing our problems and dealing with them. We put off something that we will inevitably have to deal with later. We may adopt a victim mentality; fail to understand why we should take responsibility for something we did not create or cause. These unhealthy coping skills become the armor we wear to safeguard our feelings. It becomes the only way we know how to hold ourselves together enough to navigate our way through life.
What are some of the ways we block our pain, and what happens when we do? Without realizing it, in our suffering, we exert a tremendous amount of energy trying to push the pain away. Life gets away from us. To quote Michael Cibenko, One problem with gazing too frequently into the past is that we may turn around to find the future has run out on us. Holding on to deadened pain will make this challenging journey through life much more difficult.
There are many things we do, sometimes consciously, sometimes not, to numb our pain. We may deny it; if we believe it didnt happen, it didnt. We may keep ourselves so busy that we never have time alone to think. We may drown our sorrows in drugs or alcohol, or sleep excessively – shop, work, eat, exercise, or gamble compulsively – become addicted to sex, pornography, cyber chatting, or games – talk compulsively – and as I did, with choosing to associate with problematic people, taking on the troubling issues of friends, and immersing myself as a codependent in addictive relationships, we may enmesh ourselves into others lives to redirect our focus.
We may stop pursuing new things or relationships to avoid being hurt, believing that it will protect us from failure, heartache, and rejection. Using deflective or avoiding behaviors to prevent ourselves from facing our deeper issues may allow us to hold it together for a while, but not forever. We believe that we are controlling the pain, but the more we suppress it, the more it begins to control us. The less we allow ourselves to feel, the less alive we will feel. The hurts we hold onto are like dams that block the free flow of our energy. And we can only suppress, mask, or numb our pain for so long before it starts seeping through the cracks in ways we dont intend. I had a traumatic injury at fifteen, as explained in my book, Fine ly that left me suffering from depression, anxiety, and post traumatic stress disorder for well over thirty years. I consulted with a therapist once after the accident happened, but I couldnt bear to discuss my injury and never went back. I was terrified to face my feelings; I didnt want to suffer any more than I already had been. What those of us who harbor pain or are paralyzed by it fail to see, is that by clinging to the pain, we are hurting ourselves more.
Learning to let go of painful emotions is very difficult. For one thing, after having backlogged the associated feelings for so long, weve conditioned ourselves to fear feeling them. Weve built walls around ourselves to protect our emotions. When I eventually sought professional therapy, in my forties, I learned that it was healthy to have walls, or a better term is boundaries, but that the height of our walls should self-adjust according to lifes situations. The wall I had built starting in childhood only functioned two ways all the way up, or all the way down. I was either entirely closed off, or dangerously open and vulnerable. That is why life was so painful for me. I couldnt regulate my responses in a healthy way.
Sometimes the pain is so dense and heaped so high inside of us; we have to peel it away, layer by layer in order to heal. The anger and resentment sometimes associated with our pain may eventually turn to bitterness. For some, these bitter feelings may provide a self-righteous rationale to take a victim stance to embrace and justify their hurt. Letting go means releasing our clutch, removing our suit of armor, giving up something that has become an integral part of us Taking off the badge we proudly wear that says, I am hurt and entitled to it. This requires a conscious effort that takes time, focus, patience, and practice. It means changing our patterns, redefining our identity. It is scary to imagine ourselves without the wounds we have integrated into our being for so long. Who will we be without them? Strange as it may seem, there is a sense of comfort in holding on to those negative feelings. A great line from the television show, The Wonder Years, says it well: Change is never easy, you fight to hold on, and you fight to let it go.
Many of us may wonder if pain hurts so bad, why do we always hear about it being a positive force in our lives? While in the midst of our sadness, grieving, or disappointment, the overwhelming feelings make it hard to imagine that our pain has a greater purpose. But there is always a universal intention and a lesson to be learned from every challenge we face in life. Something good always rises out of something bad. We evolve our soul through hardships. All the positivity of life, like love, hope, and faith, would not exist without it. Suffering is essentially lifes gift; it brings us knowledge, strength, compassion, and understanding. When we are brought to our knees, we develop a closer relationship with God, the Universe, or a Supreme Being. Through the trust we develop with that spiritual relationship, there are never challenges we cant face and overcome. The Tao Te Ching (Dao De Jing), a philosophical book of Chinese thought says: When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be. When I let go of what I have, I receive what I need. The truth is, when we allow ourselves to feel the feelings associated with pain, we can more easily recognize the messages of love and healing that will come through for us. When we face pain with acceptance, we trust that well be led through it, and then out of it. Learning to face pain makes us stronger, more resilient, and better equipped to manage other adversity. From suffering we develop compassion; the insight we gain can be used to help others. In these ways our pain becomes something positive; a beacon of light in someones darkness, the reaching out of our hand and our heart towards someone who is hurting. In helping others to heal, we gain self-worth that assists us in our own healing process. And when we have healthy coping skills we can give our children a jump in life by teaching them how to best deal with the ups and downs they will inevitably face.
There is a great deal of fear involved in the process of letting go. How does one get past it? Professional therapy is a great place to start, in my opinion, because talking about our feelings helps us to understand them. Change can be terrifying, even when we truly desire it. It helps to have an expert guide us through the difficult process and to create an awareness of our self-defeating patterns. But however one chooses to do it; the first step in any healing process is acknowledging that a problem exists and desiring change. Healing is easier when we think of clinging to our pain as self sabotage; we are only hurting ourselves when we do this.
We should examine our triggers such as: negative attitudes and judgments, hot button issues, and areas of resistance. These are obvious indicators of an underlying problem, red flags marking the spots where we should begin excavating our buried feelings.
Allow yourself to imagine bundling up all the negative energy expended in suffering, and channeling it into a positive, purposeful future. Picture a brand new life, free of those burdens; the peace that will replace the distraction of negative memories. Visualize a new identity to replace the old one; a courageous self that can experience pain in a healthy way.
Change does not happen overnight. Take it one step at a time, letting go is a process. And letting go doesnt mean becoming emotionless in regard to a traumatic event; it means giving up the torture we associate with our emotions in regard to a painful event. Change is about acceptance of our feelings. Acceptance does not mean approval; we can accept something but not approve of it. We never want to deny our emotions and feelings; they are what make us real, what make us loving and compassionate. The goal is being able to feel our emotions without tormenting ourselves, hanging on to them, or acting out.
Try to isolate an event; acknowledge one traumatic memory that has held you hostage, whether it happened in childhood, last year, or last month. Honor that it was a real and significant event in your life. Reflect on the knowledge and understanding gained from having lived through that experience. The goal is to learn from it, not live in it. Assure yourself, with your rational mind, that this event was in the past, it was only one chapter in the story of your life; your feelings are safe now. Then, when you are ready, gently let go. Allow the pain to emerge from the deep recesses inside you. Grant your emotions the freedom to rise to the surface without blocking or judging. When the peak intensity of our emotions rises to the forefront of our consciousness, a healing will occur. Dont be discouraged if nothing initially comes up. It took time to block the energy and it may take time to free it. Even if you dont get the immediate result you hoped for, be proud of the courage it took to look your demon in the eye. You have faced your fear, opened up the flood gates; the release will come. It will be well worth the effort when you finally liberate your pain, you will liberate yourself. The harbored thoughts were a poison catharsis from the pain is the emotional detox.
What will life be like when we are no longer defined by our pain? Feeling pain means feeling human. Our experiences will always be a part of us, but every day will progressively bring forth an enthusiastic new beginning with more energy, clarity, and peace of mind. With this clarity we can view life as a place of infinite possibilities, appreciate the countless blessings being offered to us, and see all the miracles occurring around us. Our hearts will know that we will be okay, regardless of the intensity of the difficulty, or how the situation turns out. Our relationships with others will benefit because we learn to discuss our feelings and then move on from disagreements; not hang on to resentments. We will live with intent, and acknowledge our power, view challenges as hopeful opportunities; expand our outlook and stretch our comfort zones. The confidence gained from the hindsight of positive outcomes will keep us moving forward, wanting more for ourselves than we have ever allowed or felt worthy of in the past. And our pride will come in knowing that we hold the power over pain, not the other way around.
In Closing: The purpose of all my shows is to offer introspection and promote healing. We all have aha moments that alter the course of our lives. My wake-up call came with the birth of my daughter, my first child. I may have continued to accept a life riddled with pain and dysfunction for me, but I refused to allow it to impact my daughter. That meant one thing I had to change. I had to find meaning and purpose in my life so that I could teach it to her. I didnt want her to ever suffer the way I had. It is my sincere hope that you will find your own aha moments, whether through my shows or elsewhere, that will spark a similar, profound change in your life.