Thursday, July 5, 2018

On Pain

One of the reasons we struggle with how to handle trauma is that we struggle with how to handle grief. The primary reason that we struggle with both trauma and grief is because we do not know what to do with pain.

Despite all the evidence to the contrary, most of us still believe we are somehow entitled to live in a world that doesn't hurt, and one that doesn't hurt us. We invest a lot of our energies, time, and even money in easing our pain and virtually no time at all either soothing or even accepting it. 

Those who experience trauma are very quickly counseled through the fine art of pain avoidance, very quickly given instructions on how to turn pain into at least indignation, though it ought to more rightly be fodder for grief. We are told that yes, it hurts, but that's because you should never have experienced it. No one - or nothing - should ever have done that to you. That pain you feel? It's really anger. And fear. And shame. And indignation. The first step, we say, is that you have to recognize that you weren't supposed to feel this. Ever.

The same is true about grief, although we've gotten far more formal in this domain. When someone we love dies, it's a profoundly painful experience, particularly the closer the love is to our heart. And researchers have invested a great deal in detailing the "five stages" of grief, all of which come right up against pain but still refuse to acknowledge it, turning it instead into an expression of our entitlement to a life without pain.

Look at it. Denial - the belief that these kinds of things just don't happen to us; we live our lives without pain. Anger - an eruption when we figure out that these kinds of things do happen to us, though we still firmly believe that they shouldn't. Bargaining - our attempt to talk our way out of it because, you know, these sorts of things shouldn't happen to us. Depression - a realization that perhaps these things have happened anyway and there's nothing we can do about it, even though it's still completely unfair. And finally, acceptance - confessing that it happened, although at this point, we often turn our energies toward making sure it doesn't happen again. 

At no stage in this process are we permitted our pain, at no point are we allowed to say that it simply hurts. There's always a shield between us and pain, between our good nature and a fallen world.

But there's simply no real truth to this kind of processing. There's no biblical truth to this view of the world. At no point in the Scriptures does God tell us that life will be easy, that we are immune from pain, or that it's not supposed to hurt to live in a broken world. In fact, it's just the opposite - God promises we will have trouble. God promises this life will be painful. 

The only question we have to ask ourselves is what we're doing to do with that.

Both trauma and grief (and quite honestly, a host of other human experiences) require us to feel their pain. They require us to ache. They require us to lie awake at night with tears streaming down our faces, with chests tight and hearts pounding in our ears. They require us to learn to let it be, to let pain exist, and to not talk ourselves out of it or excuse ourselves from it or twist it and turn it until we're sure again that we're not supposed to feel this way. This is exactly how we're supposed to feel - it's trauma, it's grief. It's pain.

And it's hard. It's hard because it's helpless, because when we finally come to terms with the pain that has been inflicted on our lives, with the depth of the just plain hurt that we are feeling, there is absolutely nothing at all that we can do with it except to ride it like the wave that it is. There is no rushing it, no matter how much we want to. There is no easing it, not in any healthy way. There is no denying it, nor is there any excusing it. There is only letting it be. 

But this...this is the first step. It is to simply hurt, to feel the depth of the pain. This is what lets us grieve. This is what lets us finally start working it through. This is what lets us to live. This is what lets us to heal.

If you want to heal nearly anything in your life, if you want to soothe your wounded soul and salve your aching heart (which is, by the way, what God desires), then as contrary as it may sound, and as difficult, you must first learn simply to hurt.

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