Self, Heartbreak

Emotional Pain: Breaking Or Healing?

I was injured in a car accident several years ago. Though the pain was not bad the night of the accident, my back was in excruciating pain the next morning. I went to the hospital. The doctor took an x-ray of my back, which showed nothing that would explain my pain. So, I just accredited my pain to the jarring of the accident, took the pain medication give by my doctor, and went on my way.

Over the next few months, I continued to experience pain during my normal activity and I took the medication to manage the pain. I kept a busy schedule, even at that time, and had no time to yield to pain. One day, I no longer felt pain. As a matter of fact, I did not feel anything, including my legs. Again, I went to the hospital. I saw a specialist and instead of an x-ray, I underwent a CT scan, which showed a fracture in my lower back. There was a break in my back. 

Because of where the fracture was located and the length of time it was there, my doctor suggested bed rest, traction, and progressive physical therapy with the hopes of avoiding surgery. It's funny — knowing that the fracture was there seemed to intensify my pain, making me fearful to move. I did not want to move because of the pain I feared I would experience. I did not want to walk. I did not want to get out of bed. I did not want to move while in bed. This meant that I avoided doing traction and going to physical therapy because I wanted to avoid as much pain as possible. What I did not immediately realize, however, is that the pain that I was experiencing was breaking pain and until I put aside my fear to do what my doctor prescribed, I would not know the experience of healing pain. What is the difference?

Breaking pain is the hurt that we experience as a result of being wounded, damaged, or disconnected. Healing pain, on the other hand, also hurts. But unlike breaking pain, the hurt we experience during healing pain is a result of the restorative process — regeneration of what was damaged as a result of the break — a strengthening and a renewing of what was broken and disconnected. Much like when we scrape our knee or elbow — it hurts because the skin has been broken.

During the healing process, we clean the scrape with antiseptic and apply medication. Cleaning and applying medication to the scrape hurts the first few days. Removing the bandage to clean and apply the medication may hurt as well. This process can feel like we are reinjuring ourselves. But, we can't heal the scrape if we don't reveal it from underneath the bandage. The pain experienced from the cleaning and the medication is the regeneration of new skin that forms during the healing of the scrape. As the scrape continues to heal, we experience noticeably less pain and we begin to see new skin replacing what was broken.

For many, coping with emotional pain (e.g. sadness, depression, anger, angst, worthlessness, uncertainty, etc.) is the very same process. Some attempt to avoid the pain at all costs. Some may feel that they do not have time to deal with the pain or that they do not know how to deal with the pain. Others may have been emotionally wounded for so long that it becomes as natural feeling and familiar to them as reciting their name and date of birth. Still, there are others who are in emotional pain and are afraid to address it because they are afraid of breaking. "What will happen to me if I give in to this pain or even just acknowledge that there is pain?" "I am a (parent, pastor, husband, wife, partner, teacher, doctor, administrator, student, caregiver, etc.) and what would people think if I gave in to this pain? What about my responsibilities?" I would like to suggest that to not give in to the pain is to give in to the pain. And when we do not acknowledge that there is pain, the pain festers and becomes infectious to many areas of our lives - particularly our relationships with self and others. Breaking then become inevitable.

Sometimes we have to give ourselves permission to break or acknowledge our brokeness. I know that this is odd to hear, particularly since we often feel that we are expected and required to bring our A Game (for my sports enthusiasts) to all of our daily involvements. But, when we are already broken (consciously or unconsciously) or on the verge of breaking, we can't bring our A Game and will be lucky if we don't foul out. When we give ourselves permission to break, we make a conscious decision to not avoid the pain. Sometimes we have no control over what cauess us emotional pain, but we do have control over what we do with the pain. To give ourselves permission to break indicates that we make a choice to walk through rather than avoid the pain. That decision is the beginning of the healing process. For many, this process is not easy - and, yes, is painful.

How does one move from emotional breaking pain to healing pain? The first step is to reveal the hurt. You know when you hurt even when others do not. Maybe it is difficult for you to recognize your emotional brokeness, but when honestly assessing self, you may realize the difficulty that you experience navigating your responsibilities and various relationship interactions. This is your first sign of an impending break. While you may want to reveal your hurt to someone you trust, revealing your hurt to someone who can help is the priority. Consult with a professional or someone who can steer you in the direction of healing and who wants to see you move toward healing. Although you might trust your friend or family member, you might want to consult with someone else if he or she is fairing worse than you emotionally or contributing to your emotional brokeness. The right support system will help facilitate your healing.

Next, move and do the work. In order to heal the fracture in my back, I had to do more that consult with a professional. I had to move. I had to get out of my bed. I had to go to traction. I had to go to physical therapy. I had todo the physical therapy exercises, including the homework given by the physical therapist. I had to put forth work toward getting well. In essence, I had to have a willingness to do something different than what I was doing previously, despite my fear of pain. I also had to learn to develop skills to walk, sit, and stand in a way that facilitated healing of my back. The thought of working through issues that cause emotional pain can be scary. Some may ask, "What if this does not work? I've tried before and nothing has worked." Just because one is capable does not mean that they have the skills or knowledge to do differently. Skills can be learned and knowledge can be obtained. Capability is just the icing on the cake. Willingness is the milk that helps the cake go down easier. Move through the fear rather than staying stuck in it. With your support system, learn to do differently. Your support system and new skills are critical for renewal and restoration.

Lastly, be patient with self. Chances are you did not become broken overnight and I can assure you that you will not heal overnight. During the process, however, identify areas of growth with the understanding that while more growth is needed, there is growth, movement, healing, and hopefully less pain. Pain in life is inevitable. While, in some instances, we may not have had a a choice in how we acquired the break(s) that caused the pain, the good news is that we can choose to move through the break to get to the other side of healing. Which pain will you choose?