What Pain Didn’t Teach Me

It somehow seems logical, doesn’t it, that the introduction and relief of physical pain would mimic the same in emotional pain? And that, therefore, existing emotional pain might find relief in the introduction and removal of physical pain.

It doesn’t, though. It doesn’t even make the emotional pain more tangible. Instead, it just tears the flesh and creates more cause for pain of both types. The weight of that which is inside becomes heavier, anchoring in shame instead of healing.

For it is healing that is needed, not simply the release of what hurts.

My skin burns today where I tore it open as I tried to scratch the shame from my soul last night. Did I intend to break the skin when I brought pen and fingernails to the surface? I don’t know. But I did want to hurt. I wanted to feel the pain that I hoped would both punish me for what I saw as fault and release what I knew were lies: I’m worthless, I’m stupid, I suck, I make a mess of everything, I’m wrong, I deserve shame.

It’s a contradiction, but it’s where I stand in my healing process: knowing it isn’t true but feeling it, believing it anyway.

There are healthier ways to deal with the shame and hurt, and I am aware of and have used several over the past months. But in the passion of my hatred for myself, I saw no further than the inherent mistake that was me. Self-centeredness is a cyclical effect of my shame, a symptom but also a force that blinds me and holds me captive within the cycle. Round and round. I see only me and how worthless I am. I exist in a bubble made from two-way mirrors: the truth is hidden, while I see only the distortion of my image.

A week ago I wrote my grandmother a letter and told her I was getting divorced. She called me the day it arrived and told me she loved me and that she was sad, but supported me completely, whatever the reason for the end my marriage. I have not been given this much support in every loved one I’ve told. There has been much questioning and there has been judgment.

When my counselor asked me yesterday what my grandmother’s words told me about me, I struggled to come up with an answer. It took much prompting and time before I finally found the words:

“All I can think about it that my grandmother is a good woman,” I told her.

“But what about you?”

“She loves me; she isn’t judging me.”

She gestured for more. I knew what she wanted to see something from my perspective, not hers, but I couldn’t see anything. To me it was about reactions; my grandmother was kinder than others, less judgmental. And then:

“There’s something in me she thinks is worthy enough to love. Something about me that she thinks highly enough of to trust my judgment when I make a decision.”

It took a lot of work, a lot of reaching beyond the opaque, shame-made bubble to be able to stand on the other side of the mirror and see myself, and the truth, from my grandmother’s eyes. For her, it isn’t about what I’ve done, but about who I am.

Hours later, I still didn’t understand what I’d learned in this conversation with my counselor, and I turned on myself. In a wave of shame triggered by an interaction with my future-ex-husband and fed by a perceived mistake and an ever-changing friendship I’m struggling to find a balance within, I turned vicious. Words and pain and damage I regret today.

I can’t take any of that back, not words spoken or written or typed, not the scratches on my skin. But I can heal from it and make a plan so that next time—and there will be a next time—I might be kinder to myself.

I started with compassion this morning, coaxing myself from my bed and into the day and gently washing away and treating the remnants of a dark night: gentle soap, a soft washcloth, and antibiotic cream.

I reached out to a friend, sharing both my shame and what I’d done as a result, getting it out of me without the need for physical pain. The relief came from just knowing I wasn’t alone.

I told myself the truth—I’m worthy, I’m smart, I don’t suck, I do not make a mess of everything, I’m right in so many ways, I deserve love.

I accepted last night for what it was—more emotional pain than I knew what to do with.

I forgave myself for all damage done.

I looked at myself through the eyes of someone who loves me for who I am and saw someone worth loving and trusting, just like she did—like she always will.

Have compassion, reach out, tell the truth, accept, forgive, and look from a different perspective. It is a path to genuine healing and plan to follow when the shame is triggered again. It reminds me that I’m worthy, and I will remember that again and again, as many times as I need to, until I never forget.

Progress: I rose from bed with swollen eyes and ink on my skin, and now I’m able to write the words “I love myself and I am worthy of that love” and mean them. I don’t know what the rest of my day will bring, but it’s okay. I will face whatever it is and know I will heal, and maybe, just maybe, I’ll remember that I can’t fight pain with pain; I need to fight it with love.

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