Night after night, I was waking up in pain. My feet kept cramping up. I’d grab whichever foot was hurting and hold it, trying to knead out the pain, but ultimately I had to wait it out, refocus my mind not to feel it, and then try to fall back to sleep. No amount of babying the pain took it away until it was ready.
I shared this with my daughter when I found myself in the grip of another cramp in the middle of the day.
“It just keeps happening,” I said, pulling my foot in and bending it to try to loosen pain’s grip.
“Push against it,” she said.
I shook my head. “No, that hurts more!”
“You have to push against it. It hurts more at first, but then the pain goes away.”
A dancer in color guard, she was accustomed to foot cramps and had learned the best and quickest way to end the pain was to push into it, not try to avoid it or wait it out in hopes of it going away.
I pushed my foot, straightening it even though everything in my head said to just keep holding it. Within seconds, my foot relaxed and the pain was gone.
“Whoa,” I said. “That is the complete opposite of what I’d have ever tried to do.”
The message was not lost on me. Over the last several years, after over a decade of trying to baby and avoid my own pain from the past, I finally leaned directly into it, feeling it, tasting it, hating it but also facing it and learning to accept it.
As it turns out, it’s much easier to deal with it all than to keep stuffing it down, pretending it doesn’t matter. Because stuffing your feelings down will only work for so long. Eventually, an explosion will happen.
How to Lean Into the Pain
- Seek out a good counselor with experience in your type of recovery, i.e. domestic violence, child abuse, sexual assault
- Turn to a trusted friend or loved one who can handle all the nitty-gritty details of your story, especially if that person has related experience
- Join a support group — believe it or not, groups help remind you that you are not alone, and other members can help you process that which you may not have been able to express before
- Call in to a support hotline
- Journal it out — it doesn’t need to be pretty
- Write your memoirs — and it can be for your eyes only. Writing helps you make connections to feelings and actions that you may have never noticed before
- Read other books/memoirs about abuse — these can help you see how you’re not alone and give you permission to feel what you feel
- Dance or exercise your way through — sometimes just getting physical as you process can ease the heaviness and help release your feelings
- Accept that your pain — no matter the level — is valid and belongs to you
- When something painful comes up, don’t stuff it back down. Instead, allow yourself to think on it for a bit. You don’t have to have a meal of it, but perhaps just a few bites to get you started
Maybe your pain leads you to self sabotage or a lack of confidence in yourself in the area of your career. If that’s the case you can lean into your pain by seeking out a coach or mentor to work with. With my coach, I work on all my self-doubt and old ways of thinking (lies that I am stupid, worthless, and will never amount to anything, lies of desperation and fear). After counseling and finding healing in some big areas, I still battle issues with confidence, and my coach walks that road with me.
Understand, an easy list doesn’t mean the task at hand is easy. It’s not. It’s uncomfortable, and at first, it hurts even more than avoiding it. But then it gets easier. The greatest pain begins to fade, and soon your heart can start the process of mending from all the broken pieces.
You are not alone.