Every ten years, since the age of seventeen, I’ve managed to find myself in some sort of accident. Car and deer. Me and horse. Car. Car. None of these have landed me in the hospital, but the accident with the horse probably should have. These crashes have caused a lot physical trauma. I’ve had so many serious whiplashes that my neck and shoulders will never be right. As you can imagine, I’m often in quite a bit of pain.
Pain is a curious thing. Whether we’re experiencing physical or emotional pain, it can be considered a red flag telling us something needs attention. In this post, I’ll be writing about some of the choices around the red flag of pain; mainly denial, complaining, and healing.
Most humans want to avoid pain. If someone pinches us, we pull away. In fact, we have the tendency to move in the opposite direction of anything that looks like it’s going to hurt. If we’re trying to avoid trauma that hasn’t happened yet, this can be considered self preservation. However, this avoidance isn’t helpful if we’re trying to avoid the feelings around trauma that’s already taken place.
There have been times when I haven’t acknowledged the pain in my neck and shoulders, but I always pay for that decision. It almost always comes back at the most inopportune time and it hurts worse than before.
When ignored, emotional pain also shows up in unexpected ways such as in an attitude or even in our identity. It colors how we see the world and how we think the world sees us. In turn, this changes us and in the long run, our relationships along with other things that matter, because pain left untended affects more than the one suffering from the original trauma.
If the pain in my neck and shoulders is denied for any length of time, it branches into other areas of my body, such as my hips and low back, causing more pain and imbalance. That seems weird until I recognize my spine connects all of it. If we don’t take care of our emotional pain, it will branch out to affect others. Just as my spine is connecting my shoulders to my low back, each of us is connected to one another. Whether we like or not, denied pain doesn’t go away. Instead, it can fuse with who we are. Then it travels.
Some folks think they’re relieving their pain if they complain about it. This may feel like a step up from denial, because at least there is an acknowledgment the pain exists. And although it’s okay to whine every now and then, we have to take stock of our complaints and see if they’re laced with blame. I could blame my pain on all sorts of things—stupid drivers, stupid horse, stupid deer, stupid weather. But complaining about these things won’t do a single thing about the pain I’m experiencing, even if it’s justified. After all, as hard as we may try to avoid crashing into one another, it still happens. But blaming the other won’t lead to healing. In fact, it can take us down the road to victimhood, and that’s a dodgy place to be.
All of this leads me to my first conclusion. That all kinds of pain is a red flag telling us something needs attention. When we view our painful experiences in this light, it can motivate us to find a way to heal. I’ve tried a lot of remedies for the pain I experience in my neck and shoulders, and I think I’ve found a routine that works. I see a masseuse twice a month. We work through deep tissue massage. I traction my neck every other night, and I do yoga several times a week. This effort doesn’t keep me entirely pain free, but it allows me to move through my life with as little discomfort as possible. It keeps the pain from branching out and allows me to pinpoint the origin of it, so I can focus on the areas that need the most work and where the therapy will do the most good. This is healing, and I hate to think of where I would be without it.
I’ve seen a therapist for my emotional pain, as well. Someone who helps me pinpoint the origin of the trauma I’ve experienced and helps me focus on the areas that need the most work and where therapy will do the most good. None of this is easy. It takes a great deal of time and work, and it hurts. Deep tissue massage can be painful. The stretching that takes place during the traction and yoga exercises pushes my body to reach for more flexibility, which can also hurt and heal at the same time.
Undoing physical trauma requires a willingness to face the origin of the pain and often that’s where it’s the most acute. Emotional therapy is the same. Deep heart therapy hurts and stretches me. In either case, it’s never lost on me that in order to heal pain I must go back through it. But here’s the thing. The pain is there, whether I treat it or not because the trauma happened. But if I allow it to motivate instead of denying it or complaining, it will still hurt, but it will also heal.