*Editor’s Note: No website is designed to, and can not be construed to, provide actual medical advice, professional diagnosis or treatment to you or anyone. Elephant is not intended as a substitute for medical or professional advice, care and treatment. Nor is this article applicable to anyone living with chronic/long-term pain.
Two months ago I broke my ankle.
In the middle of a canyoneering run out in the San Gabriel Mountains in East Los Angeles, I slid down a steep rock slide and caught my foot in a wedge of rocks, snapping my fibula and dislocating my foot from my leg.
After finishing three more rappels on one leg, a half mile hike back to the car, a trip to the emergency room where my leg was manually set and a surgery a week later where a plate and five screws went into my outside leg bone, I had felt pain.
This is breaking pain.
There are different kinds of pain—breaking pain and healing pain.
The two are interconnected and balance one other—as yin and yang. We tend to avoid pain altogether as humans. Yet pain is part of our existence, unavoidable when it comes. And when it does come, pain has its own lessons to teach.
A few days ago, I got cleared to begin bearing weight on my leg, as tolerated. All my surgeon asked me when I set my foot down to walk with two crutches to help hold me up was, “Is there pain?” I quasi-lied and said, “No.”
I was hesitant to have my new right reneged from the get go.
A couple of days later, “walking” from the couch to kitchen still took me a good five minutes of gingerly setting my foot down only to feel tight discomfort in my ankle and borderline actual pain in the bones and muscles of the bottom of my foot loudly resisting the call back to duty. I called my sister, an orthopaedic nurse and generally all-around wise human.
I wanted to make sure what I was feeling was normal because part of me somehow thought that the second I could put weight back on it, my injured leg would manifest its healing by taking a me on a comfortable jog around the park.
She asked me if when I put weight on it, if I wanted to cry and double-over. The answer was no. She said, “Good. Because that would be bad pain and not okay.”
She asked me if I could tolerate the discomfort until my leg got stronger and my foot settled back into working again. The answer was absolutely. She said,
“Good. Because that is good pain and you’ll have to go through it to heal and get better. There is good pain and there is bad pain. Learn to distinguish the difference. Your body won’t lie.”
The body doesn’t lie. It will tell you the truth of what it feels.
There is no free pass to avoid being hurt or damaged at some point in our lives. But it is almost always possible to heal from it. The body wants to heal—it will do everything in its power to heal.
Healing, however, requires internal effort to repair a wound, effort that brings discomfort as cells, nerves and tissues regenerate, reconnect and grow stronger. There is pain during any healing process—it is just of a different kind to breaking pain.
The texture of each type of pain has its own distinct feel and quality, and instinctively if we listen, the body feels this.
The key is to allow the mind to learn what different kinds of pain can teach us.
One of the steepest learning curves in my life has been distinguishing the difference between healing pain and breaking pain—and trusting what my body tells me. I’ve had to let my body show me through the quality of the feeling in relationships, friendships, jobs and now, learning to walk again.
In my first serious relationship I never felt fully loved or comfortable. I wanted to trust my boyfriend in our exclusive relationship against the intuition and signs that he was untrustworthy. Once, he returned from a trip to New York City with his mom and told me he didn’t see any friends while he was there. Later I discovered that his ex-girlfriend had posted a photo of the two of them at dinner together in Manhattan. I tried to brush it off and trust him against my instinct.
The discomfort I felt at this time, and so many other times, was intense—as if my insides were being forced to contort into unnatural positions to keep moving forward. I didn’t listen to my body then, and when it did eventually come out that he was not faithful to me then, or ever, I felt breaking pain.
That experience wounded me, and I had to heal from it and learn from it.
The body heals from the inside out.
I mined my past decisions and learned to be accountable for remaining so long in a relationship where my basic emotional needs were unmet. Learning to know and respect those needs made me come out of the break stronger than ever on the inside, but then I had to begin putting my new-found strength to the test through dating and relating.
My emotional nerve-endings had become more sensitive to triggers that were reminiscent of the prelude to being cheated on, triggers that often wound up being coincidental and not causal. The discomfort in moving forward and learning to trust my own perceptions and act on them, was significant. But it was only through exposing myself to vulnerability and trusting myself to choose the people I let into my life with more awareness and deliberation that I healed from the inside all the way out.
Only through the experience of being hurt and moving through the pain of healing could I actually have arrived where I am now: full of gratitude for being stronger and more mindfully communicative than I was then, and for progressing into a relationship of mutually earned trust, love and respect.
There was no way to mend the breaking pain but to go through the healing pain.
Being wounded hurts. Healing from a wound hurts. And the hurt feels different inside of us all.
Breaking pain is the pain the body feels when it is hit with indifferent forces. It is the kind of pain that can teach us to be more aware and cautious of where we place our bodies and what choices are not right for us.
Healing pain is an active process inside us that teaches us to lean into the discomfort of learning, to bear the full weight of our bodies again—emotionally and physically—and to better recognize our boundaries and how far we can push them.
Day by day I am healing. Day by day I am growing stronger.
My body knows the way, and I am listening to it.
Let’s Stop Numbing the Pain & Start Healing.
Author: Laura Gatewood
Editor: Khara-Jade Warren
Image: Neal Fowler/ Flickr
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