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Making Friends With an Old Enemy Called Pain
There was this stranger who lived within me for as long as I can remember—a pain that tightens my chest and plunges a sinking hole in my belly.
When my busy day comes to an end and I sit in my comfy chair, I notice it. I don’t like it. I need to push it down, cover it up, and make it disappear.
When I was younger, I drowned it in alcohol and drugs. This technique worked for a while—until it didn’t. Next, I tried burying this pain in work. Immersion in a seven days a week, 12 hours a day, drama-filled atmosphere held it at bay for quite a long time. Adding a glass of wine before bed led me to a restless sleep so I could restart the same day over and over again.
I have no idea where it came from or why it continued to hang around for all these years. It didn’t seem to have a name or a purpose. It just hovered there beneath the surface.
My workaholic life came to an end recently, and I had to up my avoidance game. Enter binge-watching “Peaky Blinders” and “Yellowstone” and every episode of “Psych.” This exercise in futility was not keeping this pain at bay. I would suddenly realize I was holding my breath as silent tears leaked down my face.
One night, I said “enough.” I turned off the constant drone of the TV and just sat with this annoying stranger who had been my constant companion. Out loud with only my violet-colored walls to hear, I said “Pain, we have been together for so long. I think it’s time we got to know each other since it seems nothing I have done can chase you away.”
I took a deep breath and gently laid a reluctant hand over the place in my chest where it seemed to live. I took my other hand and placed it firmly on my aching belly, a symptom of this invasive creature. I spoke to it in a soft, caring voice. I hummed it a song that I used to sing to my daughter to help her sleep. You are my sunshine, my only sunshine.
Apologizing for my neglect, I simply said let’s just sit together for a while. And surprisingly, it replied back. “Thanks for noticing me,” it said. “I have just wanted to be seen and heard for so long.” And it eased its hold on me.
Isn’t that what we all want? To be seen, heard, validated? I don’t need to analyze it or question its right to exist. I just need to listen and feel my way through it.
Since that night, I have discovered a few ways to relieve its grip:
- Sit with it without distraction till it passes.
- Read poetry
- Write it out
- And the thing it seems to like the most…I sing to it!
When I feel it walking back in, I notice that I am holding my breath and searching for a way out. Instead of resorting to the old ways, I find a quiet spot. I caress the places it is occupying in my body, and I sing in my off-key but caring voice, “Hello darkness, my old friend.”
I quiet my mind and read to it from my favorite Mary Oliver poetry book, and then I gather my notepad and pen and write it out—a streaming of consciousness without a destination in mind.
Beautiful, painful, freeing words that lead me past the surface to a deeper place where I am able to say thank you and offer it a warm, genuine, heartfelt smile.
I still indulge in an evening glass of wine and do not feel any guilt in my “Netflix and chill” addictions, but when my old friend pain shows up for a visit, I make the time to sit with her. She kind of insists on it now and seems to enjoy the attention—and the singing.