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I am in pain.
As I write this, I’m clocking in at about a four or five on a 1-10 pain scale. Not unmanageable but certainly not comfortable.
You see, almost three weeks ago I went into the hospital for a fairly major surgery.
While I’ve been through a few minor procedures and some dental surgeries, this was my first time spending hours on an operating table under general anesthesia. Which also means it was my first time dealing with the pain that comes from post-op recovery.
There are so many articles, particularly on Elephant, about how to survive mental and emotional pain. How to work through heartbreak and grief and disappointment and loss. How to heal our heart when life feels flipped upside down.
But what about physical pain? What do we do and how do we heal when it’s not our hearts but our bodies that feel like they’re being ripped open—and not metaphorically, but literally?
How do we manage the aches and discomfort, the swelling and throbbing, the soreness and tenderness when they feel like they will never subside?
To start, we have to acknowledge what we’re feeling. We have to accept that right now we’re hurting, and while we might feel better in a few minutes (or hours, or days), it doesn’t change the fact that at this moment, all we know is pain.
As the insightful (and kinda dreamy) Augustus Waters says in The Fault in Our Stars:
“That’s the thing about pain. It demands to be felt.”
I’ve been reminded of this consistently over the past few weeks. That my pain, even when muffled by rest or medication, will continue to make itself known—because that is the only way to heal.
If our pain stays quiet or if we purposely try to mask it, our body can’t do what it was designed to do. It can’t repair itself. It can’t grow and recover and get better. And that means we can’t grow and recover and get better, not just physically but mentally and emotionally.
For the first week after my surgery, I was at a hard 10 on the pain scale more often than not. It hurt to sit, to walk, to lay down. To cough, to laugh, to stand up. It even hurt to breathe. And although I was scared and overwhelmed and, in some moments, too in pain to even register my emotions, I sat with the hurt and simply prayed that the next day would be better. Even just a little.
And so I sit here at a five and feel both grateful and relieved that the pain came—and that it’s slowly packing up to leave.
Below are a few more quotes to help us welcome pain and all that it can teach us:
“We are healed of a suffering only by experiencing it to the full.” ~ Marcel Proust
“Some people see scars, and it is wounding they remember. To me they are proof of the fact that there is healing.” ~ Linda Hogan
“Three routes to healing:
1. You must let the pain visit.
2. You must allow it to teach you.
3. You must not allow it to overstay.”
~ Ijeoma Umebinyuo
“Pain in this life is not avoidable, but the pain we create avoiding pain is avoidable.” ~ R.D. Laing
“Many of us spend our whole lives running from feeling with the mistaken belief that you can not bear the pain. But you have already borne the pain. What you have not done is feel all you are beyond that pain.” ~ Kahlil Gibran
“Pain is the great teacher of mankind. Beneath its breath souls develop.” ~ Marie von Ebner-Eschenbach
“Scars have the strange power to remind us that our past is real.” ~ Cormac McCarthy