Presence In Pain
My forthcoming book, titled Presence in Pain: How to Show Up for Yourself and Others in Emotional Pain, launches in early 2019. Through the book and an on-line community, I hope to open an honest conversation around how to best support ourselves and others during times of emotional pain. Whatever the heartache, we do have the ability to reduce each other’s suffering. We just haven’t be taught how.
Let’s be honest with each other, shall we? Life is hard, full of heartbreak, loss, and suffering.
This morning I woke to an aching hollowness in my belly and a piercing gouge in my heart. Much to my surprise, grief turned out to be a profoundly physical experience and most mornings arrived with that reality. I briefly allowed my brain its usual response, an overzealous attempt to make sense of my suffering, until the emotional, physical, and mental anguish became overwhelming.
Removing my sleep mask, I opened my eyes to survey the light in the room. A glance at the clock on my bedside table confirmed my suspicion. It was late enough to start my day. I welcomed the opportunity to get out of my bed and out of my head.
Climbing out of from under the covers, I first brushed my teeth at the sink, then walked into my closet. I planned to grab a fleece pullover to cover my bare shoulders. Winter had arrived in Arizona, as had the chilly desert mornings. I froze when I saw one of my ex-partner’s sweatshirts hanging beside my jacket. I realized I would soon be giving the sweatshirt away and my heart exploded in pain. It hurt too much for me to ever wear his clothes, but I hadn’t been able to let go of the things he’d left behind. But now that I was moving, all of his belongings would be donated to charity. I had no room, nor reason, to take his things with me.
This realization caused the initially localized pain to explode all over my body. Once the tears began to fall, I dropped to my knees at the end of my bed, crying out for help. I not only weeped for the loss of my partner, but for every loss I had experienced in my lifetime. Grief had revealed itself to be a tangled web of woundings, heartbreaks, and disappointments with linear timelines and defined stages never adequately capturing its reality.
In just the previous four years, I had faced an immense amount of loss — the death of a parent, the ending of a 24 year marriage, two moves across the country, a business closing, the death of pet, the loss of another pet, the loss of a best friend, the loss of established communities, the loss of a job, the loss of a family, and ultimately, the loss of a life partner. Not to mention all of the accompanying losses of dreams, plans, and security.
In that moment, I felt the collective loss and it was too much to bear. No longer able to remain upright, I collapsed onto my side, curled into a ball on the floor, and sobbed until there was nothing left. Eventually getting up off the floor, I climbed back into bed and played a guided meditation, hoping to soften the pain. After ten minutes, my anguish had only intensified and I angrily pulled the earbuds from my ears.
I considered reaching out to friends or family, but I knew that would only make me feel worse. My loved ones had been struggling with how to support me in these times of excruciating emotional pain. To be present to those we love when they are suffering is the hardest thing there is and rarely do we see it modeled well. Unfortunately, our culture approaches emotional pain and grief as a problem to be solved or a difficulty to be overcome. Pretenses, platitudes, and pills only make the suffering worse, yet these tools are often the only resources we know to offer. Even worse, many of our support systems shame us in our pain, insisting we’re doing something wrong if our suffering has not been alleviated by positive thinking, gratitude, spirituality, or time.
After deciding not to make a phone call, but still desperate for some kind of relief, I put on my hiking clothes and stumbled down the stairs to my garage. I arrived at the trailhead parking lot ten minutes later and paused to check in with my breathing before I opened the car door. My heart was pounding and I wanted to be sure I was capable of safely hiking a mountain trail before I set out. Despite several attempts, I gave up on calming myself and threw my backpack over my shoulder as I exited the car.
I almost turned back five minutes into the hike. The energy it was taking to simply put one foot in front of the other felt overwhelming and exhausting. I didn’t want to injure myself and considered driving back to my apartment, but I knew the despair would only follow me home.
After almost an hour of ascending the rocky path, fighting with myself to keep focused on the trail beneath my feet, I stopped to hydrate. Looking up toward the summit, everything around me came in to focus. I slowly rotated 360 degrees, taking in my surroundings with awe and wonder. The morning was gorgeous. The light hitting the canyon, the cactus dotting the valley, the miniature city in the distance, the azure blue sky surrounding it all…every bit of it took my breath away.
And suddenly I could breathe again.
I wasn’t fixed, it wasn’t all better, and I hadn’t moved on, but I’d found a way to show up for myself in emotional pain. Somehow the weight of my suffering had been lightened and it was easier to carry.
My intention with this book is to show you how to do this for yourself and for others.
While emotional pain and grief can’t be solved in the traditional sense, they can be tended to and carried. By individually and collectively supporting each other in our pain, we do have the ability to reduce suffering. I hope you’ll join me in creating a tribe of people who model this well, with each other and in the wider community. Our world desperately needs this, now more than ever.
Peace, love, and all good to you,
P.S. – Stay tuned for more information and to learn how you can join the community. In addition to a blog, articles, podcasts, and videos, the website will also offers details on hosted writing courses and in person workshops. Hope to see you there!