Monday, November 14, 2011

what to do with pain

The thing about writers is that we are, at our cores, absorbent observationalists. We sit, or stand - or walk - and while we do those things; we watch. Day and Conversation are two areas that transmit worlds of information into our writer's blocks...and then, after we have been handed all of these things (about you...or not), we write. A writer can't see a question mark without trying to fill in the blank space before it. A writer will struggle to stay silent when there are words to be said, ideas to be carved out and displayed, or overtones to be sewn into new or similar fabric. Every seen thing is a thread, and every word is a catalyst toward thought, ink, or the sound of clicking keys.

Jeannie Lynn Paske's Obsolete World
There's a stump here, though, and it comes in the form of the unanswerable. There are paradoxes of the heart that remain elusive and too personal to touch. I came across this stump recently, in the form of Pain. I looked it in the eye, talked about it with my wise older sister (a lengthy discourse on the subject), and at the end, realized I was no further along the road to understanding what we were talking about; or rather, what to do with it. Stubbed toes and paper-cuts can be left for another time - what I'm referring to here is not normally rooted in the external, though it may begin there. I am referring to something that happens to each of us at different times and to different extremes, and is dealt with in a thousand different ways. I am talking about the pain that comes from Mistakes.

I am going to wager that the word 'Mistake' turned quickly from a word you were reading to a memory clear as day. Who of us doesn't know what that feels like to realize how drastically we have altered our course? Or perhaps the awareness comes later, when we see only in hindsight what we've done. Maybe your mistakes weren't big, or maybe by some grace you missed the consequences; in which case I'm not really writing this one for you. This is probably for the others; those who are struggling to stand in the corner they've painted themselves into; those who don't remember what they've done - because to remember is to admit, and to admit is to collapse entirely.

This ties in so wholly with what I have been trying to come to terms with myself; whether there are safe places for the worst parts of who we are. There has to be, and if there aren't, we need to find that safety. The most dangerous thing about error is the innate desire within each of us: to cover it up and keep it to ourselves. Shame is a bigger motivator than we want it to be; solitude, more than any action, is the real soul killer. If only you could tell someone, then perhaps you wouldn't feel so swallowed up. I don't know that pain was meant to be kept a secret.

Jeannie Lynn Paske's Obsolete World
...and this is exactly where my thoughts stop. I really don't know how to go any further on this subject just yet. It's as if there's too much to deal with, or swallow, or sort through. Pain, the keeping of pain, the gravity of feeling it alone...there are so many facets here, and they change from person to person. Beyond "don't hide from it", I have nothing else to say. Maybe this annoys you. Maybe you're mad at me for bringing up your pain in the first place and then leaving it, all dangley and protrudey in front of your face like that. You're right; it isn't fair to leave you here.  Keep reading.

"In stories, characters only change in crisis. Characters never, ever change when the story is going well. And of course the same is true with life. Pain is always an invitation to grow. Sadly, pain also has the opposite affect. If we cover over our pain with coping mechanisms, it’s as though we are going through a workout without gaining muscle. Some people do this for years and never grow...In stories and in life, pain is our friend. It’s an unwelcome friend, but a friend nonetheless. The good news is if we make friends with our pain, it won’t stay long and it will leave us with a gift. But if we avoid pain, it will chase us down until we finally accept the gift it has to offer." - Donald Miller (read the entire article here)

Even though Donald is wise and addresses the issue head on - that we can't avoid pain, though we may try - I still feel the subject warrants a million more conversations. Why do some people cope by forgetting? Why do some refuse to cope? Why is it that some turn to an others-focused self righteousness instead of admitting their own faults, while some stay slumped in the guilt of their own admission (or a heartbreaking mix of both)? And how do you free someone who doesn't see they are living as though their mistakes were it? Or, can you force someone to heal; so they get on with it, so they grow past the decades old decisions that have snared them.

Jeannie Lynn Paske's Obsolete World
I still don't know.
What I do know is this. Hiding because of what you've done is the fastest way to drain the purpose out of being alive. We are human, therefore, we err. Your mistakes are yours, yes, but they are not as unique as you think they are. Admitting fault does not make you less human; it makes you moreso. There is no shame-source worth the trade in for an entire life and all your giftings. I may not know how to encourage you to bridge the gap between your mistakes and your moving on from them, but I do know that you need to try. Forgiveness is only powerful when we use it, and it is meant to be used, so use it; on yourself. Grace cannot be properly extended by a person who has not given grace to their own misgivings - if you can't truly forgive yourself, how can we believe that you truly forgive us when we fail? If you hold on to pain, you are not the only one being held captive; we all are. So please, do us all a favor, and forgive yourself. Let those who love you in to the pain you feel; this is one of the reasons we love you.


SCMartens said...

I have been able to release myself from regret through picturing my reaction to one of my dearest loved ones admitting the wrongdoing in question- how would I react? What advice would I give?- I tend to be terribly hard on myself, so removing myself from the action i regret helps me gain a more realistic perspective. Like anything worthwhile in life, real easing yourself from shame/gulit etc. is hard work- it has to be done daily. I warn against admitting it to others before you find some kind of closure in yourself first. If they don't react how you want, or it gets leaked and you're in a super vulnerable position, it makes the problem bigger.

afterthoughtcomposer said...

"I warn against admitting it to others before you find some kind of closure in yourself first. If they don't react how you want, or it gets leaked and you're in a super vulnerable position, it makes the problem bigger."

so true! Thanks for pointing that out; that is extremely valid.


Lindsay said...

Wow, this is an amazing post! I've read it through a couple of times as there are so many wonderful points to reflect on. As a human (who also happens to be a counsellor) I see daily how shame impacts people's lives (my own and others). It can be such a huge burden to carry alone...Yet, the paradox is, we all experience it. Fear...specifically fear of rejection...plays such a huge part in our lives.

A few years back (when I was in the midst of facing some pretty big mistakes/life challenges...shhh, don't tell ;)...I lost a lot of friends, and with the loss of those friendships I lost the belief that I could show my pain to others. It was too scary to give my heart because I didn't trust that it would be honoured - that others would know what to do with it. It felt like my "good Christian friends" had burned me and left me high and dry in a time of chaos and struggle. In hindsight - I think my pain changed who I was and I out grew my place in those relationships.

But, I have since met people who don't want to hid their shame/pain/less-than-desirable-parts-of-self either and it has been an amazing experience. When two people come together and put aside the masks magical things can take place :)

Please know that after difficult days at work I sometimes read your blog to remind myself that authenticity is real and alive in the world - and that I'm not crazy (or being unrealistic) to desire such relationships. Your authenticity is inspiring Ashley...keep on writing and keep on fighting for your heart.

Take Care,
Lindsay D

P.S. For what it's worth....I think you would be an AMAZING counsellor. Your heart is so real.genuine.honest. :)

P.P.S. Not sure if you've heard of the book by Brene Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You're Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are. It's an amazing book on shame, authenticity, and belonging.

Mama said...

Wonderful post! And wonderful comments from dear friends. For so long I saw myself as a pile of mistakes stacked so high in front of my face I often couldn't see much else. At the ladies retreat I went to some weeks ago, God showed me how He sees me. Sometimes it's a struggle of course to "remember" what He showed me. That big pile rears its ugly head plenty of times. But it's a huge comfort to be with others who love you as you are and freely admit to their own shortcomings - and don't judge you for yours. The world tries too hard to tell us we need to be like someone else. God just wants us to be who he created us to be. Sometimes I'm not sure what or who that is but I care less and less about so-called "success." (What is that anyhow??) Being loved by the Lord and belonging to Him, now that's success.

afterthoughtcomposer said...

hello lovelies;
perusing through old posts brought me to these wonderfully insightful comments. Thank you for reading!