it is being honest
my pain
makes me invincible.
~ nayyirah waheed ~

The last 5 months or so have been a highly intense season of examining, voicing, and working through pain. Wrestling through years of pushing emotions and memories down, working through failures and downfalls and all the areas I thought I was strong in, to realize, wow… I have so much work to do. Thinking, “I got this whole communication thing down,” only to realize when I’m scared and tired and vulnerable, I still fail. Epically. Or thinking,  “I know how to work through pain as it comes. Easy.” And then finding myself trying to run like hell as fast and as far as I can from everything that feels way too painful to stomach.

We all want to avoid pain; avoid it at all costs. And once we’ve been hurt, the last thing we want to do is go in and examine the hurt. NO THANKS. But. We have to.

I was talking to a friend the other day and we were discussing how vulnerable the process of working through pain is. She said, ‘it feels like a burn victim. The nurses and doctors have to literally scrub the burned skin off the person. Scrubbing the dead flesh off. Sometimes I feel like that. Ouch. Ouch. Ouch.”

Its terrifying to do the work to heal.
It’s the work of the brave.

Seriously. Think about that process.  For extreme burn victims; the only way to get the new skin out and let it breathe and heal and be exposed to healing is to SCRUB the dead, burned, charred skin off. That makes me hurt all over just thinking about.

But working through my deepest pain and grief also makes me hurt all over just thinking about too.

One burn victim said in an interview, “The mere sensation of air hurt me all over.” Sometimes when our flesh (or heart) gets exposed after living under the protection of burn or death or passivity, it hurts just to sit in that place of vulnerability – the air seemingly hurts, just breathing hurts.
But it will heal. Even though it hurts like hell, it will heal. But you have to let the air, the fresh, newness, get to it.

The more I researched this medical method (called debriding or debridement) the more it felt like how it is to work through emotional pain and why we need to expose the hurt and horror before we can fully heal. You have to scrape away the dead skin to promote healing and eliminate infection. You have to get the dead off for there to be any hope of new life; you have to free yourself of the un-healable parts, before you can get down to the part that can be fully healed and exposed and tended to.

One quote said, “Once transferred to the Burn center, he was taken into the hydrotherapy room, where the dead skin was washed from him and his wounds. It was only then that the extent of his burns could be assessed.” We cannot know the extent of the work in our hearts we need to tackle until we get in there. You can’t just look from the outside, you have to get deep down, into the nitty-gritty, even when that’s the last thing you want to do. You have to push past the walls and masks and barriers you’ve created to cover and protect that pain.

When I was a child (and let’s be honest, still as an adult), I hated getting anything under my skin – glass and splinters are my special phobia. I would scream and cry and beg my mom to just leave it in there and let me die (which of course she didn’t do, and yes, I was/am quite dramatic about it all). Of course that’s what we want. Throw a Band-Aid over it and let me forget about it. But it will fester. And damage you internally. It will cause more pain than picking it out. It wont let you heal correctly, you won’t scar correctly. It will breed infection and pain and do so much internal damage.

And I’m seeing that same thing in my life. When I get my heart shattered, or go through major disappointment, major failure, I want to stick a bandage over it all and just pretend ‘outta sight outta mind’, whether that’s a vice of some kind, over-working, alcohol, men, (insert your place you run to when there’s shame), but it will fester. And infect and threaten the healing and health of our hearts and souls.

As painful as it is, excruciatingly painful at times, I know that we have to go into the area with tweezers and pick every shred, every shard, every fragment out of it. Each intricate detail of the pain inside of our souls, examined and taken out, slowly but precisely. It will not be easy, it will cost you – your time, your energy, your tears, but it’s the path to holistic, healthy, dramatic healing.

So what does it look like to scrub the skin off your pain?

  • Face it. First and foremost. Pain is one of those things I think we don’t even want to make eye contact with. Eye contact is powerful. Make eye contact with your pain. Stop ignoring the numbness, the unending grief, the questions, the disappointments. Look them in the eye. Admit them. Hold them gently, as painful as it may be. Look at them closely and tenderly. I find it a daily task to work through pain, sometimes it’s ALL in your face, suffocating you. You must breathe through it.
  • I speak major kindness over myself when I’m in so much pain. “I love you, Carly. I love you, Carly. I love you, Carly. No feeling is final. The pain will pass. This will be useful to you someday. Rest. Rest. Rest. I love you.” Inward tenderness is like soothing cream on the painful burns of your heart.
  • I spend a lot of time outside. There’s something profound about breathing in fresh air, fresh flowers, fresh life.
  • I journal. Write it all down. Write your pain down- as messy, and ugly, and unpolished as it may be. I write angry, mean, raw words. I scream it out on paper. Whatever you have to do to simply get those shards of emotional glass, those splinters of heartache out of you. Get.It.Out
  • I’m honest about my pain. Find people whom you trust deeply, who you can be vulnerable with. Even if it’s scary at first to admit, “my heart aches. Constantly. I feel like I’m being ripped apart.” Community will heal you. Community will scrape the dead flesh off, but will also apply tender loving care until the new skin begins to grow.
  • Run. Jog. Walk. Instead of running from your pain, run as fast as you can through the park. There’s a connection. Run. Whenever you want to emotionally run, physically run.
  • Laugh. Whatever the hell you need to do to laugh, do it. When you find people who make you laugh, hold them close. Laughter gives you a breather from the excruciatingly hard work of healing. You need a break. You need a rest. Laugh.
  • I’m still on this journey. I feel like every day I’m learning new ways to look my pain in the face and embrace it and move past it. Learn from it. Grow from it. Evolve through it. You know yourself. Find the things that help you work through pain. I would love to hear them. We are all on this journey together.

I know it’s scary. I know the last thing you want is to go inside of yourself and face the pain that has lodged itself into you, but please know, there is hope. There is healing. And there is so much beauty on the other side of it all. Getting the pain out, will make you blossom and bloom, make your heart a more tender, compassionate spring of life than you ever knew possible. I have watched myself become so many different women through this healing process. From broken, to open, to vulnerable, to 100times tenderer than before. I am realizing the more I work through my pain, the softer I become – the more tender and compassionate and gentle my spirit becomes, because I have known pain, and I am letting it teach me grace, instead of burying it.

It’s worth it. I promise.