Whatever the cause of your pain, this isn’t the end for you. Your grief and heartache have the potential to shape you into a better person. Joy is right around the corner; just hang in there and wait for time to work its magic.
Pain can be a gift that helps you grow. As poet Mary Oliver once wrote, “Someone I loved once gave me a box full of darkness. It took me years to understand that this, too, was a gift.” Maybe your partner cheated on you or you’re healing from childhood trauma. Whatever your pain, it has the potential to evolve you into an enlightened person. Use your pain as soil to grow.
Time is the biggest factor in healing. The good news is that time will heal you. The bad news is that time takes time and that’s not always what you want to hear when you’re in pain. Be careful not to let the shoulda, woulda, couldas sneak their way in. What happened is done and over with and your job now is to let the wound heal. Don’t pick at it. Just allow recovery to take its course.
It’s necessary to lean into the pain in order to move through it. In a world of numbing out through TV, food, drugs, alcohol, and sex, the last thing you want to hear is that you need to make friends with your pain. Despite the urge to turn away, don’t be afraid to turn your attention to your pain. Buddhist teacher Pema Chodron wrote, “Rather than letting our negativity get the better of us, we could acknowledge that right now we feel like a piece of shit and not be squeamish about taking a good look.” It’s brave to lean in, but you’re worth it.
Don’t let pain overstay its welcome. Sure, pain is here to teach you a lesson. You need to welcome it in, but it’s important not to hang out with it for too long. Nigerian author Ijeoma Umebinyuo identifies three routes to healing in her book Questions for Ada: “1. You must let the pain visit. 2. You must allow it to teach you. 3. You must not allow it to overstay.” Letting heartbreak overstay its welcome means you go from learning a lesson to wallowing in self-pity and anger towards the person who harmed you. You deserve to heal and bounce back. Let yourself have that opportunity.
Heartache and grief have a way of burning away anything that isn’t essential.
Maybe someone you love dearly has died or your fiance — who you thought was the one — just called off the wedding. Everything changes when you’re in this sort of pain that makes it hard to breathe. You don’t have the energy to hang out with friends you feel lukewarm about or go to a job that’s sucking your soul. Instead, you see clearly for a moment what is absolutely essential in your life. Your best friend shows up to hold your hand. Your cat snuggles you. Your brother helps pay your rent. You realize what matters.
When you have a great deal of experience with pain, you are more equipped when it inevitably occurs again. In the Buddhist lineage I practice, we consider people who look pain squarely in the face to be warriors. We see the process of facing pain while still remaining soft as useful because when the world throws another curveball your way, you’re less likely to totally lose your shit again. Instead, you have some more ground under your feet to stand on.
You will be uniquely useful to friends in the future who experience pain. You experience a devastating breakup that tosses you into a deep depression for months. You know what it’s like to be unshowered, living in pajamas, and not wanting to see the light of day. Once you’ve healed from your loss, you now have this experience under your belt. When it happens to your best gal pal a year later, you’re the first to be knocking on her door with a pint of ice cream and some fresh deodorant ready to draw the shades.
You’ll learn lessons to inform your future decisions. Life is full of teachings. Sometimes you have to learn the same lessons over and over again like putting your hand on a hot stove.
But, you now have useful information to bring into your future. Perhaps you had a toxic partner who shattered your heart. Once you’ve done some healing, reflect on what happened. What are your dealbreakers for future relationships? What red flags can you look for sooner? A healthier relationship is around the corner for you if you can continually learn from your past.
The deeper your sorrow, the bigger your joy. Much like a hole that is dug near the ocean, it is both empty and full with the rising and falling of the waves. Khalil Gibran, one of the world’s greatest poets, nailed the explanation of pain and joy: “Your joy is your sorrow unmasked. And the selfsame well from which your laughter rises was oftentimes filled with your tears. And how else can it be? The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain.” Don’t fret, love. The tears you are now crying are making room for deep belly laughter in your near future.
Allowing pain to soften you means you bring more joy to the world. Ultimately, there are two ways to deal with pain: let it harden you or let it soften you. If you let it harden you, there will be grave consequences to your well-being. The heartache will eat away at your insides — physically, mentally, and spiritually. If you let it soften you, you’ll be a kinder human who sees suffering through compassionate eyes. You’ll be the first to offer your friend a hug when they’re having a hard time. Softening to pain inevitably makes room for immense joy in your life.