It was one of the toughest conversations I’d had in a long time. A friend, one of my nearest and dearest, was telling me how my actions had hurt and disappointed her. She wasn’t being harsh or rude — quite the opposite in fact. She was being brutally honest. And her words were like a scalpel cutting through all of my layers, right to the core.
At first, I didn’t feel it, but later, after we hung up and her words still lingered in the air, I felt it. Like waking up from surgery and the drugs slowly wearing off, it was dull at first but eventually, the pain became overwhelming. I felt like I couldn’t breathe.
I wanted to run. I wanted to escape. I wanted to build up the biggest, strongest, most impenetrable wall possible, to never have to feel this awful feeling again.
But instead of checking out, I leaned in. Instead of distracting myself with aimless flicks of my finger on a glowing screen, I closed my eyes and took a deep breath. Instead of running from the mess, I plopped down right in the middle of it. I felt all of the hard feelings and faced all of the taunting fears. And guess what? It didn’t kill me.
The pain which I feared so much and worked so hard to avoid, it came to me as I’d never experienced it before. It came to me as a teacher. A kind and even gentle teacher.
Here’s what it taught me:
1. Feeling pain opens us up to experiencing love. The best way to deal with the pain of disappointment is radical acceptance. When we accept that we are going through something hard instead of running from it and feel all of the feelings that come with that, we discover the pain doesn’t actually crush us. In that space, we find there is so much more strength and resilience inside of us than we knew.
“On this sacred path of Radical Acceptance, rather than striving for perfection, we discover how to love ourselves into wholeness.” — Tara Burch, Radical Acceptance.
If we can’t accept ourselves in pain, we can’t love ourselves there either – or let anyone else love us. But when we accept ourselves in that place of pain, we open the door to a deep and healing love.
2. Pain is the gateway to healing. Just as the physical body uses pain as a signal to the brain that an injury has happened, emotional pain acts similarly. If we don’t acknowledge our pain, we end up walking around with a gaping wound that keeps us from living our best life. But when we notice the pain and create space for it, we are able to care for the places of brokenness and find healing. Without pain, we end up walking through life with a limp instead of dancing through with wholeness.
3. Behind the pain is a gift. When my friend spoke those brutally honest words to me that day, she gave me a gift. If I would have allowed the pain to shut me down, I would have missed it. But because I allowed myself to feel the pain of that experience instead of rushing past, I discovered the gift behind the pain. The gift was the truth she spoke to me and the opportunity it gave me to become a better version of myself. By telling me how I’d hurt her (and doing it with love and kindness) she gave me a chance to grow and become a better friend. If we shut down when we feel pain, we miss the gift behind the pain.
Pain is no longer my enemy (though I wouldn’t say it’s my friend either). Pain has become my teacher. It’s taught me how to love myself through radical acceptance, it’s led me to deeper healing, and given me many beautiful and unexpected gifts. So next time pain visits, don’t run or hide. Stop and sit at its feet and learn everything it has to teach you.