Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Pain & Resiliency

I used to live in a bubble. Somehow I've managed to avoid difficult and insanely painful seasons, until recently (perhaps it's the millennial in me). Let me elaborate.

I don't think I consciously considered myself being exempt from pain, but I also never really took it seriously. Grief , in every sense of the word, was a bit foreign to me.

Fortunately, I've had the privilege of holding space for other's experiences. What became increasing evident, was that life is really, really hard sometimes. And I've been known to personally take on the pressure to “fix it,” (I know, I know, that’s not how I was trained). But still, when you find yourself in front of desperate, vulnerable, broken clients, the humanness inside aches to make the pain resolve in some way. Of course, there’s a fine line between empathy and co-dependency, one being an internal experience, while the other is often associated with some sort of unhealthy action. The journey of navigating through the overwhelming urge to “fix pain,” can result in more grief and exhaustion.

That is until I recently re-read Viktor Frankl’s book, “Man’s Search for Meaning.” I read the book several years ago, not really absorbing all the richness the work had to offer. After all, this was during what I like to call my “Utopian years.” Before I was vicariously traumatized tainted by the experiences of normal people, making every attempt to survive life’s blows.

I am a firm believer that the entire human race should be encouraged to read “Man’s Search for Meaning.” To say it shifts perspective, is an under-statement.

I think it’s safe to say that most of us will experience or have experienced “dark seasons.” I should probably explain the type of pain I am referring to…I’m not discussing the everyday stress, that increases blood pressure, or the “winter blues.” I am talking about a type of suffering that deeply burdens at the core. The type of pain that feels inescapable, the type that reveals the depravity of man.

Wow, what a Debbie Downer. But really, we secretly read that description with relief, because many understand that pain, all too well. And most of the time it feels so lonely. While we're all nodding our head in agreement, this pain looks different in each of our lives. Sometimes it blindsides us by some sort of tragic loss (again in every sense of the word), sometimes it slowly creeps in by means of addiction, other times, it simply appears from a chemical imbalance. Whatever the cause, it still continues to leave countless individuals in bondage.

So hopefully, you can understand my urge to resolve such pain. Thankfully, I’ve calmed down a bit and accepted my limits. And even more importantly, I’ve begun to see the value in pain, both through professional development and personal experience. While 2016 could have been much worse, it’s most certainly is not a year I’d like to repeat.

Let me pause for a moment and be careful not to “forebode joy,” as the incredibly wise  
BrenĂ© Brown would say. Please note that while I am primarily focusing on an extremely heavy topic, I firmly believe that it is equally important to press into joyful moments, big or small.

Now here’s the irony in all of this. Some of the most genuinely joyful people I have ever met, carry incredible stories of pain. For instance, I once met with a client who grew up in an overseas war zone, who lost their childhood house, whose parents still speak no English, and who longs to return home. This person also was one of the most balanced and sincerely grateful humans I’ve come in contact with. Seriously, I would find myself trying to restructure my thoughts to align with the client’s. The work ethic I observed was unbelievable and the desire to honor and respect others was remarkable. How is it, that someone with that type of background, can hold that perspective? I think the answer is in the question.

It seems so elementary and almost condescending when people attempt to encourage by saying “you just need to change your thinking.” Surely it can’t be that simple. 

I have observed two interesting truths 1.) Pain is inevitable. 2.) And we are resilient beings. Nowadays, if I can assist others in accepting these truths, while attempting to accept it myself, I am doing well. Accepting pain for what is, keeps us somewhat grounded and humble. It is acknowledging a very real part of life (rather than running from it, i.e. distracting ourselves with entertainment, food, alcohol, etc.), a very overwhelming and scary part of life, while having the courage to say “I am not afraid to embrace you,” or "this won't break me." I often wonder if hopelessness is birthed out of constant failed attempts to avoid or outrun pain. If that is the case, does it not make sense to embrace our emotions? 

So what do we do with the pain?

Now to insert a favorite Viktor Frankl quote. Frankl wrote, “Suffering ceases to be suffering, at the moment it finds meaning.” Grief, pain, or any other word used to describe suffering is an individual journey, with some sort of individual meaning. Seek that meaning. If it’s the death of a loved one, celebrate that the grief serves as an infinite reminder for the depth of love humans get to experience. Grief also allows us to never forget a person's impact in our life. If you are in the midst of what feels like a never-ending battle (i.e., addiction, co-dependency, etc.), how has this experience made your more human? What community has come from the experience? Has it slowed you down and taught you appreciate the small victories?

Sometimes the most productive response is to embrace pain and suffering, while recognizing and growing from the resiliency we practice. We were designed by a Creator, who made us sturdy enough to walk outside of bubles.  And look around, chances are someone nearby has either walked through, is walking through, or will walk through. Lean into that support.