I plodded up the half-mile hill that led to my house, my backpack weighing heavily on my shoulders in the insistent summer heat. The mild breeze that drifted off the Boston harbor was a cruel joke, hinting at coolness but offering no respite.
Recently heartbroken, I felt tears streaming hotly down my cheeks for the third time that day as the pain of my ex-partner’s absence crashed swiftly on my heart.
I reached out to a trusted friend seeking solace. “Sobbing again” I texted her, knowing she would decipher the pain behind my words. She hesitated for a moment before responding: “Duh.”
I hiccupped mid-sob, surprised.
She went on: “Feel it. It’s going to hurt. But every moment you’re sobbing, you’re doing the work. Every moment you’re hurting, you’re healing. The only way out is through.”
I stared at the screen, digesting her words. That was the last thing I’d expected. I’d expected to be coddled or encouraged to look at the bright side. I’d expected to be force-fed an ice cream cone at J.P. Licks.
This was different. For the first time in my grieving process, I wasn’t told to gloss over my feelings with a coat of rose-colored paint. Someone I trusted was encouraging me to feel my pain in its entirety. Through her eyes, my pain was valid and productive—a necessary step on my journey toward healing.
Her direct acknowledgement of my suffering was the permission I needed to truly feel my pain instead of avoid it. Instead of worrying that I wasn’t trying hard enough to be happy—instead of worrying that I was taking “too long” to heal—I felt like I was doing everything properly.
I could celebrate the work I was doing, even when that work was breaking into sobs, for the third time that day, on the half-mile walk home.
My pain and grief had meaning.
It could serve a purpose.
It could serve me.
Since then, I’ve developed a new way of looking at pain:
When we allow ourselves to fully experience painful or uncomfortable feelings, we are doing work. Sitting with our feelings instead of disengaging or distracting ourselves is work.
Once we accept that we are doing work, we can silence our internal critic that believes that feeling pain means we’re “doing something wrong.” Instead, we begin to understand that feeling our pain is important and productive.
When we understand the true nature of our work, we can summon compassion for ourselves as we move through our uncomfortable feelings on the path to healing, peace, and wholeness…