By Nancy S Buck, PhD, RN
After falling to make a challenging tennis shot I was left bruised and shaken. My partner and I won the game but at what cost? I hoped that rest accompanied by alternating sessions of applying ice then heat on my injured arm would help me feel better. After a painful evening followed by a sleepless and painful night I knew I needed a different solution. I went to the doctor to discover I had broken my elbow and wrist in two places. Pain was a powerful teacher I could not ignore.
During my life not only have I experienced physical pain, I’ve also had my fair share of emotional, mental and spiritual pain. Just recently I had to put my 17-year old cat down. She was really my mother’s cat, but before my mother died she asked me to take care of Molly. The death of Molly was sad and hard. Not only was I losing my companion cat, I was also reminded of the sorrow and loss of my mother.
It has taken me a long time to understand that pain is not just part of my experience, but pain is a teacher.
Prior to this realization, there were too many painful moments in my life that I treated as something to avoid, to relieve, to cover up or to cast off onto another so as not to feel the pain. After all, considering that pain is a teacher means that pain is my teacher offering me the opportunity to self-evaluate, learn, grow and change.
Wouldn’t life be easier if I could just cover up the pain by ingesting some legal or illegal pain reliever? The hope is that smoking enough cigarettes or dope, drinking enough alcohol or taking enough pills will diminish or temporarily mask the pain. Sometimes this works but too often it doesn’t work well enough. The pain still gets through. And, as too many people have discovered, there is the secondary pain that comes from using any one of these pain relievers too frequently. Now you’re stuck with two different kinds of pain: the pain from the original problem; and the cycle of pain that comes from using, abusing or being addicted to the pain reliever.
Perhaps the strategy of avoiding the source of the pain all together would work. This is often done in combination with deflecting the source of pain by blaming another person. How many times have your heard the story about a cheating partner? In an attempt to avoid the pain and avoid discussing his unhappiness, Jack decides to cheat. Of course now he feels even more pain compounded by guilt and shame of cheating on Jill even though he experiences some temporary relief of enjoying the pleasure of a budding romance. If and when Jack gets caught, often he will blame his cheating choice on Jill’s indifference and distance from him. These attempts to avoid pain ultimately end with more and a different pain that needs to be addressed. Eventually this pain can also become a powerful teacher for those who are willing to learn from it.
Even though pain is a powerful teacher, not all of us are ready and willing to learn the lesson. For some of us the pain needs to get bigger and bigger, greater and greater, louder and louder before we consider change. And sadly, for some, their best solution to end their pain is to commit suicide.
However, a better solution when experiencing pain is to self-evaluate. Pain is a loud signal letting us know that we are out of balance. We need to take some positive action in order to get back into balance. Sometimes getting help is necessary, like when I went to the doctor for x-rays and he applied a cast to mend my broken arm. Sometimes it is necessary to spend some quiet time alone and listen to your own inner knower that directs you to apologize and work out your differences with a loved one..
Remember pain can be a powerful teacher not just an experience. When you open yourself to learning the lesson that pain can teach, you will improve your Mental Health & Happiness.