Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Difficulty letting go of the pain

As I am dredging through the healing process (and by that, I mean allowing myself to revisit the past and feel the emotions), I sometimes have days where I feel like I could let go of some of the pain. But then, strangely, something kicks in that won’t let me rid myself of the pain.

Let me clarify, I do not get pleasure out of thinking about this crap and wallowing in my emotions – yuck, yuck. I want so badly to rid myself of the negative stamp of my past; however, I have noticed that there is something in me hanging onto the pain. Not so much specific memories, but the pain itself.

I have tried to think of reasons why I might be doing this (i.e., holding onto the pain) – after all, it seems kind of ridiculous. Finally, the reason why I might be doing this came to me last night.

I was working on a take-home exam, and part of the assignment was to write clinical goals for children with autism. One thing that my professor stressed over the semester was that in writing a goal, you do not want to write about the behavior you want eliminated; instead, your goal should state the target behavior you want to replace the inappropriate behavior.

I think a good chunk of the reason why I have been clinging unintentionally to the pain of my past is that I don’t know what to replace it with. My assault left me with a feeling of emptiness, and I think the pain caused by what happened helps to fill the emptiness. The hurt has been there for so long, even when I was trying desperately to run from it, that now I don’t know what to put in its place.

The cliché voice in my head says “love,” but it’s just not that easy. The emptiness feels resistant to love. It feels resistant to supportive comments from others. It feels resistant to my efforts to make it go away. I guess at this point, I don’t really know how to make it go away except by feeling pain.

Maybe that’s what professionals mean when they say healing from trauma requires acknowledging the emotional pain and grieving it. Maybe as I continue therapy and go through the painful memories and emotions, I will find other ways to fill the hole.

Perhaps “coping” is filling in the emptiness with pain to prevent the emptiness from taking over. And, I guess that would make “healing” finding other ways (i.e., besides pain) to fill in the emptiness.

As we let go of the pain though, how do we find what needs to go in its place? 
How do we rediscover our sense of self?


  1. i have spent so much time as of late trying to find something to fill the "void." but i have been crazy unsuccessful. My therapist always says that you have to sit with the pain. I have no idea what that means; but I think it is the idea that it can’t be replaced it has to be integrated into who you are. (Even after saying that I still don’t get it lol.) I think replacing the pain with happiness would be amazing, but easier said than done. Love is an amazing thing, but it doesn’t fill that emptiness. My husband used to say that his love will fix everything, but he now knows better lol. One thing that has helped is reading others’ stories (Lucky, After Silence, etc). It helped me know I wasn’t alone, and that time alone does not heal. Books written ten years after the fact, and sometimes they still have the same issues they had the day it happened. I have no idea if any of this was helpful, but I think sometimes the unknown future is even scarier than what we live with now.

    1. "Sitting with the pain" is the pits! LOL My therapist tells me the same thing, and the way I interpret it is you just have to allow yourself to feel, but all it feels like to me is that I am wallowing in my emotions! So I understand your frustrations :)

      I keep hearing this "integration into who you are" bit, too, but I am struggling with it in the same way that you described. I keep hearing that it is something that has to be done in order to overcome everything, but I have yet to find something that says, "this is how you do it."

      Iris, thank you for reading and providing your thoughts. Like you said, it is always very helpful to hear from others who have been through and are struggling with the same challenges. Thank you for being so open. We're going to figure this out, and when we do, we'll write a "how to integrate" book, lol.

  2. Thank you dear one for sharing from your heart. I am truly sorry for your struggles and your pain. I know it is NOT easy what you are dealing with.

    In my personal experience, and I am just sharing what I have chosen to help me fill the void, and that is God. I too struggle with the feelings of love. But, this is where my faith kicks in, and I continue to believe that God is much bigger and is the ultimate healer. Regardless of how I feel. Again, I am not trying to "push" anything on you. This is only me and what helps me. Grant it, I still have to work through the pain. Face it. But, I know without a doubt, even at my lowest of low, God is walking right there beside me holding my hand and grieving with me. He is my hope that keeps me going on and seeking Freedom from my past!!! Safe hugs.

    1. Just Be Real, thank you so much for your insight, recommendations, and positive comments. It is very helpful to hear from others who are further along in the healing process regarding what has been beneficial to them. I am so happy that you have found freedom and strength in God. I have felt a nagging inside me for quite some time to delve more deeply into my spirituality and reconnect with God. I have to admit though that I have reservations due to hypocrisy I have encountered in the past that kind of detoured me from religion when I was younger; however, as I have gotten older, I have come to understand that my spiritual life is something that I can and need to create for myself. I am trying to redevelop my spiritual life by strengthening my personal relationship with God, reassuring myself that God is okay with my reservations and questions (e.g., I have difficulty taking everything in the Bible, particularly the Old Testament, at face value). I have been attending church more frequently because I found one with a pastor who really speaks to me (i.e., he breaks down the scripture into tangible bits that can be digested and integrated into modern life - actually, much like you do on your blog, which is really inspirational and powerful, by the way). Like the whole healing process, I guess I am realizing that strengthening my spiritual life is a process, too, and won't happen overnight! I am going to keep at it though. I need something to fill this void, that's for sure. Again, thank you so much for providing your insight and encouraging me toward the freedom you have discovered. xx

  3. Thank you for this wonderful post. I love how you say goals aren't about what you want to eliminate but what behavior you want. My two cents disclaimer - this is only what worked for me -- we all find our own path to healing - it is not about overcoming or integrating. It is about moving the pain up and out. There is no way around it but through it and as someone who has been blessed with amazing healers this past year I can say healing happens!!!! There is freedom. There is happiness. There is peace and there is love -- love first and foremost for yourself. Learning how to be compassionate and kind and loving forgiving those who knew not what they did to us and most of all forgiving ourselves realizing we did not make this happen. I am in the midst of the grieving and weepiness phase but I let the tears fall - after all they are only tears. Yoga and bodywork have been two phenomenal resources for me on my healing journey. Nothing has helped to heal the trauma as being in a loving yoga community and having a compassionate and skilled bodyworker. But I took so many detours, twists and turns on this journey. Somehow we all get to where we need to get to ultimately with the grace of God/goddess. I am so grateful to be where I am. It's so easy in finding healers and therapists to have people who are actually recreating the trauma. So pay attention to how you feel with your therapist and if you are not on equal footing with them - that you are a true partner in your healing journey and they are the expert of what you need to do, then you might want to find a different therapist. Talking therapy alone does not work. There needs to be somatic body therapy involved and a great author to read is Peter A Levine who wrote Waking the Tiger and In An Unspoken Voice:How the body releases trauma and restores the body to goodness. Some other great resources -- Heal My PTSD and Your Life After Trauma with Michele Rosenthal. Two memoirs - Waking by Matthew Sanford and Fierce Medicine by Ana Forrest. Here's to healing and thriving!

    1. Hi Graceful Lady, thank you so much for reading and commenting. You raise so many important, interesting points, and I absolutely love your positive outlook. Particularly, I like what you said about moving “pain up and out.” I really like thinking about getting rid of it and purging myself of it. I kind of consider this blog a means of purging myself of the impact of my assault, but I’ve learned that it is a much slower (and gruesome) process than I realized when I first began this journey.

      Also, I really liked what you said regarding “letting the tears fall” because “after all, they are only tears.” This is something I really needed to hear. I am horribly critical of myself each and every time I cry (which is a problem considering it usually occurs multiple times throughout the day!). But at the same time, when I do not get in a good crying spell one day, I start to feel anxious and detached from myself and have much difficulty concentrating. So this has led me to believe that crying has to be therapeutic, and though I can’t stand it, it is the one thing that is helping me hold onto my faith that there is a purpose to the pain. Here’s to letting the tears fall!!! Really, thank you for that.

      I have enjoyed reading your comments regarding yoga and bodywork. I have been getting into exercise (i.e., barre classes and running) more and more recently because I have noticed that it does help lower my anxiety, and I know that it fights off depression. I have also been looking into boxing (beating the crap out of a punching bag kind of sounds wonderful), and I am very interested in taking up yoga again. I have done yoga in the past but only half-heartedly. The stronger I become from my barre classes, the more I have the confidence and motivation to pursue yoga. I think I could really benefit from the calming-the-mind component, in particular! I do feel that as I become physically stronger, something inside me is becoming stronger, but I don’t know what at the moment.

      Also, thank you so much for the resource recommendations. I look forward to looking into them. I really appreciate your kind words, support, and contagious enthusiasm for healing! xx

  4. Untying The Knot

    Emotions tied up in a knotted skein
    where is the beginning
    where is the end?
    Stifling and suffocating
    afraid to pull that one end
    everything unravels.
    Courage to take that first step
    gently tugging removing stitches
    sloppily binding the unhealed wounds.
    Tears they are only tears
    washing clean the mess.
    Maybe I'll take up knitting.

    1. This is lovely :) And, by the way, I have been considering taking up knitting recently! I absolutely love the imagery you used; not to mention, it really resonates with what I am experiencing emotionally. Thank you so much for sharing this.

  5. Ohhhh, the illusive anti-vacuous. I have made a similar observation that sometimes pain and negativity is being used to fill that void. Rape leaves us feeling so hollowed out that we will fill it with anything. I have tried everything to fill it from useful knowledge to useless facts, but the one common denominator that's always there is the emotional pain and negativity.

    I guess what you're asking is the same thing I have been asking myself. How do I replace the bad emotions and negativity with something positive in a controlled way so that the emptiness doesn't return and take over where it can do more damage? I think your professor hit the nail on the head. When we are trying to accomplish something, we don't need to dwell on what we are trying to escape from but decide where we want to ultimately put the finish line. If we know where the finish line is we can then back track to our current position and see what smaller goals need to be met in order to meet the larger goal of completing the race.

    Much easier said than done, I know.

    This next part is 100% opinion and you can ignore it or dismiss it. After as long as you have endured the after-affects of your rape, don't you "THINK" not feel, that you have acknowledged your pain and grieved your violation? If that is the case, the next logical solution would be to to find the finish line and set goals that will help you get there. The thing is you already know where the finish line is, I just think the path is still too clouded by your grieving and pain. That's why you need to let that pain go. Again, I know that is much easier said than done.

    I have to listen to the teacher, she's giving me that look. LOL