Stepping out of the car two days ago, my right foot hit a hole in the grass. The top of my foot turned outward and I felt a tendon rip. Unbalanced, I fell on my left side – hitting the ground – first, on my knee; second, on my hip; and third, on my elbow. Ouch!
My immediate thought was, “Quick get up! Did anyone see me fall?” How completely embarrassing.
Not knowing whether or not I broke anything, I forced myself to stay down. Scanning my surroundings, I didn’t see anyone. “Phew.” Ok, my pride was safe for the moment. Slowly moving to a sitting position, my body ached.
My desire was to get back in the car. I was leaving for a fun adventure and didn’t want this fall to affect my entire afternoon. Could I just pretend this fall didn’t happen? A greater wisdom said, “Go in the house and look at the damage.” Slowly, I limped into the house and hobbled straight to the freezer for ice packs.
Afraid to look at the damage, I lifted up the left leg of my jeans. It turns out that a large pebble caused a scrape on my knee. My right foot wasn’t swelling yet. As I iced these areas, I had a decision to make. Was I going to keep moving or stop and take care of my joints? With sadness, I chose to stay home.
Pain stopped me.
Why? Pain is an indicator of a bigger problem.
This time my wound was physical. But reflecting on this goofy fall, I see a parallel to emotional pain. Getting up too quickly after a troubling experience, whether physical or emotional, is likely to create permanent damage.
Something inside is torn.
Something inside is throbbing.
It really hurts. It just happened. I don’t know if it’s a sprain, or a dislocation, or a full break. If I don’t go slowly and check the soreness out, my activity is likely to cause greater damage to me or someone else. For example, if I got in the car with a broken ankle and tried to drive, my foot may have not been strong enough to hit the break and I could have missed a stop – hurting myself or someone else.
It’s the same with emotional pain. After a trauma, if I go through the days immediately following as though nothing happened, my feelings may be impaired. I can hurt other people around me with words or actions that flow from the pain.
Slowing down to think clearly is hard, but necessary. And, after a serious trauma, it may take much more than a few days of reflection; it may take months or years.
I’ve had emotional pain originate from:
- careless words
- broken relationships
When I’ve taken time to 1) stop, 2) assess and 3) respond – in this order – I have made better progress with a full, healthy recovery.
I’ve learned, with the death of my daughter Leah, not jump to action after distressing encounters. While she was suffering and sick, it would have been easy to let my pain lead me by lashing out at doctors, nurses, social workers, family, friends, etc. when they were unclear, hurtful or selfish. Most of the time, I paused, waited and tried to think clearly before responding. I didn’t always get it right, but I think overall, I feel that I handled my responses to pain appropriately without damaging other people.
When we pause and wait before we speak, we gain clarity and perspective. Especially if we feel wounded and betrayed. Our instinct is to either ignore, or move forward, or address the pain immediately. Sadly, a quick response can create a major tear in relationships. I see this especially with the use of email and social media as a way to respond to hurt and conflict. When triggered, online responses happen quickly and carelessly without much thought. Permanent damage to relationships results.
Handling our injuries is tricky.
When we don’t care for the wound, the pain seeps deep inside – becoming part of who we are.
Acknowledging pain, as a sign of a deeper problem, helps us more fully heal.
So, for two days, I’ve missed going to the gym to exercise. Fortunately, nothing is broken, no sprain, no major swelling, but I’m still sore. It’s hard to be patient. Waiting for the aches to lessen is helping me recover. I want to move forward on solid footing.
Hope you take time to 1) stop, 2) assess and 3) respond to the depth of your pain. In this order.