Gifts from an Unfair World: On Claiming Your Pain
A couple of years ago I sprained my ankle kickboxing. It was a class that I was taking that was a really intense combination of cardio while kicking and punching things. I leapt up on one of the roundhouse kicks and landed on the side of my foot. It was not fun. Afterwords, I was irritated about it. I had to spend time and money to go to physical therapy. In my head, I thought of all of the people responsible for this situation who weren’t me—the instructors who pushed too hard, the owner who encouraged speed over form. I wasn’t too keen on owning up to my own clumsiness and the reality that things happen, sometimes.
I thought of that incident when I heard someone talking the other day about how everything in our lives is our responsibility. I felt a flash of anger rise in me at the idea that I was responsible for all of the bad that happened to me. I thought of my sprained ankle. I thought of far worse things that have happened to me at the hands of other people. Intentional harm. Betrayal. Broken promises. Unprocessed grief. Unintended pain caused by others. I thought of the span of my life, and the spectrum of hurt I have felt that has been done at the hands of others, by my own actions, or by accident.
But something about that idea has been sticking with me, like a painful truth that I just can’t shake. What does it mean for us to take responsibility for our pain? Not claiming fault, if the fault isn’t ours. Not absolving others from responsibility, if others cause our suffering. But acknowledging that the pain is mine, that any trauma I have lived is mine, even if I didn’t wish it on myself. Even if I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy.
If I claim that the pain is mine, then I am free to do something with it. I do not have to be held captive by the trauma inflicted on me by others. I can do the hard, lifelong work of untying the bindings that make me feel afraid or helpless or hurt. Maybe this means physical therapy. Maybe it means other kinds of therapy. Maybe this means surrounding myself in love and support from others. I can have more compassion for myself. More patience. More love. Some of the pain I’ve lived is not my fault, but it is my responsibility. And if that’s true, then it’s also my responsibility to do that hard, lifelong work, so that I’m not transmitting my pain onto others. It’s my responsibility so that I can find ways to transmute pain into something else, something hard won, something better. In some ways, this feels like a Pyrrhic victory. Yet, it also means that, even in pain, I am free. Free to choose to move through whatever I experience. Free to ask for help. Free to love others, and be deserving of love, no matter what any of us has gone through. Not fun. Not fair. But free.
What do you do with the pain that lives in you? Have you found ways to transform it? Have you claimed it as your own?