Haven’t Got Time for the Pain

So I had this thought…..if you were to write your autobiography…but you could only fill the pages with the happy times in your life…..how long would your book be?

For this experiment, you would totally erase bad thoughts and feelings. All your days would be sunny….except when you preferred a rainy night or a cozy snow day with a mug of hot chocolate.

How would it make you feel?

One day I happened to think about a dog that I knew when I was a kid. My neighbors had gotten a new puppy and had taken me up on my offer to puppy sit after school until they got home. It was a great gig. When they got home, they would give me a snack and sometimes pay me.

As the dog grew older….and this was in the days before leash laws….he never forgot me. I remember getting off the bus from school at the corner of our street and walking down the road to my house. And every day….every day…without fail, this dog would greet me. He was a big gangling mutt of a dog and when he ran up to greet me, he would oh so gently, jump up and put his paws on each of my shoulders and his face would be touching mine. I loved that dog.

And sadly, all good things must come to an end. But what a good memory. And as I was remembering, it was like I was there again. I felt the same feelings of being there by thinking about and reliving that memory.

Did you ever have a wonderful dream? One where you hated to wake up and realize that it wasn’t real? Don’t you hate that when your alarm goes off and drags you back to reality? For a moment, you had something really good.

I’ve heard it said that people are wired to pursue pleasure and to avoid pain. And the strongest motivator of the two is the avoidance of pain. That makes a lot of sense in a world where nothing makes sense anymore.

A heroin addict will continuously seek the initial high they experienced the first time they used the drug. Which drive is stronger for them….the pursuit of that pleasure or the avoidance of the pain of withdrawal?

And sometimes relationships will seem to be a good thing at first but soon prove otherwise. And we get caught in between searching for crumbs of pleasure while avoiding the pain of all of the unpleasantness that comes from leaving that person. Being alone. Not belonging. Financial struggle. Fear of losing control. Fear of the unknown. Fear of abuse.

I noticed something within myself this week. Kind of an underlying anger. You know how it is when you have had a relationship for a long time with someone and you get triggered because of something that happens? It may seem like a little thing to someone on the outside, but for you, who have lived through so much of the same thing over and over, that little thing is like shorthand for a much bigger thing.

Case in point…my ex brother in law passed away suddenly this past week. I’ve known him since high school. He came to a party in my parents’ basement when we were about 18. He came home from the Navy for his father’s funeral when I was pregnant with my first child and said he would marry me if his brother didn’t. I still have stuff that he sent home to us when we got married and he was stationed in Italy.

Well, I’ve known the family for many years and so I know how the family functions with picking favorites and alienating people and not speaking to people and such. I’ve seen deliberate hurt flung at someone with intent to destroy. So when the obituary came out in the paper, I was sensitive to a couple of things.

Firstly, his “beloved” ex-wife was mentioned twice in the first paragraph. Then, his parents, siblings, and kids. My sons are his nephews. He was their uncle who they loved. One niece was mentioned by name…..his beloved niece…..and “others”. My kids were not given names.

I know….doesn’t seem like a big deal. But it’s my kids being called “others”.

Okay, so this is how wars start, right? Over little things like this. But what it did was remind me that as much as I sometimes crave being a part of and belonging to that family….I don’t miss that ignorance of placing some people up on pedestals and others having to accept their role as bit players. And not being allowed to acknowledge it.

Thoughts can bring about emotions, that’s for sure. Good memories can elicit good feelings. Bad memories of the past can trigger negative responses. And we are wired to avoid pain.

So as you can see from my reaction to the obituary, it was not just about one lone instance that brought about a reaction. It was as if my mind and my body had years of memory stored within and just one little match was enough to set the blaze.

I say to myself….I’m happy I have moved on, I am in a good place pretty much, I forgive, I forget, I meditate, I have grown spiritually.

And then one little thing and I feel unsteady. I feel….feelings. Messy feelings. Anger, anxiety, fear, resentment. Pain. Deep buried pain.

Why? I’m medicated. I’m not still married. I’m past years of an emotionally dysfunctional childhood. I’ve divorced my emotionally distant, controlling and abusive husband. My kids have left home. I got over that too. My son got married without my being there. My grown grandkids don’t talk to me. I’ve accepted that I can’t do anything more about that. My brother is still alive after years of substance abuse intermingled with bouts of intense drama. I’ve gotten past being fired from the diocese and having cancer. I should be feeling peaceful now.

So why can’t I feel like I can’t relax? Why am I tense and angry and fearful? Why do I feel so damaged?

Well, the answer is….because your body remembers everything. And because your body has been through everything you have been through…..all of the disappointment, anger, loneliness, fear, abuse, depression, illness, pain, anguish….all of the feelings we may have even tried to deny or suppress…..your body remembers and is ready to do battle to protect you.

So it shoots out adrenaline when something isn’t life threatening, and it subconsciously warns you of things that may be a good thing for you because it’s afraid it may be a bad thing. It’s so used to reacting and of existing in a world where it has to watch out around every corner that even when you are laying in a hammock on a breezy afternoon under the shade of a tree….it’s restless. It can’t shut off and relax. It’s learned that for every good thing, pain is not far behind.

So when I said before that the highlight of your life may be a good day for painting or the fact that you can button your jeans……it may be because you are living in a gray world. A world where the colors are muted and not bright. Because if the colors get too bright, it will scare the heck out of you. Because you can’t let yourself feel too much.

But, I read this week that we can try to rewire our brains. Remember how I said that I wondered how many pages our autobiography would contain if it only held the good memories within? Well, sometimes our brains get so scrambled from trauma…physical, or emotional….that we fail to recognize the brighter colors of our lives. Is our life story just about trauma? Have we not laughed, loved, enjoyed the taste of food, been loved by an animal, snuggled with a child, brought joy to someone, opened the windows on a Spring day, created something beautiful, enjoyed an activity?

It’s hard when you have been abused to tell yourself that you are okay and that you deserve good things and deserve to be happy. Hard but not impossible. Not impossible but it involves conscious effort. It involves conscious positive thinking to begin to rewire the brain and the body.

I’m willing to bet you have worked hard for most of your life in order to get what you need in order to survive in this world. Food, clothing, shelter….stuff like that. Now it’s time to try to do and think and experience happy thoughts and people and activities.

Never easy. But never impossible.

I will close with part of a poem I wrote eons ago:

If I wore rose colored glasses, and you wore a pair shaded blue, we might see the same things in different ways, each from our own point of hue.

Have a great week….hope you were able to participate in the SNAP conference a bit. Please take the poll.

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