When I am at my lowest, it’s not so much the pain that gets to me. It’s not knowing how I will deal with the pain in an hour, a day, or a week. I may be able to stand it for this moment, but what if it doesn’t go away? What if I always feel this way? The thought of never getting any relief is crushing. This applies to both physical and emotional pain. It would be so easy to be swallowed up by the darkness, to disappear into a pit of despair. I think it was Robin (Birdofburden) who said that when we feel like killing ourselves it’s because we want to end the suffering, not so much because we want to die. That is so true. The question is: how can we end the suffering without killing ourselves?
That is the challenge that each one of us faces. Many have shared helpful strategies – finding a support system through a crisis hotline or counsellor, ways to manage physical pain, even simple things to bring comfort. I have appreciated hearing different ideas and would be glad to hear more of them!
What I want to reflect on here is this: what is our relationship with our pain? What does it mean to us? Many of us (myself included) have expressed anger at having pain, or more precisely, we feel anger toward our pain. It seems that pain is our enemy and everything we do is aimed at conquering or overcoming it. I wonder if we can see pain in a different way – as a messenger, instead of as an enemy. If pain is a messenger, then what message does it bring? Pain obviously tells us that we’re suffering – but beyond that, what else can it tell us? Instead of evoking anger, I believe pain can give us the opportunity to have compassion for ourselves. It can evoke sympathy, gentleness, love. I wonder what difference it would make if we saw our pain in this light? (And perhaps many of us do.) Perhaps each time we felt another wave of excruciating physical pain, or the stabbing pain of a broken heart, we could say to ourselves, "I don’t blame myself for my pain. I love my body, my self." If we comfort ourselves, if we have compassion for ourselves, it won’t necessarily take away the pain. But it may take some of the anguish out of facing it.
In the Bible, it says, "Perfect love casts out fear." I believe this can apply to the love we show ourselves as much as to others. When we are angry, it is in part because we are afraid. We don’t want to be hurt, and when we are, we are angry. The word "perfect" here means "in wholeness", not "without mistake". So if we love the whole of ourselves, with our whole selves, then this means loving ourselves even in the midst of great pain. And surely that is when we most need to be loved! It is important that we have others who can comfort and care for us, who can show us love. But it is perhaps more important that we learn to love ourselves and be able to care for and comfort ourselves. It is easy to meet pain with anger and fear, to resist it and fight it. But as we make peace with our pain and with ourselves, we may find that we are able to know and love ourselves in a deep way – not in spite of the pain, but because of it.