I’ve been trying to avoid it most of my life. Feelings of pain, heartbreak, conflict...even (especially) that uncomfortable feeling you get when you disappoint someone else; these are sufferings I would happily set myself on fire trying to keep the people I loved and myself from feeling. If I could keep everyone around me happy, then I could let myself be happy too. How did I manage perfect avoidance of these “negative vibes”? By becoming a master people pleaser, making myself small and minimizing my own emotions and never under any circumstance pushing back. I locked up my hopes, opinions, dreams and desires into an airtight and fireproof safe that I swore to never open. I thought it was noble and honorable work, putting others before myself. I wore the badge of “selflessness” with pride and collected all my worth from how others viewed me, like tiny little seashells along the sandy shore.
Then I got truth-checked in adulthood and began to learn the hard lesson that conflict and pain cannot be avoided when you’re in the process of growing (even though I still try my best to resist and skip that part). It makes sense to my brain that “growing pains” is a cliché phrase (and classic 80s sitcom title) for a reason: it’s excruciatingly true. I never disagree when people say “change is good!” but then when I’m in the middle of my own transformation, I squirm and twist and try to somehow maneuver out of the discomfort and grief that come with shedding a tight old skin that no longer fits me. I’m afraid to step forward into what looks like dark, uncharted territory. I’m terrified that the process will fail me—that I will fall short and make the wrong choice. My consequence for my irrevocable wrongness, a life of regret. In the swirling panic of my mind, my heart takes a step back and I recognize that a completely pain-free life would mean I am emotionally numb and incapable of connection with others. I know I don’t want that.
Last week I spent an unusual bit of solo drive time in the car and split my travel time between singing at the top of my lungs to the Jonas Brothers and listening to Pete Holmes’ new book “Comedy Sex God” on Audible. So much of what Pete shared in his book resonated with me, but this quote of his really echoed in the halls of my searching heart:
“Pain is the vehicle that takes you from where you are to where you’re afraid to, but need to, go.”
I don’t know where this journey is going, but I know that now that I’ve found my voice I can’t put it back in box hidden away from the world. If I want to keep making progress toward healing and letting my heart feel safe enough to be known—if we want to find freedom in who we truly are—then we must be willing to let the discomfort, conflict, misunderstandings and hurt have space to carve out the first few stairs on the staircase toward growth and healing.
How are you embracing the pain and conflict in your life, and what is it teaching you?