5 Ways to Accept Pain (When You Don't Want To)


To the woman who is suddenly in pain now:

You emailed me. You used to cycle, you told me. Play sports. You used the word “intense” about that part of you. Then all that changed. You read my story (a story I’d rather forget) about needing to walk with a cane. You asked if I could tell you how I accept my new life.

“How do I come to terms with physical limitations?”

I don’t.

That was my first response.

I rail and rage against my ailments. I deny them. I move into myself, the self before this new self. This cane self. This sick self. This pain self. I’ll rise from a chair as myself. And fall with my first step.

I’ve been sick for four years. I spent the first months in defiance. Resisting and losing. I spent the next years obsessing over a cure and making plans based on my certainty of finding one. This last year, finally, I have been pursuing acceptance. But the real truth is that I must accept this drastic shift in my life because there is no alternative.

Acceptance is not beautiful or swan-like. It’s harrowing. It’s work, gritty, and awful.

I am reminded of my first time in childbirth. Labor, they call it. A euphemism for torture. Hours of agony and no closer to delivery. “I can’t do this,” I wailed to my mother. “I don’t want to!”

Her response was firm. More painful than labor in its own way. But true, and like truth, a steadying hand.

“You have to,” she said.

She was right. I wanted the whole ordeal to stop and be over. I wanted the suffering to end. I would eventually “miss the window” for an epidural. I would scream. Collapse. Faint. Choose death. But ultimately, I had to deliver this baby. I had to. There was no other choice.

I accept my limitations because I have to. There’s something powerful in the commitment that takes over once Life removes your other options. We don’t accept our pain exactly. Instead, we turn and face it. Walk into it. Get to know it. We live with it.

Once I accepted that there wasn’t a cure for the various ills I was suffering, I stopped waiting. I got on with life. Yes, it was a life of frustration and suffering and loss, but it was nevertheless a life. My life. You have yours too.

Here are five pieces of advice I can offer you about accepting pain:

1. Pain is hard.

I detest it. Avoid it (when and if you can) and stave it by any means available. Reject the idea that it’s meaningful – or valued or required by various gods. No. It isn’t. And you don’t deserve it.

2. Nestle into moments.

Don’t think in months, think in minutes. And fall in love with them. A bite of food. Your child’s smile. Revel in the invention of pillows.

3. Forgive the healthy world.

Like me, you’ll watch the healthy complain about a short flu or having to exercise. Let their laments pass you by. Resist resentment. Forgive them. Then quickly look away. The healthy cannot really understand the sick. We know this because we were once members of the oblivious, feel good gang. Those luck monsters, the healthy. We cannot expect them to understand. And that is made easier because we remember the bliss of never understanding ourselves. On our bicycles. Rising early. Every free movement of unrecognized ease.

4. Honor your heroism.

Reconfigure your paradigm for success. You are probably a great warrior. You daily withstand what others cannot imagine. A survivor of pain unknown and unrecognized. Indulge that truth. Imagine your trophies. There are so many kinds of marathons. Millions of ways to define strength.

5. Unleash love.

No pleasure is too small to coat with adoration. That includes a single breath. Your eyes across these words. Thinking thoughts. Moving fingers. Traversing inches. Laughing is luxury. Sleep, your travel. Love every part of living. And make that the new part that emerges from the loss.

This advice is not to say that it is not tragic and terrible to have lost what you have lost. You have wounds. They are, perhaps like mine, random and ridiculous. I loathe them. But they are mine. And I accept them into my life, uninvited and unwanted, because I have to. We have to. You have to.

When you know that you have to, when someone tells you that harsh truth, it gives you the courage to accept it. Because you realize that you already have accepted it. From day one. You are doing it. Dancing with it. Doing that work. In every moment, in every day.

Follow this journey on Molly Pennington.

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