Would you rather have emotional pain or physical pain?
Think on this for a moment.
I have been thinking on a version of this question for the past couple of weeks, while I’ve been getting to the better side of a searing bout of emotional pain, only to then have been walloped with some of the worst, most debilitating physical pain I have endured in my adult life. (This statement is not an invitation to compare and contrast physical pain stories, it’s just a fact that from Saturday to Tuesday, I was in a place of 24/7 physical misery that I have not experienced pretty much ever. Ow does not begin to cover it.)
This unholy alliance of the emotional and physical really had me thinking, what is the one I would prefer to be forced to handle.
Even though it is relentless, give me emotional pain ANY DAY EVER.
Friends who know the roots of my brand of emotional pain may be shocked that I am picking this side, especially because it might worry them that I could sink under the weight of these types of hurts to the point of severe depression, where I bottomed out before and they do not want to see me back in that terrible place. I realized how scary it is for them a few weeks ago, when, looking for someone to just mind the fire of my flared up anger/sadness/shock/humiliation due to, shall we call it, an unfortunate situation with a man, I unintentionally hurt their feelings by rejecting the quick comfort and affirmations they were trying to offer. I had wanted and needed to freak the fuck out, to cry and yell out all that bile and self-doubt and have it be witnessed by trusted allies so that once I calmed down, I would have the space to accept the love and comfort and wisdom that they were ultimately trying to offer all along. The misunderstanding inherent in poor communication was quickly handled and forgiven – this is the blessing of old friendships that are treated with care and respect and grow mighty over the years – but I thought a lot about how the baring of raw emotional pain can be perceived as a confrontation, even for the closest in our tribes.
A pause for a moment to remind, that yes, I still pick emotional pain over physical pain. Deep breath. I’m getting there. Hang in with me.
We are all masochists a little bit. We are all masochists a little bit because so often on the other side of a smidge of misery is a reward. Physically, this is much easier to compute. As a runner, I know that if I don’t experience some muscle soreness, I am not training hard enough to go faster, or be stronger for the next event. So, I invite some pain into my body, knowing that it is temporary and that the reward is strength and speed. Emotionally, this is a bit tougher to explain, but the risk and reward scenario is similar. In order to have fulfilling relationships with friends, family, lovers and partners, we have to know we will feel some discomfort from time to time and we have to be willing to accept that it triggers at totally different times for all of us all the time. And here’s what thrills me about that entire cycle of emotional pain: we can absolutely make it safe for our people to bare their pain, to just get it out, to just hold it for them, and then when they are ready, ask what kind of comfort they need, wait patiently for their answer, and then help them get that comfort. We are the Vicodin for each other. And we’re non-narcotic.
I know, you think I am on Vicodin while writing this, but nope, totally sober! Re-read that paragraph. It makes total sense. Do it.
Physical pain is the student teacher to emotional pain’s professor. Physical pain is also a nuisance, which by its very definition means it’s minor. Do not get me wrong. I have friends and family who have endured car accidents, bike crashes, skiing wrecks, street fights, knee surgery, root canals, amputations, migraines, child birth, chemotherapy, fibromyalgia, MS, you name it, I have watched and offered comfort during the physical suffering of so many and it’s hard. It’s so very hard. But for the most part, physical pain is finite and its lessons are not as transformative as emotional pain. Yes, much physical and emotional pain gets intertwined, but when looked at separately, it’s the emotional pain that really has something to teach us.
It wants us to learn to be courageous and kind.
It wants us to learn to hold each other’s pain, not try to take it away immediately.
It wants us to ask each other, what do you need right now, and then to listen to the answer and abide by it.
It wants us to be courageous and kind.
Winner by a… yes, a knockout: emotional pain.