Welcome to the Recovery Room. On Thursdays, I invite guest writers, pastors, therapists, and practitioners to step in and discuss their process of recovery. Today, welcome Sheila Lagrand. Sheila is a writer, editor, and accomplished anthropologist (she has a Ph.D. for crying out loud!). She blogs at SheilaLagrand.com, and is a member of The High Calling and the International Association of Business Communicators.
In this edition of the Recovery Room, Sheila explores the process of recognizing, sitting in, and dealing with the pains of life. For some it may be physical pain, for some emotional, but either way, dealing with the pain is necessary for the recovery process. Would you explore with Sheila?
Did you ever meet a person with a strangely skewed vision of how things work in this world? Maybe you wondered what drama during her formative years twisted her thinking. Surely, you imagine, some ugliness, some treachery, must have stormed her tender childhood to warp her worldview. And you taste a hint of pity forming in the back of your throat.
I am here today to tell you this: Maybe what happened was nothing. I should know. I’m Exhibit A. Nobody abused me, or abandoned me, or threw rocks at my puppy when I was a girl. I enjoyed the trinity of middle-class childhood: music lessons, Girl Scouts, and braces. My parents loved each other. They took us to church. We kept pets. I didn’t see a drunken fight until I went off to college. My childhood was free of the trauma we imagine into the backstory when we meet that guy with a distorted outlook on life.
Despite my unremarkable youth, I managed to reach adulthood with the misunderstanding that idle discussions of pain are socially unacceptable. If you want someone to bring you a Tylenol, or a heating pad, or call an ambulance, then by all means, speak up. But if your goal is to invite someone to understand your suffering, or even to pull up a heap of ashes and sit with you awhile, well, no.
That’s not okay. That’s bellyaching. That’s griping. That’s whining. And nobody likes a whiner.
Perhaps you can grasp my puzzlement when I grew up and set out into the world—and discovered that people exclaim when they experience a toe cramp. When my pregnant coworker commented on her nausea, I couldn’t fathom why she was sharing that detail if she wouldn’t accept my offer to track down some soda crackers. It finally hit me: [tweetherder]regular people reveal their pain.[/tweetherder] And the whining police don’t haul them off to whiners’ jail.
Well, that’s fine for them, I thought.
And then I sat down and gasped. If it’s okay for them but not for me, am I holding myself to some stricter standard? Does that mean I think I’m somehow better than them?
Well no! I hastily reassured myself. Not better. Just more stoic.
I was stoic because I didn’t know how to say I was hurting. I didn’t know how to ask can you carry this for me? I didn’t know how to say I need to take a break and rest.
Chronic illness taught me all those things—the hard way. The first time I had to say I need to stop and sit for a while I waited for the sky to crumble. The first time I skipped a neighbor’s party because I was too tired, I expected we would never be invited there again. The first time I had to excuse myself from an epic Lego-building event with beloved grandlittles, my heart broke.
Something else broke, too. It was my pride. When I needed to stop and sit, my husband sat with me. My neighbors invited us to their next party, and the ones after it. Our grandchildren still want to play with their Lala. Apparently the only one who had a problem with me giving voice to my needs was me. I had erected a pedestal and hoisted my silent suffering upon it.
And you know what happens when you set something up on a pedestal. It becomes your idol. You worship it.
This change in attitude is a lifelong process, I think. I still catch myself telling my doctor I’m feeling fine when I’m not. And curiously, I sometimes tell the stranger who’s offered a purely social how are you? more than she ever wanted to hear. But I’m getting there. And I’m finding that acknowledging my own pain makes me a better wife, a better mother, a better everything than I was before.
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