Healing hurts. Any type of healing, from any type of issue. Pain doesn’t always lead to healing but healing always involves pain.
For me, 12 weeks on from open heart surgery with my emotions no longer masked by strong opiates, the pain is becoming almost unbearable. Which I can only hope means that there is a lot of internal healing going on.
In the first few days after my surgery when I was still in intensive care and the high dependency unit, I was overwhelmed with intense physical pain. One of the two large drainage tubes in my chest had lodged between my ribs and was hitting a nerve, sending my back into spasms and stopping me from being able to breathe properly. I could only take tiny shallow breaths. It felt as though my lungs were on fire, and my chest felt broken. It was broken. My sternum had been sawn into two length ways and my chest pulled apart then pulled back together again, held with steel wires. I was swollen and raw and bruised. I couldn’t concentrate on anything except the pain, getting through second by second. I can’t really remember anyone else being there with me, even though some of my family and friends were there, because the pain was all-consuming.
I do remember having the drainage tubes pulled out of my chest, and the pain associated with them stopping immediately. I still couldn’t take a deep breath. It was weeks before I could and in fact I still can’t take a deep breath without pain. But having the drains removed was wonderful nevertheless. It meant I was able to get out of bed properly and take my first walk with the nurse. I was moved out of the high dependency unit straight away. I can remember that moment, those steps – smiling from the inside out, being so happy to be moving again.
When we are in such intense pain and the cause of it is removed suddenly like that it truly is incredible, liberating. But more often than not it leaves wounds that still need to heal.
As well as a large wound down the front of my chest, I had holes where the tubes had been. Each one stitched together, sore and inflamed, still needed to heal and would leave permanent scars.
Sometimes in life we experience situations, circumstances, traumatic events, that are so intense or sudden they completely consume us. When they stop, change, are over, that initial risk and fear may have gone, but we are left with deep, open wounds. No one pulling us back together with steel, or stitching us with little bows.
We are left shocked and stunned and alone.
We are changed.
More often than not, we scramble around trying to find things to self-medicate with, to soothe ourselves with, as we try to make sense of what has happened to us. We can spend years packing our feelings away, pushing pain deep into ourselves, avoiding anything that reminds us of what happened.
Even really good things.
We tug and pull at our wounds until they are unrecognisable in the hope that we will be able to move on without ever really looking at the damage, without ever feeling anything.
But like I said before.
Numbing isn’t healing.
Punishing yourself isn’t healing.
All the coping mechanisms in the world, as useful as they may be at the time, are not healing.
To truly heal, you need to feel the pain. Be in it. Face it. That’s the only way that you will know when it has gone.
For me, the open heart surgery has been a huge painful trigger, a reminder of something that changed me. Something that happened nearly 17 years ago and shaped my life. I’ve spent those years hiding myself, burying myself in layers of fat and emotional walls in an attempt to protect myself. Which in a way has worked, but I have sacrificed so much in the process. I’ve rejected myself out of disgust and hidden myself out of shame.
I’ve had attempts at dealing with this stuff before, but I’ve always failed and ended up worse. My failure shows outwardly on my body as I lose weight, get to a certain point, then feel vulnerable and exposed again so put the weight back on. But this isn’t really about my weight. That’s not the real battle.
The real fight is to feel safe to be myself. The real fight is to be comfortable in my own skin. The real fight is being able to look at what happened and the consequences. The real fight is about forgiveness, and mercy and grace. The real fight is to reach out to myself with love. And reach out to others for support. The real fight is to allow myself to feel pain and trust that I can survive it; realise that I have survived it. The real fight is about acceptance and intimacy and love.
This is a battle of true healing.
And healing hurts.
Love Lou x