Prior to the brain surgery I underwent three and a half weeks ago, I spent everyday dealing with a non-stop headache. There were days that my pain level reached a 9 out of 10, and I often silently coped with the excruciating pain by attempting to focus my mind on other things. Very infrequently would I miss work, or cancel plans. Mostly, this was because distracting my mind with anything else other than how much my head hurt was the only way I could tolerate what was otherwise daily misery.
When people I worked with found out I was going to have surgery because of these headaches, they were shocked to find out I had been dealing with this for so long. "I never would have known!" or "How are you even smiling right now?" were just some of the comments I received. Many times, my answer to these comments were simply "I didn't have a choice" or "I use A LOT of skills!" The truth of the matter is that so much of the time, I just didn't want to complain. It felt like a burden to continuously talk about how much pain I was in, and it often made me more miserable. I chose to work through, day after day, the invisible ice pick that was stabbing into my skull and brain. I chose to have the lights removed above my desk, and some days would wear my sunglasses while I typed notes. I chose to see clients and teach DBT, to attend outings and conferences and meetings as a way to take my mind off the incessant and sometimes unbearable pain. There were days I came home from work and my girlfriend would ask me what was wrong, and I would say "oh, you know..." because even naming the pain that I was experiencing made me feel miserable.
This morning during my meditation, these words came into my awareness: "You are supported. Use your voice." And in an instant, I felt compelled to share the struggle I have kept fairly quiet for two and a half years. The truth is, the past few years have been extremely painful. Not only physically, but also emotionally. In the midst of dealing with this ever present headache, my best friend was brutally murdered. There were times when I thought for certain her unexpected death was perpetuating my physical pain, and questioned whether I should continue to undergo procedure after procedure, or whether I should just go to therapy more often.
There is no doubt in my mind that her loss in this physical world exacerbated my physical pain. How could it not? She was my rock for 23 years. Losing her created a giant chasm in my heart and in my soul. But it also compelled me to strive for more. To live for more. To not allow any bumps in the road stop me from moving forward. And so that is what I did. It is what I have continued to do. But often, I did it in silence. I worked through pain that felt blinding on some days. I smiled when I wanted to cry. I held back tears that I felt were undeserving of falling because someone, somewhere had bigger, stronger, more debilitating pain. This morning during my meditation, the tears fell. My throat burned and ached and all I could think of when I recognized my sadness was how much pain I have felt for so long.
So I'm deciding to set it free. To let it out into the Universe because it isn't serving me anymore, and to transform it into something beautiful and positive. Holding onto it isn't helping my healing process and if there is one thing that needs to happen, both after brain surgery and losing your best friend, is healing. Whole-being healing. I know that pain has it's purpose, just the way all the skills I have used over the last few years have had their purpose. The pain alerted me that something was not right, and it persisted until they found out what was wrong and corrected it. And the pain of my beautiful friend's death has been a reminder of what an enormous presence she was in my life, but it's also a reminder that I need to honor her in other ways; like not keeping her murder a secret, and cherishing the time with those around me and appreciating their existence. If there is one thing that I have learned from all of this, it is that we can never fully experience the beauty and joy in this world if we haven't experienced the depths of pain and despair. I don't know that I fully understood that a few years ago... Not in the capacity that I do now.