How to transform your pain without transmitting it

photoI have a high tolerance for crazy. Also, for pain. A big part of my recovery has been allowing myself to enjoy the good things in my life--despite the pain of my past. Recently, I realized I have passed on my high pain tolerance to my ballerina--she's danced on a strained hamstring for three months. Just danced through the pain because she wasn't going to miss a competition or a recital, wasn't going to let anyone down.

Well, that all caught up to her two weeks ago.

"No dancing for four weeks," the doctor said. Jewel winced. That hurt more than dancing through the pain. And now begins a series of visits with a physical therapist, a referral to orthopedics...repairing and restoring before the serious YAGP training begins.

Today, the physical therapist kneaded and massaged and pushed and pulled and Jewel's face was calm, implacable. I could only tell she was in pain by the slight flare of her nostrils.

"I didn't know I was supposed to tell her when it hurt," she explained when we left. "But I'm learning to tell the difference between good pain and bad pain."

I nodded. Yes, I know this--this sifting the good pain from the bad.

Good pain leads to growth and new life. Bad pain leads to injury and death.

The only way to tell the difference is to be honest with ourselves. There is a discomfort in sitting with our real feelings. It's never convenient to stop doing what you love and take time to rest, recover, repair. 

I would so much rather distract, escape or numb myself...anything other than sitting still with my uncomfortable feelings.

But daydreaming, disassociating, indulging wishful thinking and fantasies only makes me more unsettled and restless, unable to enjoy my good life right now. In the end, these coping mechanisms bring about longterm pain in the form of discontent.

One of the lingering effects of living in an abusive church for 25 years is that I wake up every single morning discouraged and anxious. My default setting is to believe the world is ending and the temptation is to yield to despair. This is "bad" pain.

I've learned that just because I wake up discouraged doesn't mean I have to stay discouraged. I can get myself up and start stretching my "joy muscle" by choosing gratitude, telling myself what is TRUE about myself and my life. And then I make myself of loving service toward others.

A joyful life is an intentionally reparative life. It doesn't deny that bad things happen, but it seeks to repair the wounds by choosing joy each day.

It's annoying, this "joy workout." It requires effort on my part--every.single.morning. I mean, I'd rather sit on the couch eating metaphorical cookie butter; ie. daydreaming my problems away. But once I'm up and moving, once I'm actively seeking gratitude and joy, once I'm focused on loving service--well, these "good pain" practices crowd out the bad pain--the negativity--and eventually, if I just hang on long enough, I can feel joy seeping into the deep places of my heart and life. I have a good life now. And I'm learning to enjoy it.

This past week my ballerina spent a lot of time in physical therapy. We got through it by talking, cracking jokes and at one point, just being quiet while the therapist massaged out her hamstring and IT band. It was good pain. It was reparative pain.

The good news is that after two weeks of no dancing and 4 physical therapy visits, her hamstring is already improving. The other day she tested out her leg and was able to turn a few exquisite pirouettes. The therapy is working.

Sometimes you learn that not all pain is bad. With God's grace--and a little bit of reparative joy therapy--pain can be transformed into something beautiful.