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What Pains You?
I have been in pain for 3 years now. Some days knock me off my feet, so worn out from shouldering the burden of not snapping at my kids, wife, and body. On other days the spike of pain makes me wish it was a kidney stone that would pass after a few hours of libations. And still others, the exhaustion or frustration leads me to grab some Ibuprofen or a glass of wine.
If you were to ask my wife which she would prefer, it would be the version of me I am after three fingers of whiskey or a full glass of wine. Rather than angry, exhausted, frustrated, or simply withdrawn, when the pain recedes under the influence, I return to a more jovial, gracious, and compassionate form she married. When I drink, my RAM’s cache is cleared, and my hard drive runs a defrag. As a result, everything runs smoother, quicker, and kinder.
Silence is not a Lamb.
Today I write about this pain because I need help. But I suspect you experience your version of pain too. We, as men, carry our burdens silently and often resentfully. But it doesn’t have to be this way. We need to be neither silent nor resentful of the pain.
Our silence in our pains, both big and small, is often the source that exasperates our family. It comes in many forms: trauma, regret, illness, jealousy, or even our bodies failing us for no apparent reason other than gravity and age.
I invite you to read what I have learned so you can share your experience. Perhaps it’s a refutation, or a new thought will come to mind. I am not above reproach. I write my story of living with daily heart attack-like pain for 2 years.
Just Ignore it
When the pain started in April of 2020, I went with my default, ignore. There have been very few unpleasant things I haven’t been able to get through without ignoring them. It has worked remarkably well with pain in the past because there is always something to be done. I raise little children at home, and my writing, or as was the case of the endless summer of 2020, research to be completed on the then-novel Coronavirus-19. But I can no more ignore this pain than I could if I stood at the ocean’s edge and ignored its waves. Eventually, the pain overwhelmed me with every pressing tide or the slightest storm surge. It may not be quick, but ultimately, the ocean wins. You are washed out to sea, floundering, clinging to life, and hoping for rescue that may never come. Unfortunately, that rescue hasn’t come for me yet.
Into the Arena
Next, I fought the pain. But here’s the thing, I cannot defeat my own body. Many American and perhaps even more so Christians wish that we were simply minds floating in rationality. We strive, as Paul writes, to beat our bodies into submission. And yet our bodies are a part of who we are. I am who I am because I am a 5’ 10” white guy and not a 6’10” Black man or 5’3” Asian woman. Bodies alter our context to incredible amounts. The LGBTQ+ communities understand how much our bodies alter the context. It has been my experience that many of them wish it were not so. A few have even come to accept themselves in beautiful and profound ways that challenge me in my fleshy experience.
Our faiths must account for the limitations of our bodies. We cannot continue to rise, to go beyond our space and time, without consequence. And trust me, I would love nothing more than to transcend my space and time. But it is my body that is inextricable from my soul. I cannot fight it, not can you. Respect our bodies; we must.
Just Properly Manage it.
Then I managed. After ignoring and fighting the pain, I moved around it. First, I medicated as much as my stomach ulcers would allow, and then I swapped to the oldest of stand-bys, alcohol. But, of course, I have an addictive personality like so many. And this foreknowledge may have been the greatest grace and advantage I have received.
So, I would rotate weekends, pills, off, alcohol, off, off, pills, off, alcohol, off. And it worked. Until those off weeks became increasingly excruciating, they would hit harder, and the maddening part was I knew the solution. I had experienced the ease and relaxation of management in my soul and my family’s. And that was the moment I found myself in a new job, a new role, a time where I could double-down or break into a new direction.
Acceptance – is it defeat or something better?
Here, I began something new, past ignoring, fighting, or management, but into acceptance. Think of the seashore again. You can ignore the waves. You can kick, splash, and fight them to no avail. You can dodge and move around them. Yet, the waves still crash against the shores of your life.
Acceptance is born from knowledge and familiarity with the waves of pain. Imagine a storm coming. Does that mean you don’t prepare and manage the incoming surge? Of course not! But you don’t have to manage the low tides. Instead, you let them recede, providing a rest from the constant vigilance that a deep and lasting pain seems to give us. The pain will come again, but there is nothing positive inside the fear or worry about it. That worry and fear breed hate and resentfulness. And I am guilty of spewing that exasperation on my family when I am afraid of it.
It is bravery not to fight, ignore, or manage but to accept and then share the crushing weight of our deepest pains. And when I say sharing means opening up our vulnerability to another and allowing others to come into it. It is not a show but the allowance of others to feel the pain we feel that they may understand us. Accepting this pain means seeking help and pressing into the uncomfortable potential of new solutions.
As I have leaned in, I have realized that my pain is my family’s pain too. They cannot bear this burden alone with me. I need a community, and this is my next step. I have come to a point in my journey where I am seeking help. I have been caring for my body; sure, the pain will come every Sunday, only to recede and rise again by Wednesday. But I have yet to take the full plunge into a community. I am afraid of how much I will come to need this group of people who will undoubtedly fail me. But my fear is no excuse for lack of courage.
So are you ready to break your silence on your pain? I know you are carrying around some. Maybe you are suppressing it? But maybe ask your family what it would be like to have you without the burden of your pain? I am not telling you that you have to share it here. But you should share it somewhere with someone. And then you might want to be prepared to receive some of their pain.
By the way, pain is not polite. It is ugly and messy. But some of the best parts of our human experience are ugly and messy. For the fathers, that baby you held wasn’t born pristine. That newborn was covered in a mess, but that didn’t make that new life any less beautiful. And I dare say, your life and mine are a fair bit messy, but that doesn’t make them any less beautiful and worth living.
Share your story, or send this to a friend to start a conversation.