During the summer before high school, I was in a tubing accident.
I was tubing down the local river with a friend in an inflatable raft. It was a rainy summer, so the waters were particularly rough. All efforts to maintain my teenage pride and confidence got the best of me and I entered the river at its roughest drop, thinking I was ready for a wild ride and knowing I wanted nothing more than to prove my grit.
Ten feet downstream I was flipped out of my inner tube. I looked down at my arm and the whole thing was blood red. In that moment, I was in complete shock. I was stunned by the pummeling of rocks and water, much like the feeling of drowning.
Four hours later I was stitched back together and resting at home, albeit in tremendous pain.
Here's the beautiful thing about the human body: whether we listen or not, it tells us when we need to pause. It knows its job, and does its job quite well if we keep our minds and ego (mostly) out of the way.
The end of the tubing story isn't terribly interesting but it goes like this. I rested. I spent time in cool, dark places in my house. Read a lot of books. And watched a lot of movies. I didn't go outside and couldn't go to the pool with my friends. My body was forced into healing mode.
Months and still years later, I have gnarly scars on my arm as a reminder. But quicker than that, I got better. I recovered. I got stronger from resting and by listening to my body, I rose up stronger.
The thing that I reflect on to this day about this incident is I didn't try to forget about the accident. I didn't pretend I was ok. I didn't hide it. I didn't lie about my pain. But I also didn't pity myself. Woe is me didn't rule my mind games.
The end was really simple (and it didn't involve hustling to get rid of the pain). I let the injury work its course through my body. Sure, I used mild pain medicine as needed to be comfortable but I didn't rush the process. My body knew what it needed to do.
Whenever we fall down in life and get injured in any capacity–physically, emotionally, you name it–we can either sit in our pain and try to figure out why we got hurt and understand the true nature of our injury. And ultimately get frustrated about something that happened, that is now out of our control because it's happened. Or we can rise up, stronger in our beings, and more anchored in the lessons we've learned and the experiences we've walked through.
What I'm not saying is that we shouldn't learn from what happened. And I'm not denying that the trauma or emotional triggers of the event don't become part of the fabric of our tissues. But I'm making the point that we can rise up again, and heal, and grow stronger. Regardless of what kind of pain we've endured, deep down, our body knows the answer to recovery. Our bodies are brilliant if we just get quiet enough to listen.
This metaphor is reflected in other situations in our life. Challenges at work, burnout, relationship fights, battles with our own self, matters of the territory of our own emotions (which encompasses pretty much every single thing). Physical injury is characteristically distinct from the emotional. But what we cannot tease apart in how we view the two is how we conceptualize our healing.
But the thing about looking at these situations through an adult lens is that we're acquainted with intervention and feel less stunned and hurt when we get hurt and break apart. We're good at trying to bandage up old wounds, hide them away and quickly sweep up the broken pieces and glue ourselves back together.
It's a picture of stoicism. And it's promulgated through an addiction to numbing out. And not feeling and maybe being scared to work through the pain of rising up again, stronger. We live in a culture where being open about our pain is not a primary value.
It's vulnerable, recovery (and healing) that is.
I want to validate that there's absolutely no shame in the numbing or the not wanting to walk through the pain. Our bodies know safety. They know when it's important to hunker down for safety and they know how to root us and strengthen us when it's time to rise to the occasion and break through the pain.
I don't have enough fingers or toes to count the times even just over the past two years where I felt like I was being suffocated by my emotions. Challenging conversations at work, utter sadness, and feeling like I've been let down and taken advantage of. Feeling disrespected and not treated with integrity of someone's word. I don't actively try to understand it anymore or to make sense of these situations, or victimize myself under a blanket of pain. We're all human and we all have emotions and we're all just doing our best at any given time, but there is meaning in the voids we feel and the misery if we just lean into the lessons of our emotions.
Sure, I still hide for my own safety inside of the story of what happened to me?! and woe is me. And some days I try to hide from these traumas and pretend I'm ok. And that's a valid way of rising up after we've been knocked down, because on some days, it's just safer.
But another alternative is walking through the breakdown and examining the bits and pieces of what we see (rather than haphazardly gluing them back together every which way) to walk toward the breakthrough.
Our bodies are so damn smart, if we just get out of our own way and own the trust in our beingness that we're strong enough to rise up.
We can let the burden of emotional pain crash into us. The wave drowns us. We find a way out some way or the other. But we don't really receive the deep lessons of what we've been through. The alternative is letting this wave hit us, knock us down, but then, standing up again, rising up stronger, and falling in sync with the lessons our injuries brought–whether it's about how we think, how we behave, or the pain we store in our bodies and the (sometimes) latent courage we have to help us recover.
The falling down and falling apart happens again and again throughout the cycles of our lives. It takes on the form of burnout, depression, utter pain. And it looks a lot like sadness on some days and fear on most (whether we'll admit it or not). Because it's fear of what lies in the middle and on the other side of the emotions and the breakdowns that is the scariest part of breaking through.
We need our people, who we know will love us unconditionally and support us and remind us of how strong we are even when we can't see it (or believe it) in ourselves.
“Do not settle for labels that presume you will never heal. Believe in yourself. Find a tribe who understands and believes in you too. Don't ever give up.”
~ Vironika Tugaleva