On Growth

How do we cope with exceptional pain? We look forward.

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For those of you who may not know me, I have two daughters. My oldest, at 28, is a mommy, so she may be able to speak to what I write; however, her son is 17 months old, so maybe there’s still some learning going on there. My youngest is 25, and she’s absolutely amazing.

Both of them, actually, are astounding women. My oldest is a scientist; she graduated from Georgia Tech with a degree in Meteorology, then went on to become a water tester with her state. She spends a lot of her time out-of-doors, making sure the drinking water in her state is safe, and taking some really phenomenal pictures while she’s at it. She’s recently gone through a very painful period; her husband, my son-in-law, is fighting an addiction. Doesn’t much matter what the addiction is; what matters is the way it was tearing their family apart, and the strength it’s taken her to hold her family together while people around her just hoped (for her sake, of course) that it would fall apart. You see, much of her father’s family doesn’t like, doesn’t approve of her husband. So she’s been fighting this battle on two fronts. I’d bet it gets very uncomfortable, there, in her household; in her mind and her heart. I have to commend her for her strength in keeping her sites set on her goal of having her family healthy. Of her husband being an integral part of their son’s life. Yes, my hat’s off to her, and I find, daily, new reasons to respect the woman she’s becoming.

Then there’s the youngest. She got sucked in to a relationship with a narcissist. I, myself, barely survived 10 years married to one. I can tell you, first hand, that in most occurrences, you don’t break off the relationship with the narcissist; they break it off with you, when they’re done with you. Throughout the years they’ve been together, he’s steadily and consistently played on her guilt, tormenting her with his “love” while he berated her for not trying hard enough, not being enough. Recently, very recently, she was finally able to make that decision, to call it off.

It’s been more difficult for her because he didn’t respond with anger. He didn’t respond with guilt. He did quit his job (not sure why), and he did tell her he loves her. I’m still waiting for him to begin the manipulation game again, but I could be wrong.

But none of that, exactly, is the focus of what I’m writing about, here. What is, then, you ask? Well, let me tell you.

During our conversation the other morning, when she snuck out of her home to sit in her car so he couldn’t overhear her, she told me of the breakup. Of his reaction. Of his mother, coming in to town before the end of the month (which is when she gave him to be out of the home), and her decision to leave her own home for the duration of his mother’s visit, so she doesn’t have to deal with both of them. During this conversation, she began crying, the deep, wracking sobs we who’ve had our worlds torn apart are familiar with.

The ones that feel like they’re going to split your chest right down the middle; there’s so much pain, so much agony, that you have to wonder why the world doesn’t just end, now. Why can we feel so much pain? And she asked me something along these lines; “Do people really feel this, all the time? How do they stand it?”

Therein lies the question, or questions, as it may be.

Yes, people really feel this. This depth of anguish. This not-knowing. This sense of stepping out, off the edge of the cliff, and falling with no surety of where we will land. Yes, people feel this. And then the next question, “How do they stand it?”

How can you not stand it? In my belief, the only way to avoid feeling this pain is to disallow yourself to feel anything; that, or to be dead. There is no other way. And we all know how hollow life is, when you choose to feel nothing. Pain isn’t as much, no, but it also crimps the pleasure, the joy, the laughter we feel. It affects us now, and it affects us later.

When we let ourselves feel the pain, let it flow through us, we actually allow ourselves the grace of being human. Of being weak, frail, and needing help. We are social creatures, and as such, we rely on some form of a support system that helps us as we stumble through our lives. So, feeling this pain? It helps us, though we can’t really see it at the time. Later, when we again feel pain, we can say to ourselves, “I lived through that, so I can live through this.” Later, when we feel joy, we can pull up this memory of this time, and we can smile, with love, at our past self, and we can say “You lived through this, and now we can enjoy this new life, this laughter, this joy, this peace, this contentment.”

Growth is not pain-free; no one ever said it was, nor that it should be. But it’s also not joy-free. Everything is two sides of a coin — head and tail, top and bottom, inside curve and outside curve. For all we can tell ourselves, “Pain goes away,” and “Nothing lasts forever,” we must also be cognizant of the fact that, sadly, joy doesn’t always last, either. For the duration of your life, you can be sure that you will eventually die, and you can be sure that sometimes you will laugh, and sometimes you will cry.

But these tears, these bouts of laughter; they add up to a rich weave, a complex dance between states of grace and of fear, that make us each individual.

Our current society seems to demand tales of pain, of heartache, of heartrending fear and terror, in order to point out what people have overcome. I say that sometimes, the day-to-day living is the heartache, the heartrending fear and terror. Sometimes, the decision to walk away from something painful is more traumatic and emotionally explosive than the quiet determination to make it work. Sometimes, the height of self-care is finally, finally deciding for yourself “I am not happy, and I wish to be happy.” When I asked my daughter what fueled her decision, that’s what she told me. Nothing about how he did this to her, or he did that, or he thought that, or he made her feel bad. Just a simple statement, “Mom? I’m just not happy.”

I say, my beautiful daughter, that you have surmounted staggering odds, just in finding the ability to say “I am not happy.” I say to you, proud DaughterBeast, that you have surpassed what most of us are able to do, in your situation. It would be easier, dear one, to just let it go until he got tired, and walked away. But you? You stood up for yourself. You decided to care about yourself. You decided to take care of yourself. You made the decision that you are worthy of this level of care.

There is only one way to go from here, dear child of mine, and that is forward. Slow, fast, steady, sporadic — progress is progress. Be proud of yourself. Be aware you’re not alone, and stand fast for yourself. I am here … we, all of us who’ve trodden this road ahead of you, we are all here. We all believe in you.

And we all share your pain. We’ve lived through it, and we rejoice for that moment, in the future, when you will feel the corresponding joy and laughter.

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