Healing the pain

© Jenn Shallvey

© Jenn Shallvey

There is a pattern with me that rears it's head, though thankfully less and less. A pattern of pain = escape.  I can recall as early as primary school getting headaches as my out. It was my go to.  How could I function or do anything I was expected to if I had a headache?  I have always been a high achiever as well. So I can see the relationship between my headaches and key times in my life when achievement was imminent, possible or a breakthrough was on the horizon.  Underlying fear of failure masked an even deeper fear of success. In the core of my self has always been the fear of success.  

How does this manifest?

Simple. I set out to do what I really want. I create, develop, engage. It could be anything, any project. You name it. Then people start to notice. There is attention, recognition, praise. The balance of power shifts from trying to make something happen to ‘oh my’ it is actually happening. Then the fear comes in. First it nudges me on the side with a little self doubt. Then it stands in front of me with big signs saying ‘who do you think you are’. And when I ignore all these confrontations my physical body comes to the aid and knocks my feet right out from under me. I literally go down for the count.

It is a paradox I know too well. 

Yet over the years I have addressed the different aspects of this relationship with fear. In most aspects I can say I am better, healed, at peace. Yet on another level I feel like the game changes, shifts a level and I am challenged more. There are less triggers but they do come. 

What I do seem to carry around is the habit of being afraid. For so long in my life, for so long in my memory, I have had fear driving me. Then as I immersed myself in self development, self care and chose to shift and grow fear changed. But it left a shadow, a shadow of memory, familiarity and knowing.

In another post I talk about the pain I felt physically after my father died.  This pain manifested from years of suppressed fear and avoidance.  The pain was linked to fear, a great fear in our relationship. It was not until he passed that my body, my defences could let down. I did not realise this. I had no idea until the pain came.  The power I had over my own self was immense. Over the years I got help at different stages with different support. I realise in hindsight that the help I received matched what I was ready to deal with at that time. 

A common theme though is that pain, emotional, mental or physical, drove me to get help.  A different kind of help. In university when I was completing my undergraduate degree in psychology I availed of the free counselling services. I discovered that I actually needed and benefitted greatly from this help. I was for the first time living away from home, partly independent, free to do as I chose.  I was also free from the world where I had lived as a shadow of myself. For so many years I lived coping and somehow masking my emotions. I still to this day do not know how but I did.

So being a university student meant I was no longer the little girl. I was a young woman. And as a young woman I started to come into my own sense of self. I had this on every level. Personal identity, friendships, romantic relationships, lifestyle.  The awakening of me as a unique individual started to unfold.

And I was scared. Scared beyond belief. I was scared of the memories I buried. I was scared of the shame. I was scared of how anyone could possibly like or love me as a damaged person. My identity was so intertwined with the survival and victimhood of my life I knew no other way.

So at the same time as I started to get a sense of self I also cloaked it in the mask of victim. Victim is the safest, surest way to deflect attention from yourself. Victim is the way to say it was not my fault (well it wan’t). Victim is a way to also push all the energy into not dealing with the pain.  So the pain gets buried even further. The hurt is buried even further. Victim for me was a way of coping.

This pain burying process is not conscious. I didn’t wake up one day before biology class and say oh there’s that pain again. Go away. No I just did it.  The pain would emerge though. The emotional triggers would come in a variety of forms. There would be a story on the news, a conversation amongst the girls with whom I lived, an encounter, a movie, a scene in a book. The trigger would come unexpectingly and out of left field.

Then as I started studying psychology and learning about theories of childhood development and such the reflection started. I would chip away a little bit at a time to my own story and wonder. I would read some research or a textbook case study and then think oh that might have been me too.

They say a lot of people who head down the path of studying psychology are in fact people wanting help or to figure out their own problems and challenges. Another reason also cited is that people have a passion for wanting to help others who may have been through what they went through.  This made sense to me. I could see the natural curiosity of this pursuit of wanting to heal, help, care being quite circular. Yet it was also deep within me. The idea of helping other people was just part of me. Yet unless I helped myself I could not help others.

This conundrum is also part of training in therapy models. Hence my long history of personal development. If I didn’t go through it then how could I possibly help others.  But what I went through is simply my journey not one to be replicated. Yet there are parts of what I have done that I know will benefit others.

In this one example above of the university psychologist I highly recommend the experience. Yes if it could be rated on a scale of 1 to 5 it would get a 5. Why? Because it is an amazing time in your life transitioning from child/teenager to adult. Huge. I found having an objective, trusted confidante a lifesaver. Really.  Well at least in this case. Why? Because I picked the person. I chose whether to participate. I essentially drove the whole decision to engage. For me this is really important. No one made me do it. No one forced me to.

As a result I noticed that things changed in the way that I related to others. I began to open up more in close relationships about my past, my experiences. I could speak out loud the truth. To speak my truth audibly to a person who knew me was a big step. Huge step.  

I can still remember sitting with one particular person. We had this deep and meaningful heart to heart conversation about relationships. I learned that she had experienced the same thing I had experienced.  This is not a good thing, and it is a good thing. Why? Well it saddened me that there was another dysfunctional relationship affecting a woman’s development. It gladdened (is this a real word) me that we both were sitting together ‘normal’, functioning and living life. We had not succumbed and hidden away. Compared to others we would have been judged as aloof or non committal. Yet we were coping, just not thriving. We each uniquely created our own way of functioning in the world. Interesting.

Once I opened up to this person it was easier to open up to a few others. I was not having this sudden aha let me tell the whole world about my situation. No. It was more like practicing, testing the waters. I was experimenting on the edge of being me by playing with truth, raw truth.

As it was an experiment I also found myself retreating back from self disclosure. It was almost like two steps forward, one step backward. Then on other days one step forward, two or even three backward. When I stepped backward I would completely close up. No getting past the big ugly no go zone barriers I erected. No knowing how I felt. No knowing me at all. This was again my pattern and I served me well for so many years so I easily retreated to it.

This is the way pain teaches us to be. We each have our own personal relationship with the wounds and scars that remain. It is a journey of life to heal and be whole. Just this one snippet of my journey in itself hints to the work done. It is not overnight. What matters though is choosing what is right for me and going at my pace. Then it is also important to know that yes time does heal, and it also needs me to be ready to heal.

I imagine everyone has their own hidden pain story nudging at the edge of consciousness, playing with emotions and behaviours. I wonder then the path we each choose in healing. Do we do this because we have to or because we want to? I feel it is a combination of both and will be as unique as a person is an individual. Choosing to heal ourselves is empowering and resilience building rather than the opposite.