So let's say you've finally decided to approach x. This thing has been causing you a huge amount of pain by either not addressing it or actively avoiding it by using some behavior that you know doesn't ultimately serve you besides to avoid dealing with this thing. So you finally decide to start working through it. The best way to get somewhere is always through, right? (My old therapist had this on her door and I think it stuck).
But no one ever talks about how painful the process of healing can be. It's almost an oxymoron, how you have to hurt more to get rid of the pain that's sitting inside of you. What's the deal with that?
The best way I've heard to describe it came from one of my therapists when I first started treatment again. Let's call this the metal ladder example:
So where I am right now is the place of still dealing with the sickness, of the eating disorder. Let's pretend that this state of being happens to be in the basement of a house. And this particular basement is on fire, but just the basement is on fire, no other parts of the house are affected. So there's this lovely not on fire house, just up a "quick" climb of a ladder. The only caveat? The ladder is metal, so it's really hot and really intensely painful to get up. At the top of the ladder is freedom from the fire and all the pain it's causing. My treatment team (all the wonderful different moving pieces of it) is all there, at the top. They're up there cheering and shouting and trying to encourage me to climb up that ladder to safety, to recovery. But, it hurts. So I have the choice, do I stay in "safe" pain in the fire, or do I feel new, unexperienced pain while on my way out to freedom?
I really like this story for a couple of reasons, and this has stuck with me since I heard it. One thing you may not know about me is that I've had chronic pain in my shoulder for about 9 years now. I've finally found out what's actually wrong with it, and I'm moving forward with my surgery for that in May. I bring this up because it really applies to the three lessons I've learned from the metal ladder example and healing.
The first lesson I've learned is that no one can do the healing for you. When I get surgery this summer, no one can heal my body for me. My family and friends will be there to support me, but they can't make my shoulder heal. The same is true in recovery; my treatment team is AMAZING and they are providing me with all the tools to heal, but they can't do the work for me. They can't make me eat, or process my feelings, or learn new, healthy, coping mechanisms to replace old behaviors. It's on me.
The second point I like to take from this is that pain is an often (likely always!) necessary component of any healing process. I know that my surgery will increase the pain in the beginning, before the relief comes from not having pain any longer. I know that in recovery I will start to feel more pain, more often, as I start to work through the aspects that are holding me back to reaching a point without such intense, extreme pain. I know that in order to heal, I must embrace, or at least radically accept the pain and the hurt that will continue to come up. It's a part of the healing process.
The final lesson that I've taken from this story is that there is a choice involved. I'm choosing to get a surgery and be in more pain initially because I'm hopeful that it will eventually provide relief for something that has been hurting me for years. Recovery is the same way. I'm choosing recovery every day which means that I'm choosing pain, discomfort, and intense feelings. It means committing fully to the healing process, not just some of the time or for some of the feelings, but for all of them. Healing is painful. And that's weird, and doesn't make sense, and it kind of sucks. But to me, it's worth it to climb up that hot ladder with the support around me, to get out of the burning basement that is my eating disorder.
Hi, I'm Charlotte! I'm a 24 year old navigating life in NYC and mental health recovery. I am passionate about public health and eliminating stigma.