Can We be Grateful when the Healing is Painful?
Two weeks ago I had my very first visit to the dermatologist. At 46 years old, I found myself face to face with a must-have-been-a-resident-yesterday doctor asking what has (finally) brought me in?
I was embarrassed to tell him it was a tiny mole that had formed in the oddest of places - between my toes. It didn't hurt, but the sunless location and the dark pigment made me uncomfortable about how and why it got there. Despite being fair with a lot of freckles, it nonetheless had been nagging at me for a while and I just decided I wanted to stop worrying about it. Without missing a beat, the young doc looked closely and said, 'Yes, I agree. Let's take that off.'
For those of you who've been through these procedures this may not come as big news to you but if, like me, you have been flung into a world previously unfamiliar you may appreciate my utter surprise when the words 'You may feel a little pinch' was followed by a previously-undiscussed shot of lidocaine to numb (not quite totally) the space between my first and second toes. You can't - or at least I can't - really spread out your toes and this awkward and mildly uncomfortable procedure of removing said mole and then having to stitch the space where it was, commenced. There would be a biopsy. There would be an antibiotic prescription to prevent infection. There would be an appointment to remove stitches. There would be notes about cell normalcy and a rating that would come back. And there would be me, with a not easily visible but shockingly painful wound slowly healing in, of all places, the space between my toes.
Ten days later, a few days after the procedure to without-lidocaine-and-thus-quite-painfully remove the stitches, I got the results of the biopsy. Moderate to severe abnormal cells. Not the news we were hoping for. I should come in for an additional body scan because I've never had one. Probably nothing to worry about but just in case.
A seemingly stupid little mark, became a throbbing little wound, became a mind-bending, anxiety-producing moment. And as the wound (which opened right back up after the stitches came out), begins to heal shut, it does what wounds often do. It hurts. It aches. It itches. It reminds me over and over and over again about a foreign mass of cells that just threatened my body, my health: potentially my life.
It's a tiny wound. But painful in its healing. More painful than when it was at its most threatening; which was when I didn't feel anything at all.
And our emotional healing is just exactly like that. Healing hurts - like the painful, incessant itching of a closing wound if we're lucky, and more like the debridement of a very bad burn if we're not. This healing is peeling back layers of malignant protections. They're attached to you - to your skin and bone, and also to your soul. The only way to get to the 'you' that can heal is cut that invader off...ironically, these types of wounds require further hurt before healing actually begins.
So, with that little space between my toes still throbbing, I went and got the best news I could have had. I managed to find the only place on my skin that is currently housing those malignant cells and the doctor whose age and swiftness I worried about got the entire thing leaving me with yes, a wound, but clean margins.
My foot still hurts - the annoyingly sensitive skin between my toes and the bundles of nerves and tendons that wrap around my skeleton at the very foundation of my body let me know several times an hour that they have been disturbed, that they are trying to rebuild, and that doing so requires my attention. And I suddenly find that I am so very grateful for it. I am grateful I ultimately chose to examine that which just didn't seem right, that which I knew could be a threat even as it was tacit and painless. I listened to my inner voice and determined it was better to not ignore, but instead to reveal. I'm glad for the pain of healing that has followed: The pain I walked (metaphorically and literally!) into.
When you embrace Emotional healing, I believe most of us at some level often realize that the wound might be really bad and it isn't causing any apparent problem right now. But the reality is, it could silently be taking you away. You can choose to go ahead with the healing procedure even if that first step is pain or you can choose to back away and the invader metastasizes. We know the truth - healing hurts in a way the wounding never did.
So why disturb that place? Why choose the pain? Because it's the only path to authenticity. The only way to get to the whole you, the real you, the you that you are seeking to release, is to heal from whatever wounds caused you to lose yourself in the first place.
As the 'grateful' season is among us, I posit that we try to learn to be grateful for the pain that inevitably comes from this healing process. Not washing over the pain that inflicted those wounds to begin with, but to sit with, acknowledge, and even honor our however-slowly-closing wounds that represent our own growth. Our road to ourselves. It means we are peeling back the layers of our hurt. Will it leave a scar? Possibly - even probably. Will the healing leave you the same? Probably not. Is the unpredictable itch, throb, and stab of healing worth it? Most definitely. And I, for one, am grateful for it.