Have you ever wondered what pain looks like?
I hadn’t really thought about the different faces of pain until recently while attending a women’s retreat. Prior to this retreat, if I was to be asked what I thought pain looked like, I would have said that it looks like tears streaming down someone’s face, or my own. I can see it on others as they tighten their face with intensity, and perhaps other ways the body communicates pain.
I hadn’t heard pain being described as profound and clear as I did when the main speaker of the retreat spoke the words, “Look At All That Pain”.
She began by telling the story of her journey out of the grip of addiction. She shared what it was like being gripped by the power of addiction that lead her into the darkest night of her soul. During her struggle with addiction and her ways of denying and rationalizing her life being totally out of control, she would look in the mirror and see this beautiful woman, wearing amazing makeup, great hair, dazzling earnings, clothes that showed off her Tina Turner legs, and her fur coat. Life was good!
Then she found her way into recovery and decided to peel away a little bit of what she was seeing in the mirror. Although before she was willing and able to do such a great thing, she kept showing up to her support groups all dressed up with the most beautiful decorations she owned. No one judged her, and she was welcomed with open arms time after time. And then, one day someone pointed her toward a woman who would give her the greatest gift yet. As she walked toward this woman, the woman looked at her with such love in her eyes and said, “Look At All That Pain.” These words were to change her life forever.
She came to understand and accept that wearing all the best of makeup, jewelry, and clothing were just things—masking the pain she had been carrying most of her life.
Listening to her story prompted me to reflect on my own journey of recovery, and how I masked my pain. Alcohol was definitely my greatest mask, yet there were other more subtle ways that took me some time to become aware of and accept. One cunning mask was my obsession with exercise and body image. Exercise is good for us right? Staying healthy physically is strongly recommended. And most of all, the healthier and better I look, the more I will be accepted and loved—by men in particular.
I have come to recognize and understand that all the different masks we wear, however big or small, are ways of carrying all the pain that we have accumulated along our way—and most of all, we no longer have to carry or hide the pain. There is a time and place to face this pain, embrace it, feel it and let it go. As we do this, magical things happen which can only be experienced by baring ourselves to be seen as we truly are, no longer hiding behind the many masks we wear.
How do you carry your pain? Is it the time and place for you to embrace it, feel it and let go?