Let’s talk about pain.
Like many high schoolers, I thought I had found the love of my life at 16 years old.
Thanks to overly-romantic TV shows that I grew up on, like Boy Meets World, I believed that “true love” would conquer all. We had already broken up once and were “closer than ever” after we got back together. We could do it! We would get married and have bunches of kids and be happy forever and ever!
Then, early in my senior year of high school, she broke up with me. She was in college, and let’s face it: college girls don’t want to date high school boys anymore.
As a romantic high-schooler, I was devastated. I thought that true love would win! I thought I was the only one who knew better than the world!
She dated other guys. I… kinda dated other girls. But I always pined for her, believing that we would be together in the end.
In the meantime, I felt like the pain would never go away. Every night, I would lie in bed thinking, hoping, praying that tomorrow would be “The Day” that things would end up “right” again.
“The Day” never came.
And you know what? Eventually, it stopped hurting so much.
How about a different kind of pain?
In an effort to get more out of my work day, I am trying to build a habit of waking up earlier.
This morning, my alarm light woke me up at 4:58am.
My eyes burned. I stumbled around the house, woozy. My body begged me to go back to sleep. I took a shower… and I still wanted to sleep. I went downstairs and opened all the curtains… and I still wanted to sleep. I wrote in my journal and meditated… and I still wanted to sleep. I ate a very satisfying breakfast… and I still wanted to sleep.
My two boys woke up and I got them set up for breakfast. I sat down at the table with them… and I put my head down. I still wanted to sleep.
Then, my one-year old turned his sippy cup upside down and spilled milk on the floor because his sippy cups are worthless. This is not a new thing, so I calmly got up and grabbed a rag to clean it up.
For whatever reason, in that moment, the pain of being awake subsided. I wasn’t dancing around the kitchen. But – I was fine.
Now, I’m at a coffee shop writing for the day. I’m studying, reading, taking notes, doing all the freelancing-type things that I need to be doing.
And I feel okay.
The pain has stopped hurting so much.
(Most) pain goes away on its own.
Look, I know that there are pains that don’t go away on their own. If you have a physical malady that is affecting you, or you are dealing with a clinical form of pain like depression, you’ve got to deal with that in a different way. I’m not painting with that broad of a brush here.
But a lot of our pains that we deal with in our lives are temporary.
Broken hearts can heal.
Tired bodies can adjust.
Painful muscles and aches and pains can be fixed.
Even the psychological pains and discomforts of trying to do something meaningful or new? Those things go away too.
Too often, we think that we are unicorns: we’re the unique exception to the rule.
When I dealt with heartache, I definitely thought I was a unicorn. “The world didn’t understand!” But I wasn’t unique: plenty of people in this world have had broken hearts and moved on.
The same goes with getting up early. Plenty of people have felt the pain of getting up early when they’re not used to it. You know what they did? They got up early anyway.
Our pain often comes from our brain.
(Hey, that rhymes!)
Again, excluding certain circumstances, a lot of our common pains are really just a result of our focus on them.
When you wake up 2-3 hours earlier than you normally do, the only thing you’re going to be thinking about is how tired you are. Every fiber of your being is paying attention to your eyes being heavy, your brain being foggy, your limbs feeling 1,000 pounds heavier, the couch looking extra comfortable, the dim pre-dawn sky that wants to lull you back to sleep.
When you think about those things, of course you’re going to be feeling a lot of pain!
The same goes for heartache: your whole self just wants to think about all the great times you had with that person, how happy you were with them, that moment when it all came crashing down, all the things you think you should’ve done differently, how alone you’re feeling now, and so on.
Your brain is just zeroing in on that pain and reminding you of it. It’s in your face all day long.
So how do you get past it? How do you deal with that pain and move forward?
It’s time to refocus your brain to overcome the pain.
(Hey, that also rhymes!)
You know how, when somebody is dealing with hurt, like the death of a friend or the ending of a relationship, his or her friends rally around them?
“Let’s go hit the bar and have a few drinks!”
“Let’s get together for dinner.”
“Why don’t you come over and we’ll watch some movies and eat ice cream?”
It’s not about eliminating the pain or pretending it’s not there. What friends do is try to break your brain’s habit of focusing on the pain. If you can get together with people that you like and get your mind off of the pain – even for a few minutes – you can start entertaining the idea that you’ll be okay. Your mind forgets about the pain, even if only for a bit.
The more often you do that, the easier it starts to get. Before you know it, the pain subsides and you move on with your life.
Waking up early is another situation where distraction is key.
When I get up early, I try to set up my home so that I don’t have to make a whole lot of decisions. Instead, I can move from one activity to the next and get my brain focused on that thing right away. The more I can distract myself, the less it hurts.
So I make breakfast.
I take a shower.
I do a little journaling.
I get some fresh air.
I listen to some upbeat music.
All of these activities are like little puzzle pieces that, individually won’t make much of a difference, but together they work to shift my brain away from the “I’m so tired” feeling and get me on course to removing the pain.
As I write this, it’s 10:00am. I’ve been up for 5 hours now. Am I tired? Sure. But I’m also tapping my foot with energy as I write this. My eyes are not drowsy. I’m… okay.
The pain goes away.
That horrible breakup? Yeah, the pain lasted longer than it should have, because I let it. But eventually, it went away. I dated other girls. I dated my wife and now I’m very happily married. I don’t think about that old high school girlfriend anymore (it’s that Unanswered Prayers thing – that song is more relatable to me as an adult than ever!).
The pain went away.
Getting up early? It’s still a struggle. But I pushed forward and let myself deal with the pain. The longer I dealt with it, the easier it got. Now, I’m alert and productive.
The pain went away.
You’re probably not a unicorn in this situation. The pain you’re dealing with is exactly the same as the pain that other people have dealt with. They pushed ahead and the pain went away.
Yours will too. But you can’t give into it. Push forward, lean into it. It’ll go away.