A few weeks ago I made the mistake of wearing flip-flops on a playground and stepped on a splinter that lodged into the base of my big toe. Certain it was removed, I disinfected the wound. My husband offered to help but I assured him it was fine.
A few days later it still hurt with a stabbing, throbbing ache. But, I reasoned the splinter was huge, so the healing process was going to be painful. It’s normal. Again I refused offers of help.
A few days more, and it was showing signs of infection. My husband demanded I let him help.
As I lay there, dramatically fearful and weeping, he dug around in my oh-so-tender, nearly gangrenous wound (cue hypochondriac violins). After a particularly painful dig, he yelled -in that New York accent that only comes out of LA transplants when something special is going on- “Got you m&$%&@!”
Alarmed, I sat up and looked at the small piece of wood, about the length of a centimeter.
It had been lodged under the skin, perpendicular to my nail bed. I was stunned.
He went on to explain he’d been through the exact same experience and that was why he recognized what was wrong. Marveling at the immediate improvement, I wondered: Why was I willing to suffer for so long?
This was my struggle: Living with pain I convinced myself was normal.
Suffering because I had been wounded, without ever thinking to look and learn from who else had shared my experience, and how they dealt with it. Never realizing the suffering might not be part of a healthy process, but a sign of carrying around something I was never meant to be stuck with.
So it began.
The realization that I’d been struggling to cope with life’s bruises, cuts and scrapes because my unwillingness to uproot the problem meant they never really healed.
That was me. Stuck in a paradox of pain caused by unwillingness to confront it.
For years, I had done anything to avoid a pain so unreal, so limitless, so beyond definition and understanding my life had become structured around the shame of its absence.
An absence of hurt so complete and irrational it alarmed me whenever I ran into it head on. A part of me knew that void wasn’t real but what was the alternative? To search for and find an unfathomable pain because numbness and apathy is strange? No sir, not for me. I avoided searching altogether.
And still managed to stumble upon a lesson. Sometimes it takes something outside of us, something that seems manageable, temporary, small, to let us know. It’s okay to face it. You’ll survive.
So here I am.
Figuring out how to walk this thing out, and sharing my experience with you in hopes a similar story encourages or emboldens you.
It’s not about arriving. It’s not about speed. It’s about never turning back.
I don’t have all the answers.
I know the way.