During my season of working in the hospital as a Pediatric ICU nurse we treated all sorts of patients. Many had ailments that were familiar to me. Other diagnoses were new and there was so much to learn. No matter what current situation landed the patient in the PICU, we always assessed and treated physical pain.
Pain is a trusted advisor. It gives us information about what is happening in these bodies of ours in real time. In that way, pain acts as an alarm system to let us know when something is awry. Pain consideration is a critical component of any treatment care plan. We assess it, we try to manage it and we repeat the process. Without some degree of pain management, all other medical therapies and interventions will fall short of their potential.
But what if the pain is emotional? Does the same hold true? How does our emotional pain tell us when something is awry? Does there need to be some degree of pain management in place before we can benefit from therapies and interventions aimed at improving our emotional health? Good question. As a young clinician I may have answered that in the negative with a comment like: “If our emotions need to be managed in order for us to benefit from healing modalities, we’ll be stuck here forever…just keep moving, put one foot in front of the other.”
But as a seasoned human (and a more mature clinician) I currently answer this question in the affirmative. Without emotional pain management, there may be little to no progress resultant from interventional therapies and treatment modalities. Shockingly, our “emotional body” is no different than the rest of us. They both require pain management for healing to occur.
Pain trumps everything. And we appreciate the accuracy with which it lets us know in no certain terms that things are “awry.” This is true both physically and emotionally if we are awake enough. But pain sucks up all the air from one room, or building. Pain is relentless, never missing a chance to remind us its there. Pain can be deceiving, as it travels among different systems in the body to disguise itself. And we can exhaust ourselves chasing it.
In our physical bodies, we can treat pain with pharmaceuticals and other modalities like physical therapy. We know Motrin is good for the headache, and high fevers in small children. We take Benadryl if we have an allergic reaction, or the sniffles, or when we fly. And we take an Aspirin if we think we are having a stroke or a heart attack. When it comes to managing physical pain, we’re good.
But what about emotional pain? When I state that pain management is a requirement for health and restoration of our emotional bodies, as it is with our physical bodies, what does that actually mean? With a physical ailment we go to the medicine cabinet. But with emotional pain, the kind that’s screaming in capital letters “SOMETHING IS AWRY! SOMETHING IS AWRY!” What are the “go-to” remedies? If nothing is coming to mind, good. That means you are receiving this point.
We don’t have “go-to” remedies for emotional pain. We don’t even have any remedies for emotional pain. There is no one size fits all bottle of something that relieves the pain of all who imbibe it. (Those of us hurting know we have tried to find one!) But alas, we are all different. So our pain is different. And the ways we receive relief from our pain, are also different.
So what is the point of realizing that our emotional pain needs management if there are no remedies? The point, is to inspire us all to find, create, build, design, and embody remedies that we find, through experiential learning, relieve our individual, unique, never-to-be-repeated pain that is part of us, and us alone.
We can’t look left or right, or up or down to see what grieving looks like, and how to manage the pain so healing can potentially take place. For one thing, we hide all of that in the West so there aren’t many examples in our culture to turn to. But additionally, looking outside of ourselves for answers to questions that are intimately and solely ours, is like looking for a way to change our very fingerprints.
No two grief experiences are the same. So no, we can’t look around to see how we can or should manage our emotional pain. We can only look within, and get closer to allowing healing remedies to arise. As we try different therapies, we can get curious about how our emotions react. We start to ask ourselves “What feels more like me?” And do more of that. We start to respect ourselves for standing tall through apparent “failures” and notice what actions or non-actions “Feel nothing like me.” And do less of them.
For now, I will close with this: Our love, our life, our loss, our healing is all our own. These aren’t things that we do. These are ways that we ARE. But there is one magic medicine for emotional pain, that I believe is a cure all. In small or large does, that remedy is L-O-V-E. Look around and notice that its waving to you! Could be from a sunset, or a friend or a pet…could be appreciation for breathing, a hot bath, or forgiveness for something you need to let go of.
In all of its ecstatic forms, LOVE is the closest thing we have to an emotional remedy. And it begins taking effect when we start with loving ourselves.