August 24, 2018 • Sarah Jean Gosney
I’m certainly not the first one to say that we need pain in order to grow. But I have been thinking about this concept for a while now, and think there is a fine balance to be struck. I recently mentioned on Twitter how too many of us romanticize struggle, seeing it as a sign that we are being purified and working hard, and therefore we get stuck in the struggle.
At the same time, struggle truly can be purifying and can be a sign of hard work. Again, it’s a fine balance. I think what’s important is to challenge ourselves and process our pain without martyring ourselves to it. We simply can’t let the struggle be the end of us, otherwise, what lesson did it teach us?
The thing about growing pains is that they take two different forms. There are the challenges we present ourselves that test our abilities: getting in shape, learning a new instrument, going to school, etc. And then there is the kind where life smacks you in the face, knocks you to your feet, and dares you to get back up.
In my observation, it’s the second kind that will truly transform you. However, you would be crazy to seek out those experiences. I’m talking about events like the death of a family member, a job loss, or having a temporary loss of sanity. These are the kinds of experiences we never want to have and do everything we can to avoid. These are life’s traumas, but sometimes trauma is our greatest teacher.
I recently read a book entitled The Slave Across the Street. It is the memoir of a woman who, as a sixteen year old, fell prey to Arab sex traffickers and was pimped out for two years. The crazy part is that she came from an upper middle class family with parents who were still together. She did have some vulnerabilities that provoked the traffickers to target her, but in general, most people would have said she had everything going for her.
She underwent months upon months of horrifying violence and abuse and the hands of manipulative men. She suffered more than any innocent young girl ever should. And yet, today, she is a powerful woman, a wife, mother, and advocate who is changing lives for the better.
Toward the end of her book, she explains her healing process a bit and her life’s mission: traveling around the country educating professionals about sex trafficking and speaking to other victims. Her work is so powerful and has doubtless saved and redirected many lives over the years. She is a true blessing to this earth.
But how did she get there? Through those two years of torture. Something no good person would wish upon their enemy. Yet it formed her and set her on the path to reach hundreds and likely thousands of people with her message.
The thing about struggle like this is that it can either stunt you or make you blossom. Many people are ill-equipped with tools to process trauma, and often even licensed therapists don’t have approaches that work. The truth is, different people process in different ways, and often times talking is only part of the equation.
This is what I mean when I say we shouldn’t glamorize struggle. There is nothing praise-worthy about what that young woman went through. What is truly notable is her reaction to it all.
I have had my own struggles over the past few years, ones which posed the first real obstacles of my life. I discuss the main event in the article linked above. For a long time after my hospitalization, I thought I was broken, defective, and doomed. I thought I’d never fulfill any of the dreams I had for my life, that I would be dependent, unable to have healthy children, and that others would see me as less than. I thought life had shattered me, but really it had just knocked me around to test my strength.
I won’t lie and pretend like I wasn’t cracked. That I didn’t lose pieces of myself in the process. That I wasn’t lost. It took me about a year of limping along, with support, questioning things, before I had an epiphany. I realized that yes, I had lost parts of myself, but I wasn’t lacking. I realized I had shed parts of me I no longer needed, and my future was just waiting for me to rebuild myself better. I realized I needed to take a step out onto the unknown, bare my soul in a way I had never felt brave enough to do before, and endure all the attacks I was bound to receive. I needed to throw myself into the gauntlet before I could begin anew.
This process is a bit like setting a bone. The limb has been injured, the bones broken. Clearly it is much weaker, more painful, and defective than it was before it was broken. But what do doctors often do to treat this? They re-break the bone in order to set it properly, to let it heal. There is one more painful stage after the initial trauma before the healing can begin. And then, eventually, the limb can, over time, become strong once again.
What determines whether you will falter or you will soar after a trauma is just that. Are you willing to re-break the bone? Are you wiling to once more undo yourself in order to make yourself whole again? This simple but profound choice will change your life forever.
The good thing is, it’s never to late to process trauma and grow. And it’s never to early either. It’s hard to make it long in life without experiencing some trauma, and the longer you ignore it, the longer you will ossify into a warped, dysfunctional position.
So take the leap now. Re-break the bone. Grow.
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