Pain Collectors

“That’s the thing about pain. It demands to be felt.”
– John Green, The Fault in Our Stars

We all have it. Sometimes it’s public. Sometimes it’s private. Some people deny it. Others shine it. One day you give. The other receive. Pain lives on the edges of our picture frames and in the crevices of our dusty bookshelves. It’s old, it’s new, it’s a moment, it’s forever.

Pain is inevitable.

It isn’t something that graciously passes some people by while eviscerating everyone else. Sure there are varying levels and varying situations, but pain is pain. No matter the trigger behind it. Let me repeat: pain is pain.  

 
The internet can be such a wonderful tool. It has so many useful purposes, outlets, and connections. It can bring complete strangers together and form incredible bonds of friendship based solely on the mutual love of reading. It can raise support for children fighting cancer. It can help a family devastated by a natural disaster. It can heal.

But it can also kill. And it doesn’t kill quietly. It rages war.

I’m very cautious in using the internet to share the really delicate parts of me. The ones that need to be handled with care because I’m afraid of being shut down. I share them with the people I know and trust in the flesh who will love on me and remind me that whatever I’m going through is important. It’s important because I’m important. And it doesn’t need to be compared to someone else’s pain. Because pain is pain. 

But some of us have a problem with collecting it.

We go through something tragic, something monumental and it changes us. Pain changes us. And that’s ok. Change is good. Pain can ultimately be good. It grows us. Shapes up. And usually allows us to understand the pain of others with a greater sense of intimacy and delicacy.

But somewhere, in all of that tragedy, we’ve started to collect our pain–a row of gold statues that we shine, dust, rearrange so they are just perfect, and stare at for hours on end. We place our pain on the best shelf, with the best view, so everyone can see it. But not because we want you to journey with us through our pain but because we want to say,

“Mine. Mine. Mine. My collection is bigger and better and more painful than your own.”

And it’s not. The only real truth about pain is that it’s different. Yes, there might be a distinct level of minor pain vs major pain when we talk about the physical body, but I’m not trying to compare a paper cut to brain surgery. I’m talking about life pain. The whole of our days. The sum of our years. The pain we carry in our souls–emotional, yes– but it can be physical, too.

I was reading a blog post the other day by a dear friend of mine who is finally seeing the light at the end of a very dark tunnel. Months and months of pain that have finally led her to a new journey of restoration. I ventured into the comments section to read about the women who had been encouraged by what she wrote and to be filled with their hope. And that’s when I found a pain collector.

Now, I don’t believe this person meant any harm in her comment. I truly believe she too just wants her pain to be acknowledged. For someone to come alongside her and hold her. Validate her. Tell her, “Yes, yes. I hear you. This is hard stuff. This is painful. I’ll help you.” But the delivery of that pain translated into–my pain is worse than yours.

The situation looked like this… A woman was lamenting about the struggle she’s had in mothering–trying to keep her head above water while being surrounded by her ocean of littles. And then came a response comment from another woman… Try being a single parent. It doesn’t get harder than doing it on your own.

Do you see where I am going with this? That mother of littles can’t try being a single mother. She isn’t one. All she knows is that her days are hard according to what she’s accustomed to handling. You know who steps in after that single mom comment if we keep collecting our pain instead of learning from it?

The mom with no kids.
The mom with infertility.
The mom who isn’t a mom, but prays, wishes, and dreams about it every single moment of her existence.

And then you know who steps in after the mom with no kids? The single woman in her thirties who is home alone on a Friday night because she’s tired of the bar scene. She’s tired of e-harmony never panning out. She’s tired of putting herself out there to only discover she can’t find someone to share her forever with. She’s tired, but her exhaustion isn’t from a house full of kids and a husband who is disgruntled from work. So is her pain any less valuable? Is her loneliness any less important?

We’ve all collected our own pain. We’ve all made these comments where we try and one up someone’s situation because we think our own is worse. And it’s not. No matter the situation your pain is not worse than someone else’s. It’s just different. Pain is pain.

We need to start thinking before we speak. Question our words and the intentions behind them before assuming that what we’ve got going on is more painful than someone else. If pain demands to be felt than it also demands to be processed. Everyone deserves to feel what they are going through and to share that with those they love.

We need to stop collecting the pain and start learning from it. Pain is constant. Allow the world around you to feel it. Allow yourself to feel it. And in that process help each other to heal. Don’t slap the pain of someone else with your own.

An adult who loses a parent should be loved upon and allowed to grieve as if still a child.
A mother of one should be supported in her trials as much as the mother of five.
A child with a drunk father should be fretted upon as the child with none.

Pain is pain. And all pain demands to be felt.

 

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My husband turned 32 yesterday. One of those years that slips by like so many others. He celebrated alone, in a foreign country, surrounded by people who don’t speak English. Not one for the books, but one I’m sure he will remember to some degree. The girls’ and I sang him happy birthday over the phone and even had him blow out a candle, but there was no cake to share, no presents exchanged, no balloons or party. It was just another 24 hours marking him a year older.

I asked him several weeks ago what he wanted or if there was anything we could go and do. His reply was quiet and a bit melancholy. “No, not really. I think I’m good.”

Neither one of us are real huge birthday people. We expect each other to acknowledge it in some form and we do celebrate the important decades with more gusto, but generally we go out to dinner and exchange a gift. Nothing too crazy. We like being with our kids and we like enjoying life for its every day value. Holidays are fun, but they don’t fuel us.

Even with that being said I’ve felt strongly for awhile now about wanting to share some words with him. For me, words are one of life’s greatest gifts. If people give me a gift I’m generally most excited about what’s in the card. What they want to share with me. Tell me. Explain to me. A card with nothing but a signature is the ugliest waste of paper. It hurts to see it.

So, I’ve been mulling over so many words this last week. Words of truth. Words of love. Words of pain. All important and necessary and meaningful. I wondered how much I should share and how much I should keep to myself and to what degree my husband would feel comfortable with me sharing this all with you. And you. And you and you. And you. All of you.

So here we go.

This is what I said…

I don’t know what I expected marriage to be when growing up, but this was not it. You were not it. In the beginning–dating, our wedding, the earlier years–everything was perfect. So simple. Flawless even. I thought we were untouchable. When people complained about their husbands I commiserated with the lack of cleaning, the dirty laundry, and the dishes. We all dealt with that. But, when the stories got dark, when things got painful, I was often left feeling lost. I didn’t understand how women could be so angry or how a marriage could already be failing before it even started. Continue reading “Collapse”