Updated: Sep 12, 2022
I've been doing some hurting and some healing recently: physically and emotionally, acutely and softly, consciously and unknowingly. It was rarely pleasant but often valuable. It left me with stretching exercises and thoughts on pain.
A few months ago I injured my leg to the point I couldn't easily walk on it and dancing was quite unbearable. Being a dancer comes with sometimes misjudging your ability to go into a split after a couple of drinks (it will be fine, right?). So that's exactly what I did, and it was not glamorous. The next few months were followed by daily pain to the point where it became a feeling as familiar as hunger or thirst.
This made me think of the concept of prolonged pain. Whether emotional or physical, injury or grief, our ability to get used to anything is fascinating. The pain takes a comfortable seat at the table, announcing it's there to stay and we just have to carry on (I somehow went on to tap for 8 hours a day with my half-ass leg). After a few weeks or a few months, we might reexamine this guest list and realize that some of the invitees have to go. That's when we begin to heal.
I believe it's really hard to heal without that moment where we feel so uncomfortable with the pain we carry, that we decide to start soothing our wounds. The first thing we do is get away from the thing that gives us the most acute pain (whether it's an activity, a person, or a habit). Sometimes we can't fully distance ourselves from the source of pain (from let's say walking), so we try to find gentler ways to navigate around it. To be in pain is goddamn annoying, to say the least, but it's also a powerful signal. Physical pain is often a way for the body to protect itself from a more severe injury. Pain doesn't necessarily mean that things are infinitely broken but more of a signal if you keep doing X activity, bigger damage awaits.
But then, especially once you feel that things are getting better, you are becoming stronger and leaving the pain behind, that's when the risk for reinjury is the biggest. We make the same stupid move again, jump too high, meet the wrong person, and the wounds reopen. That moment can feel like all of the progress is out the window. But it's not, it's more like a "two steps forward, one step backward" kind of situation. Sometimes we have to repeat this dance for a while until there comes the point when the cost of reinjury is too high, and we need to prioritize to keep healing. To move, act and react in careful and caring ways for ourselves.
Finally, one day, as you carry on with your day, you stop and you realize that the pain is not there, the annoying guest has (maybe just temporarily) left the table. The physical pain, intrusive thoughts or grief is gone for a moment long enough for you to notice. Maybe it's been an hour, a day or a week when you weren't aware of hurting. It's liberating and it's confusing, it almost feels empty. The pain is absent and a mix of uncertainty and hope of what will fill its spot keeps us on our toes.
I wonder if healing can ever be a finished process. After however long, we're still walking with scars. They are sturdier than wounds and less likely to be reinjured, but we're still more careful around them. The same goes for other people's scars - if you know there's one, you might be a bit softer around it (like taking a moment before suggesting drunken splits on the dancefloor or whatever trouble you like to cause). Eventually, we are all a bunch of walking scars gently trying to soothe each other where it hurts most.
This conclusion turned out grimmer than I wanted it to be. What I meant is it's like when you're a kid and you hurt yourself, you run to your parent to show where it hurts and they go "ahh, let me blow some air on it" (that's an international thing, right?). Technically it doesn't help, but it feels great to be soothed. In the same way, knowing the hurt and the healing someone has gone through is precious information on how we can care more for them.