We have all experienced pain. It’s a natural part of being human. Pain is a tool for growth, a tool for understanding ourselves and the world around us. When we are children, we learn not to touch hot ovens because of the pain of being burnt. When we’re teenagers we learn how to act, out of fear of the pain of embarrassment. And when we’re adults we realise that a whole lot of who we are has come from the pain we have experienced, and the fear of feeling more pain.
The other week I saw this quote somewhere online “we can’t heal the pain we refuse to feel”, and that hit me hard. I am an honest person, and I am very gutsy when it comes to expressing my feelings. I’m the kind of girl who actually tells people when she has crushes on them, so I’ve never thought of myself as someone who hides from their feelings. I continuously open myself up to the potential of rejection and heartbreak; I am not defeated by my suffering.
But lately, that’s changed. I’ve started to push painful feelings aside, and not honour my own wounds. My response to sadness is “come on girl, you don’t have time for this”, especially now that it’s exam season.
I’ve been focusing a lot on self-love recently. For me this means taking care of my body: eating mostly fruits and vegetables, exercising regularly, limiting my intake of alcohol and caffeine. But I’m also learning that loving myself comes from the inside. I can eat as much lettuce and avocado as I want, but that’s not going to solve my feelings of inadequacy. I’ve been putting plasters on my emotional wounds for so long, without actually inspecting and cleaning them, and they have become infected.
I felt the pain when each thing happened, and I thought I got over it. But there is a difference between being “over it” and actually healing. Healing is about honouring your pain, seeing it for what it is, and understanding the way it has become a part of you. Moving on from past hurts isn’t about being “over it”, it’s not about going back to how things were before the hurt happened. It doesn’t work that way, pain changes us, we don’t go back. But we can be free from it, we can heal.
Many of my wounds are around love, around friendship, and around feelings of abandonment. A little over a year ago, I came out of a friendship which was harmful to my mental and emotional health, and it took a long time to rebuild. Whilst I am at the point where I would say I’m “over it”, the damage that it did to me has still not healed. Every time I have any kind of issue with one of my friends, that old wound reopens and the fear creeps in that these friendships will end the same way. Rationally, I know that that’s not the case. I know that my friends are good people and they won’t do anything to hurt me, but that wound is so deep that I can’t always be rational about it. I am terrified that the people I love will destroy me.
In the months after that friendship ended, I also went through a phase where I got a lot of crushes. I had three crushes in a very short space of time. Whilst the first two were just harmless crushes that caused a lot of embarrassment at the time, but left no emotional scarring, the third was different. Crush number 3 messed me up to a much greater extent. It’s not his fault, he didn’t know until the end. It was just the circumstances.
I used to get attached to people very easily. And I met this guy who ticked every box. I clicked with him almost instantly, and he had many qualities that made me attracted to him. I’m not going to write lots about him. If you read through my blogs from the past year you can probably piece the picture together, because I’ve mentioned him A LOT (oops). But long story short: I got lotsa feelingz, he moved back to his home country and didn’t tell me, I confessed my feelings in a facebook message, he read the message and didn’t reply for 4.5 months/19 weeks/135 days, and I was emotionally scarred by this and turned into a bitter cynic. There have been many levels of me thinking I’d gotten over it. But have I fully healed? Hell no!
I changed a lot during those 19 weeks. I never gave up hope that he would eventually reply. I had faith. But when I look back, I wonder if I was more invested in the story than I was in him. I didn’t know him all that well, and if I’d used any ounce of rational judgement I should have known better than to think I had a chance. But there was so many “signs”. I felt like the universe was trying to tell me something. All the signs pointed to him, but I followed those signs and reached a dead end. I invested so much of myself into this person who never asked me to do that.
I haven’t fully faced the pain. I haven’t performed an autopsy on the situation the way I do with anything else, because I’m embarrassed as to what I might find. I’m embarrassed that it took me almost a year to realise I was wasting my time. I’m embarrassed that it changed me. But I’m also grateful. For one thing, I haven’t had a crush since then. Now when I’m interested in a guy, it’s just that: interest. I’ve lost my romantic idealism. I’ve lost my belief in happily ever after (for a number of reasons). The optimist has become a realist.
I’ve learnt to be patient. In the past, if someone took a few days to reply to a message, I’d be like “oh my god, they hate me!” and be overcome with anxiety. Now I’m like “well, it hasn’t been 19 weeks yet, so we’re cool.” I’ve learnt valuable lessons from the experience. Rejection is character building. But deep down, there’s a lot of pain I haven’t dealt with.
Especially when I look at the situation in context. On its own, having a bad experience with a crush is just a part of life, but when I look at it as something that happened in the aftermath of losing a friend, and then add the context of all the issues I had in those regards prior to university, it creates a narrative of abandonment, a narrative of people making me feel like I’m not good enough. We all come into life to learn different things, and I’ve known for a long time that my area of learning is about friendships and relationships. I know that what I must learn in life is that my self-worth shouldn’t come from other people. The world didn’t stop spinning because a friend screwed me over, and the world certainly didn’t stop spinning just because a guy left my message on read for nearly five months. If anything, both those events caused my world to expand, and I found so much love from other sources.
I got through all that pain like a champ, because I love myself and believe in myself, and deep down I knew I deserved better, even if it took me a long time to fully realise it. But even so, I have so much self-doubt. My unhealed pain has manifested into fear. I’m scared that I’ll never be in a romantic relationship, because I don’t have enough confidence in myself and I’m genuinely terrified of any guy I’m vaguely interested in. I’m terrified of repeating the old patterns (especially because I have such a specific type, so I feel like history is repeating itself). I want someone to love me, and I rationally know that I deserve love, but there is a part of me that believes I am not worthy of being loved in that way. I know that my friends love me, and it was a long road to get here, but I’ve reached the point where I believe that I am worthy of their love. I have healed my blocks around friendship love, but I have yet to heal my block around romantic love. I am yet to fully believe I deserve it.
There have been a couple of occasions in the past few weeks where my friends have encouraged me to ask someone out. My reactions ranged from “how about no?” to *nervous laughter*, because the thought absolutely terrifies me. The first time I asked someone out, he waited two hours to give me an answer, and then informed me that he already had a girlfriend. Three years later, when I next felt brave enough to ask someone out, I found out that he’d moved to another country. I associate having feelings for guys with emotional trauma.
But at the same time, I’m a strong independent woman who doesn’t want to spend her life waiting around for guys to make the first move. The one time a guy DID ask me out, I said no. I know what I want. I know what I’m looking for. As previously mentioned, I have a *very* specific type. I want to be someone who is brave enough to ask guys out. I don’t want to live my life on the sidelines waiting for things to happen, waiting for someone to love me. I deserve better than a life half-lived. I want to live a life that’s fearless. If not fearless, at least a life that’s brave. And I’m on my way, but I’m not there yet.
I’m still at the stage where I get nervous about whether or not to say hi to someone, the stage where I get nervous about replying to messages. I’m still at the stage where I ask myself “but why would they want to talk to me? Why would they be interested in me? There are so many girls who are prettier or smarter or nicer.” At the same time, I’m like “dude, I am literally the best, I am the most wonderful person and I deserve the whole world!” (my self-confidence levels have frequent mood swings).
In addition to the pain I feel around love, and around friendship, there is also the type of pain that I can only describe as the pain of growing up. I turned twenty this year, and I was absolutely thrilled about this, because I despised being a teenager. I love being twenty, I love thinking of myself as a “proper” adult. But at the same time, my world view has changed so much in the past few months. I’ve lost faith, a little. I’ve realised that a lot of what I believed to be true as a teenager is in fact a lie, that many of my fantasies about life will never come true. I feel as though I have followed a certain path my whole life, and suddenly I’m stranded on this road without a map, and I have to make my way alone. It scares me, sometimes, but it also liberates me.
I don’t know where I’m going. I don’t know what life has in store for me. I don’t know what adventures lie ahead. But I know that the first step in this journey is to heal. I must feel my pain, I must make peace with it, because that is the only way I can move forward. I must also accept that my pain and my fear are things that come from within. I can’t lay blame on all the people who have hurt me – they’re just living out their own karma. Instead, I must look to my own heart, I must look at who I am as a person, and ask: is this the best I can be? The answers I am searching for lie within myself, and I must stop searching for them within another person. So I will acknowledge my pain, I will sit with it for a while, let myself feel the feelings that scare me. And then I will go out into this world with a loving heart, and have faith that things will get better, that I will find the happiness I deserve.