Thinking Out Loud: Frozen Pain Melting Away!
A very interesting article by Gabriella Tal called “The Nature of Hurt” tells about a time when she experienced a serious car accident that left her paralyzed. Her healing journey led her to the work of Peter Levine, author of Walking the Tiger who helped her realize the power of the moment before the car hit her. Looking back at that moment, Gabriela told Peter, “I should have run into the forest! I wish I had run.”
“Run now!” Peter told her. So, internally, Gabriela ran and ran, and in doing so she transformed the internal pain that came with the grief and loss of the accident, as well as “the build-up of energy” in her body from wishing she had run. While emotional healing did not change her physical paralysis, it lifted the burden of her emotional pain. “Hurt is impact. Pain is a reaction to the impact,” writes Gabriela. “Hurt is a moment. Pain is an impressioned lifetime and beyond. Hurt is transcendable. Pain clutches us and holds us, even as … particularly as … we purify our lives and move into more healthy choices. Hurt may be physical or of the mind. Pain is always of the mind.”
The distinction Gabriela makes here between “hurt” and “pain” is a very powerful one. So often, in the face of hurt, we freeze, we shut down. We become like a deer in the headlights of a car, the hurt caused by the magnitude of the impact. The hurt becomes an emotional trauma. When left alone with the hurt and the impact of the hurt, we become the bearers of frozen pain. If we are honest with ourselves, we have experienced this countless times. The loss of a loved one creates heart-wrenching pain, and to have to bear this hurt alone creates a downward spiral of pain. Our hearts feel like a knife is stabbing us on the inside and outside. Even clutching a pillow close to our chest where the pain is cannot comfort or contain the stabbing feeling. We are unable to sleep, unable to relax, unable to do much more than curl up into a ball and breathe, trying to survive the hurt and pain.
Though we have a strong heart, as well as strong bodies and spirits, there are times when the sense of loss or grief can overload our circuitry. What results is frozen pain. What a difference it makes when we have a caring friend or loved one there, who can open their arms and hold us. In the safety of their embrace, we can cry, we can scream, we can writhe, and we can release the pain. Their presence provides a safe place to find, to access, and to melt the frozen pain. Beginning with the stabbing feeling in the chest or the shortness of breath that provides a protective layer over the stabbing pain, these loved ones can provide support for the front and back of the heart, creating the space to connect with the memory and the experience of hurt that led to the pain.
The hands on the front and back of the chest can provide the message, “you are not alone.” In receiving that message, we gain access to the hurt, the tears, and the frozen pain. As the hands safely hold the front and back of the heart, the tears can flow, the sobbing can go deep, andwith the tears and the sounds that come with them, the pain can melt and evaporate.
The comforting message of the hands … of support, of connection, of care … replaces the isolation, the loneliness that led to the burden of the frozen pain. Emotional healing can begin. In an ideal world, it would be great to catch the hurt and release it before it gets stuck as it lingers, becoming frozen pain. The greater our emotional literacy, the more we can become “magical strangers” to each other, recognizing the power of a safe and caring embrace to release the hurt in the moment and prevent the lingering pain. This kind of embrace illustrates the importance of face-to-face relating in our increasingly virtual world. An understanding friend in cyberspace can help release some of the tears, but a chain of e-mails is not nearly as sensorily complete as a physical embrace.
So, it is a great wonder of being human that through the wisdom of the heart and body, we can still gain access to a moment of past hurt—whether the past was just a matter of moments or a matter of years. Once accessed, grounded, and supported, a long-held burden can truly melt awake.
John T. Catrett, III
Scissortail Hospice Chaplain
306 North Main Street, Suite E
Bristow, OK 74010