When I was 15 years old, I flipped over the handlebars of a four-wheeler and broke my arm. I didn’t realize that it was broken, however, until several hours later. I was so preoccupied with cleaning up and bandaging the cuts that covered the surface skin, that I didn’t recognize how much pain I was in until I noticed my arm start swelling up to the size of my thigh.
I’ll never forget what the doctor in the emergency room said to me hours later. As I sat on the hospital bed with a ballooning arm, he looked at me and said, “You’re probably fine, since you aren’t crying, but let’s check it out just in case.” When he returned with the x-rays a few minutes later, he admitted, “Well, you must have the highest pain tolerance in here, because there’s a huge crack through your arm. Let’s get you into a cast.”
I remember this story now because I think it taught me a few important lessons. First, just because it hurts doesn’t mean it’s always apparent to others. Second, people assume things and it’s usually the opposite from the truth. And third, sometimes we’re too busy focusing on the surface wound that we don’t see what’s truly going on underneath.
When it comes to wounds, physical or emotional, it can be tough to see what’s at the root of our suffering. It’s easy to think that whatever’s visible on the surface is what’s causing the pain, but what about the stuff that’s deeper than that? The stuff that’s below the skin, deep within our cells? How do we see that stuff and start to heal there?
Life will throw shit your way and sometimes it feels as if you’re being thrown over the handlebars. After that type of crash, our attention can go full force to trying to heal the thing that may not really be the most important. We get flipped upside down and our priorities get jumbled. Sometimes the adrenaline and the shock of a wreck cloud our self-compassion and our instinctive reasoning. Sometimes we need someone or something else to show us that we are, in fact, broken beneath the surface, and it’s time to get put back together again.
I discovered recently that I’ve been focusing all of my attention on the surface wounds – the bills, the fight with my friend, the stress I feel at work, etc. They’re like small scabs that I won’t stop picking at, and then wonder why they never heal. Meanwhile, a whole other part of me is begging for my attention. The wounds go much deeper than we can always see. So, allow yourself the space to see what you really need to heal. Focus on the whole person in there and not just the “scab” that’s front and center right now – the job, the argument, the credit card debt, the extra weight you’d like to lose, or whatever else it might be. We can get so caught up on the surface issue that we fail to recognize the suffering is actually coming from a place much deeper within.
Pay attention. Listen to yourself and your needs. Ask for help when you need it. Forgive yourself for your mistakes. Allow yourself to heal at your own pace. Remember that everyone is going through something. Remember that we are not alone. So, slow down and ask yourself: are you ready to truly heal?