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Embracing the hurt

Saira Valley

Posted on October 14 2019

Embracing the hurt

Man, life is messy isn’t it.

It’s kind of funny when I stop and think about it. I often joke that I wish my life was like a book or a movie where shit just worked out and I had all the money and health and power and wisdom I could ever need.

Wait a minute. NO movie is like that!!! In fact, when I pushed myself I was like, shit! Almost every movie, book, play or TV show I have ever seen is fraught with drama. There is absolutely not one that I can recall that wasn’t, and if there is it probably wasn’t very interesting and I forgot all about it. And I know I am not alone in this world view.

I wonder where it comes from, this belief that somehow life’s default is happy bliss, and the unexpected tragedies or heartbreaks and pain are the failures? How do we come to believe that we “deserve” a perfect life and when things go off the rails or we get our hearts broken or our feelings hurt or we fall on hard times, that those events are anomalies that are SO unexpected? Like, HOW and WHY are we still surprised when these things happen, and why do we let them hold such power over us and our happiness?

Perhaps our perspective is off, and the story and strength really does come from the tests we seem to face in big and small ways every day. Whether it’s our kids pushing our patience over the crust of their not perfectly cut PB&J or the death of a parent or loved one, these are life’s inevitable stories. The tragedy, the pain, the broken moments and tears are just honestly, the way it goes. I found myself thinking (whilst deep in the weeds of one of these dark times) where I felt beaten to my knees by the weight of my mistakes, that maybe my pain wasn’t a curse. What if instead of seeing every bruise as a failure where I should have known better, I was stupid and fucked up, I sucked! What if instead I took it as a gift? A moment to grow, to gain wisdom, strength, focus and specific energized direction.

So I really started to think about my history with heartache. What was my earliest specific memory of it?

When I was in the fourth grade, I was sitting in Ms. Doris’ class room, I was 9. Our seats were benches with desks attached and we each had one desk mate next to us. I sat next to the window. Farthest from the door into the class room. It was a hot day, as usual. There was no air conditioning and it was over 100 degrees in the Pakistani sun. My back was sticky and my long frizzy hair stuck to me like glue. I felt sick.

Ms. Doris was talking about something; I have no clue what she was on about, my mind was elsewhere. I was thinking about my parents and how I was terrified they were going to get divorced, or that my mother was going to stop waking up one day. Our house was never normal, but it was normal to us. My mom was very sick growing up, she suffered from crippling migraines and even more insidious depression.  She took pills to numb both and that landed her in bed, a lot. My dad was gone all the time for work. For some reason that one day, the pain of it erupted inside me like a volcano. In the middle of class, I burst into tears. Shaking and sobbing. People stared at me. Ours was not a culture of sharing feelings or expressing emotion. It was uncomfortable and I wanted to be erased. I remember feeling such searing pain, I thought for sure it would never end. I felt anger at my parents for not giving me the perfect life I deserved and believed everyone else had. I felt betrayed, and I felt ashamed.

For so many years I felt like that experience and the many others were all bad. That the pain I had experienced throughout my life was some kind of failure in my story. A defect that wasn’t supposed to happen.

As I sit here, 39 years old with 3 children, one of whom is 9, that story looks so different. I don’t feel anger, or shame or disappointment for my experience that day or the experiences of my abnormal home. I am sad that the decisions my mother made led to her untimely death, and I am sad for the fact that my children will never know her face, or her scent. But more than any of that, I find myself full of thanks and gratitude for my experiences.

When I think back on those years, I realize now my poor parents were just stumbling along blind and in pain themselves trying to the right thing after a surprise pregnancy made them decide the rest of their lives at a young age. Together, for better or worse, they kept their surprise baby and raised a family together. They moved across the world, and suffered through a marriage filled with mistakes and regrets of serious choices made too soon. But above all that what our family shared was an incredible, deep and sincere love.

In my young years, full of naiveté and rose colored glasses about everyone else’s perfect life, our family’s short comings shouted louder than the blessings I see now. But that experience in its entirety is what has shaped me into who I am today. All of my pain has. My miscarriage at 21, chronic illness at 30, the death of a parent, a marriage in trouble, bad financial decisions and bad business decisions, fights and dreams abandoned, falling apart. They all made me.

These aren’t scars to bear with shame, they are the landmarks of a life lived, a life learned and a life cherished. I would do just about anything to bring my mother back and have a conversation with her, but that isn’t going to happen. Her loss is irreversible and permeant. The sadness of her loss is deep and unyielding, but what a waste it would be of her life and her death, if I chose to dwell in the pools of pain rather than swim with gratitude for the life she gave me by her life and by her death. The pain that almost ended my marriage, could have been a weapon to wield forever. But it was instead the cement that built a foundation of intimacy and trust that will last a lifetime. A far better choice than the resentment and rage we could have picked.

Our pain is what it is. We all have it. No one is immune. Even those who wear the shiniest crowns and have the biggest whitest smiles have their own devastations. Somewhere in that suffering, is a gift. A gift that someday we can give to someone else who is lost and can’t find their way.  A gift that will allow us to heal someone who really needs it.  A gift, that lets us embrace the tears because we know they will yield to happiness. The very pain that feels unending is what gives us the opportunity to feel true happiness, aching belly laughs with tears; our hearts full of joy. Pain isn’t punishment, it’s just the human condition. And it is truly amazing that we have the power to take that pain and turn it into something precious, something incredible, something timeless and full of hope.

I am forever grateful to my family for giving me the gift of perspective. For anyone reading this who is lost, or alone, or in that place I have been in many, many times. Know that the story isn’t over until it is literally, over. As long as you can breathe in and out, as long as the sun rises and sets, there is hope. 

XOXO

Saira

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