The fact that the holiday season can be a painful reminder of losses for many people, along with a recent Facebook post by a friend about facing and overcoming grief got me reflecting on an important life lesson I learned through an experience about 14 years ago.

I had a back injury. It was, as one might expect, pretty painful. When I started physiotherapy, the attending therapist announced to me that she was going to use The MacKenzie Method with me. This method involves laying in certain positions that people with a back injury typically avoid, because these poses cause an increase in pain.

When she first explained it to me and we began to undertake these exercises, it seemed to me to be the most counter-intuitive and bizarre treatment program I’d ever encountered. Why in the world would I purposefully do something to make the pain more intense? What strange manner of medieval torture was this?!

As I would lay on the treatment table in the position instructed by the physiotherapist, the pain would rise. Everything in me would scream, “Move! Get up! Avoid! Stop! Make this go away!!”

But here’s what I discovered:

After about 60-90 seconds of increasing intensity, the pain would actually crescendo, and begin to subside. I mean, who knew, right? I’d never sat through the pain long enough before to experience this. Within about another 60-90 seconds, the pain would be completely gone. Yeah, I had to first bear up under the pain, but if I pressed through it, relief – medication-free, jazzy-high-tech-treatment-free relief – was on the other side. In fact, more than relief; by choosing to position myself to invite the pain, to let it rise and to wait patiently through it, I was actually facilitating healing. Within a month of undergoing this treatment I had a stronger core and was almost completely pain-free.

As I have pondered grief and loss in my own life, it occurs to me that this is much like that. Grief can be overwhelming. I have, like many people, often gone to great lengths to find ways to avoid that pain. I’ve thought that if I reached in and touched it, really felt that pain, that I would not survive. But it isn’t true. In order to avoid that pain and just “make it stop”, I have to engage in all kinds of self-medication and avoidance activities and employ coping mechanisms that are short-term band-aid solutions and do nothing to foster true healing.

But I can position myself instead to give that grief, that pain, room. To let it rise. And if I can wait through that rising wave of pain, just sit in it and let it wash over me, and discipline myself to hold still and face it, that pain will surely peak, and subside. And healing is on the other side.

grief

This isn’t an exercise that is done just once and then “There! All better!”, you understand. It requires repetition, maybe daily, with grit, courage and determination. But it’s worth it. You won’t die; the pain will not conquer you. Let it rise and press through it, and in so doing, you will overcome; you will find healing.

Tell me what you think.