How to Turn Pain Into Wisdom
“Wisdom is nothing more than healed pain.” Robert Gary Lee
I opened my eyes in a hospital room in severe pain, not able to move, pipes in my nostrils and other parts of my body. There was a needle in my hand attached to a blood supply bottle.
When I was 6 years old, a stray dog had been chasing a bull down the road. The bull ran over me. I had been walking across the street towards a toy vendor when I heard a loud thumping. Everything in my head turned black.
I had to go through a major operation due to severe internal bleeding. The operation left a big scar on my stomach, I couldn’t play, laugh too loudly, run and dance like other kids, as it created pressure on my internal stitches.
My Indian family was always worried about who would marry me with that scar. I got fat and had a dusky complexion in my teenage years. I was insecure about how I looked. I lacked confidence. By the time I was sixteen, I came to believe that no man would ever love me and that I would be alone for the rest of my life.
Then I fell in love with the first man who showed me the least bit of attention. He was ten years older than I was, an alcoholic, and critical of me. He made my life miserable with his constant taunts and forced intimacy. He took advantage of my self-esteem issues and constantly threatened to leave me if I didn’t do as he said. I didn’t want to leave the only man I ever had (or, I believed, I ever could have), so I did as he asked until the time I started to feel ashamed of belittling myself so much.
The relationship lasted a couple of years until I came to the realization that it wasn’t worth it anymore. I left him and moved on. I focused on college and dedicated myself to my studies and building a career.
In the last year of my Masters, I met someone in class. He was sweet, charming, devilishly good looking, kind and, on top of everything, he treated me well. He made me laugh, he showed me respect and we found ourselves spending too much time together. For me, he was too good to be true, like a guy straight out of a romantic Bollywood movie who entered my life to take away all my pain and misery.
His presence made me feel better about myself and my life. I enjoyed the initial attention and love, but after a while it started to fade. He got busy with his new job and started pulling away from me. I was always insecure about losing him. For me, he was like a trophy that I could flaunt to prove my worth.
When I became too needy and dependent, he broke it off. In my mid-20’s, I found myself sulking, spending endless hours in my office bathroom crying, calling friends at odd hours to share how I felt and looking for ways to heal a broken heart.
I not only lost him; I lost myself, my purpose and my direction in life.
I lost interest in my work and poured my energy into the breakup. At that time, absolutely nothing made sense to me. I had nothing to look forward to in life. My heart and mind were always heavy and my eyes filled with tears.
I kept replaying the good times we had spent together, the images of romance and the future promises that we had made to each other. I constantly cursed myself for being so needy and for pushing him away. I thought about how my more “appropriate” behavior would have saved that relationship and how it was all my fault that it ended. After blaming myself, I started blaming my parents for bringing me up so critically. I started blaming my career for being so demanding. I blamed myself for being so vulnerable.
My demanding job made it difficult to deal with everything, so I quit that as a first step towards taking charge of my life. I had nothing more to lose, so I focused all my energy and attention on making life a little better than it was.
At one point, I decided to spend a day without using the internet. I wanted to find out what else I would do if I didn’t have WhatsApp, YouTube, Facebook, Instragram or any social media.
I pulled out a notebook and pen and started writing about how I felt at that time. I wrote about my past life and experiences. I wrote about how being treated critically had made me feel, I wrote about the accident and the impact it had on me. I didn’t realize that I had started crying, and soon my tears were falling on the notebook I was writing in.
I wiped my tears, kept crying and continued writing. Almost six hours passed, but my urge to write didn’t end. I had been sitting in a café since morning and now it was time to go home. As I closed my notebook and packed my stuff, I felt lighter and happier.
My pain has now become my biggest strength in life. Even after heartbreak and pain, I haven’t lost the soft and vulnerable person inside of myself. I just learnt how to deal with emotions in a better way.
Here are a few things I learnt through my painful experiences and how you can grow from your pain:
1) One person cannot complete or change your life.
Your romantic partner is just another addition to your life; don’t make him your life. Pay attention to your relationship, but have other interests and passions to look forward to.
2) It doesn’t matter what others think.
When I quit my job, my family cursed me for being so stupid. I heard their criticism, but stood strong in what I had done, regardless of what they thought about me. Their harsh comments didn’t bother me anymore. The first step to becoming independent is to stop seeking approval from others, especially the people you’re closest to. You can’t live your life according to what others want.
3) Let yourself fall and fail. Accept problems as they come.
Problems, pain and heartbreak are a part of life. It is okay to have them. It is OKAY to make the same mistake twice or even more, but it is not okay to feel miserable about it all the time. Forgive yourself and forgive others to move on.
4) Use pain to learn and grow.
I allowed myself to take chances, feel awful, cry and sulk, but I also understood how to work through the pain. I used every painful experience as a means to learn, grow and introspect. I never became dependent on any one and I didn’t need anyone to complete me, but at the same time I didn’t stop myself from falling in love again.
5) Work on your personal growth.
Have something bigger in life to look forward to. Live a purposeful life. Write your life goals on a piece of paper and stick them in a place where you can look at them throughout the day. Read self-help books, surround yourself with positive people and pay attention to your thoughts. Replace the negative thoughts with positive affirmations. Practice gratitude.
6) See pain as wisdom.
The biggest learning of my life through all these heartbreaks has been the change in perspective in the way I look at pain. I don’t see pain as a negative or unpleasant emotion anymore. I see it as my seeds of wisdom. I don’t feel like pain is holding me back; instead, it’s pushing me forward. You have a choice with respect to your experiences: you can embrace the amazing experiences that unfold, or you can cry over the painful experiences that will naturally come up.
I look back at my life and smile, grateful for being so brave and not feeling like a victim. I feel gratitude for my inner strength, which allows me to deal with pain the best way I know how.
This is the feeling of freedom and true independence. I now see myself as bigger than my problems: someone who is strong enough to navigate life rather than drift helplessly.
Neha is a short story author and novelist. She shares her life experiences through stories at her blog here. You can also email her at nehabindal 999 (at) gmail.com.