Although I’ve had physical pain and difficult challenges in the past few months, probably the worst I’ve ever had to deal with, I’m reminded that emotional pain hurts and scars even more.
I lived in an abusive environment for the first eighteen years of my life. The day I moved out of our family house, I felt like my emancipation had arrived. I felt a giddiness that life might be kinder to me since I had escaped from the tyranny of the home I lived in.
My sister, still in high school, escaped with me and we rented an apartment in a well-lit apartment complex featuring a whooshing water wheel, palm trees, and one loud neighbor. It promised a new beginning for us, and my sister continued to attend school while holding a job at night.
We turned cardboard boxes upside down, which served nicely for our “evening dinner table.” We had dragged our bunk beds with us, the only furniture we had. We later found an old whiskey barrel and stained and varnished it. It served as our end table for our lamp. For me, it symbolized our freedom and independence.
From that day on, I tried to forget the abusive environment I had lived in. I pretended it didn’t exist. I certainly didn’t want to talk about it. Plus, I didn’t want to risk rejection. So, I built walls and stuffed the pain and memories deep inside me, in dark corners where the doors slammed shut and my mind could ignore it.
When you deny emotional pain, it doesn’t deny you. It pops out in many various forms, depression, anxiety, physical illnesses of all kind (some life threatening), to name a few.
I lived with depression, anxiety, anorexia, insomnia, and physical ailments that doctors couldn’t find a biological cause.
Because I couldn’t stand the suffering any longer, I opened the doors to the dark corners at the suggestion of a doctor telling me my problems had an emotional base. I knew, even as he spoke, I had to face the truth and couldn’t ignore it any longer.
I began to heal soon after admitting everything to Jerry. I asked him to pray for me. Jerry said, “I didn’t know this.” I had told him about my childhood and the struggles I had to deal with, but I hadn’t told him of the pain I had hidden and tried to forget.
Jerry didn’t laugh or reject me. Instead he became my greatest advocate. Soon, I told a few friends and they too became advocates for me. They supported me in my healing process of facing the truth. They shared with me their own pain—pain I never realized they had.
And this is what I know. You can’t be set free from emotional pain if you live in denial. You can’t pretend it didn’t exist. If you say to yourself, “I don’t want to talk about the past, it’s too painful”—then your pain will persist.
This is what I want anyone who has emotional pain and pretending it never happened to know: Nobody can be set free from a problem until they admit they have one. An alcoholic or drug addict can’t begin to heal until they admit they have a problem. In AA meetings, alcoholics confess, “I’m an alcoholic.” It’s a step in their recovery.
I faced my past, and I have healed from it. I don’t hold any ill will toward the person involved in my painful past. I’ve forgiven. Now when I think about that time in my life, it seems like reading a chapter in a book as it no longer feels personal. I take responsibility for my own life now, and I know that my painful experiences help me to understand and care about anyone living in an abusive situation, or for that matter, any kind of pain. I’m an advocate in whatever way I can be.
My sister still has our whiskey barrel from our emancipation days. Standing by her front door, it welcomes her visitors. It symbolizes our physical freedom. But it doesn’t symbolize facing the truth. That comes from within.