If you learn to listen to your pain, both emotional and physical, you’ll avoid worse pain.
In Tune with the Bus
“The road doesn’t have any seams in it, does it?” I asked my colleague as I drove the bus through a narrow canyon along Highway 12 in Utah.
“I don’t see any,” he said.
“I’m pulling over. Something doesn’t feel right.” I slowed and found a spot along the narrow road to safely park.
We instructed the students to stay on board while the four adults got off to inspect the tires. One of them noticed a bulge on the inner back tire. He gave it a whack, and air whooshed out.
“I guess it’s better for it to go flat when we’re stopped than to disintegrate while going fifty,” I said. “Does anyone have service?” Everyone checked their cell phones, but no one had any.
“It’s safe to drive with one flat tire,” the industrial arts teacher told us, “you just have to go slower.”
I saw a park ranger pulling out of a dirt road across the highway, and I jogged over to see if he could help.
“Escalante’s about 12 miles away,” he told me, “but I doubt they’ll have a bus tire. You’ll at least have cell service there.” His radio squawked, and he waved a friendly goodbye and pulled out.
We limped toward Escalante. I kept the bus at 25 MPH and the emergency flashers on. Suddenly, a loud bang shot through the bus, and several of the boys jumped up with a scream. I pulled over again.
“I think the tread came off the tire,” one of the men said.
The adults piled off again and worked to pull the tire tread out of the wheel well before it caused more damage.
Not in Tune with My Foot
When we reached the outskirts of Escalante, I saw two things—a sign for a visitor’s center and the end of town. I pulled over again to let two teachers and the 25 boys off at the Escalante Interagency Visitor Center. The IA teacher and I headed to the other end of town to try our luck at the shop.
Miracle of miracles, the Napa Auto Parts/Auto Shop had a bus tire that fit our bus. We never expected to find a bus tire in a town of fewer than 700 people. I spent the next hour walking around town, trying to find a park and ice cream treats for the boys.
The students walked the half mile to the park, and I brought them ice cream. They played multiple games of infection, ate their lunches, and relaxed. My right foot hurt, but I brushed it off. I had on wool socks and an old pair of Birkenstocks. I know it didn’t look fashionable, but it felt too hot to wear hiking boots for walking around town.
I continued cruising around town on foot—this time, I wanted to find ingredients and baggies for putting together trail mix for the students. As the lunch hour came and went, I knew none of the boys would have a scrap of food left. We would continue to our destination and go on a six-mile hike when the mechanics got the new tire on, so they’d need more food.
When I finally sat down and looked at my foot, my sock had a blood-soaked hole in it. Weird. I slapped a band-aid on it and kept going. When we arrived at the trailhead, I swapped my sandals for my hiking boots and noticed the band-aid had ripped. Strange.
Listen to Your Pain for Faster Relief
By the time we hiked six miles, ate supper, and headed back to the campground, my foot didn’t hurt very much, so I ignored the situation. Over the next two days, my foot hurt on and off, and I found blood on my sandal a time or two.
Finally, I took my sandal off and felt the footbed where my foot hurt. My fingers rubbed over something sharp. No wonder my band-aids ripped. I couldn’t believe I’d waited almost three days to identify the source of my pain.
No matter what I tried—tweezers, a knife, or pliers—I couldn’t grab the offending piece of metal and get it out. I have no idea how a piece of metal embedded itself in the sole of my sandal and through almost an inch of cork before poking out the footbed. It feels like a staple, but I can’t tell for sure.
I can’t believe it took me almost three full days to listen to my pain and inspect my shoe. Sure, I didn’t think I had time (who has time while trying to organize and execute a week of outdoor education for 57 people?). Maybe I ignored the pain because the offending piece of metal contacted a calloused place on my foot, and I thought I could tough it out.
Whatever the case, I realized it took me seconds to investigate a bumpy ride on the bus and three days to investigate a wound in my foot. Huh.
The situation made me wonder about all the times I’ve failed to listen to my pain—both physical and emotional—and ended up hurting worse.
Our Upbringing Determines How in-Tune We Are as Adults
I finished a second book on healing from religious trauma today and learned even more about human nature, pain, and emotions. Depending on our personalities, our Enneagram number, and many other things, we will all process events differently. We don’t control our reaction to events. Likewise, we can’t control someone else’s reaction to events, either.
For example, one of the young men on the bus experienced trauma from the flat tire incident while his brother didn’t. Neither one has ever been in a wreck, but their sister died in a tragic bus accident a year ago. They mourn the loss of their sister equally (but differently).
Both boys made the bus trip to our destination, enjoyed the hike, and rode back on the bus. The next day, our school counselor let me know one of the boys had requested not to ride on the bus again. The loud noise on the bus triggered reactions to his sister’s death.
My reaction to the boy’s feelings determines whether he feels shamed by his emotions or finds healing. Hint, I didn’t tell him he needed to trust God more and get back on the bus. He rode in the school van for the rest of the trip.
This young man has learned to listen to his pain and share it with someone else to find a healing space. He knows what he needs and knows how to ask for it. I wish I would have learned earlier how to do the same.
All too often, religious people (me included) listen to platitudes instead of to their emotions. While we may know how God comforts us, we tell people, “You just need more faith,” instead of asking them how they feel.
As if faith somehow cuts emotions off at the knees.
STOPP and Listen to Your Pain
While it seems easier to believe platitudes (whether offering them or receiving them), all we do is take out a loan. One day, we’ll have to pay off the debt. A healthier habit is learning to listen to your pain.
My counselor gave me a laminated business card with the acronym STOPP printed on it.
- Take a breath.
- Observe: What am I feeling? What am I reacting to? What am I feeling in my body?
- Pull back. Imagine looking down at yourself in a scene below you. Are you reacting to facts or opinions? How might someone else in the same scene react or see the situation?
- Practice what works best. What do you need to do right now to feel safe? What is best for you? For others? For the situation?
In the case of the bus tire, I immediately identified a problem and took action to solve it. But when it came to my own body, I ignored it and suffered longer than needed. I also tossed my beloved Birkenstocks because I couldn’t remove the piece of metal.
My sandals had served me well for six years, but they no longer served me. Another important lesson I learned. It’s okay to let go of things, relationships, rituals, or even religions that no longer serve us well.
Listen to your pain, whether it’s physical, emotional, or spiritual. Learn to STOPP and assess your pain, its source, and how it makes you feel. You are worth learning to practice what is best for YOU.
Have you ever failed to listen to your pain? Did ignoring it serve you well? Have you ever offered religious platitudes without considering the recipients’ feelings? Or has someone’s platitudes made you feel hopeless or angry?
Inspire Me Monday Link-Up
- Welcome to the Inspire Me Monday Community! The link-up opens Sundays at 4 pm, Arizona time.
- Link up your family-friendly inspirational posts (no more than two, please).
- Visit the person who links up BOTH before you and after you and leave a comment. This helps keep our community vibrant!