No pain, no gain...

Photo by  Michal Maňas

Photo by Michal Maňas

Few days go by that I don’t hear someone either noting how strong they think I am, or marveling out loud about the many things I’ve done these past nine months. When I look back, I see it all; but to me, it wasn’t many things, it was all one thing that had many steps. All those steps snowballed into something greater. What began as an absolute determination to show my kids that life was worth surviving the awful, that life could still be wonderful and beautiful after something terrible happens, became an ongoing education about life. Not only the fragility of life, but the resilience of it. It started for them. I had no hope for myself at first, but if I’m honest, I learned more about it all than I could have anticipated; life, being a mom, being a woman, being a human. About happiness, sadness, fear, and most notably, pain.

When I look back on the past few years, it’s like watching a movie. I can see “me,” tired, withdrawn, with a fake smile on my face. I can see “me” in the same old jeans and cardigan, lonely and overwrought, hustling from one task to the next with no discernible light ahead. Devoid of emotion, DESPERATE to feel anything other than anxiety for an hour, a minute, or even a second. I was the poster child for someone depressed and anxious, dissociated from the world. I see “me,” but now to me, she looks like a “her,” because something has happened this past year that I never allowed to happen before, I felt the pain.

When I was a kid, I lived through some scary and hurtful experiences that shape me to this very day, and I spent most of my adolescent and adult years doing anything I could to avoid pain or disappointment. I didn’t take chances. I didn’t pursue success for fear of failure. I avoided deep, meaningful friendships, and I did what I could to live quietly somewhere in the middle. Not exactly failing, not exactly thriving, just hiding in the “in-between” to keep my risk minimal. I spent so much energy trying to stave off pain, and I got hurt anyway. Pretty badly. The thing about pain? It hurts. Big shock, I know. But I didn’t just learn that pain hurts.

Pain has taught me that challenging the fear is worth it. I never thought I had regrets about my life until now. I mean, I regretted a few choice nights of binge drinking and unhealthy phases in my younger years, but I mean, overall. I’m creative by nature. I love to write, I love to sing, and when I was younger, I really wanted to try acting. When I was in high school, I took lessons, and I was pretty great at it; but all it took was seeing my friends laugh at me a few times, and my Oscar-winning career was over before it began. When I was in college, I had to perform a piece from A Midsummer’s Night Dream to pass a course on Shakespeare; the professor, who’d seen hundreds of performances in his life (or more), told me I was missing my calling. It was one of the highest compliments I’ve ever gotten in life. I was just too scared. I had no excuse. No kids to care for, no mortgage to pay. I’ll always regret it. Every time I think of the pain I’ve endured this year, I think, why didn’t I just TRY? What was the worst that would have happened??

It has taught me to be myself. In my life before now, I can count on one hand how many people knew me. I mean REALLY knew me. I was so scared of judgement, of people saying bad things about me—that I would do my best to smile, nod, and laugh at all the right moments. Careful to never offend, to never laugh too loud or say the wrong thing. I’d rehash social interactions over and over and OVER again until I made myself nauseous, wondering if I said the wrong thing. Here’s the thing…what if I did? What if I was just being me? Why can’t I accept that people will take or leave me as I am? What’s SO awful about that? The truth…nothing. When something so huge goes so wrong, it starts to feel so dumb to worry about people liking you. Even when you do every.single.thing. right, someone will not like you. And that's okay.

Pain has taught me to judge less. One thing I’ve noticed is how little I care about what other people are doing with their lives anymore. If experience with pain has taught me to be more myself, shouldn’t it also make sense that everyone else should be allowed to be whoever they are? Someone has a quirky sense of humor? Right on. Someone parents wholly different from me (but clearly loves their kid), sweet! I just don’t care enough anymore to decide what anyone else should do with their lives, as long as they're doing it their way.

It’s has taught me that its okay to feel it…to let it overwhelm me. To let it knock me down to the ground and into the fetal position. I used to stuff my pain down deep and not acknowledge it. If I ignored my fear and sadness, they weren’t really there. Except they’d surface in other ways…physically and emotionally. Severe panic attacks, eye twitches, hair loss, insomnia. The thing about emotions, including pain, is that if you ignore them, they’ll find a way to smack you upside the head somehow. I’m not going to say it’s the best feeling (clearly), but allowing it to really emerge, to accept that pain is a part of my life, has freed up so much more of my emotional energy.  

Pain has taught me that it’s worth the risk to feel the hurt. When I married Kenny, “risk” would not have been the word I would have used. He was so sweet, so kind. He’d never hurt me. He’d never be the guy to up and leave me. But it happened anyway, didn’t it? The thing is, I was so scared my whole life of the pain, and now that I’ve felt it, I realize it doesn’t matter. I wouldn’t change a thing. Loving him was worth the pain I felt losing him. I’d do it a hundred times over. A million. I’d do it over, and over, and over again. And I think it’d be worth doing again in the future, if I were ever so fortunate.

The biggest lesson I’ve learned from pain is that I want to live the rest of my life not fearing it. It’s going to happen whether I fear it or not, so I may as well spend less time looking for it, and more time enjoying the moments I’m not feeling it. I want my kids to not fear it. I want them to take the chances I never did. I want them to go for their dreams, even if they’re outside of the box, to be themselves and trust that people will love them for who they are. I want them to trust that the challenges in life will be worth it—that there really is something to gain, even through pain.



Megan Courtney