When we consider gratitude, we often focus on the positive pieces of our multifaceted lives. Sarah Lou shows us why we should be grateful for the pain, too.
“I’m going to cry, all alone in this room. Don’t ask me why. It’s just that I need to. I’ll feel the sorrow and I’ll feel the pain. And I will be grateful at the end of the day.” — May Erlewine
I was sitting in a room full of strangers, tears streaming down my face. Strangers all, except for two—my beloved and my old friend May up on stage with her guitar.
When there’s trouble in the bigger world, or pain and sorrow in my little world, and I don’t know how to reconcile it, I turn to music to help me cope. May’s music has always been like a guiding light when I needed one.
This evening was pure magic. I realized at one point during the concert, looking around, that I was not alone in my grief. I was in a room full of people who were also feeling, and suddenly it seemed the room was able to hold more than we could individually. I gave up my efforts to hold the tears in, joined my fellow humans, and felt too.
I let myself go into the moment, into the sensations of pain, into the connectedness of the room. I let myself unravel right there, just as I was.
Suddenly a room full of strangers came together and became family. This is not an uncommon phenomenon in May’s presence, I’ve seen it in Northern Michigan at concerts for decades. May’s music gives permission for feeling, for rejoicing, for being real, for being together.
So as I let the songs she sang touch my heart, I started to feel the relief. The wave was passing, my body was softening, my breathing returning, deep in my belly.
Just the act of allowing the grief to be here, the holding of it gently, of being in solidarity with other humans in that allowing, it’s like it gave me permission to unravel.
And then the gratitude came.
I looked over to my beloved, with whom I’ve shared some difficulty with lately. The grudges melted in that moment when our eyes locked. The resentments of the past, the bitterness, the anger… it was gone. It was like touching the pain of it, braving the intensity of it, solidified something in me that became resilient.
In that moment—where reality was right in front of me and there were no stories—I was overcome with a feeling of incredible blessing. What was behind the pain I was afraid to feel? Gratitude, of course.
I now have a feeling of gratitude for the pain, for the hurt, for the breaking open in me that it caused, because what I discovered beneath has been a greater truth than all the stories I carried. Pain brought me to my knees, and when I allowed it, and held myself tenderly in the space of solidarity with others, I was able to free myself from the grips of my fears.
Often people talk about gratitude. Often people think they should feel more grateful, I know I did. Often people try to feel grateful, try to bypass the pain. That doesn’t end well usually.
I wish there wasn’t a cultural pressure to walk around with our gratitude journals and hide our pain from one another, because if we didn’t have such high expectations of ourselves to be grateful, happy, content, we might actually allow the pain in (and therefore feel happy more often!). We might just live in reality more, and that’s where real gratitude is.
Pain can transform us. Especially pain that has to do with how we’ve fucked up. I know I have tried to run away from feeling my pain, trying to preserve my dignity (haha!). I know it chased me down.
It always does, doesn’t it?
Might as well give in and feel it, because if there’s one thing I would empower you to discover for yourself, it’s this: pain is not forever, and beneath it is hope, and love, and true gratitude.
Don’t get me wrong, it isn’t easy. It takes courage. Grit and determination are swords you need to battle with your fears, as well as a tender commitment to find truth and honesty for yourself. It takes some masculinity to get those fears pinned to the ground—then the feminine comes in to embrace them with tenderness.
It takes surrender to feel true gratitude.
Indeed it’s been a dance of polarity, of embracing all the sides of myself, to get to an experience of authenticity and congruence. It’s bold work, but oh-so rewarding. Each time I allow myself to fall apart, I find more to be grateful for, and build more trust in my own resilience. I acquire new levels of belief in myself to seek out the truth of any situation, despite what scares me. More courage to trust the process of feeling the pain, and to embrace the unknown of what’s on the other side.
I’ve started to see this process as one of emotional maturing, of learning to self-soothe, to re-parent myself. Many of us experienced horrible pain in the past and we just didn’t have mature role models, a community dedicated to growth, or the self-awareness to know the difference. Luckily, as adults with sovereignty, we can meet these needs ourselves, where our little ones couldn’t.
As you embark on the journey of authenticity, you may encounter old pain. Just remember, you have the ability to muster courage when it matters most, to feel through it and stay with yourself when you are in pain or afraid. You can take care of yourself. You can and you must.
Jordan Peterson said something wise along these lines, “Treat yourself as if you are someone you are responsible for helping.”
Pain is the doorway to gratitude, so why not be grateful to the pain?