Dear Former Self,
I thought it was time I wrote to you about pain. Do you remember what pain felt like as a child, as a little baby? Your muscles grew, your limbs ached, and you cried. Your body doesn’t grow that way anymore, and yet you still hurt, you still feel pain, and you still cry—because that is the nature of things, of life. So when you are in pain, I want you to think of it this way: as a child we feel pain when our body grows; as an adult we feel pain when our mind grows, or, you know, when we try to exercise too soon after eating cheesecake.
Pain is like a phone call from the universe to tell you that you’re growing. (And I don’t mean outwards, so don’t get the scales out already.) The voice on the other end might be loud and brash and hurt your ears, and the line may be crackly and hard to understand, but its purpose is to lead you on to new understandings and joys. In a perfect world, we could grow without pain because we wouldn’t resist the signs telling us we need to change. But we are stubborn by nature, and change usually makes us uncomfortable and anxious. So, what clever work-around does the universe have for us? It forces us to grow—to move on to the next phase of life. The phone rings and rings, and we ignore it. We don’t answer it because we are afraid—afraid it might be a telemarketer! (I know how much you hate them—you hang up that Juno-inspired hamburger-phone before they’ve even said five words.) But don’t worry, the universe isn’t trying to sell you anything, it’s trying to teach you something.
So if you find yourself in pain, try not to stifle it (don’t try to be clever by taking the phone off the hook), because when you stifle pain, you stifle growth. Don’t spend your life trying to avoid dealing with pain of any sort, or you will miss out on life. Listen for the phone, and when it rings, pick it up.
I know you can do it. I remember how you were after your band broke up: you were happy, relieved, but you didn’t know who you were anymore. You felt worthless and directionless—like an old boat cut loose from the docks in a storm and left to drift in a vast ocean. (I can see you rolling your eyes, by the way.) You were angry and you punched things; you were sad and you allowed pain. You allowed the cocktail of emotions to make you drunk, disorientated, and wake you in an unfamiliar place with a cracking hangover (sort of like a one-night stand, but without the potential need for medical swab testing). And out of all this, you grew—you eventually found land. You must trust in this process again: it is the process of change.
I would add one cautionary footnote to this tale though: allow pain, sure, but try not to revel in it. Sometimes in the past you have hidden there, taken shelter under its canopy. Remember? But this only hid you from new growth, and you remained stuck in old pain. You took solace in the familiar surrounds of misery, in your comfort zones, because you thought it a source of inspiration.
It is true that artists use pain to create and express all the time (and I know it helped you write a lot of songs over the years), but you don’t need it to be artistic. There are many other ‘states of being’ that are equally as authentic and artistic as pain—like love, faith, hope and joy. Creating from the same energy source every single time is the equivalent of using the same colour paint over and over again when there are many colours on the palette to choose from. But we get comfortable—familiar—and that’s why I say don’t rely on pain for inspiration, because you can end up needing to concoct a painful experience in order to be creative.
So what I’m saying is, whenever you are in emotional pain, tell yourself: “I’m growing.” It won’t make you feel any better straight away (in fact you’ll be like, “Yay, growth. Kill me now”), but as the cycles of pain and joy—and learning and growth—continue, you will come to recognise pain for what it is: growth. You’ll see through the dark, brooding Batman disguise, and there’ll just be some dude called Bruce Wayne.
Life isn’t supposed to be all about pain, but it is about growth and learning. And the less you resist pain, my dear Former Self, the less painful your growth will actually become—the more natural it will feel. So you can try to protect your wife, your child, your family—even your friends—from the harshness of the world, but do not be afraid of the pain they may face in life. You have felt pain and you have grown, and are a better person for it. This may also be the experience of your children, and that is ok too. Don’t worry for them. They will have their own pain, their own joys—their own life. And all of that is out of your hands. Their muscles will grow and their limbs will ache, and they will cry. But the cry will be a cry of growth—a cry of life.
Yours forever in the here and now,