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Getting to the Root of Pain to Work Through It and Be Happy

Deep Thought

“The secret of joy is the mastery of pain” ~Anais Nin

I come from a family of runners. They run from pain, emotions, and uncomfortable feelings.

My mom was 17 when she moved to Texas to get away from her overbearing mother. She couldn’t deal with the pain of never being enough for her parents or herself. She left her parents, extended family, and friends behind in Mississippi without a second glance.

A recovering anorexic, she was looking for something, anything that would ease the pain and prove she was okay.

My father arrived in Texas in his 40s, after leaving his home country of Chile to sail the world. He was looking for something better, something bigger, something to make him feel complete.

When my parents met, my mom was 17 and my dad was 42. It was far from a match made in heaven, but somehow they ended up with their first child within a year—my brother. A year later I was born to an already overstressed mother with no family support system.

From as far back as I can remember, I knew something wasn’t right. I have always been a sensitive person, and I could feel the stress and anger my mom held within even as a toddler.

I didn’t understand these emotions, even though I knew they were there. I assumed, as most children do, that these emotions were directed at me. I decided I had to make things right, because I had obviously done something wrong.

My mom was prone to spontaneous outbursts of anger, so I made it my mission to make her happy. I did everything and anything I could for her and my dad. I knew when I showed emotions it would upset my parents, so I learned to hold my own feelings in.

I taught myself that I was unworthy and flawed, and that I should be happy that my parents took care of me.

Eventually, the pressure I put on myself became too much. Every time my parents fought, I blamed myself for not pleasing them, for not doing enough to make them happy.

When my dad left for a year, I thought I had done something wrong. Every time my mom yelled at me, it felt like a knife piercing my heart and it only proved I had messed up again.

Anxiety and low self-esteem began to kick in full force around seven years old. I remember hearing my mom complain about how fast I was growing, and I felt ashamed for not being able to stop it.

When we went to the store for clothes or shoes, the anxiety would kick in. I knew I didn’t deserve new clothes, because I grew too fast. So I would hurry up and choose the cheapest item, hoping it wouldn’t cost too much money.

When my mom put my brother and me on a diet at age eight, I felt the deepest shame imaginable. I wasn’t overweight by any means, but my brother was, and I think she was afraid I would get there too.

I remember opening my lunchbox to find boiled eggs, and worrying that the smell would make others stare.

As I grew older and my mom became angrier, I tried harder. I was a straight-A student, played sports, cleaned and cooked, and did anything I could for my family. I never asked for anything because I honestly didn’t think I deserved it.

Eventually, the pain and feelings of inferiority became too much. They were overwhelming me to the point I couldn’t breathe. I began avoiding situations that brought out these emotions.

I stopped eating in the school cafeteria and instead spent lunch in the bathroom or in a teacher’s room. I avoided most social situations because they brought out those old feelings of low self-esteem. Even going to the store proved to be anxiety producing. I felt I didn’t deserve anything, so I only went when necessary.

My avoidance of emotions spilled over into other parts of my life. Although I was smart and motivated, I would purposely sabotage myself because the fear of failure was too great.

I ruined every relationship I touched, romantic and platonic, because I was afraid they’d leave.

I maneuvered my way through life by finding safe situations and avoiding anything that brought back my painful emotions.

And then, the pain came. First, my knee became tight and misaligned. Next, I broke my foot. I was diagnosed with pre-cancerous cells on my cervix. Then, the worst part, I began having symptoms of interstitial cystitis, which is an “incurable” bladder disease. The symptoms continued with back pain, shoulder pain, and stomach pain; you name it, I had it.

I was falling apart. Up until this point I was the healthiest person I knew. I didn’t understand what was happening to me, and I would hide the symptoms from everyone around me.

I tried many therapies; some worked temporarily, and others were a joke. I spent thousands of dollars on supplements and books, but none were successful.

One night, as I stayed awake in pain and discomfort I ran across a website. It mentioned how almost all addictions and illnesses were related to repressed emotions. At first, I was skeptical, but I eventually I decided maybe my emotions needed some attention.

I went on a healing journey. I decided to face my feelings instead of running from them—and it was hard. Thirty years of repressed emotions is a lot. But if there is one thing I am, it is persistent.

My first healing came by going to the store.

I knew the store caused me anxiety, which I usually pushed down while I ran through it quickly. This time, I walked into the store and let the anxiety do its thing.

It came on strong, but I did not run. It pushed and pulled at every fiber of my being. After a few minutes, the tears started. Under all the anxiety was a sad little girl who wanted someone to say they loved her, to tell her she was worthy.

I let the tears come as I walked to my car. I continued this process several times. Sometimes the tears would come, and other times I was just calm.

I started paying more attention to everything I did. Anytime I had symptoms or felt like I was avoiding a situation, I would make myself feel, without running or numbing myself with food or exercise.

I didn’t question why I had the emotions and I didn’t rehash past memories. I simply let myself feel.

There were a lot of tears behind those layers of resistance. Over time, the tears slowed, and the symptoms left. It took several months of consciously attending to my own emotions.

I realized all the drama I had created in my life was my way of avoiding pain. The funny thing is, the more I avoided the pain, the more pain it caused.

I have finally learned that pain has its place. It teaches us and it helps us evolve. There is no reason to avoid it. A rainbow can only come out after the rain—and joy can only come after we work through the pain.

 Photo by [[^Raúl^]]

Avatar of Melinda Gonzalez

About Melinda Gonzalez

Melinda Gonzalez is a radiographer living in Houston, Texas.  After being diagnosed with an “incurable” illness she decided her life needed some attention. She went on an emotional healing journey that continues to teach and inspire her every day. She currently writes a blog about her life and budgeting at www.budgetingcake.com, and is planning to start a blog about her journey back to wholeness and health.

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  • Fiona C

    Wow. Reading your story is like reading parts of me. Obviously a different story but I could so identify with you. I too am on my journey of healing. I don’t know how far I have come but I know I am on it and every day I try to grow a little more. Reading your heartfelt words is inspiring and another push for me to keep going in the right direction. Thank you. And may you live the life you want and deserve in peace, calm and happiness.

  • http://halinagoldstein.com/blog Halina Goldstein

    Thank you for sharing your story with such openness. How brave you are!

    We are blessed to live in a time when, even if life is not easier by any measure, it is at least easier than ever before to find support, find inspiration, find wisdom, find your way into healing.

    The older I get the more I feel dedicated to supporting and inspiring the generation of women (and men) who did not have the same opportunities for healing and realization – those in the second half of their life. Who have just lived their life the best they could. Until, suddenly, severe pain strikes, such as illness or death of a loved one and they have to start all over, somehow.

    Pain is a tough teacher. So tough that it’s hard to see the love that is behind it. But it’s there all right. Like a rainbow, yes!

    Many warm greetings -

    Halina

  • jenn

    thanks for sharing! it makes me feel like i’m not alone. I am also someone who represses my emotions. It wasn’t until recently that I decided to do something about it. Its still not easy for me to just “feel”…and I have alot of work to do yet. But your story is an inspiration. :D

  • Veda ju

    Wow that was really wonderful and something I needed to hear right now! Thank you :)

  • http://twitter.com/EirenePullo Eirene Pullo

    Mmm. Thank you for sharing. It’s like a hug for my insides.

  • Mel

    Thank you for sharing! I know I can relate because I have similar feelings that I have struggled with since the age of 7. I would always repress my emotions from the ones I love in hopes that it would not hurt them or make them think that they have to always look after me. I just don’t like showing my vulnerability, I don’t want people to be turned off if they think I`m emotionally unstable, but I actually am. Your post makes me feel I`m not the only one. I have a hard time living here, I am away from home in college. It’s been 3 years, but everyone seems perfect and I feel so flawed and tortured. I`m 23 right now and have a hard time making lasting relationships. I often feel so conflicted, confused, and scared. I made the decision recently to really seek out help in hopes of making my relationships with the few friends that I have and my family stronger and that I can make friends with acquaintances. I feel like everyone around me has a hard time really getting to know me and it really affects our relationships. I don’t want that to happen anymore. It would be nice to talk to more people who feel that way with feelings being suppressed and how they were able to get through it. You definitely provided motivation to seek that help. At this age I already have a ton of health problems and really want to have a better life.

  • Dave Burney

    Wow – I can relate to this on so many levels. From my anxiety as a child up through my depression as an adult. So much of what you have written resonates with me. Thanks for the post. I look forward to your future posts!

  • Ben

    I come to Tiny Buddha when I’m in need of support. I needed that today. Thank You.

  • Melinda Gonzalez

    Thanks Jenn! It’s hard to realize how much we are missing out on life by repressing our emotions, until we start to feel again. When we repress the “bad” emotions we also tend to repress the “good” which makes it even worse. I wish you well on your journey, it is a journey that is worth the ticket price :)

  • melinda gonzalez

    Thank you Dave. When I was suffering from depression it seemed like there was no end or hope in sight. However, once I changed my intention to just “feeling” as opposed to trying to get rid of the depression – it naturally just lifted. I swear, I remember feeling like a little kid the first time I felt the depression lift. I felt alive, and hopeful for the first time in years. Keep looking up, and most importantly keep feeling. The depression cannot stay if you are feeling – the bad and good.

  • Melinda Gonzalez

    Thank you Ben, I am glad you chose to come here.

  • melinda gonzalez

    Your welcome :)

  • Melinda Gonzalez

    LOL, Hug for the insides, I like that. Thanks for reading!

  • Melinda Gonzalez

    Thank Halina. It was actually really hard to be this open. I kept thinking “I should email Lori and tell her never mind” every few days before it was published, LOL. I am quite the drama queen. I am glad I finally did it. I needed to share this part of me.

    Yes, I think a lot of women have pain issues later in life. Once the commotion of raising children and what not calms down, many women are left wondering what just happened to their life. I am glad there are people like you to help them get on track.

  • Melinda Gonzalez

    Thank you Fiona,
    I am realizing there are so many like me out there. We are definitely not alone on this journey, that is for sure. It seems you are surely going in the right direction. Keep on taking those steps, one by one.

  • Melinda Gonzalez

    Hi Mel, please don’t ever feel alone. There are so many others having a similar experience right now.

    I also had trouble making and keeping relationships. The few I had I always managed to destroy. When we feel like we don’t deserve others we tend to push them away (even in ways we may not realize). I remember a therapist telling me I just had to go out there and force myself to make friends, and not be afraid. I was like “sure, sounds easy, until the anxiety kicks in”.

    I finally realized I was going to have to be gentle with myself. I started small, just smiling at strangers. I allowed myself to feel everything when I was around people. The fear, the anger, sometimes I would cry. I didn’t judge ANY of it. I just let it do it’s things. Eventually, I could be myself. I could be goofy, say stupid things, and just be me without judging myself. We have to love ourselves first before others can.

    If you want to talk via email please feel free to email me, my email is on my website. I am happy to talk to others about our stories, and how I got to where I am. I can recommend a really good book that was the catalyst of my healing (I don’t know if I am allowed to post it on here, so just email me).

    Your experiences are exactly what you need right now. When you get to the other side of this (and trust me you will) you will be able to step back and see the purpose. Your soul knows what it is doing. You are exactly where you need to be. Keep on trekking my friend – you are on the right path.

  • Jak

    Hi Melinda,

    Your article is wonderful. I can relate to this in so many ways. I recently went through so much with my long time relationship. This only gave me a true reality check to understand myself better in every way. I discovered that everything I was taught my entire life, my beliefs and values were all presented to me in a way where I was being unkind to myself and judging everything around me, including myself. Being brought up thinking it was all love by my parents instead it was nothing but manipulation. Brought up with the idea that I had to give up my own happiness to please everyone else and repress all my feelings, I was left with unhappiness, anxiety and low self esteem all my life with not being able to communicate with others.
    I am now in my late 20s trying to rediscover myself as a whole new person is very hard and overwhelming. I only came to this point after losing the love of my life. This broke my usual pattern in order to find answers to so many questions and learn about myself.

    I noticed you were trying to mention a name of a book which was the catalyst of your healing. I would love to get my hands on it. I went to your website but did not find your email address to contact you. It would be great if you would let me know what’s the best way to start this journey.

  • Melinda Gonzalez

    Hi Jak, it’s funny you say that as my pain started shortly after a relationship ended pretty badly. I think the pain and relationship ending were signs I needed to stop and nurture myself.

    Our parents do teach us what love is, no matter how distorted or crazy it is. We cannot blame ourselves as we were just trying to survive the only way we knew how as children. However, as adults we have to take responsibility for that child inside us that is wounded and nurture it.

    In essence, we are really survivors on a journey to learn what loving really is. We are truly blessed, as our stories have forced us to wake up and discover what love is for ourselves, instead of just following what others say it is.

    Rediscovering yourself can be hard, but if we let go of the past it becomes easier. It is a process, and trust me you will look back one day and laugh at it all. That is when we know we have truly evolved, we can laugh at everything the universe gave us, and realize it was exactly what we needed.

    As for the book, I will mention the name and I hope it is OK will Lori. The author doesn’t promote at all, as he isn’t focused on making money. The name of the book is “The Presence Process” by Michael Brown. You can get it on Amazon for under $10.00. I honestly cannot express how much the book has helped me. It is the easiest, yet hardest process I have ever been through. You don’t have to do much physically, in fact you should probably do less, but you must do the emotional stuff.

    I wish you well Jak. I hope the book helps, and you can always email me (I will add my email to the “about” page on my blog). Cheers to a wonderful journey.

  • Sheila

    Thank you so much for sharing so vulnerably, Melinda. Your message is so important, especially right now, and I see Truth and incredible amounts of value in your story. I’m so happy for you that you decided to stop running and rather listen to your heart, especially in the depths of its pain. And beautifully so, through this honesty you seemed to realize how much joy was being caught in the pain. Truly inspiring! I send you many blessings of Light and Love, dear Melinda.

  • ah

    I was guided to this post, not by accident I’m sure. How very similar your story is to mine and it is what I neededtoday in getting myself on the right track. These feelings of inadequacy can be overwhelming and to undo decades of this has always held me hostage. There are days I want to give up, but I’m hanging in for a reason. I know bigger things are around the corner. We learn so much from sufferings, and as the saying goes what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. Cliche yes, but true. I think when we learn how to deal with the past, we can pass our wisdom around. I remind myself to love and respect all that surrounds us, we are all interconnected and we need each other. I thank you for passing your wisdom forward and may many blessings come back to you.

  • Gidget

    Thank you for the post. I can relate to a lot of things you described. I’m going through the pain journey right now and it’s very difficult at times. I still avoid a lot. I’m happy you made it through.

  • Shelly Hiddleson

    Great read. Thanks

  • http://www.thedallemagnes.info Angel

    Hi Melinda, I can’t tell you how much your story resonates with me. I’m 37 years old and I still am trying to come to terms with so much in my life. The manipulation I’ve dealt with from my own family has made me spend years beating myself up over that which I couldn’t change. I want to thank you so much for sharing your story and I will definitely be getting into that book you mentioned.

  • http://halinagoldstein.com/blog Halina Goldstein

    Thank you… and as you can see your courage inspires many others!

  • Tess

    Melinda, I feel like this post was meant just for me! I only discovered Tiny Buddha the day before this email arrived my inbox. It literally describes my life to a T. I sat reading in awe, with tears rolling down my cheeks, not believing that there was a person out there who could possibly have had the exact same life experiences – spending lunch in the bathroom, sabotaging relationships, being put on an unnecessary diet as a child and being the sickest healthy person around. I read your story to my husband last night and he couldn’t believe it either. I’ve recently gone back to counselling and after 3 sessions with someone who validates my feelings, i’ve just started to see an improvement in my health (i.e: with an eye twitch that has lasted for 7 months and yep you’ve guessed it – interstitial cystitis which I’ve never suffered from before) and even though I’ve been to the doctor, with my many symptoms, I knew the root of it all had to be emotional – physical symptoms gradually getting worse because I wasn’t getting the message.
    I learned early on in life that even though I’d a large family, no one cared about me. I was expected to deal with things myself because I was “mature for my age” – now I see, that was an excuse so that people didn’t have to bother with me. I did and said everything possible to be good so I didn’t upset anyone or give people a reason to take their love away. I’ve struggled with repressing my emotions my whole life and I reached my limit without realising it, when I got married 6 months ago. That’s when my body basically said “that’s it, I give up, I can’t take any more.” Now I KNOW that repressed emotions are the root of my problems – mental and physical. Your blog post was the validation I needed, telling me to trust what i already knew deep down. It’s ok to be me.
    Thank you so much for not giving into fear and writing this post anyway. I now trust I’m on the right track, that I’m not alone in my experiences and that speaking my truth and ‘feeling’ might be uncomfortable but will be worth it in the long run. .
    Its true that the truth will set you free. Melinda – congratulations on coming out the other side of the pain. I hope to join you there soon xxx

  • Karen

    Melinda thankyou for such an honest heartfelt post.

    I am sure you will touch many in sharing your story and help them know, they are not alone.

    May your journey continue to give you many healings and joy.

    Karen

  • Melhimshaker

    I knew just from the beginning of your post that I’m going to cry at the end of the post and I just can’t bear it anymore when you said “a sad little girl who wanted someone to say they loved her, to tell her she was worthy” . So YOU are worthy of being loved
    Its a very touching story.
    Thanks for sharing

  • Karen

    Thanks for your heartfelt honest writing Melinda.
    I am sure many will feel connected to your story and it will give them hope to work through their pain.

    Many blessings to you.
    Karen

  • MECHAzuth

    What happens after the acceptance phase? I am in the process of it all… but what comes afterwards?

  • http://www.budgetingcake.com/ Melinda Gonzalez

    Hi, this journey of life really has no end point. Acceptance is just one point in our journey. Once we accept (after grieving) we continue to work on nurturing and loving ourselves. It is our duty to check in with ourselves everyday to see how we are doing: mentally, physically, and most importantly emotionally. As we continue to observe ourselves and our emotions, we begin to understand and love ourselves (the good and “bad”) more and more. That is the ultimate goal – to love everything about ourselves (even the things we judge as bad) so that we can truly love others unconditionally. Once we learn to be compassionate to ourselves – we can finally be truly compassionate to others. Blessings on your journey.

  • http://www.budgetingcake.com/ Melinda Gonzalez

    Thank you Karen, that is my hope. :) Blessings back at ya.

  • http://www.budgetingcake.com/ Melinda Gonzalez

    Hi Angel, you are certainly correct. We cannot change our families, only ourselves. The funny thing, is once we work on ourselves and heal our pasts – our family no longer has a need to reflect back our own issues. You will be surprised how our families seem to change for the better when we work on ourselves. The world, including our family, is just a mirror of ourselves.

  • http://www.budgetingcake.com/ Melinda Gonzalez

    Thanks Shelly :)

  • http://www.budgetingcake.com/ Melinda Gonzalez

    Hi Gidget, I am glad you are aware of your journey. It is OK that you avoid a lot – just be compassionate with yourself. If you are aware and compassionate to yourself during the times you are avoiding, you will eventually get to a point of resolution. Never give up – and always be kind to yourself on your journey. Blessings.

  • http://www.budgetingcake.com/ Melinda Gonzalez

    Thank you Sheila, many blessings back at you!

  • http://www.budgetingcake.com/ Melinda Gonzalez

    Hi Tess, I am so glad my story resonated with you. I think it helps us heal when we know we are not alone on this journey.

    We do have to learn to be the parents we didn’t have – to nurture ourselves and be compassionate to ourselves. That is what our bodies are trying to tell us, they need our compassionate loving attention (that we never got). Once we give that to ourselves, our whole perception on life and the world changes – and we heal.

    We are often much harder on ourselves than anyone else is. It is a hard habit to break, but well worth the effort :)

  • http://www.budgetingcake.com/ Melinda Gonzalez

    I am glad you are hanging on, because the journey is certainly worth the effort. I agree, what doesn’t kill us only makes us stronger. The universe/God never gives us more than we can handle – and if we are thrown a lot it’s only because we need it and are ready for it.

    Love and respect does surround us, and we definitely help each other out in this large connected universe. The most important thing is to find love for ourselves, so we can love everything around us even more.

    Blessings :)

  • http://www.budgetingcake.com/ Melinda Gonzalez

    Thank you Karen, blessings to you.

  • http://www.facebook.com/richard.lindo.372 Richard Lindo

    You got it Melinda.
    solving problems from the root is the only way to go.

    Bless.

  • http://www.facebook.com/niki.tripp Niki Tripp

    Wow. This story brought tears to my eyes – although I can’t relate completely, pieces of this ring true in my own life and I know how hard it is to be courageous enough to let the tears just flow and the feelings just be there. Congratulations on being a badass, and thanks for sharing this!

  • http://www.mimaonfire.com/ Michelle

    I completely related to this article. My father died when I was a baby and my mother had a lot of anger over it. I was trapped in her anger as a child and like you, I spent a lot of time as an adult working through these emotions from childhood. I specifically relate to your story about growing too fast. As a child, I always had hand me down clothes and around the age of 14, I desperately wanted an outfit at the store that was in style. It wasn’t expensive by any means but I just really wanted to fit in with the other kids. My mother (as she did whenever I wanted any clothing) ranted how she would buy for me but it would mean SHE couldn’t get anything new. It’s funny how those words stick with you as an adult. Good luck and thanks for the article.

  • channi

    Thanks Melinda. I read article which is very fascinating. I myself in the trap of anger, but not at your end, but the other end! However I felt very ashamed and I also need help to control myself even though I couldn’t see what the reasons is. But certainly I try to control.

  • Catherine

    This is amazing! So inspiring! I read a book about 3 years ago called Women Food and God and it is about how many people use food to numb past pain. Your writing reminded me of this because she believe in feeling as a way to get through addiction and overcome the past. It has some amazing insight.

    You situation is so much worse than many people, but I think many people have felt this feeling of abandonment from their childhood. I know I have had difficulty feeling like my boyfriend will stick around. I am trying to accept the anxiety that comes with feeling during these fearful times but it is hard to stay and not turn to food or outside fills. You are so strong, thank you for sharing this!

  • Tameka

    My goodness, this is a gem of an article! Thank you so much for sharing your relatable experience.