Fight The Fear That Comes From Pain


in Dawn Smith, Vulnerability

Dawn LOFB BadgeOnce upon a time, I was a happily married woman.  My husband, Joe, and I had reached a point in our lives where we looked around and said, “ok, we’ve got the house, the cars, the dog, the jobs, the hobby… what the hell do we do now?” Life was good.  Our relationship was not perfect, but we were good together.  He was the person I would spend my life with, grow old with, my best friend, the one I told all my secrets to.  I was more vulnerable with him than I had ever been with anyone, and it was a comfortable place to be.  Then he was diagnosed with cancer.  And then he died.
This is not a story about how he lived, or how he died.  This is a story about how I lived.  I watched the man I loved suffer for two years before his death.  I watched as I could do nothing for him but love him and be strong and joke with him (gallows humor is strange and wonderful) and hold his hand and make him dinners and cry in the car on the way to work and on the way home.  I watched as he died slowly, though I wasn’t there for his final moments, which haunts me to this day.
The greater the love, the greater the potential for destruction.  The pain of the hours, days, weeks, months after his death was utterly soul-shaking.  At times, I thought I would die from the pain, the sheer physicality of it.  I even, at times, wished it would kill me just so the pain would stop.  But it would not stop.  I endured, occasionally cursing him for leaving me (though clearly he had no choice in the matter), always loving him, always missing him.
I opened myself up with Joe and the result was this rending, ripping, wrenching pain, this seemingly unending miasma that threatened always to pull me under.  I wanted to never feel pain like that again. I wanted to avoid the thing that hurt, to shut down and hide, to stop breathing, to stop living.  I wanted to close myself off, not to avoid the pain I was feeling then (there was no avoiding that pain) but to build a shelter against future pain.
If loving someone that deeply and being that vulnerable can lead to such pain, why go back there again?  Why open up and let someone else in, when, sooner or later, that person is going to die, too?  The answer is so cliché that I’m hesitant to name it.  But here goes… Do it for love.  I truly believe that one of the things required for deep, lasting, abiding love is vulnerability and giving of one’s self completely.  My time with Joe proved that to me.  For a while after his death I was emotionally walled off from the world.  But for me, that couldn’t last.  Closing down like that isn’t living – it’s ever-so-slowly drowning.  At some point I recognized this, and after the maelstrom of emotions began to calm, I started on the long path to allowing myself to open up again.  Like someone with PTSD, I spent time flinching at the possibility of pain, not fully letting my guard down lest any attachment result in fresh wounds.  I was guarded, and tentative, but I saw that the answer was either live life again or die a slower and more lonely death than he had suffered.
Today I am, once again, a happily married woman.  My husband, Glenn, is a wonderful man, the person I choose to share my life and my secrets with, the one with whom I am open and honest and vulnerable. He has been patient and kind as I’ve learned to open up again.  I still flinch sometimes.  The pain still lives in me and rises up every now and then, and when it does, I fight the fear that comes with it.  But I’ve learned so much about myself.  I’ve learned that I am strong enough to face any storm, that I am strong enough to share myself fully, and that the good that comes from doing so with Glenn is more than worth the risk of any pain.  Fight the fear that comes from pain.

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