A friend of mine told me that someone asked him if his reluctance to get involved in church again was merely licking his wounds. He had been hurt by church people in the past and felt tentative about diving in again. It wasn’t until later that it started bothering me.
Why should anybody care if he’s licking his wounds? For some reason people expect us to move on from our pain, almost pretending it doesn’t hurt. The response is to allow us to feel hurt for a little time and then start pushing us to not hurt anymore. They seem to be eager for us to stop hurting. Once our pain bothers them, it becomes a problem. That’s when we get accused of just licking our wounds.
But why do dogs lick their wounds? Because they hurt. It is their natural response to pain.
What if we are licking our wounds because we still hurt? What if it takes a year for my friend to no longer feel hurt and get involved again? Can that be acceptable? Or is that too long for us to feel comfortable with and decide we need to start pushing him recover faster? It seems that the time frame that it needs to heal and move on is decided from the outside, by someone not experiencing the pain.
When is it someone else’s place to determine that you are no longer in pain? you are the one experiencing it. You are the one that will determine that you are beyond it.
When you hurt, you hurt. That’s all there is to it. When you are done hurting, then you are done.
When I dislocated my shoulder in college, I discovered a whole new realm of pain. I didn’t need someone to tell me I was in pain. I also didn’t need someone telling me to get over the pain as if I could just will it away. Granted, you can function through and beyond pain. It is still there though.
The helpful people worked with me to find solutions to ease the pain. I iced a lot. I took pain medication. I learned to sleep in new positions. I wore a sling. I carried my books in the other hand. A friend taught me how to open doors in a different way to not injure myself more. Any of these things could have been categorized as licking my wounds. I was dealing with my pain, relieving the symptoms, protecting my wound. Had someone suggested that I carry books with my injured arm because I was just licking my wounds otherwise, I would have punched them with my good hand.
I did however, push through my pain. I continued to play football with my injury. This is what we expect of people: to stop being hurt and move on. I was able to perform well enough to contribute to my team. I didn’t disguise my injury though. They knew what was going on with me and they accepted that.
The downside? I aggravated the situation. My shoulder continued to dislocate. Every game. One game it came out of joint and went back in three times. All of this caused further damage to my shoulder, making it more unstable, causing the injuries to happen more frequently.
Sometimes pushing through the pain gets things done but it makes things worse.
Eventually, I had to take some action to heal. Ending my football career helped some. Getting my shoulder surgically reconstructed helped more. However, that included a lot of pain too. In fact, when I first woke up from my surgery, I thought I made the worst decision of my life. My pain was worse. The healing hurt more. And I complained about it. Someone could have easily told me to stop licking my wounds and they would have been put on a list for vicious vengeance some time later.
The therapy I needed to help recover from the surgery was terrible too. Just trying to learn to move my arm again proved difficult and excruciating. The healing process can be just as painful as getting hurt. It was close to a year before I started feeling like my shoulder had the strength and stability the surgeon promised. The constant pain eventually faded.
Just because there aren’t visible to slings to wear when recovering from an emotional injury, it’s easy to take for granted that the person isn’t really hurt. But I cannot judge your pain and you cannot judge mine. We can offer help to ease the pain and maybe even help heal. We just need to remember that more pain may be involved in that process.
Pain sucks. Only you know when you are done hurting. Don’t let anyone tell you that you should be done.