When I was 27, I had a tonsillectomy. After years of having horrible throat pain and other complications every time I had so much as a flicker of a cold, I finally saw an ENT who suggested I get the nasty things taken out.
He warned me that as procedures go, an adult tonsillectomy is “not pleasant.”
I nearly screamed, “I don’t care! Take them OUT!!!!!”
I was ready to put the years of tonsil torture behind me.
As it happened, in the couple of weeks before my tonsillectomy, I had fallen—hard—for someone I’d started to date.
This was one of those horse-before-the-cart deals; strongly encouraged by the signals I was seeing—and, yeah, okay, probably by some signals I wanted to see—I let myself fall way too fast.
Three days before my operation, the morning after what I’d thought was a great date—a We really connected! This is happening! Swoooooooon! kind of date—the object of my affections told me via email that she didn’t want to date me anymore.
On top of all the run-of-the-mill dumping pain, I thought, What incredibly crappy timing.
Under normal broken-heart circumstances, I would have hit the fetal position for a day or two and then distracted myself with friends, activities, and getting out of the house as much as possible.
Instead, I was due for nine days of bed rest. “I thought my pain was scheduled for next week,” I wrote in my journal. “I couldn’t have seen this coming. It doesn’t line up. The universe is f*cking with me. I’m so hurt.”
And I did not want to feel this way.
To top it all off, I was scheduled to perform in a comedy show that night.
I cycled through every toxic thought.
I tried to think my way out of the pain.
I wrote things in my journal like, “I can’t know who’s around the corner. ALL HISTORY SHOWS that if one relationship doesn’t work out, THERE WILL BE SOMEONE ELSE.”
“Obsessing over this is wasted energy and won’t change anything!”
I felt that knowing these things should be enough to accelerate the healing process.
My brain got this, easy, but my heart refused to catch up.
Two days later I went in for my surgery.
The following 9 days were long, drugged-out days of eating nothing but those sugar water popsicles in the plastic sleeves that I hadn’t had since the occasional pool party when I was 9.
The physical pain was unlike any I’d ever felt (side note: one benefit of that pain was how it forever increased my appreciation of and gratitude for my general good health).
I’ll spare you the nasty details, but suffice it to say that it was nasty.
I was too drugged-out and in pain even to read the easy reading I’d prepared for the bedrest (Twilight, which ended up only putting me in a worse mood because of the horrendous writing. [Sorry, fans. No judgment of my friends on Team Twilight!]).
So mostly I just lay in bed, alternating between a half-waking and half-sleeping state.
From time to time (okay, pretty much every time) when I woke up, I would think about this woman and what had happened. I’d moan from the heart-pain, and then again from the physical pain caused by the first moan.
(Melodrama, much? Hey, people—that’s breakups.)
But here’s the thing.
As bad as the physical pain was, I had been prepared for it, and I just accepted its presence. And that made it a LOT easier to bear.
I knew that it was part of the process I’d undergone, and I knew that no amount of thinking and frustration about it would speed its passing. To try to rush it would have been a ridiculous endeavor.
About six days into this pain party, I found myself reflecting on that concept—how calming it was to know that the throat pain I was experiencing was at least a predictable and normal part of the process.
That I was supposed to be feeling it.
That there was no shame in taking all these days to recover.
And that’s when it suddenly dawned on me:
When we are physically ill, we accept that healing takes time. Our doctors tell us we can expect a certain recovery period.
So we nurture ourselves the best we can. When life requires it, we work through it the best we can.
Why don’t we do the same with emotional pain?
For some reason, we think that we “should” be able to expedite the healing process.
If we can logically understand that it’s over; that we can’t change anything; that that wasn’t the right person or job anyway if she/he/it walked away—we “should” be able to just move on.
So what’s wrong with us? Why don’t we move on already?!?!, we implicitly ask. This is just downright indulgent and embarrassing! We are pathetic!
We want to rush it—to hurry up and heal. To skip the stages of healing and leap ahead to the finish line.
And that’s understandable. Because that sh*t effing hurts.
But guess what? Just like physical pain during recovery after surgery, emotional (and, yes, even mental) pain during recovery after a breakup, layoff, or any major disappointment or emotional trauma, is totally predictable and normal.
You wouldn’t beat yourself up to “just get over” being physically cut open. So why do you do that when you are emotionally hacked apart?
Can you imagine telling someone who’s just had a tonsillectomy to “just buck up and eat some tortilla chips!!”? It’s ridiculous.
And asking yourself to 100% “get over it” immediately after a heartbreak, a major career setback, or any major disappointment, is just as ridiculous.
The next time you’re suffering from a significant emotional setback, use the Tonsillectomy Technique:
- Acknowledge and validate that it’s predictable, normal, and understandable that you’re hurting.
- Just as you would when in a physical recovery process, accept that there must be a recovery period, and identify the things you need to do and the support you need to seek to nurture and heal yourself.
- Do them and seek it—with commitment, self-compassion, and care.
Right now, ask yourself, what are you expecting yourself to “just get over”?
Ask yourself, If this was a physical injury, how would I think about it, and how would I take care of it?
Any emotional injury is just as real—so how can I think about it, and how can I nurture myself back to well?
Tell us in the comments—how do you take care of yourself after an emotional injury?
Photo by Cathy Evanoff