By Mater Dolorosa.
A few months back I was getting up off the floor and I felt a twinge of pain in my leg. Ugh! I guess I pulled a muscle. So for a few days I iced it and heated it and stretched it. It still hurt but I got tired of taking care of it. I figured after a few more days it would go away.
But it didn’t.
As a matter of fact, it started getting worse. It was easy to ignore or forget about because it didn’t hurt constantly. But if I moved my leg in a certain way, the stabbing pain came out of nowhere and was blinding. As this continued, week after week, month after month, I started to get worried. Shouldn’t this have gone away by now? Is this something more serious? Do I have a tumor or something?
During this time, I started seeing a physical therapist about something else. She tried to get me to do a certain stretch and I couldn’t because of the terrible pain. So she stopped what she was planning on doing and focused on that crazy muscle that I had been ignoring.
Recently I have come to realize there are parts of my heart that are just like this. They are super tense and need help. They aren’t constantly nagging so I don’t know they are there. But suddenly, if I am put in the right situation, OUCH! The stabbing pain can’t be ignored.
I’ve prayed about those things here and there, on and off. They seem to kind of go away, but then once a certain thing happens again, they rear up. What am I supposed to do? Where did that come from? Why is this taking so long to heal? Why am I not over this?
With my leg, it took a while, but the physical therapist was able to find a certain position I could be in to slowly give me relief. I asked her how I would know how much I should stretch it. (I have a tendency to be a “no pain, no gain” person but this time I had enough sense to realize that was not the correct approach). She explained that I wasn’t trying to stretch the muscle, I was trying to relax and get it to release.
Release? What does that even mean?
But as I took the exercise home, I started to understand. I couldn’t just set aside 5 minutes for some stretching. I needed to prop myself up with pillows and just try to relax and let the muscle calm down. It had been in such distress for months; I needed to give it time to realize everything was okay. I had to prop it up with sturdy things. Nothing slippery could suffice. My body knew it might slip out and wouldn’t relax. And I had to lie there for a long time and let it gradually calm down. Then I needed to take a quick break, and do it again, and then a third time. And then the next day, the same thing. After a few weeks of this, it is much better, though I still have more to do.
In my prayer, it is the same way. I can’t just toss up a few prayers about these deeps hurts for a couple of minutes each day and wonder why they aren’t really going away. I need to spend dedicated time with the Lord. I need to relax and hand those things over to Him. I need to release those hurts – truly let them go. And most of all, I need to be patient with myself and my heart. Just as our bodies need time to heal and recover, so do our hearts.
How about you? How have you been able to let go? Please share your insights below! God bless you.
Here’s one thing that works to my advantage: I’ll never need to pay a psychoanalyst to decipher the hidden meaning of my dreams. Last night, for example, I was kneeling in my parish church when the Sisters from my former community unexpectedly walked in. They didn’t see me, but I watched them as they genuflected and took their seats near the front, and I wondered whether or not to go over and join them, since I wasn’t wearing my postulant uniform. Then I woke up.
Nearly two years out of the convent, my subconscious clearly still hasn’t quite let go of what might have been. Thankfully, it’s better than it was: at around the time I would have received the habit, for example, I started waking up in the middle of my Clothing ceremony several nights a week. (At least my community had the understated custom of giving the novice’s religious name at the start of the ceremony rather than the end, so I always got that far!) After about a year back in the world, I’d dream myself standing outside the convent in twilight, just as I had stood in real life while wheeling out the bins each week during postulancy, looking up through a window into the brightly-lit community room where the Sisters were gathering for evening recreation. Now, I wonder what that dream means?
For a long time after returning to the world, I slept a lot, but badly: going to bed at 8.30pm, waking up as late as possible the next day, and getting dizzy with tiredness sometime in the late afternoon. A number of times, I was appointed designated driver home from outings when, despite being stone-cold sober, by 10pm by I was definitely no safer to drive than anyone else in the car. (If I make it to heaven one day, I confidently expect that Saint Christopher will be waiting just inside the pearly gates to deliver a lecture on the subject that I’ll never forget.)
Not being a doctor, I can’t offer medical advice, but if you’re in this situation I can tell you a few things that have worked for me:
1) For a short-term rescue if you’re getting faint during the day, forget the sugar and eat a salami stick. I started carrying some around with me (the individually-wrapped ones), and found that the salt, fat and juices gave a much better energy boost than chocolate.
2) The biggest one: no screens for an hour before bed-time. No phone, computer or even TV, as the bright lights apparently interfere with the brain’s sleep cues. (Well, minimal screens, anyway. I cheat. I’m cheating as I write this now, in fact.) This one actually fixed most of my sleep problems in one go, and drastically reduced the dizzy spells next day.
3) Chamomile tea. If you’re like me, the challenge, waking or sleeping, is to find a channel in your mind that’s not playing repeats of Life in the Convent. Slowly drinking a cup of chamomile tea just before turning out the light can help gently disconnect those loops of thought and take you downward into sleep.
And then there’s the 2am demon: what if I’d…/perhaps if I’d…/if only I’d… (Or its evil twin, what if they’d…/perhaps if they’d…/if only they’d…) The only thing that helps here, unfortunately, is time and a conscious effort to understand and process the grief. It’s as though every memory of life in the convent, good or bad, is a sharp edge that needs to be gone over with sandpaper a certain number of times before it gets dull enough that you can handle it. However, it’s 2am and you’d really like to go back to sleep, so what can be done for some relief in the meantime?
Here, I’ll pass on three suggestions from the wise and patient priest who suddenly found a wildly unhappy recent ex-postulant in his confessional back in 2013.
1) If you’re playing certain scenes over and over, perhaps making magnificent speeches where you actually once stood mute, bring your sense of the absurd into play. Imagine the scene with Bert and Ernie in the background reacting to what’s going on, or Mr. T providing a running commentary. If it sounds extremely stupid, that’s because it is… but I actually laughed out loud the first time I tested it on one of my painful convent memories.
2) Or, if that’s just too silly for words, how about this? Imagine you’re sitting at a table so long that the far end disappears into the distance, and slowly, gently slide the people you’re angry with down the table away from you, further and further until they’re so small you can’t see them anymore. Keep them there and turn your mind to something else.
3) If all else fails or – worse – the person you’re angry with is yourself, then turn the light on and write down, very specifically, what is bothering you. Then (my own later addition), decide on something concrete that you will do in the morning to move on from that situation. I will say a decade of the Rosary for someone’s intentions. I will put $5 in the Saint Vincent de Paul box. I will make coffee for my parents/housemates. I will say the Office of the Dead for the souls in Purgatory. Anything, as long as it’s clear, charitable and constructive. Then turn the light off and, for heaven’s sake, go back to sleep.
And me? Self-evidently, I’m not “over” the most vivid months of my life just yet. But two years out is a hell of an improvement over two months out, no longer bittersweetly receiving the habit night after night being but one example. The Sisters still walk through my dreams sometimes (do I ever, I wonder, walk through theirs?), but slowly, a couple of years behind schedule, my heart and mind are catching up to my life in the outside world. Thanks be to God.