Embrace The Pain
Over the past few years or more, I've had a refreshing view on pain. Something shifted, and now it seems for me that a common theme emerges when dealing with pain of any kind: embrace it. Or, as my natural labor childbirth book put it, "Become one with the pain." It may sound all new age or like a bunch of bologna, but I've learned that statement couldn't be more true. Whether it's becoming one with the pain in your body, in order for you and the pain to work together at healing or giving birth to a child, or becoming one with the sorrow of rejection that we, as writers, face almost daily, it is the same.
Yes, I compared a writer's rejection to childbirth, because...well, duh.
As a culture--and correct me if I'm wrong, but especially for men--we are taught and conditioned to tough things out. Shove away the pain. Fight it. Deny it exists, even. We see it all the time, in parents who scold their children for crying, who tell them to "toughen up." It's been branded in most of us from the time we were young.
But who says emotions and feelings are wrong? Why do we have to deny them a place in our hearts?
Well, I promise you: denying that pain exists, or shoving it to the bottom of our feet until it can rear its ugly head at a later date, will only give the pain fuel to fight back harder. When we fight it, it fights back. It can destroy us this way. Please, take my word for this, and not just from me but many others.
Pain can be a gift. A wretched, awful, heartbreaking gift. So use it as one. Embrace it. When we do--when we become "one" with it--we allow it to serve its purpose. We allow ourselves to do what the pain intends, whether it be physical or whether it be to mourn.
Because this isn't a labor and delivery blog, I will turn away from that and focus on the emotional and mental pain. More specifically, the pain of rejection.
As a writer, whether you've just started out or have been grandfathered in, you know pain, rejection, and opposition are a part of this lovely dance we perform. We simply cannot succeed, as writers, without it. So what do we do? Do we give in to our initial emotional response that tells us to "GIVE UP NOW BECAUSE I WILL NEVER BE GOOD ENOUGH AND I JUST WANT TO DIIIIIE!"?
No. But, we can revel in that bitter, drowning spiral for a bit, let its rancid flavor grace the tips of our tongues just long enough to refuel our determination and help us move on. Because I don't think we can move on until we have embraced it.
The first agent rejection letter I ever received was a BLOW. I mean, head-buried-in-the-pillow-and-sobbing kind of blow. All those nasty thoughts ran through my head, which in turn triggered (as they usually do) other personal demons I've always battled. I wanted to quit. I thought, "Who am I fooling? I can't do this! I'm nowhere near as good as so-and-so."
The next was just as difficult, and so were the ones after. But do you know what made them more difficult? The simple fact that I was fighting that pain. I actually got livid with myself for feeling it. I had to be strong, after all. Writers are strong. They have to withstand rejection. So I was already failing miserably.
I don't even remember what it was that switched things around in my brain and helped me see it differently, but once I did, it made enduring the rejection easier. It didn't take it away. No, even after years and hundreds of rejections, the pain still comes. And it will continue to come when my books are published and I start getting negative reviews. But knowing that I'm allowed to grieve is what made it possible.
I accepted the pain, and I mourned. I allowed myself to bear the awful weight that pushed me into the mud.
But only for a day. Sometimes two. For those two days, I knew I couldn't make any rash decisions because if I did, I would have decided to quit. So I stepped away and allowed myself to feel that desire to quit without acting on it. In the back of my mind, I told myself, "Only today. I will mourn only today. Tomorrow, I will get back on the horse and try again. Because this is my dream, and I can not give up on it."
And guys, it worked. It didn't take away the pain, but it made getting through it bearable. And the next day I did just that. I got back on the horse. And you know what? Every tiny rejection actually aided my ever-growing determination. Over time, in retrospect, I realized that it had been all those rejections or discouraging words from people that pushed me to work that much harder. I know I wouldn't be as strong or be where I am today without them. If it had been easy, there wouldn't have been any reward.
Plus, I wanted to prove them wrong. I wanted to prove myself wrong. Because I could do it, dammit. And no one but me would say otherwise.
I may be past the rejection letter phase. But I'm fully aware that my rejection and harsh criticism is just beginning. It's going to be hard. I don't have thick skin when it comes to rejection. In fact, I have such an unhealthy fear of it that I usually do all I can in my life to avoid it, even if it means missing out on great opportunities. So I know I will face some discouraging roadblocks throughout my journey once my books see the light of day. But I know I worked my hardest, of that I can say with surety. And I know that I wrote my heart out, and that those books are my heart, and people do love them. Not everyone has to. Not everyone will. And that's okay.
As a person who has struggled with depression throughout life, and who knows her share of internal wars, I know this acceptance doesn't come easily. But it does come.
Let's shed the I-have-to-be-a-tough-guy skin and allow ourselves, for just a time, to be raw. Men, I'm talking to you, too. Who cares what society says about how we must be. Our bodies are mourning for a reason. Feel it. Live it. Because it's that pain that will push you to be stronger when the morning comes.