We Need a New Way to Work With Pain

photo by Melodee Solomon

photo by Melodee Solomon

The first time I remember being deeply depressed was when I was 17 and went away to college.  Every time my mom would call me I would dissolve into tears.  I didn’t know exactly why I was sad.  I knew I didn’t want to be there and that I didn’t feel in control of my life.  Adult me knows now that I had just removed myself far enough away from the culture of my family to begin to start separating out what was me and what was them.  Another big piece was that I had just stopped drinking.  Taking alcohol out of the equation was allowing me to feel my feelings and they were leaking out everywhere. I drank heavily as a teenage girl to numb out and then decided drinking was for unevolved people when I got to college...a pretty lonely position to take as a freshman.  So, what do you do with a sad girl when you don’t know how to help her?  Therapy and anti-depressants, right? 


I said no. 


I knew that wasn’t the answer for me.  I knew there was something behind my feelings that was real and true.  The secret to myself.  All the healing I ever needed if I could just start to untangle the knots around my heart.  And so, I began the search to deeply know and understand Me. 


Over the past 25 years, I have tried almost everything-psychedelics, Buddhist meditation, yoga, hypnosis, past life regression, acupuncture, Reiki, herbal medicine, soul retrievals, shamanic drum journeys, sound healing, astrology, psychic readings, Akashic records, bio field tuning, crystal bed therapy, EFT, plant medicine, ecstatic dance, crystal healing, therapeutic massage, traditional therapy, Breathwork, Hakomi therapy, and books and books and books!  I threw the kitchen sink at my healing.  I followed my curiosity.  I followed my intuition.  I kept all three eyes open-always looking, always searching for the next thing that might shift things a little bit more. 


I didn’t do this in a feverish way or make it a second job.  I did it with the intention of finding peace in my spirt and in my heart, more joy and more freedom.  That is my one true driver of all the things that I do. 


And what I found after years of devoted investigation of self and seven years of clinical practice is that the evolutionary superpower of understanding our emotions appears to have been missed.  Identifying, owning and validating your emotional experience is essential to your healing.  Being in denial and dismissive to our emotional truth is a self-betrayal that creates even greater pain.  Nothing changes when you deny your history or your trauma, whether it is little t trauma or big T trauma. 


If we are not relating TO our wounds, we are relating FROM them.  The subconscious drives us and creates behavior that reinforces what we think we know to be true about ourselves, how life is or how other people are.  Most of our limiting core beliefs are formed around the time we start having conscious thoughts-3, 4, or 5 years old.  It can happen as early as conception or in utero.  These are where thoughts like- I’m not good enough, I’m not safe, I can’t trust love or other people, no one is capable of taking care of me, I’m all alone in this-are planted.  Social and familial conditioning can cement these limiting beliefs in our bodies and belief systems.


Patterns are created in the psyche through intense experiences and through our ancestral lineage.  DNA and trauma can be passed into our cells in utero and within our family of origin. Patterns are complex energetic designs that are made up of information.  For example, if you are given up for adoption, you may receive the information that people you love will abandon you.  If an experience isn’t processed completely, then it becomes part of your belief system. 


It takes an intense emotional experience to create a pattern and it also takes an intense emotional experience to break that pattern. 


This is why you can only do so much healing with your mind.  You can understand conceptually and logically why your mom was emotionally unavailable for you.  Or why your father could only express love and value you for your achievements.  Understanding on a mental level doesn’t heal the pain.  Intellectual understanding doesn’t keep you warm at night. You can spend years venting and analyzing and talking about your feelings without ever touching the depth of pain and disconnection that they have created.


Talking about your feelings is different than feeling your feelings.  Understanding why is different than open hearted, embodied knowing, compassion and forgiveness from human being to human being.  The problem is, it hurts to feel feelings.  Especially if you’ve got a little girl or boy inside that has never been completely acknowledged for the abuse, neglect or lack of safety they experienced. 


So why do we resist?  Why do we avoid doing this level of emotional processing?  The strongest drive in humans is not survival, it is The Familiar.  Even if we are miserable, even if we are stuck, even if we are in suffering, it is familiar.  It’s the devil we know.  It’s safe.  Our amygdala has not changed much.  We are no longer fighting tigers, we are fighting our comfort zone. 


We are so disconnected from our feelings that we just call them “stress.”  What would happen if we acknowledged that what we really meant when we said “stressed” was worried, depleted, insecure, afraid, guilty, sad, overwhelmed, or wracked with self-doubt?  Who would help us?  What would they say? 


We might be told to get more sleep.  Stop eating gluten.  Exercise.  Calm down.  Get a grip.  Chill out.  All reasonable suggestions but not the right medicine for a lifetime of unacknowledged pain. 


Feeling our emotions is uncomfortable and we’ve probably received a multitude of subtle or not so subtle hints that our feelings make other people uncomfortable too.  If you’ve ever told someone something real and true and traumatic for you and were greeted by a blank stare or an abrupt subject change, you’ve received a clear message about what you are allowed to say and not allowed to say.  Feelings have a stigma in this culture so we tend to isolate when we are in a dark place.  We have been taught not to be a burden or a downer so we hold our hurt close to the chest and wait it out. 


This stigma creates a culture where our emotions are being subdued, silenced and anesthetized. 


Just a generation or two ago, our mothers would have been strapped down on a bed and given tranquilizers for their “hysteria”.  We live with the imprint of that terror, shame and invalidation of our feelings.  To me, even the label of depression or anxiety being a “mental illness” reinforces that stigma.


Sadness is not a mental illness.

Worry is not a mental illness.

Fear is not a mental illness.

Anger is not a mental illness.

Unhappiness is not a mental illness.


These emotional states can become worn grooves in the spirit to the point where they feel like they are who you are.  They are movable when they are given consistent and loving attention.  They are movable when you learn to recognize each emotion as a messenger that is asking you to pay attention and make a change.  They move FAST when you feel them fully and recognize how and why they were created. 


*Takes a very deep breath.


I really hesitated to speak on this but I’ve put in my 10,000 hours and I have a lot of thoughts on medicating feelings.  I can count on one hand the number of people I’ve seen who are on anti-depressants that are not still depressed.  The serotonin deficiency model has been disproved (see Dr. Kelly Brogan’s work in A Mind of Your Own).  These medications were meant to be used as tools but they are being used as solutions.  There are more people than ever on anti-depressants and more people than ever who are being diagnosed with depression.  If you look at FDA trials, these medications are not doing what they are supposed to be doing.  They are often prescribed unethically, with little investigation into the origin of the pain and often zero follow-up or check-in.  We have a cultural crisis where people are being given the wrong treatment for their spirit. 


I see people being put on medication because their families don’t have the emotional resources to provide help and their pain is bringing uncomfortable attention to the family’s dysfunction.  I see people going on medication because they don’t like their jobs, they are going through a breakup, they are lonely, they are declaring their sexual preference for the first time, or their partners are not interested in witnessing their feelings.  These are normal human experiences, not psychiatric conditions.


Part of the intention of emotion based medication is to give your system a jump start and a reprieve so you can have the energy and motivation to get the help you need. If you don’t have the sharpness of the pain as a motivator, often no lifestyle changes are made and the road to true healing can become a dead end. 


These medications don’t take away pain. 

They don’t take away the human craving to be understood, know, seen and accepted.

They might help but they do not heal.

They might work on the branch, but not the root. 

And the root is our responsibility if we choose to accept it. 


Healing is not about calming down.

It’s not about blunting your feelings.

It’s about moving the lifetime of pain energy out of the body. 


We can’t rest our way out of our feelings.  We can’t talk our way out of our feelings.  We can’t medicate our way out of our feelings.  We can’t keep running away from our feelings. 


We have to feel them to heal them.  All of them, all the way. 


We are waking up from collective illusions and delusions right now.  Learning to trust the validity and truth of your emotional experience helps you connect to your intuition.  Learning to move them out of your body can save your life. 


No one wants to do this work.  It’s hard.  I do this work for a living and I do this work for me so that I can hold your hand through the dark places and still some days I’m like no thanks, give me that third glass of wine and that fourth hour of Netflix. 


But I can say I haven’t been depressed since 2015 after almost 20 years of dealing with it.  I have been disappointed, heart broken, angry, disillusioned and sad.  The difference is that I can meet each feeling as its own expression.  It doesn’t get added to the pile of unprocessed pain. 


If therapy or medication has pulled you out of the dark and saved your life, I am thankful and grateful that you received what you needed when you needed it.  My intention is not to criticize anyone for their choices.  My intention is to push the conversation around a different way of working with emotional pain and to offer some different options for people who are looking for them. 


I don’t have all the answers and I am not the one to decide what is right for you.  I do know what I’ve experienced and how I’ve seen it work for hundreds of clients.  I do know that you need to have some way to deprogram yourself from old conditioning and some way to discharge emotional pain from your body or else it can make you sick or keep you miserable and disempowered. 


Body Centered psychotherapies like Breathwork and somatic experiencing are the future of healing psychic pain. 


I practice and hold space for Breathwork which combines these elements:




Connects you to your body and your intuition

Bypasses the mind

Discharges emotions


It has cleared my heart, body, and spirit of so much density and suffering.  I have great relationships now with my family.  It helped me heal the pain of my sister’s death.  It healed a lifetime of emotional pain.  It put me in touch with my creativity.  It helped me connect with divine Source energy.  It took the mean, critical voices out of my head.  It helped me greet myself with compassion and generosity.  And, it helped me finally realize that I Am Enough. 


I know that it can do that for you too whenever you are ready.