My first memory of pain was at the age of 8, when a close friend of mine passed away in a car accident. Now, 27 years later, I am still very familiar with pain and how crippling it can be.
I grew up in North Queensland in a small house near the beach. Playing by the ocean was part of our culture. We were taught how to swim and stay safe in the water because we were by the sea more than we were in our own homes. We learnt at school what happens when you get ‘stuck in a rip’ and a very strong current of water will pull you out to sea. They would tell us that it can be incredibly scary when a movement of water is so strong that it can carry adults both big and small.
When you are stuck in a rip current and you feel yourself being dragged by the pull of the water, it may seem like you will never find your way back to the shore. Getting caught in rips is one of the main reasons why people can die when swimming at the beach.
Several years ago, I found myself going through a season where I was in constant pain, both physically and emotionally. It was an extremely hard time and I thought it would never end. I was hurting, felt helpless and there was absolutely nothing I could do to make the situation any easier or better. It was during this time I was reminded of the lessons we were taught when we were growing up.
The situation I was in could have been likened to being caught in a rip. It was strong and taking me in a direction I did not want to go in. I felt as if there was no way out. The important thing to remember about rips is that they actually cannot physically pull you under the water.
The two main reasons why a rip is so dangerous is because of: PANIC (from not knowing what is happening and being scared of where the water is taking you) and EXHAUSTION (from trying to push against a situation that is way too big for you to go against on your own).
So, what do you do when you are caught in a rip? Advice from lifeguards nation-wide is to ‘lie back, float and raise your hand for help’.
Lie back and float:
For me, I have always been a fighter all my life. There are times when it is necessary to fight hard for your health, your freedom, your rights, and your future. But there are also times when the situation you find yourself in requires you to lean back and float, and the best strategy is to lean into what is happening. What does this mean? It means to find it in yourself to accept the pain – to take deep breaths and embrace whatever you may be facing. To surrender to the pull of the water and ‘relax’ into the current.
Raise your hand for help:
This part is critical. As humans, we physically cannot do the journey alone based on our own strength. Time and time again, we will be faced with situations stronger than we are and we need to be able to call on the help of others, who have the resources and strength we may not have, to help carry us through and find our way back to the shore.
When you are caught in a rip, it can be hard to imagine that you will make it back to the sand. The pull of the water can be so strong that it may feel as though you are being taken out to sea. But that is in fact a myth. The current of water will not take you out to sea. It will pull you to the back of the set of waves coming into the shore.
When I look back on different seasons of pain I have gone through in my life, I remember how brutal and agonisingly hard those times were. But surprisingly, I don’t wish that they had never happened.
“You see, through all the pain I have experienced, I have grown.” — Justine Flynn
Every difficult season that I have walked through has helped me become who I am today because I have allowed the pain to shape me in a positive way.
You may have heard the saying, ‘What doesn’t break you, makes you stronger.’ Well, I don’t think this is true. I remember a very painful day at work one day, when I ran into the toilet to be alone because I was so overwhelmed by the situation I was in. I remember reflecting on this saying at the time and thinking that it was wrong, “Oh no – I am broken. This has broken me”.
I think that this saying encourages an unhealthy view of brokenness, positioning it as failure and something that we shouldn’t ever let happen to ourselves. You see, I have learnt through the many years and hard times I have gone through, that brokenness is actually a gift. It’s okay to be broken. It’s okay to feel as if you have nothing left to give.
It’s in this place of surrender that you learn to heal, you rebuild, and you restore and the very thing that tried to take you out completely, becomes a powerful tool that you can use to help others around you who are going through similar tough times.
So, the next time you are stuck in a situation that you feel is stronger than you are, remember: to LEAN BACK and FLOAT, to raise your hand and signal for help and know – that this season of pain you’ve found yourself in is only temporary and at the end of the journey, the strong current will ease up and you will be ready to ride the waves back to the shore, rebuilt and restored.