Ruminations: Ibuprofen

At some point, our medicine cabinet got stocked with a bottle of every possible over the counter pain killer. I almost never use them, so it’s easy to forget about them.

It’s not that I’m opposed to medicine. I’m a strong believer in treating (and preventing) illnesses and injuries with the best science available. But when it comes to minor aches and pains, I usually opt for another solution before opening that bottle of ibuprofen.

A headache might mean that I need to drink more water. Or even that my eyes need a rest. A toothache might mean I need to make an appointment with the dentist. I guess my assumption is that pain is my body trying to tell me about a problem. If I take just take something to get rid of the pain without addressing the underlying problem, that physical issue might just get worse.

Sometimes I know exactly what’s wrong. My shin might hurt because I banged it on the corner of the open dishwasher. The bruise will take time to heal, but there’s no meaningful action I can take aside from waiting. In a situation like that, a dose of medicine to numb the pain might make the healing process more bearable.

My opinion about emotional, spiritual, and psychological pain is fairly similar. Some experiences are painful. A lot of times, an experience that doesn’t bother anybody else might stir up traumas or wounds that haven’t healed in our lives. We might call those moments “triggering.”

Maybe you’ve seen a “trigger warning” on some piece of writing, to signal to the reader that a topic might be painful if you’re still healing from that sort of traumatic experience. It doesn’t mean you shouldn’t read the item in question, or that the topic is innately harmful. It’s just a way of preparing the reader so that they aren’t caught off guard.

You might not be the kind of person who gets triggered. That word might even carry some stigma for you. So, we say instead that someone made us lose our cool. Or that we just had to leave the room because we couldn’t tolerate what was happening. Or we phrase it in some other way that seems reasonable. It’s OK to use other language for it, but the reality might just be that we got triggered.

A lot of times, though, we avoid things that stir up emotional, spiritual, or psychological pain. We reach for something to numb that pain rather than recognize the pain as a signal that there is deeper healing that needs to happen. Maybe we do that because it isn’t always clear to us how to move in the direction of healing. It’s not as easy as calling the dentist, stretching our muscles, or drinking more water.

And yet, if we ignore those internal places where we feel particularly raw or protective, chances are they won’t just go away. Being triggered might be a way we communicate to ourselves that we could benefit from a little healing. For some of us, that can be a long journey. Hopefully, it can be a journey made with trustworthy companions.

Maybe that’s a worthy aspiration for our community: To be a brave space of healing. And if healing is a triggering word for you, maybe you prefer growth. Or transformation. Whatever we call it, what would it take for us to trust that we can bravely engage in a free and responsible search for that meaningful path toward greater wholeness? And what would it take for us to gracefully companion one another along the way?