I have a t-shirt I like to sleep in from a restaurant I’ve never been to in a city I’ve never lived in. It’s worn in to perfection and softer than the fleece sheets I collapse into each night. A few weeks ago, however, I noticed something concerning. There was a small hole in the armpit of my shirt.
No harm, no foul. I went about my morning. But a few days after that, my finger caught the hole, ripping it further. For about a week, in my early AM tumble to change from pajamas to workout clothes, I was continually pulling the thread apart until the armpit hole threatened to tear the entire sleeve.
Finally, one groggy morning, I knew I had to act. With the only glow in my room coming from a lamp I made out of a 2 liter soda bottle in eighth grade and a Himalayan salt lamp (because I like to keep my style eclectic), I reached for my sewing scissors.
Without lighting or taking the shirt off, or, apparently, thinking, I grabbed the dangling fabric and squeezed the scissors shut with a satisfying “snip,” before a searing moment of pain shot through my finger and to my brain. Whoops. That woke me up.
A bloody washcloth later, I determined the cut was deep, but hovered well above the “needs stitches” line. I wrapped it in a bandage before starting my work day and making a mental note about how I would never do that again.
Over the next few days, I cleaned my finger and put on new bandaids, until finally, it was healed enough to leave the soft scar out to the elements. That’s when I noticed something else.
Most mornings, I eat a bowl of oatmeal with a sliced banana. Like much of my morning, it’s a rote routine. I refill my water bottle, pour the oatmeal or cereal, cut the banana upside down and peel backwards.
I can do breakfast in my sleep.
It was in doing this that I realized I hold the banana and butter knife in the same way every day, slicing the banana over my bowl, using my left index finger as a hovering cutting board. My left index finger that had been cut with very sharp sewing needles because of a single miscalculated moment days prior.
I tried to adjust my banana slicing style so as to not aggravate the healing scar, which was all fine and well until the next day, when I filled up my water bottle, poured my oatmeal, peeled the banana backwards, and began cutting directly onto the scar… again.
Once more, I adjusted my banana slicing style and this time swore I’d be aware the next time.
Einstein is widely credited with saying, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results,” and it didn’t take a genius to realize I was hindering my body’s ability to heal.
So why was it different? The initial pain of cutting my finger was shock factor pain. It was easily identifiable as something that should never be done again. It was an out of the ordinary mistake and one that, with very little effort, could easily be avoided for the rest of my life.
But there's worse pain than that. The dull edge of a butter knife slicing through a banana onto a healing scar didn’t hurt in the same way that the initial incident had. But every morning when I’d made breakfast, I would push that scar just enough to remind me of the sharp pain, to remind me of my mistake.
I can’t go back and change big mistakes. I can’t rewind and control Z and edit undo. Those decisions and actions we take that hit us with immediate brain signals of pain are real and valid and traumatic.
And we can’t wish them away.
But what we can do is stop aggravating the wound.
When I was a little kid and filled with the bruises and cuts that come from a life lived racing bicycles and climbing trees, I remember a familiar conversation.
“Does your knee hurt from when you fell yesterday?”
“Only when I touch it.”
“Well, don’t touch it, then!”
How soon we forget. How eager we are to replay our sins. How fun it is to think about everything we could have said or done differently. And where does that leave us? Certainly not healed.
Let it go. You know better now. Trust that your body and mind love you enough to steer you away from those moments of big pain. You don’t need the constant reminder.
If it only hurts when you touch it, stop touching it.