I once worked with a young man in a residential treatment program who was experiencing significant stress and conflicts, both internally and in his relationships. On a particularly difficult day, he asked me “Is there a pill I can take to just make this easier?”
I thought for a moment, then responded “I don’t know of any pill that can prevent the stress and pain of recovery. And taking pills to prevent pain is part of why you are here.”
We all have days when we wish that life could be a little less painful. We each feel emotional pains that can include depression or anxiety, memories or flashbacks, or trust and authority issues. We may experience physical pains, aches and suffering. Or we can face unrelenting circumstances shattered by loss, grief and disappointment.
It’s true that life can be great, but life also comes with a side-order of Sh*t.
Russ Harris, MD describes how there is no path in life or in recovery that is pain-free. We have two choices:
a) The pain of stuckness – when you keep doing the same old things, over and over, even though they hold you back in life
b) The pain of growth – when you take the risk of trying new things in the hope of a better life, without any guarantees they will work
No one says you have to like feeling pain. How you respond to your experience can add “pain on top of your pain or suffering on top of your sufferings” (Steven Hayes). Adding pain on top of our pain comes when we fight, resist, deny, numb and avoid how we are feeling.
For years, I tried to push away my difficult thoughts and emotions by thinking positively, rehearsing my goals, obsessively exercising and then over-eating. The thoughts came back with a vengeance. I made my life more difficult.
What ended up happening was that my life, my options, my comfort level shrunk. Trying to avoid what was painful made life even more difficult.
Is there a solution?
I don’t know about you, but for me life still consists of stressful thoughts, emotions and circumstances. Learning to embrace my experience is still difficult and some days are better than others. Opening myself up has not made life less painful, but it given me several gifts that I would not trade for anything:
- I have learned how to love and accept myself
- I feel more peace
- I appreciate my life more and I am more able to be present
- I notice my self-judgment and use it as a trigger to engage in self-compassion rather than trying to change myself
- I focus less on trying to change myself and instead I am being more of who I am
Trying to live pain-free will keep you stuck. It makes sense to me. What about you?
We all need aspirin or Tylenol now and then. No one expects that you endure unnecessary suffering or cause yourself pain by being too hard on yourself. Emotions, thoughts and difficult circumstances come and go. If you are in a painful or abusive relationship, or thinking or feeling that you want to harm yourself, getting professional help is one of the most important, and the kindest, things you can do for yourself.
If you want a pill to take away your pain, you can find it. Or you can drink it away. Or eat food, or exercise, or pray or think positive. For a while, these things will work. But they will end up hurting you, causing you even more pain. I will leave you with a question: If you cannot stop emotional pains, or your difficult thoughts, or if your experience tries you to the core… will fighting it help? Or will the fight add more pain on top of your pain?
If this article peaked your interest, I invite you to read some of my other recent work:
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Keep it Real
Photo by Leonardo Veras