M. Scott Peck wrote in his first page of The Road Less Traveled:
Life is difficult.
This is a great truth, one of the greatest truths. It is a great truth because once we truly see this truth, we transcend it. Once we truly know that life is difficult – once we truly understand and accept it – then life is no longer difficult. Because once it is accepted, the fact that life is difficult no longer matters. Most do not fully see this truth that life is difficult. Instead they moan more or less incessantly, noisily, or subtly, about the enormity of their problems, their burdens, and their difficulties as if life were generally easy, as if life should be easy. They voice their belief, noisily or subtly, that their difficulties represent a unique kind of affliction that should not be and that has somehow been especially visited upon them, or else upon their families, their tribe, their class, their nation, their race or even their species, and not upon others. I know about this moaning because I have done my share.
Life is a series of problems. Do we want to moan about them or solve them? Do we want to teach our children to solve them?
This is an issue that runs rampant in our North American society and is most aptly represented in the social issue of addiction. It is also quite a stumbling block to healthy living and lasting recovery for many substance abusers. We can offer many tools to help with relapse prevention, we can offer tools for better communication, emotional expression, and spiritual connection, but there are some fundamental, or existential, truths that are a part of human life such as “life is difficult,” and without these we are not truly helping some people.
“Pain.” “Fear.” “Difficulty.” “Uncomfortable.” “Anger.” We tend to call these “negative emotions.” Isn’t that interesting? We should be embracing all emotions as messages from our true self, our soul, our inner being, whatever you want to call it. Why do we run so quickly from pain or difficult emotions? Many people run from happiness for all its worth! But as Peck describes, we must accept that pain is a part of our existence, and when we do accept it, it becomes a non-issue, it dissipates. Next time you even feel physical pain, go into it, sit with it, explore it – let it wash over you. Do the same with fear, anxiety, or anger. You won’t die, but what you will find is a sweetness in your connection to a deeper self. We are so afraid of ourselves that we ignore the messages we are communicating to ourselves. The times I have truly allowed myself to sit in pain, it has actually felt good – like a unexpected positive aftertaste.
There is a large part of addiction that begins with “pain management.” Listening to the stories of substance abusers offers many reasons why one would utilize pain management. The abuse, the neglect, the abandonment, the grief – the injuries and chronic health problems – it is all horrific, sad, and unfortunate. In following, one who has experienced these things must then grow up in a society that does not know how to deal with pain. We want to medicate it, diagnose it, or avoid it all together. The most logical explanation in that type of world? Anything, and I mean anything, that will dull the pain that everyone is so afraid of. Welcome Addiction, to our society. Granted, addiction is somewhat more complex than just an overall avoidance of pain, both physical, emotional, and spiritual, but it is a very, very large part.
So, it is my hope that we as a society, and the work that goes on in the treatment center where I work, begin to see pain and difficulty differently. We need a paradigm shift. We need to embrace all of human experience and emotional responses. We need to have parents and teachers feel more comfortable with a child’s pain so that children can grow up and not fear pain. I’m not saying that pain would then no longer hurt. We cannot escape hurt and pain, but we can certainly embrace them more authentically.
I, like Peck, have done my fair share of moaning and groaning. I probably do it everyday. I love moaning and groaning as though it were a past time of mine, but I’ll tell you what – it gets me absolutely no where! I end up powerless to whatever I am moaning about. I give away my power. I give away my responsibility. The desire to avoid pain and difficulty also moves us to blame others. I will visit the existential concept of responsibility next.