Jun 07

Pain or Suffering

Most people don’t find themselves in recovery without going through some kind of pain.  It’s actually pretty common to feel like we’ve already had more than our share.  Whether self inflicted or from outside sources our particular burden has grown to the point where it occupies the majority of our thoughts.  At some point, if left unaddressed, this mental suffering begins to affect behavior and we find we are no longer managing our pain or our lives in a healthy way.  Suffering is not the same thing as pain.  There is an important difference.  While pain is often an unavoidable part of life suffering is something we choose.

 “These pains you feel are messengers. Listen to them.”  ~ Rumi

Pain is usually a signal that something needs to change.   Physical pain lets us know we need to move away from the hot stove or allow the broken leg to heal – very useful!  Similarly emotional pain warns us, perhaps to distance ourselves from those who have hurt us or to allow healing to take place where relationships have been broken.  It points to our unhealthy behaviors and shows us that what we’ve been doing isn’t working.

Surprisingly people are often offended by the idea that they have the ability to choose between pain and suffering.  It can feel almost like an accusation when in fact it’s a pardon.  Pain may be an inevitable part of the human experience but whether we learn from it and claim the freedom of letting go or hang on to it and become it’s slave is up to us.  Recognizing our own thought patterns and realizing that we have choices to make regarding how we handle painful situations frees us from suffering.   Even in the most difficult circumstances there are lessons and blessings that can lead us to healing if we are willing to accept them.

One of the great benefits of holistic recovery and working the Twelve Steps is the opportunity to address and release pain.  We’ve been carrying it around with us, either consciously pouring through the details and reliving the trauma or stuffing the emotions down and numbing our feelings until it consumes us.  If allowed to grow and fester, pain can become more than a reaction to the initial event.  In some cases our own thoughts have magnified the problem and continue to reinforce negative emotions creating a version of the original injury that is even more damaging than what actually happened.  One of the best things we can do to begin reversing the cycle is self examination.

The Fourth Step of Alcoholics Anonymous is especially beneficial for coming to terms with the truth about pain in our lives.  Even if your current condition has nothing to do with substance abuse a personal inventory can be a powerful tool for learning from the past and moving forward.  Taking an entirely honest assessment our resentments, our fears and the ways in which we have harmed ourselves and others gives us a sense of clarity regarding the source of painful emotions and why they persist with such intensity.  In the Fifth Step we admit that through our actions, our reactions or even just through our thinking we have contributed to the pain in our lives.  With that truth we find healing as we work the Steps that follow.

This process holds us accountable for our part in creating our current emotional state and what will happen next.  If you aren’t working through the Steps consider using the Step Four post as a journal writing prompt.  If you don’t have a sponsor think about talking with a trusted friend to acknowledge the truth about what you’ve written.   Pray, meditate and believe that there is relief from suffering.  Whether you’re in a Twelve Step Program, working with a therapist or just looking for ways to relieve the stress of your current condition or problem know that addressing painful situations in a healthy way is a choice.  Exploring options that support the choice for healing is the purpose of this site and of every blog post.  Look around, read about something new and embrace the mercies of recovery.



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