Painful Lessons

I’m beginning to believe that pain might be good for me.

I’ve always tried to avoid or reduce pain. Get rid of it. Maybe that’s a futile effort.

I believe life is supposed to be hard and painful because it’s an effective teacher. It gives me opportunity to choose and learn. Until recently though, I hadn’t considered that maybe the pain isn’t always supposed to be soothed right away. What if it’s good for me to feel it?

Over the past year and a half, pain has entered my life in new forms. My former wife chose to divorce me after nearly ten years of marriage. My time with my children was reduced from daily to most weekends. My proximity to family went from two miles to nearly eight hundred miles. Relationships with in-laws changed in an instant, not because we wanted them to but because they had to. People who I thought were my friends ignored me in hallways at church or didn’t return phone calls. I moved to a new home in a new community in a new state. My depression returned in full force and stronger than ever. Thoughts of suicide. Wrecked finances.

Ten years of relationships, dreams, and hard work. All shattered, all because of this thing I call addiction. All because I chose to be selfish and self-medicate.

I miss my children every moment I’m not with them. I miss my old friendships and former family members. I miss my former wife, sometimes more than I can bear. I miss the surges of joy that accompanied tender moments with my spouse and children. I miss looking forward to finishing college and finally having more time with my family in the evenings. I miss being on the verge of financial security and the peace of mind that brings. I miss looking forward to so many things. Missing is painful.

Yesterday the pain of missing was unbearable. I spent nearly eight hours in prayerful meditation, reading, writing, running, and talking to friends, family, and brothers in recovery. At the end of the day, after struggling to find rest, I chose to self-medicate with masturbation. No pornography, thankfully. But still a step backwards.

I can see now that I felt frustrated that the pain wasn’t stopping. Certainly the grace of God lightened my load during the day, otherwise I would have turned to my addiction much sooner. I was alone all day. It would have been easy. But after all was said and done, I wanted the pain to be gone completely, not just lessened. I wanted to be free of it. I was tired of missing my former wife, my children, and my former life.

Of course, acting out only provided temporary and fake relief. Today I feel the pain of missing, along with the pain of acting out.

Life is already painful without any effort from me. I’m learning that some fears and pain don’t require (or deserve) my attention today. They are usually rooted in the future and can wait, so I give them to God because holding on to them leads me to my addiction. Others need my attention now and I can do something about them now, so I do that thing now because putting it off leads me to my addiction. And others, despite my complete inability to change them (such as the hurtful actions of others, or my missing people), demand my attention and consume my focus. Those are the really dangerous ones. They impact my well-being right now, and I am powerless over them.

I’ve learned the core of every one of my fears is the fear of more pain than what I’m experiencing right now. This distracts me from the present, which often looks like damaging, dampening, or delaying my connections with the people around me. It’s sad and tragic because real connection would actually ease the pain.

If I let them, my weaknesses and addiction will have me so wrapped up in self-medication for my pain that I can’t experience any pain at all. Not in the moment, anyway. Not as long as I have my drug of choice. Sounds kinda nice, doesn’t it? Seriously! Who wouldn’t want a pain-free life? The Great Lie is that my drug will always work and that putting off pain won’t make things worse, or that “this will be the last time.”

Maybe another great lie is that the pain should go away, even in recovery?

I’m learning to face my pain. I have to get comfortable with it—not by myself but with my God and my support network of friends and fellow addicts seeking recovery. This invariably leads to moments of vulnerability, which gives me a connection with those people. With a real connection I’m able to understand my pain, accept what I cannot do about it, and find courage to do what I can.

Sometimes the pain remains after connecting with people and doing what I can to address it, and I’m beginning to think that’s OK. I don’t like it but I wonder if lingering pain might be normal. Maybe sometimes all I can do is connect with my support people and my God so that the burden becomes bearable. Not removed, but bearable. Then I can move forward with some comfort in believing it won’t last forever.

I have this idea in my mind that recovery will give me a supernatural medical kit filled with an assortment of instant pain relievers. I’ve been approaching recovery with an expectation that when I work the 12 Steps I will learn salves for any and all pain. Missing my former wife? No problem! Just work steps 10 through 12 and the painful missing will stop.

I think this is an erroneous way of thinking and a false concept of what real recovery actually looks like.

Besides, how would that be any different from how I viewed my addiction? I chose my addiction because I wanted instant relief from pain. Why should I expect the same from recovery? Feels off to me. Seems wrong. I think I transferred my expectations and stinking thinking from my addiction to my recovery.

I think perhaps pain is an opportunity. It reminds me what I’ve learned. It gives me a reason to ask for help and connect with my loved ones. I don’t think loving relationships would mean as much if I never needed others the way I do when I’m in pain. In that sense, I think pain gives life to my relationships in a way nothing else can, but only when I choose to turn to those people instead of turning inward for the solution.

The addicted life is one of pain, filled with isolation and despair. Maybe the recovered life is still one of pain, but filled with people, hope, and peace.

Maybe some day I’ll welcome pain. I wonder if this time period will turn out to be my “rock bottom” of pain. I hope so. I think that’s up to me. Today I choose surrender and connection.

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