OK, Lets Try This One More Time, From the Top

Posted by on 09.18.08 | 4 Comments
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Ever since I became acquainted with 12 Step spirituality when I was working one day a week at an inpatient drug treatment center I have been convinced that people can get addicted to just about anything. Recently I had an experience of discovering my addiction to something brand new, and yet at the same time very old. As sometimes happens in my line of work a few people came to me about a problem within the institution I am currently charged with running. Frankly it was a big deal, still is, and I found myself drinking in their anxiety in huge gulps until I had completely internalized their fears and was in as much pain as they were. It was quite remarkable, quite wonderful really, to behold. As I reflected upon this afterward I had to ask myself why I would do that; why I would accept the anxiety of others and make it my own when I know perfectly well that this is not good either for me or for those with whom I was working.

The answer I came up with is that I am an addict. I am so used to pain in life, so used to having it be part of my experience, that I am willing to do things I know will bring pain into my life. I do this not because I am just so empathetic, not because I really believe everything will fall apart, not because I “like” how this all feels, and not even because I have no other choices – all very plausible lies, by the way – but because I am addicted. I am powerless over my own pain, and it makes my life unmanageable. And as I wander to and fro upon the earth I have come to the belief that lots of people are addicted to their pain. Lots of people imagine that they don’t like emotional pain, and are trying to live life free of it. And yet these same people do things that are simply designed to make themselves hurt. People even avoid pain in ways that are certain to make the pain greater.

This is such a consistent behavior that it has made me question the whole “pleasure” principle. Do we all really naturally seek pleasure and avoid pain? Or are some of us doing something different, making sure that whatever is going on hurts at an emotional or spiritual level? I believe the answer is that some of us really are addicted to pain; it is – perversely – what helps us feel alive, what defines us, what tells us who we are. As with all addictions, it is precisely the attempt to control our pain, to make it go away, that insures we will continue to live with it. And so we imagine in the midst of the moment that we don’t have choices, but instead act as though what we are doing is the “natural” or “logical” or “right” thing to do. What I have come to see is that in my life at least, in situations that have some emotional or spiritual pain, most of the time what I do is none of those things, but rather end up acting out of my addiction. And so when I reflect on my behavior and ask myself why I bought into someone else’s anxiety, or why I freaked out, or why I accepted some unfair criticism or whatever, the answer I now believe is true is that I did any or all of these things because I am an addict.

The good news in all this is that this insight instantly taught me how to deal with it. I have to ‘work my program’. I have to admit that I am powerless over my pain and that my attempts to control it make my life unmanageable. The first thing I have to do, therefore is to give up trying to “control” the things, the people, the places, the situations, that bring me pain. Then I have to accept the truth that there is a force, a power, a sense, a somethingorother, that is truly compassionate and that can restore me to sanity, and then I have to make that decision we all have to make, to trust that whateveritis. If I want to interact with the inevitable pain of life instead of trying to control it, and so to learn from it instead of being run by it, then that is what I have to do. The further good news is that now I realize I really do have a choice. It isn’t the choice to feel pain or not, because pain is part of life. It is rather precisely the choice to interact, rather than control, to learn from, rather than to be dominated by my pain.

And as with most addicts I will relapse. And at that moment I will have the same choice that all addicts have. I will have the choice of deciding that this means I am weak or bad or helpless, and so moving further into my addiction. I will also have the choice of deciding this means I am not addicted after all, which will have the same effect. But I will also have the choice to be further reminded of my powerlessness, and so, oddly perhaps, be empowered to move more deeply into my program. In any case, I am once again, for the four hundred fifty-seventh time, doing life “one day at a time,” which is, after all, the only way anyone can live life in the first place. So OK, lets try this business of really living one more time, from the top.

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