Quotation-Kahlil-Gibran-pain-Meetville-Quotes-64677Much of your pain is self-chosen. It is the bitter potion by which the physician within you heals your sick self.  Kahil Gibran

Who chooses pain?

Not me!”  I want to shout.

Yet on reflection, it’s clearly me.

Significantly, when I’m troubled, when focus is difficult and the morning pages have not been enough to quiet me, I pick up a book of daily meditations from one of the 12-step programs.

This quote about “the bitter potion “… begins a July meditation in the OA (Overeater’s Anonymous) book, For Today (1982).

If it were not for the pain, I wouldn’t be here (in recovery). Only when the pain of  (food addiction) became worse than the pain it was intended to kill did I become willing to abandon the pretense of controlling my life.

Getting in touch with my pain is a new experience. Until the day it brought me to my knees, food was my first line of defense against any and all pain, even that caused by the food itself.

In OA, I have come to understand that I must let myself feel the pain before I can recover.

For today: I no longer choose to avoid my growing pains. My Higher Power, my program, my meetings, my friends – all stand with me as I face, head-on, whatever must be faced.

Facing what must be faced…

Julia Cameron refers to the morning pages taught in The Artist’s Way as meditation suited to Westerners.  They work because one doesn’t actually have to be still; we write to access the wisdom of our interior self.

In my box of “recovery tools,” this one is the most reliable.  There are many others.

What works best?

“It works if you work it” is the chorus spoken in unison routinely to close most 12-step meetings.  Still, I find there are days I resist picking up any tool and “working it”.

Take Morning Pages, “I am cranky, so I didn’t write them” or is it “I’m cranky because I didn’t write them”?  Am I troubled and unfocused because I haven’t been vigilant, choosing self-care, good food, less drink, more rest? Have I been doing too much and not allowing myself to just be?

This month I can answer yes to most of those queries, and humbly admit that sometimes I still choose pain.

Have you chosen pain?

My guess is that if you are still reading and food, alcohol, drugs, or gambling is not your numbing drug of choice, perhaps workaholism, depression, perfectionism, or love addiction apply.

Whatever substance or behavior we use, we choose it to numb the feelings we think would otherwise overwhelm us.¹ 

What feelings are we numbing?

To know we have to honor the physician within us.

And choose to assemble the tools that will help us to get support for our inward journey.

We are our own physicians. Our sick or injured self is part of what keeps us from being the best we can be: the most content, the most available to joy, and the most fully present in each day.

Simple but not easy…

And let me offer an apology if this seems trite or canned or easy.

When my own struggle began I didn’t even know there was a sick self to heal.  I was fine. I was in control. I had it all.

The fact that I was irritable, cycling through moods from depressed and paralyzed to wildly energetic and creative was not a problem, that was simply “how I am”.

It took hitting bottom – multiple times to name the ways in which I avoid my pain.

You may call them patterns or ‘bad habits’, I know them as addictions.

Among them, are behavioral addictions to perfectionism, and cynicism. In relationships, codependence, control, and avoidance. And in substance, food.

Serendipity and synchronicity

Both played a major role.

And if you are still reading – I hope this provides that for you.

My way to 12-Step rooms came via an assignment for a master’s program in counseling.

The journey started with AlAnon meetings over thirty years ago, OA meetings and a treatment program shortly after, and therapy all along.

Sadly, as I re-read that – instead of the gentle voice I have cultivated in my efforts at self-care – I am hearing a bit of a judging tone, “Really, you needed thirty+ years to get this?”

So let me gently assure myself – and you –  that this is not a linear process.

Recovery is the journey of a lifetime

Choosing to live a conscious life is simple. It is not easy.

There have been, and still are, struggles along the way. Some are daily in doing the work itself, but the struggle hasn’t left me bloodied and scarred,  just honestly open and vulnerable.

This process is not about donning a layer of armor to deflect blows.

It’s choosing to strip down and shear off the thick coat of matted, coarse, and wiry fur that insulates us from real feelings.

Once exposed, we can begin to experience feelings of anger, grief, and sadness cleanly in the present moment. Furthermore, resentment all but disappears.

Present as a gift

Reacting and responding in real-time has been a learned behavior.

Ask yourself – Is the raw emotion we’re experiencing entirely related to the present situation – or is the pain historic.

I can get annoyed when a driver cuts me off. But enraged signals a link to an earlier wound.²

Un-armored, we open ourselves to the touches of kindness and support available when we seek it from the right people in safe places.

And if learning to trust the abundance of good people and safe places takes you less than my thirty + years, I’ve achieved my goal of supporting shorter learning curves than mine.

So, if throwing off self-chosen pain seems daunting, I can confidently assure you that every moment of pain in that process is redeemed with many more moments of exquisite joy.

July 2010

¹Escaping the Self: Alcoholism, Spirituality, Masochism, and Other Flights from the Burden of Selfhood by Roy F. Baumeister | Goodreads

² In a recent revision I have noted this 2020 description: “If it’s hysterical, it’s historical.”