Welcome to the pain
game. Oh, you’re
not a player?
Silly me. No, actually
silly you. Just you
wait, sweet pea,
you’ll be drafted
soon enough if you
haven’t been already.
Americans especially are truly shitty at managing our pain, and we’re in a lot of it. Take a look at the statistics below:
That’s not a pretty picture. To me it’s a snarled tapestry of mismanaged pain. Mismanaged pain that leads to addiction. Addiction that leads to more pain. A cycle of misery endlessly fueled by the consumption of healthy lives, relationships, jobs, and families.
Misery is a ravenous beast and dines on the self-respect and dignity of all races, colors, creeds, and human subsets. No one is immune. The above statistics paint a picture, but there is no true tool for measuring the amount of wreckage left in misery’s wake.
Even if one of the above isn’t your drug of choice, I guarantee you it is for someone in your life. Or someone who is dating, married to, the boss of, the orthopedic surgeon of, flying the airplane for, or in some way connected to someone you love and care about.
Here are six of the hard truths about pain that if understood can radically transform your relationship to it, and the effect it’s able to have on your life.
We’ll cover this in The Four Noble Truths (coming soon), but here it is again. Life is hard. People die. People fuck us over. Tsunamis happen. Paralysis happens. The shittiest of shit happens. Fairness, justice, and Hollywood endings don’t always come to fruition. Got it? Good.
Since we know bad juju is part of life, let’s work not to avoid it, but use it to our advantage. If that’s too Pollyanna-ish, let’s at least work to manage the bad stuff and mitigate its potential damage to our souls.
Pain is the most patient force on earth. Run from it and it will slowly walk behind you knowing you can’t run forever. At some point you’ll tire from running, and collapse.
Numb it for as long as you’d like, but this impacts your actual pain not in the slightest. In the process you will either numb the pleasurable parts of your life too or turn your numbing agent into an ally of pain.
The booze, drugs,
and sex will soon
do pain’s work
for him, efficiently
Oh but you say you’re so spiritual that you don’t feel pain anymore? Perfect, enjoy your fantasy life while pain waits tirelessly for you run out of Elizabeth Gilbert quotations and Ekhart Tolle tweets. Pain is willing to wait decades, even lifetimes, if need be.
Athletes intuitively understand this maxim. Are long runs painful? That’s because either your endurance or running form sucks. Do you keep getting caught in the same choke in jiujitsu? Now you know where your defense is weak. Does your shoulder hurt doing overhead squats? Hi, I’m Jack’s lack of shoulder mobility.
Pain exists to teach you where you can benefit most in your life, where you are weakest and in need of growing. Lean into that. Embrace it. Instead of freaking out and throwing a tantrum, ask yourself what you could possibly need to be taught. Yes, this is some upper-level thinking. No, it won’t be easy. It will actually be the hardest thing you’ve ever done in your whole life and you’ll hate it. You may hate me for suggesting it. Hate away.
Now, try to soften your belly. Take five deep breaths into it, and let your whole body go as limp as possible. Relax. Drop your shoulders down. Soften your knees. Breath again. And again.
Once you’ve done that, ask yourself if learning how to survive what you’re going through is possible. In order to survive it, you’re going to have to grow. Pain won’t show you the “how,” but it will keep showing up until you’ve done that work yourself. Just like shoulder pain won’t yell “Type www.mobilitywod.com into your browser,” pain won’t give you the answers to the questions it’s asking you. It will just keep asking you the question.
I get it. Fuck me, right? I’ve said the same thing. The above sentence is not new age bullshit. Not at all. Suffering is a choice. It’s a choice you make day by day, hour by hour, sometimes minute by minute, and when life goes full throttle on you, breath by breath.
You choose with each breath whether you’re going to embrace fear or embrace faith – all the while knowing that neither will actually dull the pain only change how you experience it. That experiential change may only last for a moment before you will be asked to chose again. And again. And again. What’s it going to be, sport? Fear or faith? Pain or suffering? A lesson? Or the straw that breaks you? I’d rather tell fear to go fuck itself while leading faith out onto the dance floor. Even if we’ve never danced before and I can’t dance my way out of a paper bag.
Ever been hit hard in the stomach? Remember doubling over trying to gasp for air but none would come? Remember the panic of not knowing if you’d ever breathe again? That is pain.
Fear is staying doubled over from that punch, eyes wide, believing you’re going to die. Fear is dropping to the ground and letting the pain take you over, letting it close you down, shut down your options, and force the belief on you that life will never go on.
Faith is taking that
same hit, feeling
all of it, and then
standing up, getting
your collective shit
for what feels like an
eternity for your
diaphragm to release,
and then taking that
Faith is repeating that process every minute of every day until the pain has run its course.
Facing pain skillfully takes a tremendous amount of courage and self-respect, so begin cultivating those no matter what station you currently find yourself in in life. When pain decides to kick in your door and move into your master bedroom, you’re going to need your arsenal of tools to be sharp. Courage and self-respect are two of the biggies in managing the home stay.
While the strength of either one will not fully be known without an authentic test, developing them early and often is paramount. Do things that scare you. Train your body. Stand up for yourself. Have boundaries. Enforce those boundaries. Eat well. Maintain the order of your life. Develop a solid network of fellow human beings to commune with. Meditate like a motherfucker.
All of these skills and attributes will come in handy in a time of crisis. Often pain will force the development of the ones you are lacking, so do your work before it is needed.
Human beings are communal creatures. It takes a village for anyone to survive, not just a child. If you are struggling, if you are in pain, if you know pain is coming, then reach out to your community and reach out to your friends. Risk being a burden. Risk being embarrassed. By showing your humanity you give others permission to do the same.
Bonds are forged through communal pain. This is true across military, sport, crisis, and survival lines. Shared pain brings people together. It also lessens the burden that any one of us has to carry on our own.
Ask yourself this: if someone you know were to call you tonight at 2:00am and with sincerity say, “I’m in immense pain right now. All I need you to do is hear me, acknowledge my pain, and bear witness to what I’m going through,” would you do that for him or her? I believe you would. I believe that person would do the same for you as well.
The above steps are a lot to deal with all at once. You may be there already, willing and able. You may not. Either way, read the article again slowly and with great compassion for what you’re experiencing in your life. It’s hard, I know. Believe me, I know. Find what speaks to you and make note of it. That is where your greatest potential for healing lies.
Making it to the pillow at the end of each day is going to involve experiencing pain – thus the idea of being “one day stronger.” This is part of the human experience and not something to be avoided. By shifting our perspective on pain and the potentials of it we can learn to harness it and grow from it.
List in the comments other ways that you’ve skillfully dealt with pain and what the outcome was. Thanks for reading and sharing this. You’re also pretty damn awesome.
Just so you know.