Working Through the Unbearable

By Ken Wells - 04/13/2022


Series Three: Blog Twenty-One

The world we live is scary and uncertain. Chaos and adversity is a common experience for many. Addicts create their own pandemonium. Some addicts don’t feel comfortable without turmoil and bedlam. Some people are caretakers and enablers. They make it their mission to clean up the clutter and disarray triggered by addict behavior. They are drawn to fix other people’s problems and provide comfort to those they comfort and love. The maelstrom created by an addict is painful and unbearable. The struggle for those who are caretakers of others is also overwhelming and by definition unsustainable and unbearable.

Here are some suggestions toward managing unbearable experiences:

  1. Recognize the chaos and discomfort of the present moment.  It is fearful to slow down and recognize the pain of loneliness, loss and painful memories. Yet, healing only begins when you sit with the awareness of hurt and emptiness.  Pain that goes unrecognized permeates and subtly dominates behavior. The first step in managing painful experiences is to come home to yourself and recognize what feels unbearable in your heart.
  2. Embrace the Pain. Addicts run away from pain through substance or process. They do anything to escape facing reality that triggers unwanted feelings. Some shift from one addiction to another in order to not face emptiness and emotional pain. Enablers and caretakers create an exhausting list of activities and ways to fix others in order to avoid facing their own emotional emptiness. They simply change the faces of who they care for when the burden of another becomes too heavy. This pattern is not sustainable and is unbearable. Some therapists use the phrase “leaning into the pain”. This is difficult for everyone. It is one thing to say lean into the pain and yet quite another to do it. Sometimes, addicts compulsively want to do something or say something to fix the impact of their destructive behavior—send flowers, say I love you, etc. They fail to see the curing power of simply sitting with the pain and remorse of what was done. It is kind of a curing process. When you cure something there is a chemical reaction or physical action that takes place, resulting in a harder, tougher or more stable linkage. Curing your heart from emotional pain requires a certain pressure that sitting with the pain presents.  The only way to truly work through the painful experience is to embrace it.
  3. Provide your own relief from the pain. It is tempting to look elsewhere for relief for the emotional pain that you experience. This is where we engage a rabbit trail of meaningless potions from people interaction or pursue an array of prescribed concoctions that might help us escape our emotional pain. For sure, medication can be helpful to ease anxiety. There are interactions with people that calm and soothe your emotional despair. Yet, when things are unbearable it is important to provide your own self care. The late Thich nat Hanh described the unbearable pain being like the baby and you are the mother holding and caring for your suffering with kindness and gentleness. This self relief provides what is most needed and the depth that is required to heal what seems unbearable.  It is not meant to be a maverick, individualist experience. It is a grounding experience rooted in yourself that helps you network with others who experience relief through their own self care actions. It becomes an expression of communal healing.
  4. Create transformation. Understanding and compassion creates relief from what seems unbearable, individually and collectively. When you understand the cause or nature of your suffering it creates staying power. When you realize that your child is cross and ill tempered because they are sick or struggling with teething, you transform the situation with tolerance and compassion because you now understand their behavior. It tempers your patience, provides compassion and eases suffering in times that seem most unbearable. This is the approach to take regarding the unbearable experiences along the recovery journey. Compassion helps to calm the storm and ease the pain of unbearable moments.

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