Recovery from addiction and chronic pain requires moving from avoidance of one’s pain (both physical and emotional) to the acceptance of it. Yet the urge to avoid pain—through numbing with mind- and mood-altering substances, as well as other forms of escape—is natural and understandable. And that was my strategy for over three decades. After all, who wants to be in pain? Certainly not me.
Yet, ultimately avoiding my pain, fighting against it, takes much more energy and creates many more problems than coming to terms with it. The more pain I experienced, the more I used; the more I used, the more pain I experienced (as soon as the acute effects of the opioid painkillers and/or other substances wore off). It was the epitome of a vicious circle. Pain is a natural part of life. There are times when all people experience emotional and physical pain, and if you happen to have a chronic pain condition as I do, pain is a consistent companion. Suffering, on the other hand, is a choice, albeit usually an automatic and unconscious choice. As I describe in Some Assembly Required: A Balanced Approach to Recovery from Addiction and Chronic Pain, suffering is a function of how we react to the pain we experience: the mental anguish, the emotional torment, and the spiritual angst. The harder I fought against my pain, the more I suffered.
The monumental shift from avoiding my pain (in all of its forms) to accepting it is an internal process that begins with conscious self-awareness and deepens with dedicated skills-building practice. For me, this involves paying attention to the here and now with intention, and maintaining an awareness of my present experience—my thoughts, emotions, physical status—and striving to observe and accept it, to the best of my ability. Translating my awareness into action necessitates learning solution-oriented techniques that work and then practicing the hell out of them to develop the skills that strengthen my recovery