One of the revelations I’ve experienced as part of my own recovery process from both addiction and chronic pain is the awareness that it is possible for me to remain in conscious contact with gratitude irrespective of my physical/emotional state. Even when I feel like shit, I can maintain an awareness of the blessings in my life and experience gratitude for them. I can be grateful in spite of being in physical and/or emotional pain, and regardless of whether my feelings center around joy, or anger, sadness, or anxiety.
As I’ve shared on certain social media platforms, in late May I was graced with the opportunity to travel to New York to do a book signing for Some Assembly Required: A Balanced Approach to Recovery from Addiction and Chronic Pain at the Book Expo of America. Held at the Jacob Javits Convention Center. The BEA is the largest publishing industry trade show in the US. This was an intriguing coming full-circle sort of experience in that the last time I was in the Javits Center was 1987 when I took the New York State Certified Social Worker Exam (formal licensure for social workers was not yet an option).
As a native New Yorker, I also had the chance to mix the important business of representing my book and Central Recovery Press, with visiting family and friends. It was exciting and wonderful, and it was exhausting and intense—72 whirlwind hours that included flying from Las Vegas to NY, commuting round trip via train and bus from where I stayed in Westchester County to the Javits Center at West 34th St. near the Hudson River in Manhattan on two consecutive days, and the return trip to Vegas.
I was gifted with being able to mingle with thousands, meet many, and was honored to sign copies of my book for folks from all over the US, as well as Russia, Mexico, and Saudi Arabia. I was able to spend time with my parents, one of my sisters, and two good friends who I reconnected with via Facebook, but hadn’t seen since high school.
On the flip side, even experiences which are, extremely positive, can create significant stress. Examples of this are: getting married, buying a home, having children, and promoting a book. Moreover, I was sleep deprived and in no small amount of physical pain due to the strain that traveling always places on my back. And, as I wrote in Some Assembly Required, due to the intimate link between the mind and body, stress and pain combine to exacerbate each other.
Fortunately, I was able be mindful of this reciprocal interaction in bringing to bear the skills I have developed to acknowledge, observe, and accept my stress and physical pain. And whenever I engage in this recovery-oriented process, my stress level and pain always lessen, freeing me from the self-absorption embedded in intense discomfort. As the Tao Te Ching expresses so elegantly in verse 63, “When I don’t cling to my own comfort, problems are not a problem.”
Maintaining an attitude of gratitude is instrumental in helping me relinquish my attachment to the desire for emotional-physical comfort, reducing the perceived size and impact of my “problems”. Since it is my attachment to the desire for emotional-physical comfort that creates the mental and emotional anguish known as suffering, when I let go of that attachment, my suffering dissipates. This is a “deviation-counteracting” (in the language of systems theory) or balancing dynamic that clears space in my mind and heart.