In my journey of studying addiction I was led by the question of “WHY?” Why do people find themselves in deep rooted addictions when we all know that no one dreamed of that as a child. What happened? And why does 1 out of every 2 people in Canada struggle with some form of addiction?
I discovered that addiction reveals that our society doesn’t know what to do with pain. If we can’t medicate it medically, we attach to other things that promise to bring healing, but don’t.
Culture is meant to serve it’s people by helping them face adversity. This is something our western society clearly lacks. Sociologist James Davies states that during the 20th century most people living in our society are confused to why they suffer emotionally. The problem is that when we face circumstances that seem out of our control and no one can explain why this pain is happening to us, it creates unrest and resentment in a society. This only continues to create more drive, more striving for success. If we don’t help people make sense of suffering that that is unexplainable, this leads to social instability. The instability we see in the increase in addiction, mental health, anxiety says we have some explaining to do. People are suffering and all we know to respond is to say, “Just find your own personal happiness”.
If life is all about happiness, then there is no room for suffering. Ego demands that suffering gets pushed away quickly because when suffering hits us we feel exposed. It feels unfair. It causes poisonous thoughts such as, “Here I was doing all the right things and karma came and bit me in the ass.” All you can feel is resentment, like others have it much better. “I need to work harder, hustle, find my inner peace and start manifesting all this greatness everyone else finds easy to attain”. We all know this isn’t true, we’re just not telling one another. “Pain is not wrong. Reacting to pain as wrong initiates the trance of unworthiness. The moment we believe something is wrong, our world shrinks and we lose ourselves in the effort to combat the pain.” (Tara Brach).
When culture fails at instructing on how to make use of our suffering, we get consumed with the WHY. Why did my father have to die? Why didn’t I get the job I’ve worked so hard for? Why did my best friends betray me? Why did tragedy strike MY family? These “why’s” can make us feel like we are the only ones this is happening to, which is dangerous for a society because then we breed a people who are constantly hiding their struggles masked with happy faces, a car we can’t afford, and a life that looks better online than it really is in reality.
This only increases our need avoid pain at all costs, especially if we feel that pain isn’t “normal”. Wine takes the edge off. Weed helps to relax. The shopping eases my purposelessness. The food comforts me. Meanwhile, we put the focus on decreasing “stress”, but this alone doesn’t give anyone the ability to overcome pain with the patience needed. The focus only is to manage and cope? Think happy thoughts? None of this gets to the root so it’s no wonder we are all still suffering. When we don’t see meaning in the hardships that come our way, this can easily lead to unhealthy attachments.
Suffering happens to good people and bad people, to the one from the good side of the tracks and the one from the shady side, to the family still together and the single parent family. Pain is not immune to your income, race, or education. It happens to everyone. We are deceived if we believe we can control and defeat pain with knowledge alone. Pain has deep roots. “Always after a defeat and respite, evil takes on another shape and grows again.” (Lord of the Rings). You may conquer one part of pain only to see the ruins of your heart exposed by not allowing yourself to grieve when pain hits again from another side.
But there’s another option of seeing one another go through hard times yet “bathed in hope” (Timothy Keller). “You desire to know the art of living, my friend? It is contained in one phrase: make use of suffering” (Henri Frederic Amiel). If we are going to be brave enough to learn how to make use of suffering, it’s going to take more than our own resources. More than wisdom on our own, and certainly much more than just seeking to determine our own happiness. Happiness is not purpose, it’s an attachment. Suffering can actually be a great opportunity to bring people’s best out of them and to find what happiness looks like with depth. Suffering takes away artificial happiness.
It is humbling to look inside and see where pain has been brought on by our own heart failures. It’s despairing when pain hits us from the side when we did nothing in ourselves to cause it. Yet, “everything difficult indicates something more than our theory of life yet embraces” (George MacDonald)
Instead of turning to the bottle, turn to one another.
Instead of lighting up the joint, lean into others.
“Me” creates isolation and more addiction
“We” create safety and healing for others.
Deep community solves social problems. Safe community takes suffering and makes it possible to come out on the other side of it better than before. Supportive community helps us become better through life’s difficulties. The truth is, many find themselves alone with their difficulties because we don’t know what to do with one another’s struggles. Our friends seem to disappear when suffering appears not because they are jerks, but because of this issue with not knowing what to do with our own suffering, let alone the painful experiences of others. The greatest gift we can give one another is to forgive and choose to admit that facing pain is hard.
This can do dramatic things! Instead of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, people can experience Post Traumatic GROWTH! It’s possible with supportive friendships that don’t give bandaid answers but says to the one who suffers: “I will walk with you through this.”
I am producing a show on addictions to bring community together to see more post traumatic growth become a reality and to let art take on the role in society to help people process pain. The show is in Calgary June 8-11, 2017 at the Big Secret Theatre. Tickets can be purchased online through this link. There is healing when we come together.