Monday, November 24, 2008

Insight: Delicious Pain

What are you addicted to?

I'm not talking about the easy ones to see, the cure-all highs. Like drinking, drugs, or even shopping.

What are you quietly addicted to? One of these?

  • Relationships/love.

    Perhaps you feel insecure or unworthy. Or perhaps you were abused or neglected. Someone loving you, wanting you, needing you, soothes the pain.

  • Companionship/not being alone.

    Perhaps you were isolated or ostracized. Companionship soothes the pain.

  • Solitude.

    Perhaps you were smothered or denied the chance to grow on your own. Fierce independence and solitude soothes the pain.

Sounds fine, right? A minus added to a plus equals healthy and happy.

No, unfortunately it doesn't. Because once you're soothed for a while, something curious happens. You start unconsciously damaging what you've achieved in order to feel the delicious pain again.


Because that's how we get the even more delicious feeling of being soothed.

Without the pain, we won't feel the spectacular high again. That's why addictions are so hard to heal. We don't really want to heal the pain that leads to the addiction. We're drawn back again and again, despite the harms and the dreadful cycle.

So what happens to our addicts?

  • The love addict hammers the relationship with insecurity or finds ways to feel neglected. (Or even enters relationships with abusive people.) The relationship sours. Our addict is primed for the next high. (Which doesn't necessary mean leaving. Souring a relationship in order to reconnect and reconcile can be just as powerful.)

  • Our companionship addict becomes jealous or overbearing. Friendships become unpleasant or erode. He/she moves on. Our addict is primed for the next high.

  • Our solitude/isolation addict? He/she dances closer to people, even needy ones, building the uncomfortable attachments just to feel justified in pushing them away.

Think about the most precious unfilled wish in your life. The one that endures years upon years.

That is where to look for your pain.

You may cling to it. You may even jealously guard it.

Maybe it's good thing, I don't know. Maybe it's powerful motivation to push us to greater things.

But also consider the damage it does.

Are you better for it?

Or is it the walls of a prison you've lost the ability to see?


tea and cake said...

owch! you hit it on the nail - and it's a prison, one that you lure others into. thank you.

paisley said...

i think the problem is,, once you see it,, it is already too late... my current addiction is isolation... but it is fast growing into a situation where panic ensues days before i know i have to leave thehouse... i am as a matter of fact seeing a doctor today as i do not belive it is a situation i can just force myself to deal with any more... very insightful post....

wondering what addiction it is that you posses that inspired this... sounds like maybe you are looking for sames so you don't feel alone........

Jaye Wells said...

Do I detect shades of your lovely wife's influence in this post? I think these kind of addictions become so enmeshed with our identity that it's difficult to know they even exist. Thanks for the food for thought, Jason.

Sarah Hina said...

I think much of this is true. Those highs and lows can be so enticing, especially when measured against a flat and static line of basic sameness, and even contentment.


The only thing I'd quibble with here is that in describing these behaviors as addictions, we're forgetting the other person's influence. That real connection. Each relationship is unique, and shaped by special circumstances. Not like cigarettes. Is the behavior in question really a pattern/cycle with many people, which he/she would likely do best to break off, or is it born of a purer, singular pain that this one other person can recognize, understand, and begin to help ease?

I can't really explain what I mean this morning. The brain cells aren't all firing. ;) But good and thought-provoking post, Jason.

Anonymous said...

Tea and Cake, yes, that's where the danger spreads. The effects on those we lure in.

Paisley, you're so right about how deeply it becomes infused in us. In fact, it might even seem questionable if we are us without it. You can count on your friend here for support as you try to break the cycle. As for me, yes, I have my own addiction. I was alone a good bit in my childhood (being an only child and having moved twice). Interactions with people took on great significance, because of the tremendous implications. I didn't have lots of support to fall back on if one interaction went badly. At the same time, I also didn't feel very understood, ahead of my peers, and even ahead of my parents. My pain is the desire to be understood and valued for my particular qualities. Yet, it's hard for me hold it once I have that gift from someone else. I now understand that by keeping the pain alive, I'm also keeping alive the amazing feeling I have when someone's interest in drawn to me.

Jaye, that's so true. Hard to know whether we can even cut that pain away and still remain who we are. That's a scary thought. My pain (see above) has spurred me to achieve things I'm most proud of about myself. I wouldn't be who I am without that pain. Yet, I also see the cycle of damage.

Sarah, but that's the core of the problem. Relationships seem unique and bring great hope. Yet, once the initial, overwhelming passion stage ends, each person brings their own pain to the table. Frictions form. Spirals. Hurt feelings. Tangents straying from the positive path. Each person's pain is the engine of those misadventures. But yes, if both people are mindful of their pain and personal addictions, the mutual support, understanding, and spiral breaking can go very far in healing both people. In the end, though, we must each be willing to alter the course of our actions alone. The uniqueness of relationships tend to drain away, when you see yourself acting, and feeling, the same way time and time again, even when the partners change. That's where the personal pain has to be addressed if the cycle is going to break.

Charles Gramlich said...

I guess I'm pretty boring. I think all I'm addicted to at the moment is Lana and books.

Sarah Hina said...

I guess that's what I meant (damn brain cells...). That the pain can be shattered from the light shined down from both people. In that shared space. If shadows are kept at bay.

Slipping into spirals is so much easier. But in all of these scenarios, it just leads to loneliness. That pain will always be dearer than the someone who could help ease it. And how truly sad that would be.

Aine said...

Another great thought provoking post! I love how (seemingly) effortlessly you use your "rational" skills to boil something down to a true essence.

Always wanting that wonderful soothing feeling can be a problem. And it is easy to understand why someone would create the situation that leads to that feeling again and again.

But if our behaviors hurt others then we are being irresponsible and selfish. We must learn to set boundaries for our selves. We (alone) are responsible for our feelings, behaviors, choices, desires, and values. A relationship with another person cannot complete us or heal us. Though healing can take place within a relationship (it can be a nice, safe, loving place to do it, but the relationship is not the healing agent). The prerequisite for "two to become one" is to start with two complete individuals. Many marriages don't become "one" until after many years of working on creating two healthy individuals.

I think, as you said, we can use our understanding of pain to do great things. But we must be responsible for not hurting others. And in the end, we are not growing if we remain stuck in a cycle.

And you've provided a valuable tool in figuring out we need to work on-- the thing we wish for most. It is probably a good bet that that wish is a hidden hurt that needs to be healed.

Your insights are invaluable to me! Thank you!

Geraldine said...

You've touched on a topic that is usually overlooked Jason. I am pondering this one. I also wonder what prompted you to write about this particular subject?

Hugs to you and Aine, G

Chumplet - Sandra Cormier said...

I think I'm addicted to noise. Silence unnerves me. If I don't have a radio, a television or a CD going, I must be in a place where voices talk all around me.

I was a loud kid, because nobody listened to me.

Now I mostly listen.

Meghan said...

I'm addicted (or is it obsessed?) with trying to gain people's approval. I'm hard on myself, and never feel pretty or popular enough. I'm always counting friends, etc. I wasn't popular in school, and that haunts me to this day.

K.Lawson Gilbert said...

Strength comes from pain. (From the "Whatever doesn't kill you, makes you stronger" school of thought)

Honestly, I believe it is all about how we interpret painful experiences.

Jim Morrison said:
"You should stand up for your right to feel pain."

Anonymous said...

Charles, in this instance, boring is wonderful!

Sarah, those brain cells quickly came into line, I see. :) I completely agree. The special point about relationships that struck me is this: it's hard enough to fight against quiet addictions alone. When you add another person, it can become exponentially harder, because the effects of the other person's addiction tends to be just the kind of thing that cuts at the heart of our own. Feeding off each other can make tight, brutal spirals. But on the other hand, two have miraculous powers to heal. Just as you say. :)

Aine, yes, each person can be so interwined with their pain and addiction that they feel to see that in trying to soothe themselves, they are destroying the people around them (or at least destroying their relationship with them). Thanks for bringing your skills to the table to complement and balance my rationality!!

Geraldine, up above in my response to Paisley, I talk about bit about my own interpersonal addiction.

Chumplet, it sound like (no pun intended) that you were always surrounded by action and other people. When you are faced with total silence, perhaps you are unnerved by the sudden, gut-wrenching evidence of being alone. Of course, I don't see much harm to you in doing this, so it's a benign addiction. :)

Meghan, thanks so much for sharing that. It's a very brave and powerful thing to dig deep and find the fuel of these things. I think I may do a follow up post on some strategies to fight these addictions. It's very hard. Any solution that seems easy won't hold very long. But know there are hands to help lock away those ghosts.

Kaye, pain can come and teach us, yes. That kind of pain is the blessing of experience. But there are some quintessential hurts that we wrap around, nurse, and feed. We stroke them and whisper to them, and love when we can lift ourselves on them. When that sort of pain sets in, the lesson of experience is long gone. Only cycles and self destruction remain.

Vesper said...

I couldn’t tell if it’s any of these for me, Jason, or a mix of all. I’m afraid, I guess, to define it too well.

But you are right, I think, when you describe this love-hate relationship. We are such complex creatures, we human beings… the brain, this is the problem (remember?)

(I am addicted to writing.)

ChrisEldin said...

I've heard spirals being used as a visual for growth as well. You can go up and up, but you do circle around to the touchpoint everytime you go around. The touchpoint being the pain or the catalyst that causes the growth. It's always there.
This is a very thought-provoking post.

Catvibe said...

I just found your blog and very much enjoyed the insights you've written here, and also all of the insightful comments here. I think I've been addicted to relationship with abusive and/or deeply wounded people in my life, and thought perhaps I could help them heal, but soon found that wasn't going to be the case. My own pain made me feel smothered and very intolerant and I had to push people away, perhaps that was a good thing with abusive people, but it seems to have carried over into any attempt at romance. Now, for years, I've swung the other way and crave solitude rather than pull people into my web in order to repeat the cycle. I would like to change this, but I admit that solitude is very comfortable and GREAT for artistic pursuits, but wouldn't it be nice to have someone, besides a cat, to cuddle with on these cold winter nights? Your quote from a comment "My pain is the desire to be understood and valued for my particular qualities. Yet, it's hard for me hold it once I have that gift from someone else. I now understand that by keeping the pain alive, I'm also keeping alive the amazing feeling I have when someone's interest in drawn to me." This could have come out of my mouth.

As I read these posts, I see many similarities between us all. It seems your insights have highlighted a very common problem.

Anonymous said...

Vesper, they are scary depths to plumb, yes. It's up to each person to decide how far to dig. I suppose it hinges on whether you have a sense of your life going astray.

Chris, spirals can go up, yes. Those are wonderful. When each act propels the other person higher, and back and forth, to dizzying heights.

Catvibe, welcome. :) And thank you for your comment! Of course, I'm intrigued by similarity of your feelings. Rather than respond more globally to your thoughts, I have a question. Somewhere deep in your motivations to help, support, and offer understanding to others (to these wounded and haunted people), were you, in a way, showing them, showing the world, how you wanted to be treated in return? Did you reach out to others in this way to save them, because you wanted someone to reach out and save you?

Minister of the Masochistic Truth said...

I think that we are all born with what we need to exist at our fullest potential. Pain is necessary to appreciate happiness. Pain forces us to vent our feelings through Art, risk taking and making changes in life. Pain is a wonderful teacher (think about it the next time that you are sick with a cold or flu and wishing that you felt better).

Emotion is a tool - effective if we learn to appreciate them and utlise them properly.

As for me, I'm an isolation addict right now. Consumed by my students and family, sometimes I just want peace and to curl up with a book...

Catvibe said...

Jason, I'd have to say a big resounding yes to that question. And then when that didn't happen, I grew intolerant and incapable of caring. It's funny that need to be seen, and I find myself being quite the show off when I'm interested in someone. Not that I believe anymore that anything I show off is actually 'me'. In any case, I think the key for me lies in how the beginning is handled, in otherwards, not setting myself up in the role of mother/saver/invulnerable source of strength. That has staved off many would be unfortunate relationships over the last decade. However, I am still in that role as parent of my young adult children, and as caretaker of my aging father.

However, that show off part is interesting and I think is connected with the source of pain. I am blessed with a multitude of artistic and musical talents. So many that I'm probably only 1/2 as good as I could be in any one field if I only could focus on it.

In my pain, I believe I have been waiting for the magical prince on the white steed to come and give me emotional and financial support, mostly emotional encouragement. Since he's not anywhere near, I have a whole lot more time to paint, photograph, sing, and blog. :-) Perhaps maybe I'll step outside into the world sometime and he'll be waiting in his carriage. Ok, kidding, kidding. I do have this pain, but I don't wallow in it I'm happy to say. I'm a pretty content person for the most part, and cats, although they don't speak English, are very good nurturers and are very grateful for their cat treats. :-) Oh, and they are fun to write about too. I'm glad for yours and your wife's blogs, it's like taking a time machine ride back to the 70's when rap sessions were popular. I love it.

Anonymous said...

Minister, secret, interwoven pain can definitely be an engine for art and for expression and growth. But I wonder about its circular nature. How we never escape it and keep repeating ultimately destructive patterns. Pain can be beautiful in what it provokes, but sometimes a line is crossed, and we become tired beating the circular path.

Catvibe, yes, I understand, and I've done the same. The emphasis on your role in the beginning of relationship...developing your talents to draw people to you...the need to be seen. And yes, I also agree that although these drives are connected to the pain, they also have yielded real results--your talents which would only be half of what they would otherwise be. So it's true, this type of pain can be positive. Somewere along the way as children, we were isolated, yet had a solid sense of self and high self esteem. We didn't feel understood or valued by the people around us. So, we hatched this fantasy of another person who would want to join us in our exclusive little world. Rather than just wait, we learned to entice people with our personality and talents (because we couldn't bear the thought of missing one if we crossed paths), and also reached out to save haunted people in the hope they would turn around and save us. Only, it fails, because someone who is so prepared to take from us will only continue doing so. The turn never comes.

Minister of the Masochistic Truth said...

Pain is circular and I don't know if we can or even want to eliminate it from our lives. Sometimes we need to hit lows to motivate us to change. Sometimes being hurt by others teaches us about how we might better relate.

I think that we are all self-destructive to some extent. Sometimes we do it to rebel, while others to punish ourselves as a form of pennance. Perhaps we are seeking an adrenaline rush. It's a very complex and individual thing. When out of control, this leads to harming self through addictions or other things - even death. It can destroy those around us. That being said, it's like anything in life as it can be an energy used for good or bad. Look at something like nuclear power: it can be utilised as a viable source of power, or for war and obliteration of the planet.

In the end, pain is what it is. If we were not regularly reminded of pain, how would we be grateful for our happiness and love (which I hope makes up the majority of your existence!)?

Catvibe said...

Thanks Jason, it certainly doesn't! This has been a very positive exchange and I thank you for it. In fact, it, along with a couple of other blogs, has been the inspiration for a new poem which I posted, along with a kind of nice epiphany I'm experiencing as a result. Throughout history there has been a lot of exquisite creativity born from pain, and I think tapping into that creative spring is healing in its own right. Perhaps if we accept that we have the pain then we won't always be seeking its cure? Anyway, thanks and thanks again, this has been a very therapeutic experience.

52 Faces said...

Aye! Too close to home!

My most unfulfilled wish is either to be loved so hard someone would die for me or vice versa. And yes, people have tried to introduce me to Jesus, who supposedly already died for me and would do it again. But I keep looking for a mortal instead.

And definitely write about working with these addictions!

Anonymous said...

Minister, all true. My personality type doesn't enjoy circles. As long as pain can move me forward, I see its value. When I'm finding that I'm wearing a distinct path in the ground around that circle, then it's time to break it.

Catvibe, I definitely think that you're ahead of me in the process. You've chosen a good deal of solitude in reaction. You have amassed real weight to balance against the draw of the pain. I'm sure you still search for perfect balance, however. The right person. The right amount of intensity. Too much isolation is a swing the other way.

52 Faces, I hear you. For some people, religion can soothe sufficiently to make a difference. (For others, religion itself is the addiction.) It would never be enough for me, even I weren't agnostic.