Every now and again a friend will ask how I handle not drinking when drinking is so prevalent here. It actually doesn’t bother me that much at all. Drinking wasn’t fun for me.
There is a parable about a woman who sought out the wisest man in the world so that she could learn everything there was to know in the world. He took her up to a cave, and he gave her books and all the resources she’d need to study. He came to visit her the next day. He walked in, and he was carrying a big stick. When she rose to meet him, he hit her over the head with the stick. Stunned, she asked him why he hit her. He asked if she knew everything she needed to know yet, and she had to admit that she didn’t know everything in the world there was to know. And, then he took some time to teach her. The next day, he came in with the same stick and hit her over the head again. Every day, he’d come in and hit her over the head with the stick, and they’d have the same dialogue. One day, he came in, and, as he raised the stick to hit her, she reached up and grabbed the stick. He applauded and said, “Now you know everything there is to know. You know how to stop the pain.”
The stick varies, but we all have a stick that causes us pain. For some, it’s unbearable loneliness. It may be perfectionism, people-pleasing, self-condemnation or codependency. For others, it may be physical pain or physical abuse. For still others, it may be great and significant loss. We may try to stop the pain with substances and get into a perpetual cycle of numbing. By numbing pain with virtually anything, the stick grows and does more damage. Numbing with food causes health issues. Numbing with adrenalin, spending, gambling, sex or substances can cause energy loss, death, broken relationships and a whole host of other consequences.
As the stick gets bigger, and I continue allowing myself to get beat over the head with it, the consequences become more severe. I can try to isolate or hide from it by acting as if it isn’t there. I can try to bargain with the stick-carrier or God to make it go away, but it doesn’t go away. Before long, I may start to accept the stick’s presence, learning to live with the daily beating. Maybe this is all I deserve, I might think. Who am I to question my circumstances? This is all I know to do. I’m too scared to stand up for myself. Eventually, I become mutilated, bloody and finally even killed by the growing stick.
The old sage was right. The key to life is learning how to stop the pain. But, the only way to stop pain is rise up and do what I need to do to keep it from happening. I have to put my hand up and say NO. If I have a health issue causing my pain, I have to get to the root cause and DEAL with it. I may have to so no to some habits that I have or I may need to seek professional help. Neither path is easy. If I have an addiction, I have to listen to others that have successfully stopped the pain. If I’m caught in a financial issue, I have to seek out financial help to fix the root cause. I have to quit trying to dance around the issue. I have to put my hand up and say loudly and emphatically STOP.
Over this holiday season, I have been surrounded by people who were in deep pain because loved ones were in jail because of addiction. They had to stop helping so that their “addict” could learn to say STOP on their own. Nobody can do it for us. Nobody can come in and stop whatever pain you have. I also sat in silence while a friend processed deep sadness and anger because his son died alone in a hotel room from a drug overdose. I was humbled by this father’s courage in processing his own pain without numbing out. I can’t even imagine what he’s feeling. The only way to stop emotional pain is to let it ride. He’s doing it. He has a process to stop the pain, and he’s trusting the process. I don’t know how, but he’s doing it.
I have several sticks that have beat me over the head in my life. I’ve learned to say STOP IT. I don’t pick up the stick myself anymore. I don’t blame the stick for causing me pain. I do the things I need to do to be strong enough to stick my hand out and say no. It takes work, but it’s worth it – I’m worth it. I don’t miss drinking. I don’t mind saying no to relationships that don’t work for me. I don’t mind going to sleep at a decent hour so I can get sleep. I don’t mind eating healthfully so that I can enjoy good health and great energy. I don’t mind the short-term pain of painful emotions because I know the long-term joy of letting them ride. Sometimes, I pick up the stick again for a minute and forget about the pain. But, I know what I have to do to get the strength to say STOP. It isn’t always easy, but it’s sure easier than getting beat over the head everyday.