So many people ask me what they need to do to ‘get rid of’ their suffering. How to stop feeling the pain, stop feeling sad or even how to stop thinking about the issues that are causing their suffering. As if there were techniques to learn or a magic button that would make it all disappear in an instant.
And the answer is simple: we don’t ‘get rid’ of our suffering, we can’t just make it disappear. It takes time. It takes healing. And, surprisingly, it takes our care and attention for that to happen.
We live in a world full of distractions. And, when it comes to suffering, we become the ‘Masters of Escapism’. We do everything we possibly can to forget, to not to think about it, to run away. We don’t want to feel what we are feeling, it’s too painful, too dark. We want to escape. The distractions come in all sorts of shapes and forms: alcohol, drugs, social media, work, binge eating, TV, new projects, affairs, new relationships etc. All those might be efficient for a small period of time but then, shortly after… boom! Here it is, that feeling again.
The ‘culture of happiness’ is also to be blamed. We feel we are ‘not allowed’ to feel sad, to suffer. We must have a constant smile on our faces and be happy at all costs. However, that’s not real, not possible. Not human. And that also causes conflict in us. We fight against the sadness, we try to get rid of it, to push it away or bury deep inside us.
But nothing of that works. ‘Pushing away’ is just like hiding it from our sight. And we still know it’s there, we can feel it. We are denying our situation and just delaying the process.
So what to do then?
I use the analogy of a ‘dark tunnel’ with my clients. To me, going through grief, loss, suffering, is like going through a tunnel. It can be scary and extremely uncomfortable. You don’t know what to expect, you don’t really know what you’ll encounter. However, you will only find the way out if you keep moving. Notice your fears, adapt to the darkness, accept that you don’t know what’s really happening. And still keep moving.
Out of fear, we tend to freeze. Panic. Stop. We try to go back. We focus on what happened that hurt us so much. Replaying every piece of the story in our minds, every line of the conversations, of what was said, what was done. You might also freeze and play in your mind all the things that you wished were said and done. You stay stuck in the past. And that keeps you in the tunnel for longer.
Or you feel so scared of the darkness, that you resort to all those distractions I mentioned above. You don’t want to connect with those feelings, with the unknown, with the pain. You look at your mobile, browsing aimlessly on all sorts of apps you have in there, just to remove you from where you are. A desperate attempt to be taken away from your reality, to be pulled out of that tunnel.
What if I want to distract myself?
Running away from your feelings will just delay the healing. You will take longer to reach the end of the tunnel. And, along the way, you might even cause some damage and even more pain, to yourself and others.
The issue with the distractions is that they can be harmful and sometimes destructive. Not only they don’t solve your problems, they don’t help with the suffering, but they start causing new problems of their own. Especially if we consider alcohol, drugs, affairs, binge eating etc. The list continues, and most people even ‘mix and match’ them, and end up hurting themselves and others.
After the effect of the distraction is gone, most people feel even worse. They add to their suffering, because now they feel terrible about themselves too. Low self-esteem, self-loathe, feeling bad about their bodies, or ashamed for hurting others etc.
How to really face the suffering:
Talk about it. Don’t suffer alone. Sharing your load will help immensely.
Stay present. If you feel sad, stay there. Feel that sadness. Emotions come and go.
Press the ‘pause button’. You don’t need to ‘do’ anything, or act, or react. Try not to panic when you are suffering. Take a moment.
Change the perspective of the situation. Take a step back, look at the situation from a little farther away. It’ll look different.
Believe there is ‘another side of the tunnel’, even if you have no idea what’s in there, or how far it is to get there.
There’s no set timeframe for the healing. It doesn’t matter how many people tell you ‘get over it’, ‘you should be feeling better by now’. Who are they to know it? It takes time. And it’s your journey, not theirs.
Accept that ‘this is what is’ right now. It might not be fair, or this shouldn’t be happening, or that’s not what you wanted. But, right now, this is your reality. Take a deep breath and accept it.
Do not make any major decisions while you are feeling so much pain. Wait until your mind is clearer and the emotions less overpowering.
Fear is a big part of your suffering. And it adds much more weight and extra layers to the core of your pain, becoming all much more unbearable. So try to keep it simple: stay with the suffering. Try not to add guilty, shame, revenge, regret, resentment etc. to it.
We can’t measure or compare suffering. What’s meaningful and important to you might not be for others. Respect yourself, respect your own time and respect whatever you are going through.