After a full day of client sessions, I decided to eat dinner before my ride home. I had just picked up the January edition of Shambhala Sun (http://www.lionsroar.com/) and read an article that fit right in with what many of my clients were talking about today. In this article, Lodro Rinzler (http://lodrorinzler.com/) discusses five slogans that are helpful at work. These slogans come from the lojong teachings which are part of the Mahayana Buddhist tradition. While the author thought these slogans would help us get through the days at work, my mind turned toward how these slogans apply to addiction recovery.
The slogan “don’t bring things to a painful point” resonated with the conversations occurring in my therapy office today. The author shares that one way we bring things to a painful point is by running away from the things that scare us. When we cannot deal with the discomfort we want to avoid the discomfort and not deal with the feelings. These uncomfortable feelings, painful places or uncomfortable and awkward situations are often triggers for relapse or acting out. In my work, clients will numb out from the discomfort by watching hours of pornography, surfing dating or hook up sites compulsively, or perhaps chatting with strangers on an app like Whisper. We do these things to hide from the feelings, conflict or whatever is feeling unmanageable in that moment.
As Rinzler reminds us in the article, hiding from our problems often only makes them bigger. When we return to the world after our acting out, often the problem is actually worse. Uncomfortable feelings from external sources are compounded by feelings of guilt and shame about our acting out. By hiding from the pain, or avoiding the painful topic or feeling, we brought ourselves more pain.
Just as part of Buddhist practice is to learn to handle tasks mindfully, part of successful recovery is learning to handle all of our emotions, even the uncomfortable ones. As we grow in recovery, we will be able to sit with uncomfortable feelings for longer periods of time without the need to run away from them into addictive behavior. Additionally, we will learn to soothe these emotions with healthy coping mechanisms that don’t numb the feelings but help us sit with and manage them. Finally, a goal of healthy recovery is to learn how to navigate our fears and do things such as have uncomfortable conversations with friends, set and maintain boundaries with loved ones or ask for our needs to be met by others.
So as we navigate the ups and downs of life and the struggles of recovery, remembering this slogan, “don’t bring things to a painful point” may be the tip we need in the moment to stop, take a breath and work to mindfully resolve what life is throwing at us.