I have spent much of my adult life running away from my pain. Maybe more accurately is that I buried my pain alive. Although it helped in the short term, I have paid dearly for it in the long run.
“The foundation of all mental illness is the avoidance of legitimate suffering,” according to Carl Jung, the father of analytic psychology.
His words, which I first heard about two years ago, changed my life. They were an epiphany that powered my journey from avoidance to acceptance of my pain—a journey that has brought me a peace that transcends my trauma.
I grew up in home with a rageaholic father and an enabling mother. Like many children who later suffer from addiction, I internalized that rage as shame. And that shame fueled my drinking.
I became an expert at numbing out to anything I perceived as painful. Recovery experts are aware of the close connection between mental illness and addiction. They say that addiction is the compulsive avoidance of immediate pain. Can you hear Jung’s words in those?
In his excellent book, Recovery 2.0, a combination of memoir and sobriety handbook, Tommy Rosen says “feelings left unprocessed are buried alive! They will act as an energetic blockage to your happiness and health.”
He goes on to say, “Later, these energetic blockages will cause a variety of emotional and physical symptoms, which will get more and more serious unless you shift onto a path of healing.”
It’s little wonder that all addictions are progressive. They only worsen over time. Rosen makes the point that since the original trauma never gets dealt with, all subsequent pain gets piled on top. “It gets to the point where you’re feeling emotions that no longer correspond to what is actually happening in the present moment.”
When I relive in my mind humiliating experiences that occurred before I got sober 10 years ago, I see the insanity of my reactions to friends, family, and colleagues. Who was that guy who was a master of misinterpretation?
It was the effect of allowing hurts to pile on top of hurts until I wasn’t experiencing reality as it was but as I was.
As I said in an earlier blog, the ultimate addiction is to our thoughts. This, I believe, is universal. Everyone, regardless if you consider yourself an addict or not, is addicted to patterns of thinking that cause suffering.
Rosen’s definition of addiction is “any behavior that you continue to do despite the fact that it brings negative consequences into your life.”
It is only through awareness rather than avoidance that we can begin to understand our trauma. And that doesn’t have to be major trauma. It can be anything that we have turned away from or buried—any past pains or threats that we have avoided.
We can’t fix what we can’t see. I hope that this blog and my others give you the courage to look unblinkingly at your own trauma and to drill down to the root of your present suffering. The tears you shed will water the seeds of your joy.