Alexandra Comer recommended a great book to me -- The Group, by Paul Solotaroff, about six people in group therapy with an analyst he calls Dr. Lathon. Just finished it, and this Lathon guy says some really amazing stuff, stuff I've been grappling with for ten years now, and haven't always understood.
Pain, he says, is acute, but temporary. Suffering is false and avoidant and goes on and on, eventually driving us crazy. Suffering is what we do to avoid feeling the pain.
And I think of my various past and present addictions; how much suffering I've caused myself in an effort to escape pain, to defer it. How much suffering I did these last few years over bad relationships, all the self-torture and doubt I put myself through, because brooding over why I was unlovable distracted me from the pain of feeling unloved.
Pain, he says, comes in one of three forms: physical pain, the pain of loss or separation, and the pain of shame or humiliation.
And feeling any of those pains -- grief, lonliness, Crohn's syndrome -- is like feeling the others -- visceral, blinding, agonizing. The pain feels undendurable. You'll do anything to get away from it. YOU CAN'T DEAL WITH IT. You feel like you will die. You feel like, if you were thrown in a lockdown rehab right now, with no TV and no human contact and no drugs or booze or food of your choice, just thrown in a padded cell and abandoned, your body would implode, would melt, would shut itself down from the brainstem rather than continue to feel the pain.
So instead, you choose to suffer. You overeat, or smoke too much pot, or get involved with people who are 99.9 percent guaranteed to shit on you, and you hate it. And you hate yourself for it. And you hate yourself for hating yourself, because that shows that your first reaction to everything is selfish, which you know, but you still can't avoid, which you hate. Isn't self-hating great? Isn't self-hatred better than pain? How does it differ exactly?
Oh, right. Pain is not something we choose. It's death of a loved one; it's unexpected cruelty at the hands of another. Pain is what starving people endure. Suffering is something we choose. It's our addictions; it's the neuroses we could choose to break, but don't. We can't avoid pain; all we can do is add suffering on top of it.
Samantha and I were talking about street kids, and how we could convince them of the unlikely-sounding truth -- it is easier to get a job and pay bills than it is to be a homeless junkie. "But it is!" she says. "You only have to spend eight hours a day working, but you have to spend twenty-four hours being a junkie, with no vacation time."
My shrink, who's out of town this month, has often reminded me to "stay with the hurt," rather than make excuses for lame people, or rant about how shitty some shithead is, or brag to her how nothing hurts me anyway because I'm so awesomely evolved. She tells me, don't get caught up in stewing, wheel-spinning, repetitive thoughts -- recognize them as the symptoms of a root cause, and address the root. Feel the pain of loss, abandonment, and shame. And then get up and feel better. Because, in the end, it's easier to do the work than to be a junkie.