Settling for quick fixes prolongs suffering

Let’s try something different - I am going to tell you what to do for a change! But these are just recommendations. Only try them if you want a healthier, happier life!!! People who study other people have taken note of some helpful and not-so-helpful patterns for how people deal with life. For the next few days, I’m going to compare and contrast them. I hope they help you make changes - if you need to!

The brain likes it if we distract ourselves from our suffering, rather than lean into our suffering. This makes it easier on the brain to go take a smoke and maybe work in a nap. This is NOT what healthy people do when they are uncomfortable.

Healthy people do NOT seek a distraction from suffering or quick and easy fixes to comfort their pain. Instead, they lean in and explore their discomfort. They know that their pain is real and true and appropriate. They do NOT seek instant gratification.

When Scott and Brittany were going through their miscarriages, they did not pretend that this was part of God’s plan for their life. They turned their back on platitudes. Instead, they got counseling, wrestled with their grief and sought support from those who had survived losses similar to theirs. They do not consider Norah, their beautiful daughter, a replacement child. She is their adorable baby girl but no child should bear the weight of replacing other siblings. This requires Brittany and Scott to suffer AND celebrate. Some days that is hard - because there is no pattern being established that provides a distraction or a quick fix. It’s called - healing. But it is long and hard and messy.

Change requires practice

Shifting our focus from always having to be right toward a commitment to “get it right” is one of my favorite concepts that Brene Brown hammers home in her book Dare to Lead. This compulsion to know all the answers and be right all the time is a heavy burden. Lay it down!

Getting it right is a whole different ball game. When we work to “get it right” it makes us curious - we can ask, how can I improve? It creates an atmosphere of humility. We can assume that we have more to learn. We can think of ourselves as scientists running our own customized experiments. “Getting it right” implies process. It promises improvement without demanding perfection. It provides direction when we’ve lost our way without the need to blame or defend ourselves for the confusion.

After a terrible six month stretch of sickness I found a trainer to help me get strong because I was feeling so very weak. (The bear in the woods example came to my mind often in those days.) My trainer knows more about how to customize fitness to my particular brand of weakness than I could have ever imagined. Over a year into the process, I see progress. My “get up” form is decent. I can press a 20 pound Kettlebell with each arm for multiple reps. I can hold the plank position for longer than I thought possible. I practice my deadlifts several times a week and am making decent progress with my weight progression. I am getting stronger.

But in each of the above exercises, every single week, my trainer finds something to correct and improve in terms of my form or my degree of weight difficulty. Just today we worked extensively on repositioning my arm just a few little inches during a particular exercise. Without her, I would not be this particular. But without her, I would also not be making progress.

What do you need to change? Who can help you practice changing? Today I receive comfort and joy as I surrender to the process of being a willing student and active participant in my own recovery. I could not do it without a great coach. What kind of coaching might you benefit from?

Rest battles fantasy living

Once a year Pete and I try to get away for a week or two. It’s not a vacation so much as it is a retreat. We go to the same place every year. The environment is beautiful and predictable. We rent a friend’s house and there is little access to our traditional numbing distractions. We cannot work; we cannot eat food for convenience sake (i.e. fast food that is not as healthy as other choices); we cannot get distracted with the news or sporting events or lifetime movies.

We bring nutritious foods and eat in. Exercising on paddle boards and kayaks, hiking up and down the mountain to the lake’s dock and setting up a portable gym in the basement - it’s so much fun AND offers comfort and joy that is pure gold. We read. We rest. We play games. Pete says that watching the clouds float across the sky is as close to pure peace as he ever gets. I agree.

Because of what we learned at the lake, we have begun to institute comfort and joy rituals at home too. We play board games at night after dinner. We go for a walk together. We read. We find pockets of time to rest - something we rarely gave ourselves permission for in the past. Our old way of thinking about change did not include dollops of comfort and joy. Perhaps that is why we were so frustrated by our lack of meaningful change!!

He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.”

~ Psalm 91:1-2 NIV

Comfort and Joy

We misidentify comfort and joy. That’s a problem. This is easy enough to understand when we think about a kid who has an opioid problem and is laying on a gurney in the ER. Shouldn’t this problem be obvious? I’ve been in more than one ER with someone revived by Naloxone whose first words are a complaint: “Hey, who ripped my favorite jeans? Don’t you dare call my parents! Is my friend here? I gotta get out of here!!”

“Whaaat? You almost died dude!” I say this because I think the using is the problem. This person, knocked into sudden withdrawal by a life-saving dose of Naloxone identifies a different problem: he thinks he needs more drugs to feel normal.

Let me step on toes a bit. Booze to take the edge off; food; binge-watching TV; scrolling through facebook - these are also a form of opioid. Although they will not kill us quickly like an opioid OD will, they do diminish our experience of living. The behaviors are not the problem; the problem is what we are hoping the behavior will accomplish. Dependencies do not offer genuine comfort and joy. They distract and numb. But we THINK they are comforting us, maybe even bringing us joy. Or else we wouldn’t choose those behaviors to depend on.

Want to change? Start by paying attention. What are your false comforts and adrenalin-laced joys?

What is left to work with?

A few days ago I wrote that some of life’s difficulties are so great that we feel that we lose a piece (or pieces) of ourselves that we can never get back.  When this happens, life can feel meaningless or purposeless. We question whether or not we can go on. What is the point in going forward if we’re broken, if we are a shell of ourselves?  

 

If that is the place you are in, that may be a question you have to answer for yourself.  I’m not arrogant enough to think that I can provide you with the sense of meaning and purpose you need to persevere with a few words in a blog post.  But, when I have had my own low, dark moments, one of the things that helps me persist is to ask myself this question: What do I have left to work with?  

 

Here’s why I like this question:  It suggests to me that it’s okay to be broken, and it’s okay to be damaged, and it’s okay to feel that we are not all that we once were.  Yet, just because we’re damaged doesn’t mean we’re destroyed. There is still something there to work with. We still have something to offer to our family, our friends, loved ones, community.  God has plenty to work with, and I say this for two reasons. 1. He can create as much as he needs from whatever is available and 2. God routinely works through damaged people anyway. In other words, he doesn’t need us to be particularly capable in order to make use of us.  

 

If you’re feeling stuck in life, if you’re feeling hopeless, if you’re struggling with acceptance, if you’re filled with contempt, then I’d humbly suggest you ask yourself:  What is left to work with?

 

Even if you’re particularly damaged, I believe there is more than enough.

What kind of comfort helps?

11 All his brothers, sisters, and acquaintances came to him and ate food with him in his house. They comforted and consoled him concerning all the disaster the Lord had brought on him, and each one gave him a qesitah and a gold ring.  

~ Job 42:11, CEB



What kinds of things truly offer comfort to those who are hurting?  

 

I have found it helps to listen, for starters.  Some of you may say, “I’m not really a good listener!”  That’s okay- listening is easy to pretend. Just don’t talk.  Allow the other person room to talk. If you can’t actively listen because of fear or anxiety or some such thing (which is normal) just sit silently and be uncomfortable.  You can do it.

 

Some level of distraction can be comforting.  I’m not talking about going and getting drunk or high- I’m talking about being distracted by things that are reasonably healthy (or not harmful).  My friends take me out to play golf when I need comfort and we laugh about how much we suck at golf. It helps.

 

Simple things are often what bring comfort, as opposed to grand gestures.  A hug can be very comforting. A card or note can bring comfort. Simply acknowledging that you know that a hurting person is hurting can provide that person comfort.  It helps knowing that other people see your pain.

 

When we’re comforted, we realize we’re not alone.  When we know we’re not alone we gain strength. When we gain strength we can move in the direction of acceptance (even if it takes a while).  

 

What else would you add to the list?

Comfort Fosters Acceptance

11 All his brothers, sisters, and acquaintances came to him and ate food with him in his house. They comforted and consoled him concerning all the disaster the Lord had brought on him, and each one gave him a qesitah and a gold ring.  

~ Job 42:11, CEB

 

Life sometimes throws things at us that are so difficult that we feel as if we lose a piece of ourselves that we will never regain.  When this happens, it’s appropriate to sit with the loss and to mourn, to grieve. Our faith does not compel us to pretend as if the loss did not happen.  Let’s remember- even after Job reconciles with God, he is still in need of comfort.


Comfort, too, fosters acceptance.  Let’s try to be clear about what constitutes “comfort”, though.  Truisms are not comfort. Cliches are not comfort. Being told that things are not really that bad is not comfort.  Being told that things will get better is not comfort.  As a general rule, people know that things will get better.  What I mean is, we generally recognize that our low points are low points, and that we will not feel so low forever.  

What do you find truly comforting when you are at a low point?

A prayer for your recovery journey

Lord, grant that I may seek rather to comfort than

To be comforted –

To understand, than to be understood –

To love, than to be loved.

For it is by self-forgetting that one finds.

It is by forgiving that one is forgiven.

It is by dying that one awakens to Eternal Life.

 

Amen

 

May you find a way to comfort, understand, love, set ego aside, and forgive today.  In so doing, may God grant you mercy.