REPRINTED WITH PERMISSION from the Florida Jewish News
Look,” I said to Lawrence a week after he decided to quit drugs for good, “this is going to be really, really hard because eventually, you’re going to be in pain and you won’t wanna stay there. That’s when you have to stick to your commitment to stay clean.”
“I’m not worried about that,” he smiled, “I gave up pain a long time ago. I don’t like it much.”
“That’s because you ran to use before you felt anything,” I reminded him. “You haven’t experienced it because you put yourself into a haze before you could take that risk to feel. I’m telling you, you won’t like it, and I’m asking you to be strong and get through it anyway. When it hits you, it’ll be like a two- by-four smacked you, but you’ve got to keep going.”
Pain Is Part Of Life If You Don’t Use Drugs To Run Away From It
Sure enough, not two weeks passed before it hit him. The reason he had decided to give up the drugs was because he wanted his family back. He wanted to laugh and joke with his two little girls. He wanted to run his fingers through his wife’s hair. Right now, contact with his wife was limited and strained. But she was trying to give him the space to learn how to be a husband and father. Nice woman.
And things had been going rather well. There were some reasonable phone conversations. Then he’d had dinner over at what once had been his home, until he was exiled to an apartment, and that was pleasant too. He’d really made an effort to courteous and considerate of Renee, his long-patient wife. He’d been told that when he was using, he’d become nasty. He’d tried so hard to make the evening light and upbeat. He was working hard on becoming sensitive, not an easy thing. But when the dinner was over and he had kissed his girls goodnight and read them a story, his wife said it was time for him to go—and it felt like a two-by-four had smacked him in the gut and took all the air out of his lungs. Lulled by the pleasant flow of the evening, he had been fantasizing being back in the open arms of his family once again.
He cried when he reported the whole thing to me on the phone at our next appointment. “Wonderful!” I said.
“What?” he gasped in shock.
“Wonderful,” I repeated. “Did you know that most human beings—the ones that haven’t anesthetized themselves with drugs, alcohol, gambling, temper tantrums, shopping til they drop, sex, or any other distractions—feel emotional pain? That’s part of being human.”
“Ha, ha,” he replied. “That’s real helpful. Everyone hurts. Welcome to the real world.”
Feeling Pain Helps Us Know What Hurts Others – That’s Empathy
“No, you don’t understand,” I explained patiently. “The pain is good. It tells us what needs to be fixed, what needs healing. And if we’re really good at noticing our own pain, we can begin to notice the kinds of conditions that might cause other people pain.” Here, I paused to let that sink in. He was real quiet on the other end of the phone.
“You see,” I continued, “that’s majorly important because the better we get at this, the more likely we can avoid causing pain to those we love. And here’s the really good part: Our ability to know when those we love are in pain—compassion—is the first step to intimacy. Intimacy! My God, that’s what everybody wants, right?”
“Whoa,” Larry said, “You’re going too fast. Intimacy? What’s that got to do with pain, mine or other’s?”
“Okay, let’s back up,” I said. “Remember, intimacy is knowing the other person. When Adam “knew Eve, it really means he knew her. Did he have sex? Of course. But to do that, Step One was he knew her. He knew what she liked for breakfast; he knew her three best friends. All right, there weren’t any other people then, but you get my drift. A modern-day Adam would know her favorite movies, her life dreams, her best talents, her favorite moments, the best part of her summer vacation. He knew her. And he loved every bit of it, mind, body, heart, and soul. That’s intimacy.”
Knowing What Will Hurt Someone Is Insurance Against Hurting Them
“So,” I wrap up, “when you know what makes someone hurt—and you feel that pain in advance of doing something to hurt them—it kind of stops you cold. It is an insurance against ever hurting someone you love. That’s a combo of intimacy and compassion. It’s the knowing and having the ability to feel because of it. Knowing without the feelings is not real knowing; it’s shallow; it’s once-removed knowing. But with the feelings, that’s dynamite.”
Against his better judgment, Lawrence chuckled. “So I’m supposed to be happy I’m in pain, eh?”
“Darn tootin’,” I replied.