The following is an excerpt from the final chapter of “Finding a Purpose in the Pain” by James L. Fenley, Jr., MD”. “He that can have patience can have what he will.” —Benjamin Franklin There are three ultimate keys to the work I do and to finding a purpose in the pain:
First, let me address patience. From the standpoint of an addict on the heels of his or her active addiction, nothing is harder than being patient. Even as I talk passionately with addicts about how recovery works, I cannot promise them that their emotional pain will lessen today. Instead, I ask them to trust a process based on a belief system that is the exact opposite of their addictive behavior. When I ask them to be patient, I understand that initially they are dealing with the fear that occurs when they go from a place of “going fast” in their addiction to suddenly stopping and feeling out of control. Patience is also important because it goes hand in hand with slowing down and simplifying life, which are critical to the recovery process. Patience is almost always the right answer when it comes to decision making. Rarely has a poor decision been made by being patient, but many have occurred as a result of a reactive, hurried answer. From a spiritual standpoint, patience, or “waiting” as it is often termed in the biblical sense, is intimately related to trust. Without trust, there can be no true faith, but with trust must come the ability to wait for things to happen in God’s time, not in ours. Thankfully, however, waiting is done just for today, where the solution to recovery and God’s light both dwell. That brings us to the second key to finding a purpose in the pain. As I looked over the list of purposes in the pain, it dawned on me that the ultimate purpose must be the goal of twelve-step recovery—serenity, or peace of mind. Yet, when I thought about my day-to-day work with patients, I realized it is not peace I am trying to give them most often, but some measure of relief. I want to list some examples of this relief as a reference for you:
- Relief in accepting that addiction is an illness and not a moral weakness.
- Relief in knowing it’s okay to hate things a loved one does and still love that person.
- Relief in finding out they had an untreated major depressive disorder that went undiagnosed for a long time, and that they will respond to medication and never have to go back to “that place” again.
- Relief when a physician like myself can tell them before they tell me exactly what it feels like in their depression to be “walking around in a shell,” feeling disconnected and convinced that they can’t explain to anyone just how terrible they feel.
- Relief from long-term unresolved grief when I ask them to write a letter, not to say goodbye, but to reestablish communication and tell the person they’ve lost how much they miss him or her and begin to share all the good memories.
- Relief from getting family secrets off their chest that they have been carrying around for years and realizing they are not betraying the family, but being good to themselves.
- Relief in “jumping off the cliff,” or surrendering to being powerless and letting go of trying to manage their addiction.
- Relief in writing a letter to an abusive parent and saying everything in it they ever wanted or needed to say or ask without fear of retaliation, and sharing it with someone, but knowing it will never be mailed and will remain confidential.
- Relief that comes after sharing the imposter, not the hero, with a group and finding out just how special, courageous, and giving they truly are and what a distorted view of self they have carried as a burden all these years.
- Relief from someone explaining the impact their childhood sexual abuse has had on their adult life (for example, blind rages, sexual promiscuity or not wanting sex at all, cycles of severe depression, low self-esteem, nightmares, flashbacks, gaps in childhood memories, dissociative episodes, or “cutting”) and that none of it is their fault.
- Relief from unexpressed hurt, fear, and anger by learning about core feelings and substituting hurt for anger, and vice versa.
- Relief from the painful acceptance that some people in their family are just not going to be there for them, as they have wanted them to be for so long, and then relief from ultimately going beyond that acceptance to a place of forgiveness.
The third and final key to finding a purpose in the pain is peace. This peace is of a spiritual nature, and in most cases it is a result of working a twelve-step facilitated program leading to the insights and moments of relief like those mentioned above. Peace is also part of the process of recovery, but it requires action. In Chapter Nine, I talk about morning quiet time spent alone with my higher power, whom I call God. Making this time a priority is essential to life and recovery. For the addict who is new to the recovery process, prayer may seem awkward or superficial, but like many things in early recovery, if you take the action, the feelings will follow. If prayer is too uncomfortable for you for right now, then just be still and quiet for five minutes. If you have twelve step literature, you can read it to help you with this. The important thing is to make time for God in silence; that creates opportunities for you to experience peace. It is in my suffering that I have come closest to my God and have found a path to peace. Life is a struggle for each one of us, and every child needs a place to seek comfort and safety. Whenever I have been willing to increase my quiet time spent with God, I have found there is a general sense of increased peace, with a different view and less fear of the world we live in. Whenever patients of mine have increased the quiet time they spend with God, they have reported the same experience. It is significant that in the Bible, the book of talks about putting on the full armor of God to fight the daily struggles we face in a fallen world. In my study of the Bible and in my own personal experience, I have noted how many times God has used the terms “hold fast” and “stand firm” when I talk about dealing with trials and difficult circumstances. When I think of standing firm, I must have my feet planted solidly in something I can trust to withstand the adversity I face. Chapter Six of Ephesians also describes the various parts of the armor, such as the belt of truth and the shield of faith, and the gospel of peace that the warrior’s feet are firmly planted in. If a warrior cannot remain on his feet, it is difficult to win. If an individual cannot find some measure of spiritual peace, it is difficult to stay in today and experience the true feeling of recovery. In a recovery meeting when someone is sharing a painful experience, the room is silent and the silence is “heavy.” Although there is suffering for some in that room, for others there is a peace that is a result of remembering pain that brought them to a place of safety and love that will never disappear. My life to date has been a journey, often a fearful one, especially in my younger years. Then I found twelve step recovery through my own pain as a family member of an addict, and by working in the field of addiction medicine. Over time, I learned the value of patience as a key to recovery and in my own life. I have certainly experienced moments of insight and enlightenment, which, along with my willingness to be vulnerable, have given moments of relief too numerous to count. But it has only been in the last two years that I have actively worked toward, and truly made time for, God. I have found the true essence of my life and the purpose in my pain, and that is the peace I find in the time I spend alone with God each morning, reading, praying, meditating, and talking. In conclusion, it is my hope that this book can provide a helpful resource for professionals and nonprofessionals alike. If it gives spiritual relief to a single individual, it has been a success. If an adult feels validated because he or she realizes that the behaviors or qualities he or she dislikes or feels guilty about are actually survival skills learned unconsciously as a child in a dysfunctional family, then this book has served an important purpose. It is written in the context of talking about addiction because that has been my life’s work and passion. However, I believe the basic human truths presented here can apply and be helpful to anyone, whether it be a family therapist, an addict in early recovery, a psychologist, or a busy parent. Life is a struggle, but taken one day at a time, being out of self, with a spiritual focus, it can be a path of discovery through our pain to love, freedom, and peace. This blog post is an excerpt from Finding a Purpose in the Pain – A Doctor’s Approach to Addiction Recovery and Healing – by James L. Fenley, Jr., MD; Published by Central Recovery Press (CRP).