You’re not joyful. You’re downtrodden. You wake up in the morning, look in the mirror, try to smile and it quickly distorts into despair. You can put on the Christian face at work, at church, or with friends that says everything is awesome, but it’s a facade. Why is this so hard? Everything you try doesn’t satisfy. Even the addiction doesn’t satisfy, but you’ve known that for a long time. You honestly don’t want to suffer, and you’re not even talking about the horrible someone-close-to-me-just-died-and-I’m-crying-out-to-God kind of suffering. You’re talking about the lame I’m-feeling-kind-of-tired-and-I-don’t-like-feeling-this-way-on-a-day-off sort of suffering! And in that moment you’ll think of acting out and the number of times you did act out in that very instance is shameful.
The suffering we experience on a daily basis is the kind of suffering we will literally kill ourselves to avoid. The daily thoughts about ourselves, the thoughts alone, are enough to drive us into the arms of our addiction. And how do those thoughts make us feel? The bane of many is the “I’m not good enough” thought. The number of things that can trigger that single thought are many. What is triggered is a glass menagerie that we curate in our mind; each one a painstakingly crafted derision of ourselves encapsulating a memory; a message about yourself that you alone created.
The menagerie transcends time. It is the dusty collection of curios on display in an old glass cabinet you might find at your grandmother’s house. You see it every time you visit. Maybe you were curious and looked at all of them, wondering what they all mean and why your grandmother collected them. With each visit there they remain, never moving, never changing, the empty expressions painted on their faces; the same despairing picture of stagnation. Those are your emotional memories. Collected over time. Every event or a memory that reached a certain emotional threshold warrants its inclusion in your emotional menagerie. An insult, a heartbreak, a failure; real or perceived, it doesn’t matter, it’s curated and there it remains. Collecting dust. That curio is a reminder of a moment, stuck in time, like the curio in your grandmother’s display. That childhood scolding could be in the collection. The memory forgotten, and yet, in adulthood, the ripples of pain remain. Your boss scolds you one day, and it hurts. It’s devastating. It feels like your soul was crushed. You feel like that child so long ago. “Why am I crying?” You wonder to yourself. You remember the guilt and the shame. You don’t understand why this always happens. Why you always feel this way. The menagerie in your mind is ever present. It knows exactly which memory that feeling came from. It whispers something in your ear: You’ll never be good enough. The memory awakens an emotional torrent. Time to act out.
Suffering is choosing to not act out. Face the torrent, marinate in it, experience those painful emotions yo’ve collected that you’ve spent so long avoiding, and realize that the tears that may be shed, the guilt or shame that might float to the surface, and the wounds that might sting and fester aren’t going to kill you. They are the versions of yourself frozen in the moment, hurting, wounded, desiring to be released from their torment. They’re in that dusty glass cabinet, avoided; alone. Something happens that reminds you they are there, and it is usually bad, and you can’t handle it; it is overwhelming; why? the little child frozen in time is crying out. The precious, vulnerable little child. If it is too much, seek a professional trained in processing these memories and emotions. You don’t have to do it alone. Not being able to handle it on your own doesn’t make you weak; it makes you human. Addiction is our pithy attempt at being independent. It doesn’t work.
The last thing you want to do is curate this overwhelming collection of painful memories. Addiction is the process of maintaining them and keeping them stuck in that glass case. The memories cannot be released. The childhood figure in that glass case can’t let go of the hurt unless you are willing to be present with it. Let it tell its story. You must sit with it. You must suffer with it. You must love that figure, no matter how grotesque or crazy you think it is. Stop ignoring them and letting them collect dust. They overwhelm you because you spend most of your time avoiding them or escaping from them. How else are they going to let you know they are there if they don’t cry out.
Posted on Thu, January 2, 2020
by Jeff Pipe