The Relationship Between Pain and Addiction: A Short Essay

Recently I have found myself pondering on the ways in which humans deal with pain. There are many theories and postulations on the way in which we manage, project and repress our trauma, but the statement that rings most true to me is this:

“The attempt to run away from pain creates more pain”

Studies show that when we feel emotional pain, the same areas of the brain are activated as when we feel physical pain. These feelings share much of the same circuitry in our system. Does this mean that a break-up can have similar repercussions on an individual as breaking a bone would for example? Perhaps it is more nuanced than this, but the point is that emotional pain should be not be undervalued in the affects it can have on the Self.

Everybody can relate to the idea of trauma. We have all suffered in our own ways and in different measurements, some of have suffered consistently and others scantly. Nevertheless, pain is pain and anyone who has experienced it is well aware of the impact it can have on our mental health. The Freudian notion of  ego defence mechanisms can be helpful in demonstrating how people manage their pain. But, I am more interested in the idea of distraction and addiction. I want to know why it is so much more desirable to escape yourself for a couple of hours than to actually be with your pain.

All of the substances of abuse are in fact pain killers. When we use cocaine, we are in actuality attempting to deal with our pain. Addictions are much more than just mechanisms for leisure, they are forms of escape and as Eckhart Tolle says “Addiction begins with pain and ends with pain”. From this perspective, addicts are not carelessly throwing away their life, they are trying to survive through whatever pain they are suffering from. Pain explains everything. Once you understand how pain affects us, you will understand why we go to such lengths to escape ourselves, if even for a few hours.

The hardest step in dealing with your pain is coming face to face with it. It is accepting that you are going through pain in the first place. This is why we spend endless amounts of time with distractions and stimuli that temporarily make us forgo whatever trauma we have experienced through our lives. Osho says that “Once something unconscious is brought to the conscious mind, it evaporates“. This is certainly true as the further we try and run away from the pain that is so a part of us, the closer we get to formenting new forms of pain. I guess the easiest way of dealing with hell, is accepting that you are there.

Yet, does re-surfacing pain from the unconscious to the conscious really evaporate it? Not entirely. I think it takes much more than an acceptance of what you are going through. Every suffering person needs compassion. That is the only cure. This is why addicts tend to relapse because they are so often punished instead of understood. People who distract themselves from their trauma do not know how to manage their pain and so instead they attempt to escape it. Little do they know that confronting their demons is the only way of healing. Compassion facilitates healing. When you love and understand another, you are forcing their soul out of its hiding place.Remember that the stigma hurts more than the sadness.

I, for one, have suffered with trauma, and it has taken me some time to come to terms with it. I have spent mass amounts of time in a state of delusion, denying that my pain even exists. It wasn’t until I ripped my guts out and smeared it out in front of me that I could see what I had to deal with. Escaping pain never works. You can try, but there will always be a time when you are left alone in the abyss of your thoughts and the pain will re-surface. Drugs, sex, alcohol.. they are perfect engines for your own escape, but eventually they will become your consistent means of running away from what is actually hurting you, and that is when you know that you are addicted to distractions. Come face to face with your demons and look them straight in the eyes. Yes, you are wounded. But, with every wound comes a period of healing.

I do not blame any of us for trying to distract ourselves from our pain. We become slaves to our distractions because we do not know of any other way to cope. But, real coping comes from nakedness, acceptance and a true understanding of how trauma has affected you. This way you will not create more pain for yourself. Your initial pain may never go away, but learning to live with it is a form of healing. Ripping apart your wounds and allowing light to penetrate them is the surest way of curbing addictions, it is the best coping mechanism for your soul. It will not be pleasant at first, but you will see that the closer you come to accepting your pain, the further away you move from all the mechanisms that you use to escape it.

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6 Comments Add yours

  1. jennhowd says:

    What a beautiful post about pain and our human nature/condition to try and avoid it… I, like most, have been through my fair share of it in this life. And I, like most, have also done my fair share of trying to escape it… It wasn’t until I was able to allow myself to truly BE with my pain—with compassion and love—that it started to heal… Dealing with pain is a never-ending journey. But, it has taught me SO very much about who I am… “Adversity is the first path to truth.” – Lord Byron. I recently wrote a short post inspired by this quote that seems fitting to include here: http://themindfulnessdiaries.com/the-first-path-to-truth/ Mohadesa, thank you for the amazing work you’re doing in the world…

  2. Neptune says:

    very true! Thanks for this article is just something that I am thinking about it for a very long time.
    People who are addicted need our love and care and not judgment. I feel this so strong and know that all of us could do something to help this people instead judgment. My mother just died two months ago alone in her home because she refused to be with anyone. She was alcohol addict and she was running her all life from pain and reality. I always love her and tried to understand her but it breaks my heart that she choose this and that I had to accept her choose and look her slowly killing herself. If only could help her somehow..

  3. vasQuez says:

    Wonderful article. You definitely struck something in me because it almost made me tear.

  4. prestaeus says:

    Thanks for a well grounded, well rounded, perspective.

  5. there remains a thorn in every heart….. which reminds of the subtle payloads of various addiction

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