Worthy Distress


No one wants to be in pain.

Yet sometimes being in distress is worthwhile because of the benefits it brings.

Short-term pain does sometime lead to long-term gain.

Examples include the distress of dieting when you are overweight. If you are overweight, the distress of hunger is a worthy distress, because it helps to achieve a worthy goal of improving your health.

Another example would be the physical distress some feel when exercising.

With this type of distress, it is good to smile at your distress, to even welcome it. Tell yourself, “This is the feeling of healing.”

The same is true for distress of the cravings of addiction. Cravings are often a necessary gateway that the brain must past through on the way to recovery. Looked at this way, cravings are not bad. It is good to experience cravings because if you do not act on them, you take one step closer to freedom from the bonds of addiction. In early recovery, it is good to smile at your cravings, again labeling them as the “feeling of healing.”

Meditation is an invaluable practice for learning to sit comfortably with distress. I often experience itching when I sit. Sometimes I will get a strong itch in my ear canal that feels like it is boring into my skull. The discipline of meditation calls for sitting with our experience, being present with it, while abstaining from acting during the meditation session. With practice we develop the capacity to be both in distress and content at the same time. This capability is critical to recovery. This is why I recommend to all my patients a disciplined practice of silence and stillness every day, even if just for 5 minutes a day.

Some people are distress phobic. They run from their pain, often into the arms of addiction. This is especially true when you treat pain with pleasure. Treating the pain of loneliness, for example, with the numbing euphoria of alcohol often leads to alcohol addiction. Treating stress and anxiety with the pleasure of food leads to food addiction. While we can enjoy the many pleasures of life, using pleasure to treat pain is risky.

So when you are in distress, ask yourself if it is for a greater good. If so, practice being contentedly in distress.

If the distress serves no purpose, do what you can to alleviate it. If you have a headache, it’s OK to take a couple of acetaminophen tabs. If you are depressed or anxious, get treatment.

Some distress, such as the heartbreak of the loss of loved ones, or being the victim of an assault, have no apparent worthy purpose and no method for immediate alleviation. It is at this time that we are called to again sit with our experience with humble acceptance. This again is a spiritual life practice. Even this distress offers a hidden worth. Through the practice of gently but firmly sitting with our distress, we cultivate compassion, gratitude, acceptance. We develop peace of mind.

Love is powerful, but fragile. Tap into the love of those around you in your efforts to enhance your relationship with your distress. No one does this work alone. We all need a loving community to help us endure and grow. This is why recovery meetings and mentors are so essential for victims of addiction.

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Image from: https://tabletotable.org/food-insecurity-and-childhood-nutrition-when-youre-too-hungry-to-learn/.