Dealing with pain, whether it's from the loss of a loved one, a physical pain, or something else entirely can take it's toll on us all.
In this episode, we dive into some of the benefits that pain can bring. It isn't all bad, and when we make it through, we usually end up better on the other side.
At one point or another we all deal with pain, with grief, with suffering of some sort. Maybe it’s a physical pain from an accident or disease. It could be an emotional pain from a loss of a loved one, a betrayal, or something different. Maybe for you there is a social injustice you’re facing. You might also feel pain in the form of empathy for others who are suffering. Mothers endure the pain of childbirth and athletes endure the pain of their training to compete at the best of their ability. So pain isn’t all bad.
One thing we need to remind ourselves is that the pain or suffering we’re going through helps to bring perspective to our lives.
Pain and suffering has a way of humbling us. What I don’t mean with the word “humble” is someone who thinks they suck, or is always down on themselves. Someone with no backbone. That’s not at all what I’m talking about. What I’m talking about is that we get taken down a notch when we’re in pain.
I think being humble like this is a good thing. Being humble sometimes has a bad connotation associated with it. Like being too passive or insecure. But I think humble people are just the opposite. They’re confident enough in themselves that they let their actions speak for themselves. Humble people know their self-worth. They don’t feel the need to boast and brag about how great they are like their more prideful counterparts. Being humble doesn’t mean that they think less of themselves, rather it means that they think of themselves less.
Humility tends to come with enhanced situational awareness where you might focus your attention on other people or things to learn more about what’s going on. You’re not constantly focused on yourself.
As a result, humble people tend to listen more than they speak. We’ve all been in a conversation where you can tell the other person isn’t listening, and is just waiting for you to take a breath so they can inject what they have on their mind. Why do they do this? They believe that what they have to say is more important, more valuable than listening to what you have to say. A more humble person is listening to what other people have to say before speaking. They try to understand other people’s perspectives without talking over people. A humble person realizes that there is more to learn from others.
In a way, being in pain pushes us to rely on others. Imagine you have this big prideful personality, and then all of a sudden you come walking into work on crutches. It takes the wind out of your sail a bit. You’re no longer this indestructible perfect person that you might have previously made yourself out to be. You’re maybe relying on someone else to help carry something into your office for you. After the loss of a loved one, we might realize that “yea, I need that shoulder to cry on”. Pain makes us realize that we can’t carry these burdens all on our own.
Pain and suffering causes us to shape our own belief systems. When something bad happens to us or someone we know we may question “why do bad things happen to good people?” A more religious person might question “why would God allow something like this to happen?” On the other hand we might forge a different perspective. We might ask instead, “what good can come of this?” Or the religious person could ask “how can God use this for good?”
I haven’t really talked about this on the podcast before, but my brother was KIA in Afghanistan in 2010. I don’t want to get too much into it now, but I’ll talk more about this in another episode. I remember on the night he was killed I was taking a shower so I was alone and asking God why he would take my brother, at age 25, so soon. He was going to get married when he got home, he had his whole life ahead of him. But then I realized that I couldn’t blame God for this. Maybe this was God’s way of doing something bigger and better. Maybe my brother’s death caused others to do good in ways that they previously wouldn’t have done. I don’t know for sure. I’ll never know. I do believe that everything happens for a reason. We may not ever know what those reasons are, but there is a reason, and I believe that the reason is always a good one, no matter how bad the current situation may seem.
This leads me to my next point. The testing of someone’s resolve produces perseverance. There was a time when I was in basic training. Most of the runs we went on we knew the distance ahead of time, but for some reason we didn’t for this one particular run. We started out and went a couple miles out, then turned around and started heading back the way we came. Now, this was early enough on that we had some guys who were sucking at this point. In their heads, that was the halfway point. By the time we got back to the barracks, they were spent, but the barracks represented the finish line to them. They were spent, but they kept going to that imaginary finish line. The problem though was that this wasn’t the finish line. We kept going right past the barracks. As soon as this realization set in, a lot of those guys fell out and quit the run. They couldn’t bring themselves to go even one step further. Of course, all of us assumed that the barracks was going to be the finish line, and I won’t lie, it was a bit of a mind game for all of us. But for those of use who stuck with the run, we developed a bit of perseverance. We drove through the pain - the physical pain from the run, and the mental pain from the unknown variable of how long this run was going to last - and it made us that much better for it.
By flexing this perseverance muscle, it developed our character or personality a bit. It made us go from the type of person who was calculating how long the run was based on that halfway point, to the type of person who doesn’t quit until the run, or the job is done.
As a soldier, this “never quit” attitude is important. Especially when missions change at a moments notice. A short meeting with local village elders could turn into an ambush that leaves you stranded without support for much longer than was originally expected. You can’t quit in the middle of a firefight just because you were expecting to be back on base already.
The pain and suffering we go through helps bring clarity to a situation. It helps give us direction to see what’s really important. But it’s all a decision we have to make. We have to decide whether to turn bitter in the situation, or to make things better. When my brother was killed, I could have become an angry and bitter person. And to be honest, I did become that person for a while. Eventually I realized that no amount of anger. No amount of hatred would bring him back. I realized that I could mask the pain by getting drunk every night, but I’d wake up the next morning and he’d still be dead. The only difference is I’d have a big ass headache.
Instead, I sought counseling. I talked through the anger and bitterness I had brewing inside of me. Eventually I was able to learn to make things better.
I’ve heard a lot of people over the years, both vets and civilians, who have tried to go to counseling and stopped for one reason or another. They’ll say that “it just didn’t work for them”. A lot of times, though, it might not be that counseling won’t work for them, just the individual counselor that they saw maybe wasn’t the right person for them. Maybe they’re not trained as grief counselors, or in PTSD issues, or whatever your situation might be. Or maybe they are, but they’re just not that good. I know I’ve been the victim of a bad haircut from time to time, but it doesn’t mean that I quit going to a barbershop or cutting my hair altogether. I just stopped going to that one particular barber until I found someone who can cut my hair well. It’s the same thing with counselors, or therapists, or psychologists, or whoever you happen to be seeing.
We also live in an “on demand” society. We want our movies in our living room on Netflix right now. We want our online purchases delivered the same day or next day at the latest. We want to know what’s going on in the news seconds after the story happens instead of waiting for the 10 o’clock news. We want our emotional or physical pain to stop immediately after seeking help. Unfortunately it just doesn’t work that way. If you go to seek help for mental issues, give it time. Your brain is a complicated beast. If you broke your arm, would you rip the cast off after 2 days because your arm wasn’t healed yet? Of course not, because we all know that it can take weeks for a bone to set properly. If you’re seeking help for an emotional pain, give it time. I saw a counselor for nearly 2 years to get help with the issues I was experiencing. It wasn’t always easy, or fun to talk through these issues, but I’m a heck of a lot better off now than I was before.