It’s natural to want to escape the pain of something uncomfortable: a headache, housework, an angry co-worker, an unpleasant customer. We might try to avoid these things by putting them out of our minds or avoiding them. We do the same thing with uncomfortable emotions. To escape emotional pain we do things like smoke cigarettes, eat too much, shop outside of what we can afford, drink too much, and a number of other things in an attempt to escape the pain. The problem with this is that the unprocessed emotional pain is just that: unprocessed. And so it sits there and waits for just the right moment to grab our attention. Emotional pain is not going away just because we ignore it or just because we say things like, “Just focus on the positive,” or “Be happy.” I’m not saying we shouldn’t focus on the positive. We definitely need to count our blessings and be grateful for the good things in our lives every single day. What I’m saying is that doing so should never take the place of proper grieving or processing of painful events. Maybe it is a very old pain from when you were a small child. Maybe it is a pain from last year when you were fired from a job. Maybe your life-long dream of becoming a professional baseball player is now out of your reach and you are forced to face the reality that you will not get to have the thing you have dreamed of your whole life.
Life is painful. I don’t like the fact very much that I don’t get to be a rock star like Katy Perry. That’s not a joke. My entire life I thought that I would end up on stage, touring the world singing most every night and living on a tour bus. The problem with my dream is that I didn’t set specific goals for it. I was naive. I thought “it would just happen.” And this realization was and is painful for me.
Anyway, that’s not the point of this blog post. The point of this blog post is that we all have hurt. The hurt will never lessen or become a non-issue until we look at it, sit with it, and process it. Sometimes it takes months or years in therapy to process pain. Some events may be able to be processed in as little as a few visits with a therapist. You may also learn techniques and coping skills to process future pain. There is no “normal” for the timing. Another person might find himself or herself in jail because they’ve wrecked their car and are facing DUI charges because they drink to “medicate” emotional pain. Maybe divorce is the catalyst that propels a person into therapy or into a 12-step recovery program.
Depending on how emotionally sensitive you are, some things may bother you that don’t bother others. I sometimes have to give myself permission to feel unhappy when I’m trying to process disappointments. I find emotional pain extremely uncomfortable. Sometimes it’s hard to breath and my chest feels heavy with emotion yuckiness. I hate the feeling! It hurts! But I have to remind myself that I cannot avoid the pain. I tried that for many years and it didn’t work. I have to remind myself that I must feel my feelings. I must process them. I must sit in them and move through them and them through me. It cannot be avoided. Emotional pain does not go away simply because we think we are ignoring it.
Whatever your hurt, don’t try to quiet it by saying, “Well, I’m just going to try to be positive.” You can’t suffocate unprocessed grief or trauma. If you have unprocessed pain, please take it seriously and contact a therapist you trust to help you through the unpacking process of facing the pain and making some kind of peace with it. If you love someone who drinks too much, get yourself to an Al-Anon meeting. If you drink too much, get yourself to an AA meeting. Don’t ignore your wounded self. She/he needs you.