Misery Is Optional


In recovery, we hear many fine slogans. Ones like, feelings aren't facts, don't believe everything you think, and my personal favorite, pain is inevitable, misery is optional.

Denial of the facts of human existence brings struggle and unhappiness. And the facts are never as bad as we suspect.

People say that denial of suffering is common. But, it seems to me we never deny suffering. Americans in particular seem very willing and eager to talk about suffering, to confess our pain and describe our maladies. Big Pharm counts on this. Martyrs wallow in it. Social Justice and progress cannot happen without it, because suffering should not be the norm. Pain is sometimes inevitable, suffering is way too common for what should be an agent for change or recovery, and misery is completely optional.

Misery is denial of impermanence, pleasure and equanimity. Misery is bondage to the false belief in a separate, unconditional, permanent self, an inherent existence.

Yes, this is the norm, this underlying expectation of consensual reality.

Why are we so much more willing to discuss pain and suffering than we are to discuss pleasure? Why are we always reinforcing this trance? With heads bowed, we perpetuate this heavy hypnotic lie about self-centricity and permanence. Why are we afraid to raise our eyes to see that just within reach is the equal possibility of joy and peace?

How do we talk about pleasure, sex, and hedonism? How do we communicate the simple joys of digging in the dirt, reading to a child, a hug, or your favorite song without qualifying it out of an anxious need for consensus?

Every puritan knows what pain is. But, to bring our joy, our pleasure to another requires a bit of tact, a careful assessment of the reception it might get. We expect to be judged for our pleasure, but rarely for our pain. For our suffering, we can rightly expect sympathy, empathy, often a cure.

So the collective psyche is geared to focus on and find better ways to communicate what ails us.

What if today, we make a concerted effort to discuss only those observations that bring us pleasure? Things we appreciate about our surroundings, our tasks, our relationships, our thoughts, and our existence? What would that day be like?

I am not saying you should deny your pain. It is equally important that you not engage in mindless positivism and false cheerfulness! This is as egregious and unhealthy as the forced connections based on mutual suffering. Try to share only feelings, thoughts or observations that are genuine.

Spend some time on your pleasure inventory. Experience the sensations, explore and expand the descriptive language. Maybe even take time to quietly breath and wait for something to be pleasurable.

I know you can do it. You’ve got this.

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