How to Stop Numbing the Pain

Pain, whether it be physical or emotional, is unavoidable in life. We all try our best to avoid pain, almost at all costs. As a society, we make every effort imaginable to avoid, end, or numb, all pain in life. Yet, the more we try, I feel the more we end up still in pain and not feeling at peace or happy. According to the US Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, “In 2012, health care providers wrote 259 million prescriptions for opioid pain medication, enough for every adult in the United States to have a bottle of pills.” 

Talking about pain leads to many questions, both practical and philosophical/spiritual. In my life experience, I have found that the two main questions asked about pain are: “Why do I feel pain?” and “Why does a loving God allow pain?” For the purpose of this article, I would like to focus on the former question, why do we feel pain? Maybe if we understood the “why” we would better understand how best to cope with pain.

According to Barbara FinlayThe basic function of pain is the same for all vertebrates: it alerts an animal to potential damage and reduces activity after trauma.” Therefore, pain is necessary. Pain alerts us to a problem so that we stop and cope with whatever has happened. For example, continuing to walk on a broken leg causes more damage to the leg. The pain of the broken leg forces us to stop and deal with the break. The same is true when we are feeling an emotional pain. That pain tells us that we need to stop and deal with the cause of the pain, for if we choose to ignore the cause of the emotional pain, we will continue to live in an unhealthy way, never feeling truly at peace.

So why is it that we spend copious amounts of energy and money to avoid pain? If pain is “good” for us, why do we want to get rid of it? Don’t misinterpret what I am saying, for I am not saying that pain itself is to be desired! Rather, I am saying that pain is a part of our lives, and learning to cope with pain and not numbing or avoiding pain, will lead us to inner peace. In a recent article titled “How To Stop Using Hunger To Numb Your Emotions”, my recent podcast guest Brandilyn Tebo writes: “I fundamentally believed that I was not allowed to have what I really wanted until I proved that I was ’worthy’ enough. So I would rather numb my desires than feel them because not feeling anything was easier than wanting the fulfillment that I couldn’t have.”

I believe that Brandilyn’s desire to not feel is shared by many of us. In not feeling, our lives are seemingly easier. Yet, in not coping with the real reason of our pain, healing doesn’t take place, and one’s peace will not be realized. Not unlike a broken leg; numbing the pain does not heal the leg nor deal with the cause or issue of the pain.

Learning how best to cope with pain is not easy, but is doable and essential if you wish to find true peace, happiness and freedom in life.

  1. Acknowledge the pain. Avoid the temptation to numb and avoid the pain. Instead, recognise that the pain is telling you something. Reflect on the possible cause of the pain and look at ways you can cope with the cause. Remember, the pain is the symptom of the problem.
  2. Realize that you are not alone. Understand that what you are experiencing is also experienced by others. There is no pain that only one person in this entire world suffers from. Seek out others who suffer the same pain. Console and aid each other. When we help others, we feel better about ourselves. Seek out support groups, online sites, chat rooms, etc.
  3. Embrace your true self. Acknowledge that you are not perfect and that there are aspects of yourself in need of improvement. Yet, at the same time, there are aspects of yourself which are good and healthy. No one is perfect; we all have our flaws. Embrace that which you wish to numb, then do the work needed to make changes in your life. “I thought that if I allowed the rejected parts of myself to be expressed, that I would lose myself. What I discovered was that only through facing and eventually embracing these parts of myself did I truly find myself.” (Brandilyn Tebo)

In his book “Mosquitoes in Paradise”, Fr. John Aurelio imagines what would have happened had a mosquito bitten Adam or Eve in paradise. Would the bite have itched? Most likely. Wouldn’t that mean that pain was present even in paradise? Yes. Fr. John relates that the pain caused by the mosquito is not intentional, rather, it is a natural survival method for the insect, while the pain we suffer is a natural response from our body. Yes, pain is a part of our lives, but that pain does not have to wear us down. Embracing and learning from the pain leads us to a healthy and peace filled life.

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learning life lessons from Olympians


Have you, like me, ever dreamt of becoming an Olympic athlete? As I watch the current Olympic Games the talents of the athletes never cease to amaze me! Knowing that I will never be a member of an Olympic team, yet I realize that I can still learn much from these Olympic champions. Their example of persistence and training encourages me to do the same in my daily life.

Jim Ochowicz, who competed in the 1972 Olympic Games and coached the 2000 and 2004 USA Olympic men’s professional road racing team, said in a 2008 Forbes interview: “People don’t know the process which [athletes] undertake in their individual sports to reach the Olympic level. You get there by sticking it out. There [are] a lot of people that try and give up.” This quote inspires me!

In life, here is what we can learn from Olympic athletes so that we can achieve greatness in our personal lives:

  • Focus on what matters.  One key principle every successful athlete learns early on in their career is to stay focused on the task. In training, practice, and on the field, focus on one’s task and goal takes precedence above all else. For us to achieve success in life, we too need to maintain our focus on what matters most. We need to prioritize our goals and keep up our focus on achieving those goals. Not unlike an athlete, we will train, practice, and stay focused on our life’s goals.
  • Determination.  I feel that the secret to being determined is in doing something that you love and are passionate about. Think of the amount of hours, every day, an athlete gives to training and practicing their sport. Could they keep up that level of consistency and determination if they disliked their sport? Of course not. Find your passion and make it work for you. It may be a risk, but it’s a risk worth taking.
  • Practice daily.  As a counselor who studies behavior, I know the importance of repetition. If you can do the same behavior every day for at least one month, you will notice that the new behavior becomes an unconscious routine.
  • Coaching.  Who makes an athlete into the best they can be? Their coach! Who supports and challenges you? Find someone in whom you trust to be your confidant and coach. Let them guide you, challenge you and support you.
  • Take care of yourself.  Olympic athletes follow more people other than their sporting coach. Athletes have nutritionists, counselors, medical professionals, spiritual guides, etc. A great athlete understands that they need to keep up health in all aspects of their lives, as do we. It’s necessary then for us to make the time for relaxation, meditation, exercise, eating healthy and feeling healthy.

Katrina Radke, an Olympian swimmer who placed fifth in the 1988 Olympics has said: “If we focus on doing what makes us feel good, we can commit to it more easily. Once we get in the habit of ‘showing up’, we can have more chances of fully engaging our full self into the activity. In this place, I experienced much bliss.” There is nothing stopping us from becoming Olympic champions in our daily lives, except for our attitudes. Live like an Olympian and you will become one.

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The Secret to Overcoming Fear

When I was a young child I was petrified of thunderstorms. Whenever a storm approached I would find a place to hide, plug my ears and pretend there was no storm. In fear I needed to stop reality. I was told by my parents that thunder couldn’t hurt me, but it sure sounded like it could. I was also told by my parents that the sound of the thunder was only the angels bowling in heaven, and although that conjured a comforting image, the next lightning bolt immediately stole away what little comfort I had. I am told, although I do not remember this happening, that I was nearly struck by lightning when I was quite young. The story goes that I opened our old metal refrigerator door just as a bolt of lightning entered the house. I was saved, but probably mentally scarred from the event. Was that experience the cause of my fear?

Fear is a normal reaction built deep within our brains to aid in survival. When we feel threatened we will either flee or fight. As a young child experiencing storms, I chose to flee. As I grew into my teen years, still afraid of storms, I eventually made the decision to respond to my fear by fighting, no longer fleeing. My weapon? Study. I chose to study the weather to understand the dynamics of storms. I felt that if I understood storms they would no longer frighten me, and to this day meteorology remains a hobby of mine. Now I enjoy watching, chasing, and forecasting storms. I long to see a lightning storm at night to watch the beauty of the bolts streak through the air. What has changed in me wherein I no longer fear storms? Studying that which scared me gave me knowledge enough to no longer allow storms to scare me. The key concept is that I no longer allow the storms to scare me. I am making a conscious decision based on my knowledge of the situation in the moment.

How often along our life’s journey do we allow fear to overcome us? How often do we become so afraid we feel as if we are sinking? Many of us, myself included, fear the unknown. Change, even if for the better, is not always chosen as change implies something which is unknown. It is the not knowing which scares us. Once we step out of our comfort zone to take a risk, then the unknown becomes known, and we once again feel at peace in our new moment.

The challenge is to stay in the moment and to learn how best to overcome the unknown; how to challenge ourselves to enter into life when we may (and usually are) at a loss of control. Fear, and the sense of a loss of control, work together. We tend to believe that we are in control of our lives, yet the reality is that we have very little control over our lives. The belief that we are in control keeps us calm, while the opposite is true; the less control I feel that I have the more fear and anxiety I will experience, the greater my impulse to either flee or fight. Becoming comfortable with my reality in the present moment, which is mostly out of our control, lessens our fear providing us a sense of peace through acceptance.

On our journey through life, to overcome our fear to live peacefully, I suggest we reflect on these questions:

  • How can I challenge myself to face the unknown?
  • From where does my strength come?  
  • How can I learn to live in the moment?
  • What does “acceptance” mean to me?  

The less mysterious I am to myself, the less fearful I will be. The more I know of myself and all that frightens me, the greater strength I have to fight my fears.  

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