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Suffering vs. Pain (the profound difference)

Do you know the difference between suffering and pain? The difference isn't merely semantics. It is profound.

Part of our recovery from withdrawal, as is the goal of therapy, is becoming more aware and a bit wiser to the little tricks our withdrawal and related neuroses play on us. One such trick includes a host of cognitive distortions, such as amplifying the bad while ignoring the good. Another very important thing we all must learn to discern is suffering from pain and fear from anxiety. So often, literally almost daily, as a coach, I have clients/students who come to me in real panic. They say, "Coach! I'm in really rough shape. I don't think I will make it, I may not heal. I'm different than the others!" Which, of course, isn't true, but that's how they feel. That's the loud, overwhelming message fear is shouting at them. The first thing I often tell them is to take a deep breath and then tell me what they're feeling right now in this very moment. I always receive answers like, "Well, Coach. My stomach is upset, and my head hurts... I think I might have IBS. Can Benzos cause IBS? What if they want to put me on meds? I'm so scared of additional meds. What if the meds don't interact with my benzo? God. I hate this! I'm so over this. I can't do this!!!!" At this point, I say, again, breathe... tell me more about what you are feeling right now. I'm not asking what you're thinking, but what are you feeling? Then they might reply, "Well, Coach... I woke up with some anxiety and shortness of breath; I think it's high cortisol. I just don't understand why my anxiety is high in the morning, but it seems to ease into the evening. For some reason, I think the benzo doesn't work in the morning. Do you think I'm building tolerance? Omg, I read on the forum..." At this point, I gently try to remind them again to breathe. I tell them, "I'm not asking you what you're afraid of. I'm not asking you what you read in some forum or what some careless other Benzo coach may have told you... I need you to become aware of your body right now. What are you feeling!"

After a bit of back and forth, I finally got the answers. And more often than not, their symptoms are actually not that terrible. They'll say things like, "Well, I have some anxiety, and my stomach is a little upset, there's some buzzing/vibrating/twitching in my body, and I feel heavy and fatigued." As they shift their focus to the present moment and truly give an honest, fearless assessment of how they feel currently, they inevitably calm down and suddenly begin to realize that in this present moment, it's not all that terrible. Perhaps they have flu-like symptoms, but they're not in a crisis. Their stomach may be upset, but not to the point they need to go to the hospital or need meds. No. Most of the time, what has happened is good old fear has hijacked their mind, grabbed the wheel, and driven recklessly down the highway! Most of the time, when someone comes to me in this state, it's a combination of two problems: an inability at the moment to separate fear from anxiety and suffering from pain. Again, I'll ask you, what is the difference between suffering and pain? Suffering is psychological, whereas pain is physical.

Pain is waking up with depression or anxiety or dealing with various withdrawal symptoms. Suffering is our mind telling us we will never heal, or that we are permanently damaged, or that we cannot do it, or that our withdrawal symptoms must be related to some other fatal condition. Suddenly, a heart palpitation from withdrawal becomes a potential cardiac issue. Insomnia becomes a fatal condition where we believe we will never sleep again! Not sleeping can be painful, but the suffering comes in when we convince ourselves we may never sleep again. That takes a temporary problem and turns it into a permanent disability, and so we suffer. Suffering is mental. It's in the mind. It's our fear driving us off a cliff with lies! This is why I lean so heavily on mindful practices, cognitive reframing, and practices that help us regain control of our rationality. It's truly an effort for us to grab the wheel again and kick suffering out of the driver's seat. So, so much of our suffering is an amplification of anxiety through a false narrative of what "might happen or could happen." Rumination LOVES this! It's like chocolate cake to rumination. And it produces so much hyperarousal, which, of course, then amplifies our withdrawal symptoms, which then, of course, reconfirms our initial ruminations and related suffering. Round and round we go. Suffering, fear, pain, suffering, fear, pain, suffering, fear, pain, suffering, fear, pain ~ Our mission is to regain control. To discern suffering from pain. Separate the two. Ask yourselves, "What am I feeling right now, and how bad is that?" Chances are, it's not unbearable. What IS unbearable is the thought of remaining in this state permanently! As an artist who went through Benzo withdrawal, losing my creativity while I was withdrawing and recovering was painful. It hurt my heart, but I began to suffer when I believed I would never be creative again and that I had somehow permanently lost my ability to be an artist. That was heartbreaking, and it sent me into a tailspin of depression and anxiety. Hence, I suffered greatly. I'm sure you can think of many similar things in your own life at the moment where suffering has exaggerated the pain and created mental anguish.

Here is another relevant example. Perhaps you have children. Being less involved in their life as they heal is painful, but the idea of being a bad parent, of failing your children, and never returning to your old self creates suffering. Needless to say, unfair suffering does absolutely nothing to help your actual situation. If anything, it just creates more pain and can prolong our healing.

Be brave. Be wise. See the difference between suffering and pain. Don't fall into the trap of romanticizing your suffering as though you deserve to be punished. That's also a trap. Depression loves this trap, by the way. The chemical fear is constantly seeking to latch onto something. It feeds on catastrophization, but it's completely irrational and unnecessary.

This will take time and practice, but you will improve. As you do, your suffering will decrease, the pain and withdrawal symptoms can become much more manageable, and even your benzo may suddenly begin to feel more effective, as it doesn't need to combat so much fear-driven hyperarousal.

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