Life on the Other Side of Suffering
The military has a slang phrase that I’ve always liked: “Embrace the suck.” Embrace that which is terrible – accept it, get through it, and become changed by it (hopefully for the better).
And there is so much to embrace! I mentioned last time the tremendous amount of collective sucking there has been over the last few years, which has run from the extremes of contagious (and fatal) disease to the terribly deep distrust that many people have about the truth and where it comes from, to the degeneration of relationships and the literal fear of other people and suspicion of their activities. And also, war! So yes, much sucking. And yes, much opportunity for embracing.
Why embrace suffering? In my last blog post I wrote that suffering must not be the entirety of your life. Why not? A couple of reasons: one, because if it is, your life will feel as though it amounts to nothing, which feels terrible (and will continue to feel terrible if it is not addressed). If your life feels terrible, you will forget that you are a very important and needed part of the world, and so the world will be terribly shortchanged by your withdrawal from it. And two, because life was never meant to be all suffering. There is a lot of beauty and a lot of good in the world, and just as people have suffered since the beginning of time, so have they also enjoyed goodness. Your life does not need to be only suffering; and if it feels as though it’s all that is, please, please reach out to a professional who can help you work through those feelings. Life is not meant to be all pain; help is available to you.
But if no one can escape suffering, what does the embracing of it look like? I think acceptance has a lot to do with it – looking it straight in the face and recognizing it for what it is. Accepting that things (like illnesses, like war) are realities, and we exist in that reality. Once we accept something, things get easier because we’re not mentally tired from the effort of running away from it. And there is a difference, I think, between acknowledging something and accepting it. “I totally acknowledge that there is a pandemic today,” I may say as I eat an entire pint of ice cream straight from the carton in a very panicky way, wishing I had a time machine in which to jump straight back to 2019; but without the acceptance of it, it just becomes a Very Scary Thing To Think About and doesn’t move on from there. (I also get Brain Freeze and sick of ice cream.)
Acceptance of something that scares you doesn’t need to take the fear of it away, but it does allow us some greater sense of control over ourselves and our actions. “I accept that there is a pandemic that TOTALLY SUCKS and is stripping me of my basic desires to go outdoors and interact with other people and I am very angry and scared about it,” I may say. And then I can have one spoonful of the ice cream and get on with the day because I have vocalized my feelings and thus have taken ownership and responsibility for them. I have embraced that suck.
Embracing it also means understanding that things aren’t perfect. Viruses exist (in part) because we live in an imperfect world. War exists (in part) because leaders are flawed people. We suffer in our lives because sometimes the choices we make aren’t great. But embracing our humanity – our flaws – helps us to be empathetic to others and to develop an understanding outside of ourselves, which is always a good thing. If I am not perfect (and I assure you that I am not), and you are not perfect, there is a common ground that we both stand on together. Reconciliation happens out of that knowledge. Acceptance happens out of that knowledge – and the fruit of those things are life – changing for the better.
Embracing the suck, to me, means realizing that yes, terrible things happen. Traumatic, painful, unspeakable things happen that we need to heal from. But we can’t heal from them if we don’t face them, don’t see them for what they are, don’t do what we can to fix them. And we can’t do that if we’re hiding.
I know that it’s really, really really hard to do, but we also don’t need to embrace suffering alone. It is good for us to be in a community, in a society. Talk it out. Find people who will listen to you, that will help you wrap your arms around it all and will give you the strength to do so. If we all do this together, we can collectively make such a tremendous difference, a positive one, in the world.
Until next time, be well!
About the author: Christy Gualtieri is a freelance writer specializing in pop culture, religion, and motherhood. She lives in Pittsburgh with her husband and two children. Christy also blogs at asinglehour.wordpress.com and tweets @agapeflower117. You can follow her here on eTalkTherapy for inspirational articles and different perspectives as they relate to good mental health.