Q & A: How Do You Stop the Pain of Being Alive?

I got a note from one of my friend Lily’s daughter’s friends, Erica, who agreed to let me share it:

“Dysfunctional relationships is all I’ve ever seen and especially at the moment I have my doubts if I will ever be able to have healthy relationships.
I am still looking for a source of happiness outside myself…even though I know that none of the sources I’ve tried so far (smoking, eating, alcoholic boyfriend, not eating, sex, attention) ever worked out, I still find myself escaping from everything to try another short cut. It is like fast food….you know you will feel worse afterwards but it tastes good for the moment.
Right now, I am separated from my ex…He cut off all contact with me. I try to eat normal, I stopped smoking…I had an affair witch turned out to be just a substitution for my ex- relationship…It’s the same communication (or lack of it) same unhealthy patterns same feeling of rejection and I am desperately looking for attention…behaving in a compulsive way and I can’t stand myself.
I am very desperate at the moment and I really don’t know how to deal with myself….”

Dear Erica:

You did great getting all that out.

We have to fill our own well. Sometimes we grow up in families where we don’t see appropriate ways to do just that. So we turn to anything: people places and things to fill ourselves up. Eating, not eating, going after unavailable men, going after inappropriate men, waiting for someone to rescue us…

We think if we change the outside environment we can change the inside environment but it is the other way around. We have to change our insides first and then the outsides change. We have to learn to take care of ourselves each day. If we don’t learn this, then every relationship we have is sick – we become codependent on others, we stop being authentic, and we feel miserable and desperate because those behaviors are all temporary fixes.

Women often use relationships men to avoid the pain of our aloneness in the universe. We crave the attention. It soothes us for a few moments but it still can’t fill our well.

Every day when we get up we can ask for the strength and direction to take care of ourselves just for today.

We can remind ourselves: Just as we are taken care of today, we will be taken care of tomorrow.

We can think of how we can be of service to someone else. This gets us out of our own problems. We can find one thing to do each day to help.

We can find something – one thing, anything – of beauty to focus on. Even a pebble. One that is smooth, one that is full of chiseled cracks.

We can eat right, get rest, get exercise, get prayed up, get to work on our goals just for that day.

We can consider therapy to get the individual support we need. We can attend a 12-step group meeting – OA for over- or under-eating, AA for having our arms around the alcohol, Alanon for having our arms around someone whose arms are around alcohol. That goes for drugs, too.

The pain doesn’t disappear overnight. But that pain won’t kill us, either. Remember, when we feel like shit, we’re being fertilized to grow. Wisdom and suffering go hand in hand. That’s the only way our spirits grow. Sometimes our pain seems endless and meaningless and unfair. But we can reach out to others and be comforted and recognize we’re not alone.

At night, before we go to sleep, we can find at least one thing that we can be proud about that we accomplished that day.

I know it is possible for you to find a healthy relationship–but first we have to develop a healthy relationship with ourselves. We’re all cheering you on. You can do this!

All you other wise women and men out there, what would you say to this dear young woman? The community forum is now open for your ideas and suggestions.


About dianabletter

Diana Bletter is the author of several books, including The Invisible Thread: A Portrait of Jewish American Women (with photographs by Lori Grinker), shortlisted for a National Jewish Book Award. Her novel, A Remarkable Kindness, (HarperCollins) was published in 2015. She is the First Prize Winner of Moment Magazine's 2019 Fiction Contest. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Commentary, tabletmag, Glamour, The Forward, The North American Review, Times of Israel, and is a reporter for Israel21C, and many other publications. She is author of Big Up Yourself: It's About Time You Like Being You and The Mom Who Took off On Her Motorcycle, a memoir of her 10,000-mile motorcycle trip to Alaska and back to New York. She lives in a small beach village in Western Galilee, Israel, with her husband and family. She is a member of the local hevra kadisha, the burial circle, and a Muslim-Jewish-Christian-Druze women's group in the nearby town of Akko. And, she likes snowboarding and climbing trees.
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6 Responses to Q & A: How Do You Stop the Pain of Being Alive?

  1. juliabarrett says:

    I’m of two minds, maybe several minds on this subject. Some people are literally a black hole of need. Nothing will ever fill them up. In fact there is not enough matter in the universe to fill them up and they will live and die in need. And they will suck the life out of you if you let them.
    On the other hand, pain and a sense of emptiness or loneliness can be the impetus for growth- emotional and spiritual. It’s just that a person must possess enough raw material, i.e., self awareness and inner strength, to see that path.
    We can’t save everyone from from himself or herself, nor can we save everyone from external threats, stresses, danger.
    I’ve come to believe we can only save ourselves, and even then we fail at times– I also believe there is great value in failure. Failure equals opportunity. But again there’s a big but. We must have a strong enough sense of self to move beyond failure.
    Thus, I guess, the most important thing we can do as parents is help our children develop inner strength so when they stumble they get back up. Even then we might fail.
    Sorry, I could write a book!

    • dianabletter says:

      Julia, Thank you for your comments. Yep, you could write a book about parents helping kids develop inner strength. How do we do that? Let us all know!

  2. Julia, between you and Diana, you’ve covered it all!
    I agree that there are some people who ARE black holes of need, Julia, and there are also black hole Situations where light rarely shines (mental illness, incurable physical pain and disease, parents whose children are dead or have been missing for years, etc.).
    I also found your suggestions to Erica to be helpful and direct–whether or not she’ll follow them is up to her; she has created a pattern of dysfunction for herself that will be difficult to break.
    Diana, you summarized the truth for Erica when you wrote: “Wisdom and suffering go hand in hand. That’s the only way our spirits grow.” But if Erica doesn’t want to work that hard–of if she finds a guy or a drug or foods that seem they might help her without all the hard work–we all know she will never understand the pain, and she’ll never stop it, either.

    • dianabletter says:

      Hi Marylin, It is hard to sit through the discomfort…so we turn to food or other people or a quick fix for a temporary flight from the tough feelings. It is a long hard struggle, just being human…Thanks for your comments.

  3. heather says:

    Diana- you are a woman of compassion and wisdom. Some of these other ladies are judgemental know it alls. There is a difference. According to some I might be judged as a black hole of need. Which makes me feel like giving up and doing the world a favor by “offing” myself. Your comments Diana give me hope.

    • dianabletter says:

      Heather, offing yourself? That would be a permanent solution to a temporary problem. There is no situation too difficult to be bettered in some small way. I’m glad the posts give you hope! Each day you can do something to fill your own well. It’s not a black hole of need – it’s your own well – and you can fill it by taking care of yourself appropriately. Body, heart, mind, soul! Be your own knight in shining armor. Keep me posted. Sending you my faith that you can do this thing called life.

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