Pain May Be Inescapable, but Suffering is a Question Mark.


The biology of pain is the signal transmitted through the central nervous system that “something is wrong.” The psychology of pain is the interpretation or meaning we give to that pain signal—the internal self-talk and beliefs about it which then drive our emotional reactions.” -Dan Mager, MSW

suffering is a choice

A hot flash of pain shot through my entire foot. It felt like it was on fire…tingling, throbbing, red-hot sensations on the entire top of my foot all the way to my toes pulsated where a 210-pound tire landed with a thud. Grabbing my poor baby foot, I hopped around, closing my eyes and howling as I felt the blood rush to my foot. OW!! Ow ow ow ow owwwww! Immediately my mind raced to all possibilities. Was anything broken? Was it ALL broken? Smashed to smithereens? Will I be able to walk? How long will I be injured? I have to work today! Will I be able to work today?

My sweet friend who had flipped the tire onto my foot during our leg day workout was apologizing profusely. People rushed over. “Take off your shoe. Let’s see it.”  “Ice.”  “Come and put some ice on it.” Once settled in a chair, we assessed the damage. Yep. It’s all red. Ice… The sensations started to subside. Yes, I could wiggle my toes. It was painful, but they worked. Yes. I could stand on it. Yes. I could go back to my workout. My toes didn’t like some of the things I did, but still, I could do them, and I was all right.

Once I realized all of this, I felt silly for the big drama I caused by crying out and hopping around. I also got really excited because I suddenly realized something pretty big. This is the way I operate when sudden pain collides with my happy, predictable world. I go blind for a minute. And in that time the questions pop up…millions of questions exploring all of the horrid possibilities. Those questions cause fear to generate. And that fear is worse than the actual painful experience itself. The fear creates a suffering that pals up with the pain. So then the pain links arms with that suffering and makes everything much worse. It occurred to me that suffering is a choice. 

“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” —Viktor Frankl, Man’s Search For Meaning

This doesn’t just apply to physical pain.

suffering is a choice

When I had received a sudden and unexpected phone call from my husband telling me that he wasn’t interested in being married any longer, I went into a blind panic. My whole future had vanished in the blink of an eye and I didn’t have anything to replace it with because I hadn’t seen it coming. Where would my daughter and I  live? How would we live when my business was less than a year old? What is wrong with me that this man that I loved was calling me from the road, telling me it was suddenly over without even one chance for therapy, nor one meager effort to save our relationship? Will I be alone for the rest of my life? Why doesn’t anybody love me?

My body contracted in response to the fear. Adrenaline coursed through my system. My heart felt like it was going to explode in rebellion. My mouth went as dry as the desert and I became unable to eat for a couple of weeks. Sleep left me and I paced crazily around while on the phone with anyone who would talk to me, in a complete daze, trying to sort through the confusion and terror.

And everything that I feared came to pass. He left me and my daughter and never looked back. His family withdrew their love and affection and even their friendship. We had to move out of our home and into an apartment. Because of this, we had to give up our beloved pets, because I couldn’t really afford the apartment rent, let alone pay the insane “pet rent” that the property demanded. Most of the furniture in my home wouldn’t make it up the sharp turn of the apartment stairs so we had no couch, no bed, and no dining table. My credit cards completely maxed out as I tried to pay for food and electricity while also maintaining a lawyer because my “beloved” hired the dirtiest, most expensive lawyer in town and had told me that I owed him since he made a lot more money than I did over the last decade. Amid the chaos of it all, it was incredibly hard to show up for work let alone try to grow my business. Heck, it was hard enough to just breathe.

suffering is a choice

The execution of all of those things was hard and painful. But it didn’t end there for me, (because I was unaware). The hordes of nagging questions that sprang from my fears were the things that truly hurt the worst. They were the cause of my distressful physical symptoms. Taking care of all of the things took some doing…but trying to breathe while thinking obscenely scary thoughts was almost impossible.

It’s been almost three years since that phone call and looking back, I can see how I was reacting in fear. I can see how I alone created my own little Pain Pals by allowing my fear to cause extra suffering, which multiplied the pain exponentially. I didn’t see suffering is a choice, but now that I do, there’s no going back from that knowledge. 

I am so grateful that this all happened the way that it did. It provided me with a powerful lesson that I have used many times. Pain is part of life. It is unavoidable. Suffering, on the other hand, is a choice. I choose more wisely now.

Rebecca Marie

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