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Addiction, Self-Gratification or Love? How Do We Deal With Our Pain?

I'm lying in bed with a migraine headache, and it hurts really badly. And what should I do? My body is too weak to tolerate medication of any kind, and so popping a pill would make me worse in the long run. I'd like to distract myself with some kind of work, but I'm too weak. Experience tells me that the migraine will pass, but my pain won't.

For 53 years, I have been chronically ill, weak and in pain. For 30 years, I've been pretty much housebound, and I spend much of my life in bed. I do everything I can to help myself, and yet here I am, day after day, weak, exhausted and dealing with pain.

You would think I would be an expert at dealing with pain. On the outside, I seem to manage it well. Despite being disabled, I'm an intuitive counselor and a well-known spiritual teacher, the founder of a spiritual community, a workshop leader, an author and a composer. Despite my own pain and fatigue, I feel the call to help others, and because of my God-given gifts, I am able to do so, which is a blessing to me.

Ultimately, it's not my pain, it's our pain that I feel every day, and the more I love myself, God and others, the more all our pain will be healed. And the more that I live in the energy of love that you, God and I generate, the more able I am to deal with the pain I face.

But the work of helping others exhausts me as well. And there's the dilemma. Because the very gifts and work that keep me going also wear me down. What should I do?

Today, I was asking myself for the hundredth time, why do I keep doing it, working so much? And the first answer that came to mind is this: Because while I'm acutely aware of my own pain, I'm equally aware of yours and the pain of everyone else. And like so many of you, I care. And that caring drives me to get up in the morning, face my list of clients, duties and responsibilities and go to my own limits to meet the needs God brings to my attention on a daily basis. In other words, because I hear the call, I go on, despite my pain.

But is this right? I teach self-love. Am I practicing it? Shouldn't I just give up, stop working, caring and extending myself up to and beyond my limits every day? Wouldn't I be healthier and more comfortable if I did?

Let's look at some alternatives to continuing to care: self-gratification and addiction. Why are we addicted? Because there are pains of body, mind or spirit that we cannot tolerate, and we cannot tolerate them, because of their intensity or because of our own lack of coping skills. Whatever the reason, we may turn to self-gratification and addictions. For physical pain, we may turn to drugs or alcohol. For emotional pain, we may use chemicals, too, or we may use denial, anger, food, sex, avoidance, efforts to control or "fix" it, pleasure, or disconnection from ourselves to deal with our feelings. For spiritual pain, we may escape into moments of feeling spiritually high, still unwilling to face our feelings about God in the face of the realities of existence on earth.

And what is the impact of these self-gratifying mechanisms for dealing with pain? Worse pain. Every one of us knows that when we run from pain, we create more pain. In relationships, for example, if we don't face the pain of dealing with our dysfunctions and those of our love partner, we may end up slipping into an affair or a needless divorce, and both cause pain. Within ourselves, when we try to escape anxiety through the gratification of food or alcohol, we burden our bodies with substances that only further weaken us physically, spiritually and emotionally and make us more anxious or depressed. If we can't face the pain of taking accountability for the impact of our own behaviors, we will probably gratify ourselves by blaming others, which ruins our relationships and keeps us unconsciously disgusted with ourselves. Addictions and self-gratification don't fix our underlying pain. Plus they add the pain of the addiction itself and all the damage we do to ourselves and others through practicing them.

So if we reject addiction and self-gratification, how do we deal with pain? Many of us have sought help from medicine -- standard Western and alternative modalities -- psychotherapy, spirituality, self-help programs, whatever seems like it might fix the pain or make it more bearable. And to the degree that all of these modalities have helped, we can feel good about ourselves, that we have taken on our pain, tried to find its cause and tried to alleviate rather than just escape or be dominated by it.

But pain remains: physical, emotional and spiritual, individual and collective, and we are every day faced with a choice as to how to deal with it.

So here I am in bed with a migraine. And part of me wants to just give up. I can't face another day in pain, and I don't feel that I have the resources to help another soul in need. I want to use all my resources for my own comfort and gratification. I want to just go to sleep and perhaps not even wake up

But can I? Not when there is the divine essence within me that can't accept that alternative. Because of that divine essence, I, like you, want to be of service. I want to relate. I want to love and be loved, and I can't do those things, if I am only focused on myself. Of course, I, again like many of you, have had a tendency to not take care of myself, and I am working on that. But as was said by the famous Jewish philosopher Rabbi Hillel, "If I am not for myself, who will be? If I am only for myself, who am I? If not now, when?"

Every time I think of that teaching, I want to cry. "If I am only for myself, what am I?" Are we going to choose addiction and self-gratification or love? Addiction and self-gratification are about temporarily comforting myself. Love, on the other hand, is about feeling uplifted through connecting to myself, others and the divine. So there's no contest. I choose love. And the level of love in my life is directly related to the level of love that I give as well as receive. Which means that no matter how disabled I am at any given moment, I can give, because I can give love, sometimes through doing things for others, but always through caring for others, especially those who care for me. And so can you.

I know how important it is to care for ourselves and exercise self-love, but self-love is not simply taking care of number one. It is co-creating the experience of love that we all need, and that still starts with me. So this afternoon, when I felt the pull to resign from my life's work and pursue a life based only on self-care, the God within me inspired me to write this blog, to share with you my struggle, to care, to reach out, to relate, to love. And I feel strengthened by it.

No, I haven't yet figured out how exactly to balance caring for you and caring for me. And yes, there are times when I need to stop putting out more energy than I have. But even though I can't do it perfectly, I can still look for the integration of love and self-love by asking for divine guidance about everything I do, intending that it be for the highest good of all, including me. And I can still find a way to create the environment of love that will also nurture me. And while I am working hard on self-love, because self-love fills me and makes me more capable of loving others, I will not give up on loving you and supporting you to face your pain, too.

Because ultimately, it's not my pain, it's our pain that I feel every day, and the more I love myself, God and others, the more all our pain will be healed. And the more that I live in the energy of love that you, God and I generate, the more able I am to deal with the pain I face. Because there is no pain that is not alleviated by love, and I am part of its co-creation.

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