The Power of Pain
“We can ignore even pleasure. But pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”
— C.S. Lewis
Opiate withdrawal is like nothing else. I’ve heard doctors compare it to the flu. To them, I say: “I’ve never gotten the flu and wanted to tear my hair out strand by strand”.
After a long-term daily dose of hundreds of oxycodone a day, I found myself detoxing in the hospital. This isn’t usually necessary, but I was told seizures were a real risk.
I didn’t sleep for four days. My entire body shook, ached, and was covered in sweat. I spent most of the time standing up as the restless legs were unbearable while lying down.
The litany of physical symptoms, while astonishing in their severity, aren’t the reason withdrawal is unbearable — it’s the mental anguish that really gets you. It feels as if everyone you’ve ever loved has died and that you will die any second.
After 7 days, I left the hospital. I will never forget this short walk to my car. It was cold and drizzling rain, but I walked slowly, letting the droplets hit my face. Every sensation was multiplied by ten. The cold seemed to freeze my very soul; the rain seemed to pierce my skin. Yet, I’d never felt greater satisfaction.
One of my favorite movies is On The Waterfront.
In the movie, the Mob has absolute power over the dockworkers. The Mob determines who works and under what conditions. They use their power to treat the blue-collar workers poorly and force them to perform shady “favors” to guarantee good standing with the organization.
Marlon Brando’s character reluctantly fights back. This culminates with Mob members beating him up so badly he can barely move. Despite the immense pain, he gets up and goes to work. The other workers follow him, ignoring the Mob members who try to stop them. By taking the pain and punishment, Brando breaks the illusion that the workers have no power.
This is what pain can do — provide an opportunity to rise past constraints, to transcend.
And this transcendence sticks with you forever — becomes a part of your character. Thus, you grow and inspire those around you.
That being said, there are limits. There’s nothing positive about agonizing pain that cuts to the core. There is no philosophizing, no Rocky theme song that plays, no value — only torment unwarranted even for the worst dregs of humanity. Wisdom is in nuance, as always.
At the end of the day, we are stuck with pain. It is cold and unflinching. We can only accept it and try our best to transform it into something resembling transcendence.