Does numbing our pain achieve anything in the long run?
This is a really good question. I think professionals warn against it because it’s really playing a game of Russian Roulette when you do it each time. Each time there is the shot of pushing you over the edge of darkness and into the realm of serious problems, like addiction, to complicate the problems you’re trying to escape from.
For about 6 months straight, quite possibly due to a Bipolar episode before being diagnosed, I tried the party scene – hard. It was in response to a miscarriage. I had been raised a Latter-Day Saint and even though I was only 19 and wasn’t truly faithful to the teachings at the time, the news hit hard. It struck a rage and despair in me that to this day I can’t explain or define. So I did everything else that I had been told “good little Mormon girls” aren’t supposed to do. I hung out with the wrong crowd. I got high. I got drunk. I even went to a rave. Then one day I just woke up and realized just how much all of this sucked. I wanted more out of life and walked away from it all. No rehab or anything. Packed my bags and moved across the country. Never looked back. Never really went back to church either.
With the rage that I had back then, I don’t know where I would have ended up if I had chosen a different path. I just know that I hated myself, the church, God, the world, and everything back then. I was ashamed of feeling that way and I didn’t want to feel any of it either. The weird thing is when I woke up with my realization that day, all of my rage and despair was gone. I had guilt and shame, but the rage and despair was completely gone.
So did it help me? Well I don’t know. I lived far enough away from any family that knew me well enough that would have gotten me treatment if they had been there so in that respect it wouldn’t have made a difference. Nobody there knew me long enough to know there had been a dramatic shift in personality. Very few even knew about the miscarriage. But I got to see the world outside of the church lens. I made a lot of mistakes and I went through a ton of shit. I got to see people from a broader perspective. The good, the bad, and the ugly. By the end of it, I believed I had discovered myself. And for this I will always be grateful.
It wasn’t the last episode I had. I ended up with many more but that was the only one that involved partying. I’ve tried to bury myself in work as a means to cope as well. That doesn’t work either and unfortunately it is one that the general public encourages. The last major episode I had was after Little Bear was born. It was all I could do to get out of bed. My family had an intervention meeting with me, I was that bad. I wasn’t drinking or anything like that. I was just that non-functional. If I wasn’t sleeping, I was playing a video game and not doing much else. Ultimately I needed treatment and I’m glad I finally got it.
In this particular case I don’t think escape was helpful. I was making no attempt to process how I felt at all. No attempt to address issues or anything. At least in my first example I was at least addressing how I felt abandoned by the church and God. Granted my method wasn’t healthy but I felt that if they weren’t going to help you when you were in crisis, then what was the point of all those rules and in demanding repentance all the time? So bury the feelings and go break those rules to find out what the big fat deal was! That’s some solid (broken) logic right there. I was also freeing myself from gender roles that I didn’t have an excuse to completely break before until then.
However after Little Bear was born, I got progressively worse and I just started avoiding everything. I did absolutely nothing as hopelessness set itself deep inside. Essentially just waiting to die. I wasn’t suicidal. I didn’t want to die. I didn’t want to be dead. It truly isn’t the same thing, but escaping from life like I was isn’t living either. So what else do you call it? But the agony from the worthlessness and paranoia that I felt everyday after Little Bear was born was crushing. It was sucking everything out of me and I didn’t want to be present for that.
I guess what I’m trying to say here is each time you escape, by whatever means, you’re rolling the dice and it might be your last. You might not be able to pull out on your own. It just gets to a point where you become too tired in spirit but you don’t know if it will be the first or billionth time you do it. A factor that plays into this is the burden upon you before escaping. The greater the burden, the greater in difficulty for the return along with its accumulative effect. So if you are trying to escape a small thing once in a great while, it won’t be that hard for you to come back to it. But if you are escaping from something incredibly huge, or escaping from multiple burdens in one shot, or repeatedly escaping the same burden on a regular basis without addressing the issue, why would you want to come back? I think this is why they warn against it. The old adage “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” comes to mind here because as mentioned earlier in the original blog post escaping as a means of coping is unhealthy and creates its own damage.
The question I have for myself now is, “How much am I still trying to escape from rather than trying to directly address?”
2 thoughts on “Thoughts on Escape as a Coping Skill”
Hi there. I just wanted to thank you for providing such a well thought out response to my question! Your analogy of playing a game of Russian Roulette each time you turn to unhealthy methods to cope with your mental illness is quite an apt one. It’s a risk, pure and simple. On the other hand, I guess for some people. it can be a matter of life and death if they are not getting the professional help they need.
Yet your question at the end of this post is one that is more aimed towards living a healthier (and hopefully more happier) existence, and for that I commend you 🙂
Thank you. I did start out with just commenting but it became so long I felt it needed to be a separate post so I just linked back to yours. I was never really aware of how much avoidance behavior I had until I started raising children and started seeing them mimic the same behaviors (like bury yourself in a video game rather than clean the nasty bedroom). So now I’m trying to identify and call myself out on it. I hoping that by adjusting my own behavior that I can teach my sons good coping skills for their future. I’m a work in progress in though.