One of my all-time favorite readings… “To the anagrams we use, I would like to add S.S.S. – Sit Still and Suffer. Suffering has gotten a bad name lately, as though it’s some shameful thing that one should never experience. Who told us that life must always be great? That everything we want must be ours? That the rain will wait until we’re under a tree? Fact is, life can be boring, life can be unfair, life can be cruel. Sometimes, for no reason, things go wrong and nothing helps. Maybe it’s time to just get through it. Like the rain, the feeling will pass. Like the season, things will change. And we’ll be stronger for it – we’ve survived a problem. We can experience pain and disappointment, and live. Our hearts may break, but they keep beating. Today, I’ll stop demanding perfection from an imperfect world filled with imperfect people.” – K.I., Chicago, IL

The Art of Suffering

Andrew R. Warnecke, MA, LPC

My favorite class ever was called “Sorrow, Depression, and Despair.” I was a second-year graduate student at West Georgia College. The professor was a man who changed my life forever. He was the kind of guy who helped people, I mean really helped people. He shared with me an experience that he was humbled by. He would travel around the world to help people. He told me that he went to help native Alaskans after the Exxon Valdez disaster. “I went help them, and they helped me.” I was particularly impressed because I was born in Kodiak, Alaska. I had researched and knew that Kodiak was not the most affected area, but I had a link and I was going to learn as much as I could. The native people didn’t have computers, cell phones, video games, television, drugs, or alcohol. They had each other. They had their belief that Mother Nature would pull them through like she always had. They cried and danced and sang together – as a community and as a people. My professor said that they moved him to tears and evolved his soul.

I believe that we as Americans, because of our success, have lost the art of suffering. We have suffered through so many things as a country that we have an emotional detachment and a buildup of resentments. We have grown complacent and don’t work together like we used to with a collaborative and compromising approach – it’s so much easier to get angry and avoid the hurt and fear that we collectively feel. We bonded briefly after the September 11th attacks, but it didn’t last long because we wanted to get back to feeling good. I often tell my patients that getting better and feeling better are mutually exclusive. If they just want to feel better, I really can’t guide and coach them. If they want to get better, I am definitely their man.

We have a social and political environment that makes its way into marriage and family, that is filled with blame, and that lacks personal responsibility and accountability. I believe that if our country is to remain great and on the cutting edge, we have to get back to who we are and get rid of how we are. The breakdown of the marriage and family is so obvious from where I sit. I see so many people who are filled with fear and pessimism. I see husbands and fathers who are afraid to let their wives know that they are hurting really bad and need love and support and more physical intimacy. I see wives and mothers who are afraid to talk about how lonely and unappreciated they feel. I have an exercise that I use with almost every patient, and I challenge all of you who read this to just simply say, “I am hurting really bad.”

We have had some humbling experiences from our financial crisis to the breakdown of the family to the scourge of hatred, judgment, and addiction. I have lost 4 patients to addiction in the last 12 months alone, a new record in my 20-year career. I officiated a funeral last Saturday across the street from where we had our daughter baptized the next day. I would consider it a bittersweet weekend, which proves that happiness is not the absence of pain. Pain in life is inevitable; misery is a choice.

If we are to pull through this it will be with healthy and dignified debate, fellowship, and mutual respect driving the process. We need to suffer together and not blame one another for the state of our nation. I believe in us and believe that if we can focus on our strengths and similarities that we can regain our “mojo” and lead the whole of humanity into a renaissance unprecedented in any of our lifetimes. We “are hurting really bad,” and if we are honest about our mutual pain and we support and love one another at a family and community level, we cannot and will not fail!

I love the famous line, “We have awakened the sleeping giant.” Wake up America and regain the philosophy that made you great – all for one and one for all! We must suffer together and stop the blame game so that we can plot a course that would make our forefathers proud and will set up our children and grandchildren to inherit the greatest and freest country ever. When I look back over my 43 years, I can see that I grew the most by far when I was suffering through something. I have been blessed with the intuition and training that allows me to reach out and get the love and support I need to move through – not around or over – the pain. Suffering together will bring us closer to each other and to God.