Pain should be managed, not avoided

A friend of mine, younger than me, passed away this week. I had not seen him since high school, but we did keep in touch via Facebook… Back in the days, I remember him confiding to me that, although his family was well-off, the situation he lived at home was not an ideal one and was a tad chaotic to say the least. A situation for which one will be pressed to seek evasion in various psychotropic and intoxicant ways.

Fast forward to 2010: I’m training in Systema and going through an emotionally painful divorce. Some days felt like my head was a pressure cooker just waiting to explode. One night while in training at Fight Club, we performed a drill where 10 push-ups were followed by a strike of nagaika.

We must’ve done 120-130 push-ups that night.

With the divorce heavy on my mind, the physical pain… giving up and collapsing would have been so easy, but I kept on breathing through the pain, kept on relaxing… I was on my own and nobody was going to come rescue me.

Several years later while training in Moscow we went through a similar exercise this one however upon finishing banya, similar kind of situation: whipped for 15 minutes and once again, breathe, relax, manage the pain with no rescue. In both cases, the pain could not be avoided, could not be circumvented.


A TV show I always like to use in comparing what we do with regards to pain in training is a show that played on A&E in the States call “intervention”. Although I’m not a reality TV fan, Intervention features people that are struggling with heavy, sometimes life-threatening substance abuse: drugs, alcohol etc.  It begins by giving a quick synopsis of the person then goes to describing their personal history and why what lead to the current struggle. It ends of course with the intervention by family and friends and the ending is sometimes happy and sometimes not.


In all the episodes I’ve seen, in all instances of these people ending up where they are and developing such high levels of addiction, there is always something in either early or middle childhood, a trauma, something painful, something either in the family, an accident, a loss, you name it. In almost all cases (mind you I haven’t seen all the shows) pain – whether physical or emotional – was involved and the substance abuse, for lack of a better word, was there to numb the pain.


In light of this TV show, and in light of the two previous whipping instances and a few other personal situations involving other acquaintances in similar situations and meeting similar ends, I came to realize that pain is not something to be avoided.


Pain cannot be numbed, it cannot be suppressed. It must be acknowledged, seen for what it is, and it must absolutely be managed and understood. Will this stop it? Not always, but with a better understanding of it, with a willingness to acknowledge and accept it, to face it and to understand it and to come to terms with what you are going through, it will make it easier to process and to understand yourself.


Pain, whether physical or emotional, is like water: if I empty a bucket on your head, you can twist, turn and do anything but you still must wait for the water to flow, drain and dry… you still must acknowledge the fact that you’re wet.


As such, our lives are not always easy but avoiding and numbing the harder moments, or the pain their memory brings, is not the way to go.


Avoiding and numbing something, especially pain, will always sooner or later lead to a moment where it will come back to the surface, it always does.  By refusing to face it, when that time comes, you will find yourself confronting a bigger and stronger adversary that might have been easier to deal with, or at the very least easier to understand had you accepted and faced it.


You will find yourself facing an overwhelming adversary that will grow in strength with every time you avoid it…and that adversary will look right back at you in the mirror.


I think I’ll go watch a few more shows…