I often tell the story of a Vice News investigation that never left me. During the height of the opioid epidemic, 78 deaths per day in 2016, a journalist interviews a heroin addict in Ohio asking if the user is concerned about the synthetic heroin that is cut with carfentanil, a sedative used for 8000 pound animals, 2 mg of carfentanil can kill 100 people.
He was directly asked are you afraid you might die?
The addict answered in this way:
“it’s worth the risk, you are in this cover of warmth and love, it feels so good to be there , not here”
The journalist asks again, “what happens if you die?”
His answer: “freedom…. The thought of not being here is comforting because I’ll never have to deal with nothing again”
I wonder, how can being here be better than there? And how many times do I choose a there?
This story shapes my story and all the stories I tell to my clients, my seminar attendees, anyone who comes to a talk, engages in dialogue with me about our human predicament: the biological propensity to avoid pain and seek pleasure, the cultural inculcation of our right to pursue 'happiness' that implies our pain as a metric of our failing.
This heroin addict, a person. You like me will long for happiness, will know love and loss, and I wonder at what skills gone missing that might have developed a more resilient outcome?
No longer can we relegate this inquiry to only ‘those opioid addicts’, but of our own study in the day to day avoidance of pain, the habits that we repeat which only spend our energy, deplete our presence, and block our creative expression.
I don’t know what happened to Brandon, (that nameless addict),
I can only assume. But I want to listen to be changed, to challenge myself and others to ask, what makes me leave here, for a there, what becomes unbearable that leads to addictive tendencies, and at what cost?
The ‘warmth and love’ that Brandon found in a shortcut to ‘ there’ begs the question, how did we miss the memo: Life will be Painful, and just what skills do we need to train that might change our cost analysis – approaching pain 'builds strong muscles and fortifies bones', a vital nutrient, like the sale of milk back in the day - avoidance of pain leaves us malnourished with stunted growth.