Americans Are In Pain

Carolyn Baker

Posted Aug 21, 2007      •Permalink      • Printer-Friendly Version
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By Carolyn Baker    

Courage is not the absence of fear; it is the making of action in spite of fear; the moving out against the resistance engendered by fear into the unknown and into the future.
~ M.Scott Peck, The Road Less Travelled~

Yesterday’s news brought forth the not-surprising revelation that the use of pain medicine in the United States has nearly doubled in the last ten years. Various rationalizations abound-the baby boomers are aging, and there are more of us, and well-you know the song and dance that basically attributes the use of pain killers to the hoards of graying flower children who wish they were feeling groovy instead of arthritic. Not far behind is the rationalization that whereas physicians two decades ago used to inform patients that pain was part of the healing process, they are no longer doing so and are prescribing pain relievers instead. According to an Associated Press story on August 20, “Hydrocodone use increased 217 percent; morphine distribution went up 180 percent; even meperidine, most commonly sold as Demerol, jumped 20 percent” during the past decade.


And of course, the pain is not just physical. One in ten women takes an antidepressant, and the use of psychiatric drugs among children has soared to unprecedented heights. Juxtaposed with the ever-new potpourri of such drugs available to us, is a decrease in the availability of mental health coverage in employee health benefit packages. If such coverage exists, it is most likely limited to a paltry twelve sessions per year with multiple “engraved invitations” from insurance companies and employers to not use or cease using those benefits.


Viewed from other nations around the world, Americans have no reason to be in pain. We have it all; we are the fat cats of the planet, drowning in “stuff” and feeling no pain whatsoever about the teeming millions of people on the planet who live on two dollars a day and have a life expectancy of forty if they’re lucky. Our whining, entitled sniveling is repugnant to the majority of the planet’s inhabitants, so why don’t we just suck it up and get over it?


For me, the fact that Americans are in pain is not wisely or effectively addressed either by wallowing in our pain or by scoffing at it. Here is where two opposite truths are equally valid. We are in pain-horrible emotional and spiritual angst, AND what is stopping us from looking at what have we done to create the conditions that now torture us and leave us tossing and turning in our Select Comfort air beds? What seductions did we settle for decades ago-or yesterday, that have brought us to the pain we now experience? How are the choices of more recent years that we have blindly condoned because we were so busy being snookered into using our houses as ATM machines that we couldn’t look truthfully at the regime hoodwinking us into the Iraq War-how are those choices impacting our daily lives emotionally, spiritually, and yes, physically as our bodies silently seethe with the horrors of war crimes that our government has perpetrated on the innocent? Just because the carnage is not aired nightly on prime-time TV as it was during the Vietnam Era does not mean that something in the collective unconscious of Americans and all earthlings is not writhing in a kind of mass PTSD, an assertion which Pablo Ouziel brilliantly articulates in “Iraq, The Unavoidable Global Trauma.”


The American dream has become the American nightmare of debt, stolen pensions, the inability to retire securely, the poisoning of food, water, air, energy depletion, inflation, healthcare so poor that doesn’t even deserve to be called by that name, media and educational systems functioning only to dumb-down the masses. Every institution in American society serves one purpose and one purpose only: to protect the wealthy and to numb and sedate everyone else.


Like pre-World War II Germans who refused to investigate what was actually going on within their country and across Europe as a result of Hitler’s atrocities, our “innocence” is killing us-eating away at our insides and our emotional well being. We are in pain.


As Americans find themselves mired in ghastly swamps of debt, foreclosure, unemployment, and the crumbling of every institution in American society-as they tell themselves that this is just a blip on the radar screen and that if they just work harder, get a better job, cut back here and there, move to the Sun Belt, or postpone having a child, everything will be just fine. We are in pain.


As governments rattle sabers, spend unprecedented amounts for weapons of mass destruction, and as our rulers declare with straight faces that we can and must carry out first-strike nuclear attacks on anyone who rattles more loudly than we do, images of mushroom clouds quietly form in places within the psyche that we do not let ourselves know about, and we eat more, drink more, exercise more, fornicate more, work more, gamble more, clean more, smoke more, and shop more. We are in pain.


And of course, American readers of these words would want to know immediately “what to do about it.” But as an historian, I keep repeating that until you understand how you arrived at where you are, you won’t be able to proceed elsewhere. The “doing obsession” is yet another addiction which we would do well to recover from as quickly as possible. As I stated clearly in my article written a few weeks ago entitled “What To Do? What To Do?” the first step in our recovery is being willing to be, yes BE with the pain we are feeling or sense is impairing our health and wellness.


One of the best “prescriptions” I’ve run across is that which Sally Erickson, producer of “What A Way To Go: Life At The End Of Empire” states in her blog “Depression Is A White Peoples’ Disease”:


It’s the disease the civilized have learned to contract in the face of feelings we are afraid to feel. So we don’t. We depress the real, legitimate feelings of sadness and grief, anger and outrage, fear and loneliness. And yet, these feelings are natural, healthy responses to our current human and planetary predicament. When we do not identify and express, and instead “depress,” these feelings, the end result is the emotional fog and lethargy that people routinely label “depression.”


Erickson recounts her experience of producing with Tim Bennett their extraordinary documentary and the overload she felt as a result of trying to assimilate voluminous information regarding energy depletion, climate change, population overshoot, and die-off and the depression into which she sometimes slipped-and her discovery that talking with trusted others about her feelings was her best medicine. “Piece by piece,” she says, “Tim and I work our way through the myriad of emotions that come with staring down the world situation. As we dig into ourselves, always beneath what might have been termed ‘depression,’ we find feelings. We discover that when we identify and express those feelings, the emotional grey goo of depression eventually dissipates. And along the way we discover strong and courageous parts of ourselves that have been dormant.”


I would not pretend to claim that simply talking about one’s feelings will cure insomnia, depression, or the body’s aches and pains, but I do not hesitate to suggest that some or much of our pain could be alleviated by owning what is so and talking about that with all who will listen and validate us.


Perhaps the most predominant emotion Americans experience is fear-fear greatly fostered by our government and its propagandistic obsession with “the war on terror.” Without consciously realizing it, many Americans are walking around terrified of something that may never happen. We live our lives with comforts incomparable with the day-to-day existence of most of the world’s population. For the most part we have clean water to drink, food to eat, and shelter to live in. While violence, assault, rape, and robbery are prevalent in many parts of our nation, they are not institutionalized as they are in some countries. Compared with most societies on earth, we live a relatively safe existence, yet we walk around in terror. Perhaps it really isn’t terrorism that we fear, but rather that some part of us knows that dozens of species have gone extinct while we’ve been reading this article, that all of our cherished institutions along with our infrastructure are crumbling, that polar ice caps are melting, and sea levels are rising, that the war in Iraq and the so-called war on terror will never end in our lifetimes, that our children’s futures are fraught with landmines of debt, pollution, violence, and nuclear madness.


In my opinion, the most sane and rational act under these circumstances is talking in detail with our friends and loved ones about our feelings and experiencing that while that doesn’t “solve” the problems, it releases enormous energy that we were investing in denial and numbness and empowers us to explore and choose our options. Yes, we all know people who refuse to go where anyone who has read this far must certainly have already gone. We can and do feel compassion for them, yet there are those who will listen. So find them-and talk-and listen because we are all in pain, and deep listening and truth-telling are our best medicine.

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