By Rae Lynn DeAngelis
The week after my husband’s gall bladder surgery was rough. Since he hadn’t been hospitalized or seriously sick since he was a child, severe pain was a somewhat foreign concept. The strongest pain medication he’d taken in our thirty-three years of marriage was Advil or the occasional aspirin.
When Gerry came out of surgery, they had a hard time waking him up from the anesthesia. (I had a feeling that would happen since even daytime cold medicine knocks him out for hours.)
The day after surgery, he was hesitant to take the prescribed pills (worried they would make him too loopy), but intense pain convinced him otherwise. He eventually realized they were a blessing and helped him manage discomfort while the healing process took place.
In today’s world people use many different methods to manage pain. Everything from substance abuse, shopping, and even scrolling through social media feeds are avenues to numb out. Stress, anxiety, grief, heartache; these are just a few of the uncomfortable feelings we would just as soon forget. Even it’s only for a little while.
Sometimes the control of food is a numbing agent. I went to a seminar hosted by an eating disorder specialist a few years back, and the woman giving the seminar talked about the physiological fluctuations that are found in anorexic patients. Many showed increased levels of serotonin during times of restricting. Serotonin (a neurotransmitter) is one of the body’s happy chemicals. It actually makes us feel good. According to mental health professionals, serotonin, among other things, plays an important role in the control of our emotions and can act as a buffer for pain, physical or otherwise. This helps to explain why it’s so hard for some individuals to stop restricting food.
Dopamine is another powerful brain chemical that makes us feel good. It is released when we do things that are enjoyable like eating, drinking, or engaging in sex. It is also released when we see someone like our social media post… or when we buy something new or scratch off a winning lottery ticket. Some people can walk away from these kinds of experiences feeling satisfied, while others feel a strong urge to repeat the dopamine induced activity over and over again.
Unfortunately, future attempts to replicate the “feel-good” response require more and more of the inducing agent to achieve similar effect. It is this physiological reaction that drives many types of addictions.
Worldly compulsions become worldly obsessions, and worldly obsessions lead us further away from God, the One who truly satisfies.
So what do we make of this? Are we to simply “suck it up” and suffer needlessly?
Absolutely not! God created our bodies with an amazing ability to both feel and heal. And He gives us healthy ways to cope and minimize pain while the healing process takes place. Ways that draw us closer to Him, not further away. Here are some that helped me:
- I cry out to God through prayer and journaling – The righteous cry out, and the Lord hears them; he delivers them from all their troubles (Psalm 34:17).
- I meditate on God’s truths through Scripture – Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful (Joshua 1:8).
- I look for a way to serve others – Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms (1 Peter 4:10).
- I praise and worship God – Sing joyfully to the Lord, you righteous; it is fitting for the upright to praise him (Psalm 33:1).
- I do something fun with family and friends – But be glad and rejoice forever in what I will create, for I will create Jerusalem to be a delight and its people a joy (Isaiah 65:18)
- I get outside and enjoy God’s creation – You alone are the Lord. You made the heavens, even the highest heavens, and all their starry host, the earth and all that is on it, the seas and all that is in them. You give life to everything, and the multitudes of heaven worship you (Nehemiah 9:6).
- I write devotions like this one – Write down the revelation and make it plain on tablets so that a herald may run with it (Habakkuk 2:2).
- I listen to inspirational podcasts or Christian music – Get wisdom, get understanding; do not forget my words or turn away from them (Proverbs 4:5). Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth, burst into jubilant song with music (Psalm 98:4).
Healthy activities like these (and so many more) release that same brain chemical, dopamine. And guess what? The more we do them; the more we want to do them. And here’s the best part; they are guilt-free coping mechanisms.
What about you? Are you ready to trade in your shame and try God’s way of numbing the pain?
He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds (Psalm 147:3).