Thursday, April 7, 2011

Lesson #19: There Is No Need To Fear Feelings

We spend so much time in this culture trying to dodge uncomfortable feelings.  Most advertisements are geared toward assisting the consumer in having to ever experience sadness, insecurity, anxiety, uncertainty, and pain.  Pharmaceutical companies make billions of dollars every year offering the illusion of happiness in a pill.  The only problem is, avoidance doesn't change the cause.  And in fact, it frequently makes the source of your pain and discomfort even worse.

I was 27-years-old when I lost one of my best friends, Jhan Dean Egg, to AIDS.  We had lived together in San Francisco for five years prior to his death.  I was his confidant, his caretaker, and his Executor.  When he passed away in our home I was overwhelmed with grief and suffering that I was not equipped to deal with at that age.

So I avoided the pain.  I used work, busyness, and alcohol to avoid having to be present with the waves of grief that seemed too gigantic.  And soon after, I used a relationship with another person as an escape.  The red flags were there early on that this man was unstable and abusive, but I overlooked all of that because I could easily avoid my feelings when I was with him.  In short, he became the drug that I craved in order to feel "high."  And like all addictions, the relationship eventually crashed and burned (burned quite literally, as described in Lesson #20). 

When all was said and done, I was left with a heap of an emotional mess to clean up, and still had to work through the original problem that caused my error in judgments.  I realized then and there that using people and things to avoid emotional pain was not to my benefit.  I would have been better off just dealing with the core issue in the first place.

I see many people in my personal and professional life who also use relationships, drugs, sex, and general busyness to circumvent the experience of feeling pain.  It troubles me when I see people I care about piling up their problems with more problems, all in the name of avoidance.  This lesson is intended for anyone at any age who is trying to bypass facing their troubles.  There is no need to fear the feelings.  Dealing with the emotions, as painful and inconvenient as they may be, makes your life so much more simple and joyful in the long run.

Knowing this lesson through personal experience offers me a sense of hope and optimism about growing older.  I don't have to fear the painful feelings.  I don't have to use anyone or anything to escape.  I am home in my heart, and that is the safest place I've ever been. 

Damon L. Jacobs is a Licensed Marriage Family Therapist seeing individuals and couples in New York City. He specializes in issues related to addiction, ageism, bullying, caretaking fatigue, grief and loss, gay/lesbian issues, stress management, depression, as well as couples in non-traditional arrangements. He is the author of "Absolutely Should-less: The Secret to Living the Stress-Free Life You Deserve." To have him speak with your group, or to schedule a counseling visit, call 347-227-7707, or email at

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