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Column: Life hurts

"And since life poses an endless series of problems, life is always difficult and full of pain as well as joy." -- M. Scott Peck, "The Road Less Traveled" A number of recent articles have provoked me to think about the pain and hurt of life and o...

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David Bard

“And since life poses an endless series of problems, life is always difficult and full of pain as well as joy.”
- M. Scott Peck, “The Road Less Traveled”

A number of recent articles have provoked me to think about the pain and hurt of life and of how we deal with it. The Duluth News Tribune published a moving story about a 19-year-old who died earlier this year from heroin, part of a series about the drug’s growing use in our area.
Other publications have noted this disturbing trend nationwide. Part of the dynamic of the rising heroin use has been the abuse of prescription drugs. Time Magazine recently reported a 300 percent increase in the use of painkillers over the past decade.
The day after the heroin story I read about the former Minnesota Gopher quarterback who now likely faces prison time for his role in an assault in Mankato. The football player had been drinking heavily, though he is not yet of legal age. The next week in Time, the cover story was about rape, “the crisis in higher education.”
Alcohol plays a significant role in non-consensual sex.
One connecting link in these stories for me is the use of substances - a young woman caught in a cycle of addiction, a young man with a promising athletic career perpetrating violence while intoxicated, our country’s incredible use of painkillers, which puts them out on the streets for possible abuse, and a college party culture, one dark dimension of which is sexual assault. Where does our need for numbing substances come from? We want to avoid pain.
There is a spectrum here. We expect our health care system to help us deal with debilitating or excruciating physical pain. That is a good thing. One goal of hospice care at the end of life is to minimize physical pain. There are other kinds of pain that we as a society should be trying to lessen: the pain of hunger, the pain of abuse and the pain of victims of sexual assault. We would like to lessen these pains by eliminating their causes.
But there are other pains in life that cannot be eliminated, and we struggle with that. Life disappoints. People can be cruel to us. We cannot always have it all, but sometimes have to choose which goods to pursue. We will feel uncomfortable, sometimes, in our own skin. Isn’t taking the edge of that social discomfort one of the reasons we use alcohol at all? Life hurts and we cannot eliminate all the hurts, though we live in a media culture where most problems get solved in the hour of a television program, or even in the 30 seconds of a commercial.
Substance abuse and addiction are complex problems. But I cannot help but wonder if one way forward is to find deeper psychological and spiritual resources that help us understand and manage the pain of living better, without resorting to abusing substances that can lead to violence and death.

David A. Bard is a husband, father, pastor, teacher and ethicist raised and educated in Duluth. He returned to the community in 2005 after being away for over 20 years.

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