Suffering is a Choice and…Wait for this One…So is Obsessing

I had a mental and emotional shift the other day.

Suffering is a choice.

I’ve heard those words many times and, yet, they never resonated quite like they did on Monday. Suffering, wallowing, guilt, regret, unhappiness, disdain…choices. “Who would choose these, though?” is what I always asked myself. I suppose the answer is that the choices are likely made unconsciously.

You know when you go to the coffee shop or the grocery store and you mindlessly order or buy what you regularly order or buy? Perhaps even despite the fact that you went in for something else, specifically? Or the autopilot way with which people mechanically respond “good” to the question “how are you?” 

I sort of see it like this, though I don’t know if those are the best examples. The point is I think we unconsciously choose to suffer, be sad, feel regretful or jealous or angry without remembering there is an alternative. Just like that moment after you get your change and think, “Crap! I just ordered my normal latte when I was actually going to get a cappuccino!” Or when you answered “good” and you meant to say “well” or “getting by,” something grammatically correct or frankly more honest.

Apparently I’m sticking with those lousy analogies for the point I’m trying to convey.

I know that I for one have automated reactions sometimes. I will succumb to sadness or guilt or anxiety at the drop of a hat, because I’m used to it. I’ll shift right back into being happy in no time. But I shift from one to the other easily, like gears with a mind of their own. The opinion of others can slide me right into a different gear. Sometimes I wonder, don’t I have a say in how I’m feeling? Don’t I get to have the last word on how something leaves me feeling?? Or reeling, for that matter.

So on Monday I had this realization. I have a choice. To suffer is a familiar reaction to strife, it’s comfortable like a pair of old slippers…worn, frayed and offering no protection from the cold, uneven ground beneath…but comfortable and easy in their familiarity. It’s more unknown to stop the emotions from tumbling out like laundry from a basket. It’s harder. 

This makes me think of something my mom has always referred to, and that we still use in applicable situations to this day. One of my mom’s friends once had a relationship end and, I don’t recall whether it ended due to infidelity or if her ex simply picked up with another woman right after her, but one way or another she knew about it. She knew he was with her. They’d been together for years, and he was immediately off with someone else. My mom had asked her at the time, “How do you cope with that? Knowing he’s with her??” she had replied, stoically,
“I just don’t let my mind go there. If it tries, I just stop it. I can’t. I just won’t go there.”

Pause for effect.

Serisly though, how stoic is that? How incredible. I simply give in and sink into the emotions, which many of us do, and maybe this woman even did too…save for this one scenario. It was simply too painful to even entertain the thought so she just…didn’t. 

Why don’t I apply that to my own life more often?? Well, that’s what I’ve started doing. My mom and I use that reference all the time, but how about I actually live it now. That’s what I did on Monday. I decided okay, I’m not going to suffer at my own hand anymore. If it’s a thought, I’m going to entertain it but give it no depth. I’m not going to dive head first into the thought and let it toss me around in the thrashing waves like a rag doll till it’s done with me. I’m not going to. If it’s an emotion, I’m going to use everything in my magnetic power to tug myself back to the midline, not falling recklessly into the emotion without reason.

It’s a practice, as is all of life, and it’s just beginning. It’s a sort of awakening. A very, very subtle shift mentally, but a profound shift emotionally. It’s going to be interesting to apply this little tactic when I’ve not already obsessed about said thought for a few days, but that’s the whole purpose…to save myself not only the stress, but the obsessing.

I can obsess over a thought, boy oh boy, I sure can. I can obsess over a thought until it’s all pulled apart like a knit sweater with a loose thread. I can obsess and obsess until it’s worn and weathered, tattered and transparent, no real sign of what it even was to begin with. I can obsess over a thought, a memory, a conversation, with such intensity and force that all sense is lost and nothing remains but waves of emotion; a grainy idea of what actually occurred in reality, with grey area formed by my mind, having offered up creative changes to simple reality as a means of escaping the vicious cycle of obsession…it must be deeper than it is, more meaningful than it is, more traumatizing than it is, or I wouldn’t feel this distraught.

It’s not deeper. Nor more meaningful, traumatizing or distressing. It’s all a choice.

Obsessing is a choice! 

I’m going to say that one more time incase I didn’t hear myself…OBSESSING IS A CHOICE! 

What an astonishing realization, am I right? Okay, at least it is for me. It’s like “emancipation from mental slavery” (thanks for that one, Bob), simply holding the idea that obsessing and suffering are choices…that can be made by ME…that I can save myself from obsession and suffering if I so choose! Cupping this idea gently between my palms, letting the weight of it resonate with me, is profound. It’s powerful. I so needed this epiphany.

Just like any of the best tools in Home Depot, though, it’ll do me no good sitting in my tool box. I’ll have to get out the owner’s manual and teach myself how to use the sucker. I’ll have to practice. I’ll have to fail and try again. I’ll have to get better at it. I’ll get better at it by welcoming failure first, because how else would I be able to see what better looks like if I never do it badly first?

So I’m choosing gratitude. Gratitude for all of the unbelievable souls that I share this life with, for the experiences that I’ve had (not the ones I haven’t had), for the opportunities I have, for the love and light and laughter that is still in my future, and for this emancipation of the mind…of the soul…of the heart. 

I choose not to suffer, and not to obsess. To balance everything out I place a new emotion on the other side of life’s great scales…gratitude. 
I choose gratitude. Today, and everyday.



10 thoughts on “Suffering is a Choice and…Wait for this One…So is Obsessing

  1. my god i can’t even begin to tell you how much i loved your post and felt good reading it too!! A reminder that im NOT alone (as you’ve reminded me before)….I’ve been that girl since i was just a little girl who gets lost in her thoughts….who obsesses over anything and everything!!! well, it finally got me into a lot of trouble! I had a health scare about 4 years ago and that lead to obsessing over my health which got worse! running to my doctor everything I worried something was wrong!! Scared I wouldn’t make it to 30 – then 6 months ago I started feeling foggy, not like myself at all….just like that out of no where! Went to the doctor for blood work and everything came back fine! So I googled….(ive made a promise to myself to NEVER google anything ever again) – anxiety came up – the feeling of your world not feeling real around you, feeling like I’m in a dream! Anxiety….god I used to never understand the word when people spoke about it and now its been 6 months of feeling like im living in hell – trying to find help! im finally realizing and trying to put into action that its all in my own head!! that im doing it to myself just like i use to about my health before! that worrying about my health for so long has brought me here!! and its so hard – to have no one understand you! to train your thoughts to shut the hell up already and leave me alone! …feeling really scared and confused and missing the feeling of feeling like myself!…a lot of people take meds for anxiety but i refuse to!! i wont even take an advil let alone anything else!! Reading your post helps me see we all have those demons and bad thinking habits that only we can stop on our own!! Reading your post, yet again reminded me that I’m not alone! thank you for sharing your writing!! it really made me feel better and it all couldn’t be truer! I also really like the idiot of not even letting the thought get in there to begin with!! I’m gonna put that trick to use 🙂

    maria xo

    • You, my dear, are SO not alone. Anxiety is such a plague, but the first and most important step in treatment is acknowledging it. Which you’ve done! You know what is happening in your mind now, and it will be a balancing act from here on out of rationalism and anxiety. Hopefully one day we will get so accustomed to quelling our own anxieties and mental demons that they hardly pipe up at all anymore. I believe it’s possible 😉
      We are the captains of our own ships, we decide what gets airtime in our own minds. We may not be able to quiet the demons with just words, but with practice, those words will hold a lot of weight. In time the practice will become so second nature that our thoughts, our mind become our strongest ally, rather than a feared enemy. I love the quote, “The mind is energy…regulate it.” I recite it to myself often, when suffering from racing thoughts, and it calms and soothes me.
      Be well, sweet soul 🙂

  2. Pingback: Confessions of a Wallower | Confessions of an Imperfect Life

  3. I think if more people understood that almost all of what we feel is choice-driven the world would be a different place. Unfortunately, it seems easier for people to give up their power and spend precious time and energy on the things they can’t control instead of making a conscious decision to let something go and move in a different direction. A great post, thank you!

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