The Pain of Awareness
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Gary L. Clark is an author. After a thirty year career he retired to write a novel. He then joined a counselor-in-training program at the local community mental health center and worked three years as a substance abuse counselor. He retired again and has written two more novels. He recently completed the annotation of a self-help book on faith-based self-help. Two published novels (available on Amazon.com) address social justice. Mr. Clark is the Editor of thefiresidepost.com. He lives in St. Joseph, Missouri.

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The Pain of Awareness

Awareness is generally thought to be a good thing.  Certainly we advocate being aware of one’s personal budget, of politics, of education, of science (Climate Change), of job opportunities, of our health, and even an awareness of our ignorance on various topics.  I think it is useful to be aware of proper use of the English language.  Awareness, it seems, is always positive.  Awareness is the first step in correcting faulty behavior. We become aware, then accept reality, then take action.   Is there a downside?  I think so.

If ignorance is bliss, then what is awareness?  Is it opposite of bliss?  As suggested, awareness can be painful.  Becoming aware of self, of behavior of self, of impact on others of an errant self, can be quite disturbing.  That awareness shall continue to be painful until one accepts the truth and takes action to change the behavior.  Glaring examples are found in domestic violence, addiction, and child abuse.  No one would openly advocate any of these examples but our society is fraught with them.

Society had identified and promotes awareness.  We have Cancer Awareness Month, Alcohol Awareness Month, Heart Disease Awareness Month, Child Abuse Awareness – the list goes on.  In every case we are talking about becoming aware of something painful such that we might see reality and take action.  All good things? Right?

Yes, but.  There it is, that nuisance of a phrase – Yes, but!  When we become aware and are powerless to take action then we are subject to potentially excruciating pain.  I drive down the street and observe a variety of Pay Day Loan store fronts, Title Loan store fronts, thriving businesses sucking the life out of individuals caught in the cycle of economic distress.  I see people standing in line and I know some of them are destitute because of gambling or drug addiction.  A sense of powerlessness creeps into my psyche.  I have to let go.

The downside of awareness is the pain of watching helplessly while a child is abused, watching the child develop survival strategies, watching the child suffer fear of the next moment, and watching other adults ignore the abuse in the interest of maintaining harmony with the other adults.  I watched as the child’s self-esteem slipped away.  The one time athlete became obese from microwave corn dogs for supper.  The one time “A” student was failing in school.  A sense of powerlessness crept into my psyche.  I fought for the child.   My awareness of the horrendous consequences of child abuse sucked the life out of me.  I am sick with grief.

I volunteer in a community of social outcasts, drug addicts, homeless, alcoholic, ignorance, diminished mental faculties, mental health afflictions, and those generally rejected by polite society.  I am the President of the Board of an Alano Club. We have a caretaker who lives in our building.  The other day, a cold winter day, he told me that the night before, around 11:30 PM, he had found a young lady sitting on the floor in a room, crying in distress.  We have policies and procedures.  Our building closes at 10:30 PM.  No one is allowed to stay the night other than the caretaker.  The caretaker told her she could not stay.  He offered to give her a ride to anywhere she wanted (a mistake in my judgement).  She declined any help and he last saw here walking down the street in the cold.

One of the programs in our building is Al-Anon.  It is for families, parents, siblings, children, spouses, and friends of alcoholics.  Our al-anon group welcomes those same folks  with drug addict loved ones. Al-Anon is all about awareness.  Particularly aware of one’s powerlessness in regard to changing the life of another.  That is a painful notion.  A loved one is in trouble and you are powerless to fix the problem!

Two years ago there was a wonderful fifty-one-year-old year old woman – married to the same man since she was fifteen – going to Al-anon to learn how to manage her life with her violent alcoholic husband.  She was well accepted by the group.  The other group members were acutely aware of her difficulty.  They were aware of the danger in her life.  They sympathized completely – but they also recognized the limits of their power to force change.  Sandy came for a couple of months before she was beat to death by her drunk husband.  He is in prison for the next thirty years.

Awareness might save our sanity – but that same awareness is dreadfully painful.

There Are 6 Responses So Far. »

  1. “But he that knew not, and did commit things worthy of stripes, shall be beaten with few stripes. For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required: and to whom men have committed much, of him they will ask the more. Luke 12:48” Intelligent awareness is indeed a paradox, both a blessing and a curse. The best prescription I can give is do what you can, when you can and be very aware of what that entails.

  2. Nancy – You know that I was raised in a four room house with six siblings. I was the third boy so I was blessed at the last in the hand-me-down line. My father, a great man, suffered PTSD from his poverty, the Depression, and WWII marching across France and Germany. Even so – I feel I was blessed and given much. I was blessed with natural curiosity and a fondness for reading. I was blessed with a working career. I was blessed with relatively good health. I was blessed with a brain capable of becoming aware of the struggles of man. I am a committed volunteer. Sometimes I feel I am atoning for my sins. Sometimes I feel I am paying back for my blessings. Somehow I never feel I have done enough. There is so much human suffering, even in the U.S.. So much to do.

  3. Gary – You and I have been blessed/cursed in so many similar ways. I am thankful………although I can’t cure world hunger or change the course of addiction for many people, nor can I singularly bring about World Peace, find the cure for Cancer and oh so many other problems of Humanity, I can intelligently express myself on these topics and offer up some suggestions of hope. I can love my Family and do any and all possible to help them in any way. I hope I have been able to instill that same concept in them. I have lost a couple of jobs by expressing my thoughts on how people should be respected and treated. So I know benevolent behaviors are not always rewarded on this Earth. Sometimes God puts things in our path that we would never think were something we could or should do, but ‘Where there is a Will, there is a Way’ I know you have heard that one before, because your Dad and my Mom didn’t fall far from the tree. That being the incredibly strong woman who was their Mother and our Grandmother. In spite of incredible hardships and bad circumstance, she managed to find a way to take care of the needs of her children and find joy along the way. As a leader in helping the addicted and their families, you are aware of the ‘Serenity Prayer’.

    God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
    Courage to change the things I can,
    and the Wisdom to know the difference

    Here is a version more like the original;

    God, give me grace to accept with serenity
    the things that cannot be changed,
    Courage to change the things
    which should be changed,
    and the Wisdom to distinguish
    the one from the other.

    Living one day at a time,
    Enjoying one moment at a time,
    Accepting hardship as a pathway to peace,
    Taking, as Jesus did,
    This sinful world as it is,
    Not as I would have it,
    Trusting that You will make all things right,
    If I surrender to Your will,
    So that I may be reasonably happy in this life,
    And supremely happy with You forever in the next.

    Amen.

    authored by the American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr[1][2] (1892–1971)

  4. Nancy – very well said.

    I read somewhere, but am too lazy to look up, that Niebuhr was a pastor who gave a prayer at the end of each sermon. The Serenity Prayer was one of those. After a service in 1934,Pastor Niebuhr was standing at the back of the church greeting folks as they left the morning service. A man stopped and asked if he might have a copy of the prayer. Niebuhr pulled the only copy he had and gave it to the man. That man made Christmas cards with the prayer and Bill W.,the co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous, was on his mailing list. Bill recognized the power of the prayer and adopted it for AA. My father was never in AA that I am aware of but he referred to the Serenity Prayer as a guiding principle.

    My father once said his father was an alcoholic. Aunt Pearl was there and she said their father was not an alcoholic, “…he worked hard and deserved that alcohol”. Who knows?

  5. I don’t recall any excess of drinking by your Father. I do recall a bottle of Morgan David Wine in the fridge that was sampled and filled back with water. But he knew and we the culprits were not tied to the ‘Whipping Post’ but had to endure the look and the words. Grandpa smelled boozy every time I can remember being in his lap or near him, until he was placed in the nursing home. Although, I didn’t know it was booze I smelled until many years later. Mom, didn’t like her Dad much and hated his drunken ways and was not adverse to saying so out loud and often. This may have been partly why she and Pearl were not close for many years. Pearl was only 15 years when she married and left the fold and may not have experienced the worst of it. She was indeed his fiercest defender. Esther was perhaps his enabler by supplying him with drink after Grandma passed and before Pearl placed him in the home. I don’t doubt he worked hard. Laborers of the time usually did and he didn’t make bad money, even through the from what I have heard. But………Many Many times Grandma had to go looking for him at the bar(s) on pay day before he spent it all on drink and gambling. Apparently she wasn’t always successful. I’m not surprised that Uncle knew the Serenity Prayer, maybe it was because of AA or Alanon or just because it was popular during the time of his youth. However he knew, the experience turned him and my Mom more away from the practice than to carry it on. In my research on Ancestry I have found confirmation of Grandpa having a family in Pennsylvania. Not too long before coming to St. Joe, he and his former wife had a son named Oliver Franklin who died soon after birth. Who knows the demons and sorrows and guilt he may have been experiencing. People didn’t talk much about things like that in those days. I do recall Aunt Pearl saying he talked about missing his sisters back in Pennsylvania. To my knowledge he never saw any of them again, until his son Willie came to visit him after coming of age. Mom didn’t have anything good to say about him either. I’m sure Pearl would have another take. So it goes with Family Lore.

  6. Nancy – I remember a bottle of Morgan David Wine that was a gift from Walt McKnight, Mary Esther’s first husband.

    I do not know the Pennsylvania story. My dad did not like his father so I took his comments with a grain of salt – for instance he once said that grandpa had a family in Pennsylvania but was run out for bad behavior. My father was like that – tended to exaggerate circumstances to make his point.

    I did not know about a child named Oliver Franklin who died and did not know about a son Willie coming to visit.

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