Lamenting The Loss of Certitude: Engaging pain with honesty and integrity leads to healing

One of the reasons I write blogs is because they help me to lament the pain of what substance use disorder (SUD) has done to my daughter, our family and me. My writing is based on what conditions have occurred as a result of SUD, my responses to them and how they have served to create or intensify my grief, loss, pain and heartache.

To lament is to name your pain—to refuse to be silent about whatever is wrong or out of order in your life.

“If you cannot speak your brokenness, your brokenness will speak for you.”

-Peter Rollins

To lament is to expose, name and develop language that expresses the pain, grief, loss and heartache you are experiencing.

My laments help me acknowledge what has arisen as a result of my pain and disorientation. Acknowledgment affords me the opportunity to step into the remedy and healing of my pain.

Without acknowledging feelings and emotions, I avoid them or ignore them—displacing them onto others. Acknowledging my feelings allows me the opportunity to engage my pain with honesty and integrity. Without honesty, I cannot heal. I cannot remedy what I have not made visible, exposed or accepted.

As a culture we embrace two approaches to addressing pain. “Everything happens for a reason.” Or, “for every problem there is a solution if we just look, work or believe hard enough.” These two lines of thinking contend that self-sufficiency and certitude are core components of our cultural DNA. Pain is not meant to be embraced or lamented; it is meant to be avoided or solved.

"Life happens, and when it does, it wreaks havoc with our neatly arranged thoughts of God, the world, and our place in it.These are moments where deep down something shifts and a quiet voice says, Uh-oh. I don’t like that feeling at all.How can I make it go away?”

- Peter Enns

As a person who has survived a catastrophic life disruption, I find these two ideologies untrue. They are mere illusions offering false assurances; however, I’ve tried to go back and force these beliefs to work for me again. I really liked those illusions. I counted on them. I miss the sense of security that certitude gave me. However false it was, it felt real. It helped me regulate my feelings because I didn’t have to face them. Instead, I spent time and energy on seeking solutions. I knew that once the solution was found it was just a matter of time before all would be right again. There was no need to feel, much less lament, when I stayed busy seeking resolutions and guarantees.

Today, I am trying to reclaim the lost art form of lamenting. I think instead of promoting assurance and certitude, lamenting calls attention to the pain. Expression forces me to feel. It acknowledges that things have changed, people changed, situations changed. Codes and ways of communicating and understanding changed whether I was ready or not or whether I did everything I was supposed to or not, despite the fact that I followed the processes and procedures as prescribed.

"The problem, however, is that we tend to spend a great deal of energy in attempting to avoid the truth.” -Peter Rollins

Lamenting stops the flow that my mind was trained to follow—that compulsive search to find meaning, solution and understanding. It goes against my amazing capacity to NOT accept what actually is. In other words, what actually IS is not really as it is. It is just as it is until I can fix it.

The problem with this way of thinking is that it holds no space for the unexplainable—life’s tragedies, heartaches, despair—those things that have no solution and those things for which we cannot be certain what the outcome will be. More importantly this kind of thinking requires no faith.

Every culture, institution, family, friendship, marriage, social group and work place have imprinted systems or codes that define what is acceptable and what is not. We learn what can be expressed and what cannot be expressed, what is okay to talk about and what is not okay to talk about, and what to accept and what to avoid. Certitude is one of the fixed codes that permeate the various planes of American culture. It is acceptable, talked about and promoted as a cherished value in our culture.

As my life spun out of control, I found it ironic that the one institution in my life that had peddled certitude and the algorithms, systems and equations that guarantee it the hardest, was my church. My FAITH tribe was filled with various dogmas and theologies that guaranteed certitude.

Prior to my family’s collision with substance use disorder I was certain there was an explanation for everything. I never stopped to question the irony of a FAITH system that promotes guarantees. Assurances and certainty were intricate components of the map by which I learned to navigate the FAITH world. And, I was taught that certainty was the basis for my hope.

It was no wonder that I began to lose all hope when SUD could not and would not be expelled by the algorithms of my FAITH system. The certitudes that had been my true north were no match for the disease of addiction. The compulsion for certainty could not be held, even in tension, with the devastating realities of substance use disorder and all that it unleashes on an individual and their family.

SUD is a formidable opponent against logic. It cannot be reasoned with. While I found no explanations, I did discover some hard, harsh truths. One of those truths is that certitude is a false pretense. There are no guarantees, no logical propositions that end with an explanation of why or how this happened to our family.

“…each time…we deal with something outside our familiar patterns of thought and have to think on our feet and decide how to proceed…'certain faith’ gets left behind…until ‘certainty becomes past tense.’”

- Peter Enns

I lament the loss of certitude. Life was easier when I believed in it. Certitude kept life in order and manageable. It provided me with comfort. For me, the opposite of FAITH is not fear; it is certainty.

In the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous, the alcoholic (you can easily substitute addict) is likened to a roaring tornado, which I address in The Tornado of Addiction: Destruction of the Family System. Like a tornado, alcoholism and addiction cannot be tamed. Once the force of AUD/SUD begins to spiral and build up speed, it becomes a power that uproots, dislocates and destroys beliefs, values, truths, trusts and certainty. The tornado of SUD displaces you. It moves you into an unfamiliar neighborhood and the geographic displacement is not necessarily physical. Rather, it’s mental, spiritual and physiological. You find yourself in a place that you are unversed with, unaccustomed to and unaware of how to navigate. The codes of what is acceptable and what is not, what can be expressed and what cannot be expressed, what is okay to talk about and what is not okay to talk about, what to accept and what to avoid no longer function properly.

Lamenting has helped me to feel the full weight of my humanity and of the losses I have endured as a result of the chronic, progressive and deadly disease that plagues my daughter. Through lamenting, I learn to look inward—to face what is, as it is. It is helping me to engage my God by simply asking Him to be present to my pain—expecting no cherished outcomes, no certainties and no logical explanations.

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