Q: Such abundance everywhere to be grateful for, even in this sad and beautiful world, where i often find myself surrounded in darkness and doubt, lost and alone without guidance. How do I begin to change my life for the better? Stop taking drugs to ease my sadness and sleeping in hopes that the pain of day will disappear. So utterly blocked by past pain coming full circle into my daily life? Unhealthy patterns so easily repeated day in and day out. With the intellectual knowledge that this type of living is really a slow, sad form of living-suicide, too cowardly for the drama of real death. — J., USA

A: Dear J.,

Looks like you have touched on your fundamental question: How do I begin changing my life for the better? Truly asking and intending to search for an answer is already a start; and reaching out for help, as you have done here, carries that start a step further. Those steps take courage, so I beg to differ about you being cowardly. It seems to me more likely that you have an urge to live that’s as strong – probably stronger – than your urge to die. You’re watching the two urges fight it out in you.

Your mention of knowing how much surrounds you that’s worthy of gratefulness, and your intense desire to break loose from unhealthy patterns, suggests which side you’re really rooting for. What’s stopping you is all that blocked past pain that’s coming full circle into your present life and draining your energy. It sounds like these past hurts and their current manifestations won’t give you the choice of not facing and addressing them. The drugs dull the pain, but the pain nonetheless keeps pointing to what you need and want. It is bursting out with full force for your attention, a vital messenger, and you can only partially keep it at bay.

You do not say whether you mean drugs that your doctor prescribed. If you do, then it is time to talk with her or him about the things you’re sharing with me here, or – if you don’t entirely trust her or him – to find someone you do. If these drugs are, instead, alcohol or narcotics, then your pain is an absolute godsend, the very thing for which you can be most grateful. Addiction stays on “tight like a glove,” as the song lyrics go, but unremitting pain won’t let you go until you get real help, something that won’t simply numb you but will help you find healing, comfort, and peace of mind. Twelve-step groups like Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous are one good place to start, and right in the Yellow Pages under “Alcoholism” you can find other resources that can either immediately help or steer you to others that can (whether or not alcohol is the drug to which you’re referring, and whether or not you feel like the problem has reached the scale of full addiction).

If you have lived with this much pain and lostness, and even so seen beauty in the world, then you are a strong person indeed. You’re looking at an opportunity, right now, to heal your pain and to find your life’s worth. It may take time to rebuild long-established patterns, but many courageous people have done so before you, and you can do it, too. That act would acknowledge the great-fullness that life does offer us, and that even pain suggests we cannot live without.

With warm wishes for your well-being,