• Jason McCarty

Moving Through Tension: How We Obtain Life’s Fruits

It is known that before a caterpillar becomes a butterfly it makes a cocoon. It eats many times its own weight before it begins to create a cocoon. When it is time to break free from the cocoon as a butterfly it struggles against the walls of the cocoon. It is this tension of pushing against the inner walls of its dwelling that enables its wings to grow and develop. If one were to cut the cocoon open too early, the butterfly would emerge with underdeveloped wings, most likely unable to fly.

The tension of development, the pushback of growth, is necessary.

There are many ways in life that we try to avoid the tensions of life. We look for the easy way out. When things do not come easy, we get other people to do it. When we don’t know what to do, we frantically ask other people what to do. Sometimes we run around trying to find a way to circumvent tension, struggle, uncertainty, pain, and confusion. Most of the time when pain and struggle come we quickly look for a solution to stop the pain. This is somewhat normal but has also been exacerbated by our culture.

When we stop the struggle – the movement through tension – we do not develop the necessary abilities to live life. We are in effect cutting open the cocoon too soon. We need the tension and struggle of the journey in order to arrive at any sort of skill, ability, talent, understanding, or transformation.

Utilizing addiction as a way to avoid life really deepens the reflex to “go around” what is difficult. There are many understandable reasons why a person hasn’t developed the necessary ability to move through struggle, to move through full engagement with life, so addiction makes a lot of sense. If I don’ t know how to engage in the tension of life, which ultimately produces what I want/need, then I must find that elsewhere. I get drunk or use another drug or engage in some behavior that produces the very thing or things I sense I am missing in life.

Now that I have stopped moving toward and through the tension and instead move obsessively toward addiction, I am creating a relationship, a story if you will, that says I cannot handle the tension and I can only use my addiction. You can see how this feedback loop perpetuates my inability to take on staying in the tension.

We must stay in the tension.

When we stay in the tension long enough, we realize that the world did not come to an end, and in fact, something strangely sweet came out of that process. Think about how ugly and boring a cocoon looks, but once the caterpillar has done its thing and it must work hard to push its way out, it arrives with some of the most beautiful colors. It also transformed from crawling slowly across the ground to flying speedily through the air.

This might seem simple but I believe it to be one of life’s most profound truths. It is why addiction is so hard to just stop. We need so badly what is on the other side of tension but if our environment didn’t help prepare us in many ways, or if at some point we made the decision to circumvent what’s hard, then we will not experience the fruits of our labor. But we still desperately need those fruits to live as human beings and one place to find the “experience” of those fruits is through the addiction process.

One of the biggest steps and abilities in addiction recovery is to delay gratification and learn to push through the tension of what is difficult in life. Everything we want comes with a tension filled process: love, money, meaning, success, happiness, peace, contentment, freedom, and sobriety.

So when life feels hard after discontinuing your addiction, embrace that tension instead of running from it. Take it into your life, accept it as necessary, and see what happens. You won’t be high, but you will be fulfilled. It is this taking tension into your life and embracing it that leads to an everyday meaningful existence.

© 2020 by Jason McCarty, MA, CCC