“As my sufferings mounted I soon realized that there were two ways in which I could respond to my situation — either to react with bitterness or seek to transform the suffering into a creative force. I decided to follow the latter course.”
― Martin Luther King Jr.
When I was forced to undergo a withdrawal from a potent drug that would embark me on an arduous journey that would involve many months of suffering, I thought long and hard about how I should bring meaning to this significant part of my life. In the early days of my withdrawal, when I was trying to figure this all out, I knew a few things: I wanted to spend my time productively; I wanted to express myself creatively; I wanted to grow as a person; and I wanted to be a force of positive change in the world.
I gravitated towards writing. I started a blog and I spent countless hours writing away, honing my craft, and building something that would bring value to the lives of others.
Now, the whole point of this post isn’t about my accomplishments. It’s about—as MLK Jr. puts it so eloquently—turning your suffering into a creative force. This is a brief glance at my story, how I did it, and how it turned out for me, but there are some universal points I want to highlight in doing so.
During my withdrawal, I experienced some pretty nasty, debilitating physical symptoms that I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy (not like I have any anyway). It sucked major, but then I came to a realization: my physical pain would be inevitable, but my mental suffering would be a choice. I could choose to wallow in my pain and despair, or I could simply experience it and choose to move forward with positivity in each moment. I chose the latter, and doing so was very liberating.
Here’s what we have to understand about suffering:
Suffering, is raw emotional energy. If you can transmute that energy into a positive force; if you can harness your feelings and turn it into creative fuel; some very beautiful things can blossom from that.
If I had not gone through my withdrawal—if I had not suffered—I’m not sure I would have ever found my passion for writing. As each day goes by, my love for the art of the written word grows deeper. It’s helped me understand who I am as a person; it’s helped me clarify my values and life philosophy; and it’s helped me paint a clear vision of what I want out of life. It’s transformed me.
My writings, over time, gave me an opportunity to better understand, process, and refine myself in a very tangible, intimate way, that I otherwise wouldn’t have. Writing was one of my suffering’s blessings.
My whole withdrawal experience put my life on hold. In retrospect, because of the severity of it all, I was denied from enjoying and participating in some very basic pleasures of life; things like socializing; exercise; sleep; showers; etc. Now that I’m better, I have granted myself the absolute right to live, fully, now. I’ve made it a habit to exercise because I couldn’t before. I enjoy showers now because before, my skin was too sensitive and it caused immense pain. I enjoy every time I get to go out with friends because before, it was out of the question. They say in prison is where one grants one’s self the right to live. My withdrawal was my prison, and now that I’m better, I use my past experiences as fuel to carpe diem (seize the day). I’ve learned to truly be thankful for the good things in life.
This has no doubt been one of the most tumultuous times of my life. I’ve never experienced so much suffering; physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually. But my decision to turn this experience into a positive was why it has also been one of the best things to have happened to me. When I was going through the thick of it, I was such a mess that I was literally quite useless. I realized this, and I made the promise to myself that, if I couldn’t change my external circumstances, I would change my internal ones. After this decision was made, my character blossomed. I became a better human being. A better writer. I fell in love and partially became obsessed with self-improvement. I used my suffering to transform myself, and my life, for the better.
To put into perspective how much of my withdrawal experience changed my life, February 16 marked my 13th month since withdrawing. If I had to redo my entire withdrawal experience to be the person I am today; to have the clarity that I do today; to have the clear vision that I do of my tomorrow; I would do it all over in a heartbeat.
I turned my suffering into a creative force that revolutionized my life, just as MLK Jr. used his suffering—and that of his peoples—to revolutionize the social and political structure of our world. To choose to suffer is a choice. To choose to use that suffering as a creative force for change is a wildly different one. I hope you choose the latter. No matter what you’re going through, you can turn it into a positive. You can leverage it to your success. You just have to make the decision to do so.
Christopher Tan is a writer at his blog The Art Of Life where he inspires others to become authors of their own story. He helps people wake up to their truth, power, and potential of blossoming into the best version of themselves. You can follow him on Twitter here.