August 25, 2020

Pain Nostalgia: When we’re Addicted to our Trauma.


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A strong wave of nostalgia isn’t a rare experience these days.

Within the paradigm shifts that came with the pandemic, quarantine, and transitioning into a new introverted lifestyle for the collective, we can find ourselves soaking in nostalgic memories of when life was “normal”—whatever that means.

You know those moments when you’re struck with a burst of energy attached to a memory from childhood? The 90s and early 2000s are times I often feel super nostalgic about. TV shows, a song, a certain flavor of ice cream, the smell of the ocean breeze can take us back to a moment of bliss when everything was okay—those sticky childhood moments that are the catalyst of a deep daydream. Daydreaming ourselves into a past life and past version of ourselves can feel somewhat like a natural high; however, it can also bring us immense pain that we continue to grasp onto.

But even the dark and suffering phases of life can come with a bizarre version of nostalgia. “Pain is pleasure” is a term that reminds me of “Beauty is pain,” a harsh cliché within the beauty and diet culture and women’s wellness industries.

“Pain is pleasure” can also be correlated with the energetics of eating disorders and addiction. The behavior of the addict or disordered eater can temporarily inflict pain on the body or mind, which serves as an escape to take the person away from the pain or trauma occurring in one’s life. It’s a quick transfer or swap of pain from the outward, painful reality to the inner reality.

This act of self-destruction through behavior or substance comes with a high and temporary escape—a way to simply cope with the painful emotions like anger, shame, disgust, fear, and regret. Pain nostalgia will have us stuck in loops, thinking about times in our lives that were dark, traumatic, and even depressing or lonely because we, interestingly enough, found a form of comfort within that—because it felt safe, it felt known.

If we are so used to suffering and pain, when life finally begins to feel abundant and flowing smoothly, we can again get caught in the net of fear. For some of us, we become strangely addicted to the pain and suffering—because if that’s all we’ve ever known, our mind and body continue to sit in that type of energy even if we know that we want change and newness in our lives.

The self-sabotage cycle is vicious, so if you feel like you get caught in this pattern from time to time, congratulations! You are a normal human, and you also just broke the cycle by recognizing the pattern, seeing it for what it is, and sitting with it. Now you have the awareness and thought shift to pivot and step away from the self-limiting thoughts and beliefs that are so ingrained in you from the past.

It’s an everyday process, and the work continues with no end. But the journey becomes much more graceful and full of contentment when we can simply tap into a slightly different lens of seeing the pain in our lives and how we become unconsciously attached to it. When we can see that, we actually free ourselves and liberate ourselves into a new way of being.

Journal prompts and visualizations to break the pain-nostalgia cycle:

>> What memory from my childhood seems to be coming up a lot recently?

>> What phase of my life as a child or adolescent has stuck with me to this day? Why was that phase so significant?

>> Imagine a moment or situation in your childhood that brought you immense pain or unsettling emotions. Write about it for only a minute or so. Then, underneath, draw a big line and write all of the reasons why you are safe right now. Detach yourself from the traumatic moment and feelings, and list out all of the positive emotions and feelings you are in today.

Some examples you can use: I am safe, I am comfortable, I have a safe home, I have a safe healing space, I am totally content. And: there is nothing happening around me that is life-threatening, I am comfy, I am light, I am in the moment.

What emotions and feelings does your inner child still sit with today trying to hash out?

What would you do today if you could hang out with the child version of you? Where would you bring her/him? What would you do with them? What types of food would you eat? What would you say to him/her?

Imagine a moment in your childhood that brought you immense happiness and joy and excitement. Write about that energy and how you can tap into that energy. What little things can you do today to embody and cultivate that happiest version of your child self?


Check out Gab’s podcast here and her Modern Meditations and writing course here


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