Tolerance is one of the most valuable skills to be learned early on in recovery. Growth does not lie in an ability to avoid difficulties but in our ability to live with discomfort at times and learn how to pass through difficulties.
Naturally, we resist discomfort. When discomfort hits, we tell ourselves, “I can’t take it.” Sometimes drugs and alcohol become appealing ways to numb, disconnect, or distract from discomfort. They are a short-term fix that eventually creates more problems and, inevitably, more discomfort.
The key to tolerance is to accept a certain amount of suffering as part of the human experience without judgment and with the critical understanding that it will pass.
We can learn to be still with discomfort and prioritize right actions. Our greatest moments of self-discovery often come from doing “nothing” and taking a moment to pause. Through this, we truly become empowered and free amidst the very real challenges of life.
A multitude of situations generate uncomfortable feelings or stress in our lives. For example, we are hit with an unexpected or unwanted change. We lose someone important to us. We feel frustrated with our existing life circumstances. We are fearful, lonely, sad, disappointed, or angry. We have a child. We go home for the holidays. We encounter a difficult person or situation. We feel overwhelmed by uncertainty. We have cravings.
What we forget in these situations is that they are not permanent. Despair, just like joy, comes and goes. Uncomfortable feelings pass over you like a wave, if you let them. Sometimes the brain gets so used to jumping off, acting out, running away, or escaping through substances that it doesn’t even realize that things will run their course. It will pass, and you will survive. Teach your brain that pain is temporary, and you will have a resilient recovery.
Below are some suggestions to fortify your ability to tolerate the ups and downs of life:
Vipassana or Mindfulness Meditation
Meditation is a method of self-transformation through self-observation. The technique of vipassana uses mindfulness to see and actually remove the causes of suffering, which are within you.
The use of cognitive techniques, spiritual practices, activities, or mantras to support acceptance helps to mature our tolerance. Whether you need to let go, exercise “radical acceptance” of circumstances, or find self-acceptance, these practices all reinforce new thought patterns. When practiced regularly, they develop new neural networks in your brain that perpetuate a sense of well-being.
Eating well, exercising, and getting adequate sleep is key. Taking care of your body is the foundation for building healthy tolerance skills.
Whether you pray to God or a higher power, or use specific 12 Step methods such as The Serenity Prayer, prayer can be a source of building tolerance and acceptance.
The Four Agreements
The book The Four Agreements by Miguel Ruiz is a useful guide for learning tolerance and improving the quality of your interpersonal interactions. The book’s helpful guidelines include:
- Be Impeccable with your Word.
- Don’t Take Anything Personally.
- Don’t Make Assumptions.
- Always Do Your Best.
Yoga and Body-Based Practices
In addition to its physical health benefits, yoga teaches people to notice, tolerate, and be present with sensations and feelings in the body. Body-based practices such as yoga, qigong, Tai Chi, or various martial arts are firmly rooted in spiritual principles that also support the development of tolerance and openness of heart.