Power in Pain

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1st Lt Stephen E. Arnold, Adjutant CLR 45 4th MLG

by 1st Lt Stephen E. Arnold, Adjutant CLR 45 4th MLG

“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”
            -Victor E. Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning

Pain is universal to the human experience. Everyone suffers in one way or another. For all military, police, and firefighters, we have at least one source of pain in common—basic training.

Day one of boot camp was one of the most memorable experiences in my life. I was screamed at and demoralized in a way I had never experienced before. I was tired, hungry, and for the first time in my life, bald. It was a certain kind of misery you couldn’t pay me to do again.

Except that I entered Officer Candidates School five years later, when the memory of my time at Paris Island had dulled. I realized my mistake on my second pick up day in my military career. I knew what I was getting myself into, but this time was different for only one existential fact – I was aware of my suffering.

Only when you tread through mud do you realize how muddy you can get. This was the case for me, I was aware that I had chosen to suffer though more basic training, which made my time there somehow worse. Fortunately I had read the words of the man above.

Just a quick recap on Viktor Frankl’s life: He was an Austrian neurologist, psychiatrist, and also a holocaust survivor. He lost his mother, brother, and wife to the camps. His own experience was horrific, and it shaped his outlook on life. His deeply impactful words, “What is to give light must endure burning,” are derived from an experience caused by hatred, and verbalised by survival. If anyone had the authority on suffering, it is Viktor Frankl.

I read his book well before going to OCS, but I had no idea how much the echo of his life would shape my reactions to, in comparison, minor discomfort. Even on my worst days I would seek purpose, because his work is worth more than solely pain perspective, his work is geared at finding purpose and meaning in suffering.  It is striving to find meaning in life that causes us to withstand painful experiences.

While my time at OCS was easy and short-lived compared to Viktor Frankl, I think that suffering is subjective, and none of it is enjoyable, but all of it has a purpose, if we search for it. I would not have found this book had I gone some other route in life than military. Because I did find it, my own outlook has toughened from it.

1st Lt Stephen E. Arnold is the Adjutant for Combat Logistics Regiment 45, who currently writes for Medium at medium.com/@StephenEArnold. His work has been published in Noteworthy and other publications in Medium.

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