Here is my view on chronic pain and the power of story.
In honor of September being Pain Awareness Month, here is another in my series on chronic pain, with an emphasis on this: your body wants to heal and we can heal from chronic pain. This is about chronic pain and the power of story in relation to our ability to heal.
Chronic pain can feel like we have grabbed a tiger by the tail and cannot remember to let go.
The power of story can influence chronic pain and healing from it. Hear me out. I’m not saying that the story is the cause of the pain. And I’m not saying that we don’t need to go below the level of story if we are to heal the pain. And I am not saying that there is anything wrong with our story of pain. I am saying that the nature of the story that we tell ourselves about our pain experience can make a difference in our ability to heal from it. I am saying that we need to understand that whatever our pain story is, it is only a part of the story, and that the story changes.
Captivity is a mentality.
We can be held captive by the story of our pain. It is a thing we can carry. I sure carried it with me. It’s hard to understand how confusing freedom is when you have been a prisoner for so long. It’s hard to understand how hard it is to grasp that you even have choice, that you can act. It’s hard to understand how unimaginable the sun is if you’ve been living underground for years.
Herein lies the crux of the matter for those of us when we are caught in the grip of chronic pain.
We must be aware that whatever our story is in the moment is not necessarily a life sentence. We must open ourselves imagine what may seem utterly impossible at the time. Look at the courage and the extraordinary force it takes to break out of the inertia of being such a prisoner for so long and the action that one must take to change the momentum, the course of one’s trajectory, from the unimaginable to the exquisite knowing of real freedom.
Pain can change – remember this
It is far too easy for those who are in the grip of chronic pain to get so lost in the pain that they lose sight of the possibility that the pain can change.
We are so used to feeling pain all the time that we use phrases like “the pain is always here” and “it feels endless”. Do you realize the commitment we make to our situation, our story, when we bring a powerful word like ‘always’ or ‘endless’ into the picture? We have declared it is like this now and it will always be like this. That is a powerful statement to make!
Our story evolves, just like everything else in life
As people with chronic pain, we need to realize that and be open to the idea that our story evolves, just like everything else in life. We need to understand that whatever our story is now, it can, and indeed will, shift and transform into a new version of the current one. One could say that our current story is a chapter in a book of stories we have yet to live.
My own experience with my story of chronic pain as a vehicle for my eventual healing is a case in point.
I had an injury followed by years of pain, including several corrective surgeries. Whereas the doctors predicted that surgery would relieve the pain, my experience was that the pain increased.
Here’s how my story went at the time:
I did anything I could that helped me divert, distract, avoid, numb, push through, deny…whatever it took to not feel the moment I was experiencing. I had such difficulty accepting life the way I perceived it. I felt shame on so many levels. I felt powerless over the physical and emotional pain I felt. I felt spiritual pain because I felt that on some level my Higher Power was punishing me, even though I was doing the best I could to cope with my circumstances. I did not feel seen nor heard, certainly not valued for who I truly was, and I sure didn’t feel worthy. Why would I even want to participate in such a life? I escaped the best I could. In many ways, I could not escape. I did not see that ultimately, I had the key to the prison I was in.
You can move through the suffering of chronic pain
Yes, you can move through the suffering of chronic pain, despite whatever you are telling yourself. I had to change what I was saying to myself.
I was telling myself that this was the only way I knew how to live with the chronic pain. At the time, it was the only way everyone around me knew how to deal with it, too.
Then I challenged myself to change my current story. I asked myself, “How can I find a life outside or beyond a life of suffering and taking medication to cope?” That question was the foundation of a new beginning of such a cascade of events that charted the course straight out of chronic pain for me. I was prescribed opiate and benzodiazepine medication for years as the doctors’ solution to dealing with my chronic pain. In the end, I discovered that these drugs themselves were contributing to my pain.
Is chronic pain a life sentence?
I took these prescription medications under the orders of doctors who assured me that the only way to treat the pain was through taking these drugs. Two years into taking opiates and benzos to try to dim my pain, a doctor told me, “You will be in an intensity level of seven out of ten pain, twenty-four hours a day for the rest of your life. You have to take these medications.” This doctor convincingly handed me a life sentence and never looked back.
I was crushed. I had a two-year-old baby, I was in an early marriage, and had a career path I was charting in environmental studies. Suddenly I felt like my whole life as I knew it was over. I began to cry uncontrollably and didn’t stop crying for two weeks. What kind of mother would I ever be to my son? How would I ever be an adequate wife to my husband? What about all the years I invested in study at university to become skilled in my field? Life took on a strange, scary, and hopeless mood. I felt lost in the pitch black of a small closet, with no key, and I couldn’t find a door to put a key in if I had even had one. I felt lost in this dark closet. I had a knowing inside of me, graced by my Higher Power, that there was a light somewhere. I had only to keep looking to find it. I continued to search the darkness, day and night, crying all the while. “Where is the light? I know it’s in here somewhere. Please – help me find it!”
Evolving the story of healing
After two weeks, I finally discovered the light. It came in the form of an epiphany and here is where my story began to evolve.
My training in science finally asserted itself and brought this whole situation into focus for me. I realized that my doctor had made a mistake. I realized he was not a fortune teller. My doctor was operating within a scientific framework. He had forgotten a foundational piece of his own training.
Probabilities in science and healing
In science, we work in probabilities, not the black and white, no matter how much we want things to be concrete. The honest and more accurate statement would have been, “Our studies to date show us that the probabilities are that your pain will stay at the intensity level of seven out of ten, twenty-four hours a day for the rest of your life.” If he had said this, he would then have left room for a ray of hope for his patient. Yet he did not. He left no space of hope for me at all with his pronouncement.
Furthermore, he forgot the setting within which the whole framework of science operates. Science is governed by phenomena that are measurable. Science has no comment beyond pure speculation about anything outside of the measurable. However, we live in the All That Is, both the part of the universe that is measurable, known, and that which is unknown.
The wider story of healing
I realized I lived in a much larger space than that which my doctor was referencing and that the possibilities were far vaster than he realized. When I envisioned this understanding, I felt suddenly freed of the doctor’s life sentence of pain and medication. I still had pain, but from that moment on, I moved out of the story of feeling victimized and began the new chapter of my story of feeling empowered. I was a part of the power of the universe. I had a strong knowing that there was a way out of the pain and the medication. I only had to find my way through and I felt strongly that I would be led and guided along the way.
Who is responsible for your healing?
Here’s another change I made to my story: I decided to take 80% of the responsibility for my healing and leave the other 20% to the health care professionals. A doctor can set a bone, but a doctor cannot tell the body how to heal. I felt that I needed to learn how to help my body to heal itself.
I looked everywhere I could for a solution to healing from the pain, including acupuncture, massage, yoga, meditation, Reiki, and a panoply of other alternative healing modalities to my life. Each had an effect, but I still could not find a way out of pain or the sickening cycle of taking these drugs every day. Finally, I met Dr. Peter Przekop and entered his Pain Management Program. I walked in carrying a lifetime of pain and the added burden of being addicted to the medication. Fifty-two days later and after much work, I walked out pain free.
A new story of healing chronic pain
Dr. Przekop taught me something I had never heard from the many pain specialists I had worked with for so many decades: we can heal from chronic pain. He told me a story that was new and different from the one the other doctors had told me. I was surprised, but incredibly relieved to even consider this new possibility. His methods were simple, swift, powerful, and did not require that I take life-sucking opiates and benzodiazepines. There truly was a way to write a new chapter in my life where I could live a life beyond the suffering of chronic pain and addiction.
My story evolved. I finally found the key to unlocking the door to the prison I found myself in – I no longer looked away from all that was inside of me that I had tried to ignore, deny, repress, distract myself from or numb out. I had to learn to surrender to all that was living inside of me. This was a new chapter in my life I could never have imagined earlier.
By giving up our current story and being willing and open to discovering and writing a new one, a new chapter in our life, we seize the potential for and open to the miracle of healing.
#PainAwarenessMonth #UnleashTheGripOfChronicPain #LivingBeyondChronicPain
For a foundational work on healing chronic pain, check out Dr. Przekop’s book “Conquer Chronic Pain: An Innovative Mind/Body Approach” at https://bit.ly/PPrzekopConquerChronicPain