Surrender: 5 Reasons Why It Heals Chronic Pain

I have gone a little deeper into the concept of spiritual surrender lately. I learned to fight everything when I suffered with chronic pain. In my recovery, I learned that surrender heals chronic pain. I am not in early recovery, nor have I relapsed per se on my ‘drug/addiction of choice’. I am 5+ years into clean time from decades of taking doctor-ordered prescription opiates and benzodiazepines.

The issue is not about whether I am in immediate risk of using again. However, I find myself relapsing every morning to negative thinking – and this is certainly its own addictive behavior. It takes consciousness and the other elements of a morning sadhana to move me into recovery from this negativity. Yogi Bhajan had a quote about sadhana – you can feed your neuroses, or you can do sadhana and clean house. I can’t find the exact quote, but I paraphrased his words. Cleaning house is exactly what I feel in sadhana… and it gives the boot to my neuroses.

These days sadhana, and my immediate surrender in it and to it – is my first, and best, move. But it wasn’t always that way.

I come by resisting to surrender honestly

I grew up in a culture that relished and nurtured “control”. “Control yourself, Elizabeth!” was a command that went both spoken and unspoken. A certain look in my direction was enough to bridle whatever I was expressing.

Control at home (“we don’t want to see your emotions”), control at school (“sit quietly and listen… and be super careful about what questions you ask, if any”), control at the doctor (“be still while I give you this shot, or drill into your teeth”, etc.), control in sports (“get your body under control and make it work the way we need it to”), control in church (“do what we say the way we say it”).

There was really very little space for anything else. Control is – the opposite of surrender. Where control seemed to keep me ‘safe’ in the culture, it kept me a prisoner in my own body as I repressed my feelings and cordoned off my thoughts about my experiences.

Everyone else was resisting.

Why shouldn’t I? The concept of surrender was anathema to everyone around me. We are great mimics as children… it’s how we survive. Of course, I took on this story unto myself.

There is an ancestral component to resisting surrender

It’s part of our survival instinct to “fight”. And on the instinct level, we “fight”, “flight, or “freeze” just to survive a real or perceived threaten. It’s the most natural thing in the world. Can you imagine if we “surrendered” to the tiger chasing us? So, this resisting is hard-wired.

Also, as the amazing survivors that we are, we automatically say, “No!” to something new or unknown. This reaction helps keep us safe. It helps us survive, but it not so much to thrive. “No” is an important command to follow when appropriate, but not so much when we are trying to switch from learned unhealthy behaviors to new healthy ones, like in recovery.

Retraining our behaviors

We can take a lesson from Bruce Lipton and others and retrain the nervous system. We will probably still respond first with an instinctual (primitive brain) behavior of ‘resist’, but with consciousness, bring in the frontal part of the brain to mediate the situation. When we surrender, we are teaching the nervous system via the brain a new way to live. We are building a new neutral net, or highway, in the brain.

Now, here is the rub. The old neural net, the old behavioral ways, remain in the brain. It comes down to a choice of which net we are going to access and grow. I ask myself in any moment, “Am I growing the new neural net, building the new highway, or am I putting the old highway under construction again?”

7 Reasons Why We Don't Surrender in Chronic Pain and Why Surrender Heals Chronic Pain

Higher Power power

I remember being taught as a child that God was “out there’ and that “He” was both benevolent and wrathful. I figured that I’d better be a good girl or God would smite me. Now, as far as I could tell, surrender here was not an option, as I, a mere human, was already in surrender to God. I never or even conceived of the concept of “turning it over” until I came to The Twelve Steps and began going to Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous meetings.

Learning to bow

Then I learned about the physical act of bowing in kundalini yoga. I took a five-day course called “The 21 Stages of Meditation”. In it, one of the moves we did was eleven minutes of bowing on my knees. It was the humility stage. I realized that my weakest muscles were the ones I needed to do this movement. I was weak in humility and so I felt I needed to take a deeper journey into this powerful act of surrender.

After the course, I did this eleven-minute bowing as part of my sadhana for over 40 days. I go back to it time and time again. It is such a great reminder to me. I get the power structure straight every morning in sadhana when I bow. I turn the matter of Elizabeth over to this Higher Power. My goodness does this elevate me – I am resurrected by way of my surrender.  How incredibly powerful this is! I remain humble and more like a servant in the service of my Higher Power, rather than in the frequency of telling the Universe how I think it should be.

Chronic pain, let down, and surrender

As a chronic pain patient in recovery (with chronic pain being its own version of addiction), I am vigilant to avoid those behaviors which got me into chronic pain in the first place. The one I work on, the one that seems to hang around, is the negative thinking habit, so accentuated in every chronic pain sufferer I have ever met. The brain is so changed by chronic pain, that it gets a marked and deep negative bias. Recovering from chronic pain means working to clear that bias.

Chronic pain is a state of constant let down. We hope we will get better, and we don’t. The pain remains. It doesn’t seem like we can escape from it. Doctors, with few exceptions, seem to only know to medicate it, which only allows the chronic pain problem and its concurrent changes in the brain to grow. People are leery of being around someone who hurts all the time. This is my experience even when the person in chronic pain tries to hide their pain. So, we lose our friends. Isolation replaces our social life. There is more let down and more living in the frequency of addiction.

Surrender to anything – as a chronic pain sufferer – was the opposite of what I was going for. I was so scared to do anything except what I was already doing for fear that things would only get worse. I had to reach a literal rock bottom in my life to turn into direction opposite of resistance and fight into surrender.

Surrender – why it heals chronic pain:

  • We stop fighting and feeding the pain
  • We accept what is happening to us as fact
  • By giving up the fight with pain, the pain loses its power over us
  • As we release the resistance pain, the sensations we feel change to energy as we drop our story of “pain”
  • We find a way to live a life beyond chronic pain

Surrender – my best move in recovery

I learned to surrender to whatever I experienced in the present moment. It took some work since I had developed such a strong habit of resisting uncomfortable moments. Ultimately, this is how was a crucial part of how I healed chronic pain. I found that when I dropped my resistance to what I was feeling, I was no longer held in the grip of the feeling’s power.

This is how I learned to live beyond chronic pain. Contentment and peace grew inside of me. Releasing resistance to the uncomfortable has helped stabilize my recovery.  While surrender may not necessarily be my first move, in recovery it is my best move. And I keep learning the lesson of surrender one day at a time.

What are the times when you have found surrender helpful? When do you find yourself resisting surrender?