Today I want to share about something that is very dear to me: Pain.
I sustained a pretty serious injury in 2013 which altered the course of my life in ways I could not have anticipated. It was at this point that the experience of profound physical pain entered my life and seemed to set up camp as a permanent resident. It was a demoralizing and deeply discouraging time.
It was a slow climb out of that dark pit of physical pain. I slowly began physical therapy and other body work in order to try to heal. What I didn’t realize at the time was, I wasn’t interested in healing: I was interested in “fixing”. I would “fix” my pain. I would “fix” my body and then it wouldn’t be a problem anymore.
I’ll reiterate that: I would fix my body so it wouldn’t be a problem anymore. Is this all my body was to me: a problem? This is not a very loving message.
So many times in life, we take this approach. Pain is uncomfortable and as soon as it hits, we panic. If it’s emotional pain, we distract ourselves or try to control all the variables in order to move away from the pain. Conversely, if it’s physical pain, we go into damage-control mode and frantically do those physiotherapy exercises we’ve been putting off or worse, ignore it completely and power through. We even do this in our relationships: someone we know is getting upset and instead of giving space for their feelings, we operate on autopilot trying to fix the problem instead of actually connecting. We need to connect; with our emotions, with our bodies and with each other.
The problem with “fixing” is that it can have a covert punitive agenda: the assumption here is that there is an inherent flaw which needs to be fixed. I have seen it numerous times with my clients and I have seen it in myself. We see our bodies as the perpetrator and we are the victims to the relentless pain signals being sent up to our brains. It is in these moments that we lose control and we desperately want to gain that control so we go into fixer mode. But what if we stop looking at the emotional or physical pain or conflict in our relationships as punishment and instead view it as neutral? None of these things are punishment. All are forms of communication to get our attention.
I remember one day I had been visiting my physiotherapist during a nasty flare up of pain and mentioned to her that when I experienced pain, I was surprised to see how hard my physiotherapy exercises had suddenly become. She was insightful and kind in saying, “Janet, it is because the muscles are in spasm. When you do the exercises you are working them harder when they are already working so hard. They are tired. They need rest.” I was floored and filled with remorse for what I was putting my body through. She guided me through a model of rest in order to get through these flares and remarkably, my body began to recover more quickly from the flares which became less severe and eventually seemed to disappear altogether. Through dedicated self-care, which included physiotherapy, massage therapy, structural integration, chiropractic care, acupuncture, reiki, naturopathy, osteopathy and various forms of emotional therapy and personal work, I have not suffered a flare in almost a year and my body and mind grows stronger as I continue to do the physical work and get appropriate care from knowledgeable practitioners who can help me when my own knowledge is lacking, (after all, sometimes self-care means asking for, and getting, help when we need it).
Rather than try to fix my pain, I leaned into it, (and it is my belief the same approach can be taken with emotional pain). I allowed the signal my body was sending up to inform me that it was time to pay attention and, in this case, rest. In altering my mindset, I was able to love myself in a way I hadn’t been able to previously and in so doing, allowed space and time for my body to really heal. In becoming friends with my pain and connecting with my body, I learned to love myself.
I’ll end with a beautiful poem by the gifted poet, Nayyirah Waheed:
-Janet Bueckert, B.A., RMT