Reflections on Chronic Pain
I love this time of year – and what a wonderful spring we’re having! After the wet and stormy winter we’ve had it’s such a joy to see the trees laden with blossom, sunlight filtering gently through young light green leaves, the beautiful colours of the spring flowers and the birds singing loudly from all the trees. It really makes my heart sing – and when the sun’s shining too, it’s even better.
Walking through bluebell woods the other day made me reflect on my journey of healing that has led me to this point in my life. In hypnotherapy we often use metaphors to help create change; pain or illness can be compared to the wintertime – there’s no point in resisting or fighting it; if we accept it, life becomes easier as eventually winter passes and spring will come.
It’s taken me a long time to really let go and accept how much I had lost as a result of chronic pain.
My career as an OT which I loved, a good income, my home, my social life; not to mention how it affected my identity and self-esteem. So much sadness and frustration, so much loss…the life I had created for myself and my hopes and dreams shattered. There were moments when I felt like I was losing myself. At times it was very scary. During the most difficult times I spent much of my time alone – it was all too easy to get swallowed up by pain, sadness over what had happened and fear of the future.
For many years meditation had been my anchor for the day and this experience forced me to dive deeper into my practice in order to survive mentally intact. This tested me and I had to really put into practice everything I’d learned through years of reading and practising meditation.
In the Four Noble Truths, Buddha taught that illness, like birth, ageing and death, is an inevitable part of life.
Suffering however, said Buddha, is a result of craving and grasping; the nature of life is constantly changing, it’s our resistance to inevitable changes that leads to anxiety, stress and frustration. So while illness is inevitable – suffering is not.
I had no choice, if I was to survive, than to learn to just BE. Learning to be still, learning to be present, learning to be with my thoughts, my feelings and experience of pain, opening up to it moment by moment. All the while, and through it all, learning to just BE. I also asked myself throughout my day “how can I help myself in this moment right now? What can I do to help myself right now? What does my body need in this moment, right now?” Moment by moment, I made it my goal to release the past, to let go of how I thought things should be or ought to be, to let go of the future I’d planned for myself.
Throughout this time people often asked me “what are you going to do?”
How I dreaded that question! Generally in our society we define ourselves by what we do, rather than how we simply are. I remember reading somewhere once the quote “we are human BE-ings, not human do-ings” (apologies – source unknown). I was just learning to be.
I’m grateful to my dear friend Larry McCauley, who suggested I see my physical pain as a wound that needed love and care to heal. In the same way as you wouldn’t attack a wound you wanted to heal, I began to see my physical pain as a wound which must be treated gently, with love and compassion; listened to, not ignored; acknowledged, not rejected. And so, gently and gradually, I learned to love and accept all the different parts of me – including the parts of my body that don’t work so well. No more attacking, no more resisting, no more fighting simply what is.
I feel it’s important to highlight that acceptance doesn’t mean defeated resignation, simply an acceptance of what’s in this moment.
This frees up thoughts and energy for healing – thoughts and energy which were previously locked in resisting and fighting a never-ending inner battle.
Nor does acceptance mean not seeking to change things that we can. For me this meant an acceptance of what is in this moment and taking adequate care of myself; resting when I needed to, looking after myself with a healthy diet, gentle exercise and physiotherapy as I was able to, getting healing and massage, as well as, of course, lots of self-hypnosis/healing visualisation and meditation.
I acknowledge it’s an ongoing process but I’m more and more content to just BE….embracing each moment, whatever it brings. Content with stillness and, in a world where everything seems to be on the go, 24/7, that can’t be a bad thing.
At times it felt like a long winter, but after winter there is always spring…. with new growth and new beginnings. Sometimes the greatest gifts come in the arms of pain if we are willing to work with that pain and embrace it.