What do we do when the pain won’t go away? How do we come into ‘right relationship’ with it? For the last 7 years, I have been dealing with chronic pain in my left hip and right shoulder. It makes it hard to sleep on either side (one side hurts the hip, the other side hurts the shoulder). Sleeping through the night without pain is a thing of the past. While I have done TONS to reduce my inflammation, heal my gut, and increase my immune system and overall health, the pain still interrupts my sleep and lifestyle.
Our natural reactions to pain are to pull away, push away, somehow move away from it. In fact, our whole nervous system is built this way to motivate us to move closer to pleasure and further away from pain. It is a built-in survival mechanism to emotional, mental and/or physical pain. As a child, I remember putting my fingers on the hot iron even after my parents told me not to. My immediate and natural response was to pull away from the burning surface. Fight, flight or freeze are our instinctual reactions to pain in a given situation and based on what we learned works best for us.
Over the last 7 years, I have tried many things to move away from the pain. Advil and Aleve were my daily companions along with nightly cocktails and lidocaine patches. While I was once an active skier, hiker, yoga practitioner, climber, and traveler, I began to dramatically limit the use of my body. It hurt to use it, so I didn’t. I checked my bag on flights and asked for help with the groceries from the store to my car. I did more sitting and less moving, which created decreased mobility, muscle loss, and less energy. It seemed like a big downward spiral.
What we resist persists. Resistance means that we want it to be different than it is. The more we focus on how bad it is because we want it to be different, the longer it hangs around and the louder it can get. I had a very limiting story tied to the pain in my body. It meant I had ‘failed’ or I was getting ‘old’. I told myself there was nothing I could do about it. I felt a lot of ‘resistance’ to these stories, so I would just keep medicating or ignoring the thoughts and feelings that were tied to the pain. Towards the beginning of this year, I got so frustrated that I went to an orthopedic surgeon and had a cortisone shot. It provided relief for a few weeks until I overused my arm again. I was doing the right ‘physical’ things but something was still missing for me to fully heal.
Then I began the inner work of listening to and honoring the pain in my body. Instead of seeing the pain in my shoulder as ‘against me,’ I decided to look at how it might be ‘for me’. Not just prices of having it, the payoffs of having it. This meant instead of resisting, wanting to fix, or push away the pain, I stepped into the experience with curiosity and allowed myself to feel it on a physical, mental, and emotional level. Here is what I discovered in focusing on my left shoulder:
· Physically, the pain starts as a sharp sensation. Then, it’s a spreading ache making my arm feel weak. There is an occasional burning sensation around it if I try to stretch too far, or carry too much physically, emotionally or mentally (love the metaphor).
· By limiting the use of my right arm, it has pushed me to use my left hand and arm which is directly connected to the creative and intuitive (right) side of my brain.
· The more I use my left side, the more I activate and strengthen the right side of my creative brain.
· I have never been as creative as I have since I had to start using my left arm and hand.
· Emotionally it has given me a reason to ask for help from others, making a space for them to give to me, and a new way to take loving care of myself.
· It reminds me when I have put in too many hours in my office chair, and when I have taken on too much responsibility that isn’t mine to take.
· It has given my husband and me a chance to reconfigure tasks between us so that we both feel supported and can give our best.
Instead of wanting it to change it, I began to embrace its value in my life. As the resistance dropped away, new solutions have come into my life to heal. I don’t think I would have even ‘seen’ these new options if I hadn’t let go of the resistance to what was actually happening. I’m so grateful that my body will always let me know what is and isn’t OK with me when I take the time and have the courage to go inside and ask.
How can you turn your pain into purpose today?
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