If you have not been very conversant with pain or find it a breeze, skip this post. My past couple of weeks have been a mishmash of physical and emotional tribulation. I have felt a little like a ping-pong ball at times, with one “player” being my current dental misery, the other being some family concerns. For a week of nights I succumbed to relief available from a prescription pain-killer for dreaded “dry socket” phenomenon. I have spent a lot of money on my teeth and had some unwelcome adventures. But is there any other pain like a dry socket? (Maybe an abscess.) I underwent a simple extraction (of which I have had a few) and it turned into a series of events that dominated all else. I don’t appreciate medication that deadens responses, provokes nightmares or an upset stomach. But in this case the ping-pong ball, that cumulative force of continual anguish, finally rolled to a halt. I got greatly needed rest.
But true respite–one that offers more lasting relief from the stress of pain or worries that impair equilibrium–arrives in other forms. If it didn’t, I don’t know how I would effectively live my life. Let me explain why, as well as how, I have learned a few effective helps.
I have had a chronic intestinal disorder since I was a child, often being doubled over by the pain, debilitated by nausea and cramps. I always knew where a bathroom was located. My life was many times curtailed by this although I remained mostly active and engaged in a variety of activities. It escalated until I was in critical condition and landed in the hospital by age twenty-one. I was unable to eat and was given sustenance via IVs, was stunned and frightened. Surgery was eventually considered an option; I refused a colostomy at thirty-eight. Medications had been used for decades with limited success. I became addicted to one of them and gave it up in the quest for better health. Then, in my fourth decade a new doctor suggested I might, among other diagnoses, be severely lactose intolerant. Had I ever been tested for that? I had not. After four weeks with no dairy it was as though my health was reclaimed. I gained critically needed weight (I averaged 100 pounds or less most of my life) while I avoided dairy. But that wasn’t to be the end of it. Many other foods as well as stress levels had to be monitored. Otherwise, I’d become ill though for shorter durations. The pain from having inhospitable digestion can feel unbearable. We have to eat to live, after all. But I have found ways to manage it, even surmount it so that food is no longer my enemy.
Coronary artery disease has varying pain levels. It is sometimes overwhelming, unpredictable, often nagging and sleep-depriving. Even with two stent implants (to provide a critically needed propping open of a major artery) there are moments when arrhythmias make my chest ache badly and I feel faint. Angina can cause an additional burning sensation. Hiking up even gradually steeper grades can create a heart rate that is so fast and hard I stop along the way, sweat pouring off me. But as long as my heart beats strongly, I have gratitude–even if I need to call 911 at times. I stay active (flamenco dancing is my newest thing) as it is healthy, but primarily I love being physical.
Headaches? Some last three to four days with unremitting pain, like an embedded thorn that refuses to be ejected. I enter and walk through this particular fog of pain many weeks each year. I had a neck injury years ago that has haunted me ever since with the addition of herniated discs. I get migraines occasionally, less so since I no longer work in an office under flourescent lights during long hours of counseling work. But I have learned to address all this with good results, too.
This does not cover all challenges this flesh presents me but I make my point. I haven’t inhabited the most serene and damage-free body, yet everyone has physical challenges at one time or another. We each have been intimate with pain. We know we’re born with nerves that send countless signals to the brain. Pain alarms warn us of trouble, draw our attention so we can help ourselves. Endorphins are released in an effort to lessen pain and support endurance. Our bodies are our allies, despite what we may want to think at times. They want us to feel better, to be strong, heal well and carry on the best we can.
The pain of emotions is not so dissimilar. An event occurs that brings sorrow, hurt, anxiety, anger. We experience it in the solar plexus, stomach, heart, aching muscles, or via nightmares and insomnia. We weep, cry out, limp through daytime and wrestle with darkness. But when we are in discomfort, our bodies and minds tell us we need extra aid to get on with life effectively. We’re built this way so we can experience life richly and deeply but also so we can develop coping skills that can be used whenever we need them. Nothing like having to learn something new; it is a relief to do so.
I developed PTSD at a young age due to trauma that was later compounded but it rarely distresses me. I am not disabled by it. I was as a youth. It is simply not true that we cannot heal from even many abuses; it requires time and openess to wellness, good help along the way. We can make new memories that are fulfilling and overshadow the old. I don’t feel like a survivor as much as a person who experienced some grave difficulties, then mended over time. I am rarely fearful, do not often experience distrust, harbor no bitterness (a tough one that took awhile), do not feel compromised. I know who I am. I realize the value of being alive. Forgiveness and self-acceptance are key. I am presented with daily opportunities to be present and authentic. There is, increasingly, an ever-embracing joy. At sixty-four, it is a pleasure to be here.
Human beings live through things that others may not think possible–until they experience their own dark hours. And discover otherwise. We each can strengthen our courage, acceptance and peace. The capabilities we have to repair our broken-down lives on any level are remarkable and eclectic. What has worked for me may not work for you. Then again, it might.
1. When physical or emotional pain digs in and holds on, I check for two things: Do I have the energy to address tasks? Do I have acceptable mental acuity, still? If yes, I stay in motion, remain engaged in my daily tasks. A body that moves defeats much distress, engaging all senses and resources. I have found that lying down grants me permission to give more attention to the discomfort. I then feel it more keenly, start to worry over it, find myself succumbing to it so I become disheartened. Even self-pitying, the question “why me?” haranguing me. Unacceptable. I can shed a tear or two but then it is over. It can be tricky for heart pain, however. I might need to come to a full stop to evaluate more, but I can discern when that time is. Otherwise, I keep going as I acknowledge it, then distance myself from it as I go on. Pain that worsens or changes tells me it is time to stop and rest, and at times to seek professional help. This is true for emotional pain that does not improve when I am ready for it to diminish. There is a time for giving all feelings their due. But a second opinion with helpful ideas can be very useful.
2. When I feel rest–even twenty minutes, which can be enough-is critical, I give in and allow myself to focus on the pain with the intention of accepting it, then gradually disabling it as much as possible. It is not a war, Me v. Misery. First I make it a friend, become an ally. I greet it benignly in my being and mind, locate the place of origin, grant it my kindness and respect. I let it know I am paying attention and will be there with it. Can I see what is beneath this stubborn torment? What is being taught with this? What have I failed to acknowledge or change? Emotions are often easier to identify (it has been my trade, afterall) than bodily sensations. The answer often comes to me but sometimes it remains a mystery. I allow my intuition to clue me in. Even if the answer is not enough, I engage in a partnered healing process.
3. I slow my breathing, seven counts on intake of air, seven counts on release of breath. I then seek Light, watch it appear. It is in the center of me, my deepest mind, in the velvety darkness that is both inner and outer space, both near and far. Right at hand. I pull this Light to the pain and let it simmer on the nerves, the ache, with tender warmth. It is a strange stew of discomfort and comfort initially. Then I envision the Light moving throughout my body, every bone, tissue and cell, eyelash to toenail, back to the center of my forehead. It spills over into my chest. The Light connects with my spirit. My soul realigns. Calms and frees me again. This Light is God, often Jesus, whose transformative prowess is unparalleled in my experience. I am clothed in Divine Love. I am safe from greater disharmony, ready to accept what is, yet open to healing. I ask for help. I surrender to the strength and wisdom of immortal love. My bodily and mental resources are refilled like receptacles with life-giving water. Rest comes. Pain dissolves bit by bit. I practice this as often as is needed. And get on my feet again.
4. Prayer. I begin the day with prayer, end it with prayer and during the day I speak to God with thoughts or spoken language. I praise God and this life I am given and wonders of earth. I seek guidance so the best of who I am can meet (perhaps aid) the best of who you are. I pray for others to find their way. Personal surrender of problems brings clarity and increased power for change. I believe in and have experienced God’s interventions countless times. I know we are not alone in this journey. Believe you are not, either, and find the eternal unity that is always there.
5. I seek serenity and caring. If something unduly disturbs or endangers me, if it seems to lack positive benefit for my well-being, I back away and choose another option. An exception is when my presence is needed to deal with a crisis. Then I take a moment to call on God’s wisdom, clear my thinking, perhaps brace myself. Yet it also can mean quitting a job or leaving a relationship or a town. It may be as simple as changing the station on the radio or television, vacating a deleterious scene, altering my direction. It likely includes doing what I love to do: creating something, exploring nature, talking with friends and family, reading a good book or magazine, sitting on my balcony and gazing at the Big Dipper and the moon, going on a walk (which cures everything, I say). But it also means giving less attention to myself and more to others. Ever notice how being focused on someone else’s need lessens your own discontent?
Human beings require one another for comfort, simple companionship, for inspiration and problem solving. For shared laughter. We gather together naturally, then we take time apart. There is an inherent, adaptable balance in human living as there is in nature. We determine what works for us, then make it the priority.
As I finish this, I think: all these words articulate only a smidgen of what works for my particular needs. Perhaps it comes down to each of us wanting to do whatever it takes to make life better. Our time on earth is short, indeed, but not too short. It was my childhood dream to be a positive force, to bring forward the luster of life. To love as God loves us, a big goal. But without this and an active committment to hope, earth living is unnecessarily complicated. Trying, exhausting. I know life will not be pain-free. And I cannot keep those I love from grief. But I can surround them with care as can, and no doubt do, you. Rise up and fight for whatever matters dearly but in the end, seek, accept and give ever more peace. Be alert to God’s power in even the worst moments. You will find passageway through the narrowest places, too.