I am laying down on a rug, because it’s to painful to stand or sit down, when my son crawls into the other room. Getting up has been sending sharp shooting pains through my lower back so I figure crawling after him might be easier and quicker. As I’m crawling I notice it doesn’t hurt as much when I move my legs. So we crawl around the room together and make our way back to the rug.
It feels so good to be able to move my legs after several days of feeling constant agonizing pain. This is the most excruciating physical pain I have ever felt, my wife had sciatica pain last year and she said it is more painful than labor pains.
If you are reading this you are probably in pain, so how can we get some immediate relief from the pain? An insight came to me as I was crawling on the floor: it’s that I have spent the past few days furious that I am in pain again and grieving the loss of mobility and feeling powerless to find any relief despite years of healing work.
What if instead of narrowly focusing on what I can’t do, I shift my attention and action to movements that I can do pain free?
What I did is slowly and gingerly see which movements and stretches I can do pain free, I did these slowly while breathing deeply (in through my nose and out through my mouth) and flexing the muscles in my back buttocks and legs. While doing this I did my best to focus on and be grateful for what I can do instead of being angry and frustrated with what hurts. These exercises brought me at least a 60 percent reduction in pain in as little as 10 minutes, and about a 60 percent increase in pain free mobility.
You might be asking what specifically are the exercises? It doesn’t matter, I made them up, move your body and if it hurts stop, and then try moving some other way until you find something that feels good. Roll around, rotate, try on your back or stomach or side, lifting, raising, flexing, pushing, pulling, being still, whatever you can do that feels good do it now. If some movement is painful right now, acknowledge that this is so NOW, and do your best to stay out of a doomsday story where you are telling yourself you are going to be in pain forever and not be able to do anything fun ever again. In other words stay out of the future and the fortune teller business, and stay present and be open to the possibility that the next moment might be entirely different.
My understanding is that pain is our bodies’ way of protecting us, it’s an alert or alarm system that works fabulously at getting our attention.
It can be helpful to view pain similarly to a check engine light or a smoke alarm, these signals get our attention so we can act BEFORE major damage is done. So do your best to feel grateful for the pain, thank this amazingly dutiful and reliable guardian. Appreciate it for alerting you to a problem that if you deal with now will prevent a bigger problem that will hurt a lot more. Do you really want to find out the hard way that it can hurt or feel a lot worse if the signs are ignored?
This is my fourth bout of this sciatic back pain, the first time I was in my early twenties and it took 2 years before I felt back to normal (remember the saying “a pain in the neck”?), the second and third time it lasted thankfully only 2-4 weeks. The second occurrence was 15 years after the first and by then I had experienced enough seemingly random or hard to understand pains and injuries to suspect the root cause was stress, and this time the stress of my failing marriage.
I was certain there was nothing physically wrong with me.
I searched the Internet for a solution and two books came up, one would take a day or so to arrive and the other was an audio book I could download and listen to immediately. I choose the download and started listening to Healing Back Pain the Mind-Body Connection by Dr John E Sarno.
After about 2 hours of lying there listening the dots started to connect and the realization that all the painful “injuries” I suffered through over the years have coincided with stressful events – financial worries combined with a fear of being abandoned and rage that I’m in this seemingly helpless predicament – again. So lying there listening I have the thought that this pain is ridiculous and I’m not going to be fooled into believing I am physically injured anymore. I get up and go for a mostly pain free walk around the block. This would have been unthinkable a few hours ago, the pain was to much.
After the walk I’m feeling some relief and hopeful, I lie down and continue listening to the book. A bigger picture or alternate history of my pain is emerging and I’m having huge aha moments. After a couple more hours I get up and go for a much longer mostly pain free walk. Now I’m hooked, and the realization that my mind and body are connected is really sinking in. I finish that book and his second book and do all the homework and within a few weeks the pain is completely gone.
The “homework” I do is to ask questions: what life situation am I not dealing with? What stressors have I resigned to suffer with? What is the pain keeping me from doing? Are the activities I can no longer do coping mechanisms that were helping me stay stuck in the stressful situation? There are strong feelings, usually rage and grief that I haven’t acknowledged or felt fully. So I ask how am I feeling right now? How have I been feeling lately? I write whatever answers come to me on paper and usually after a page or so I find there are feelings I wasn’t aware of, or the feelings are a lot stronger and I have been repressing them.
My understanding is that the paper helps to carry the weight of whatever I’m going through (I much prefer this to taking it out on my back), and to help me feel the feelings instead of stuffing them and having them materialize later as pain or dis-ease. Also In addition to stopping us in our tracks the pain serves as a crutch, without the pain we might feel rejected or abandoned or some other feeling that we are terrified of.
The physical pain is easier to bare than the emotional pain.
I shine some light on my unconscious feelings by asking what are my beliefs or thoughts about my current stressful life situation? What do I believe will happen to me if the situation continues? What I find is there is a future doomsday scenario that I am clinging to as inevitable. Usually the story is some variation of: I will go broke and everyone will leave me and I will be homeless and alone and miserable and eventually die from being unloved and unlovable. I can override this programming by first becoming aware that it is only a story, one of many possible outcomes. The awareness comes from being present – the story is about the future – and when I do something that brings my attention back (again this word, very interesting?) to the here and now the future story and the worry and anxiety about it disappear.
So how do we be present? Meditation, being in nature, exercise, practicing our passion, or a combination of all of these work for me. Rather than trying to reinvent the wheel I suggest finding a teacher that can guide you to your own path for healing. So how do you find a teacher? When I was ready a teacher appeared, and then another, and another, and another, and the teachers keep arriving every time I am ready to change.
One of the biggest obstacles to healing pain can be our belief system, I believed in modern medicine and that a cure could only come from a doctor or hospital, either drugs or surgery or similar intervention. In my belief system there were keys that helped me get out of the box I had locked myself in. One key is the placebo effect, this accepted and proven part of modern medicine says that an idea or belief can heal us, a powerful suggestion can have a powerful effect on our bodies. For me this was the key that released me from the bondage of continuous suffering. I was able to expand the idea of the placebo to all my beliefs and to turn it around and accept that a negative belief or suggestion could harm the body. So do you have a “placebo” that can unlock the chains for you and open the door to healing?
What if there is a simple experiment to test if pain is “real” or mental/emotional?
What if someone who is in pain were to suddenly find themselves in a life or death survival situation that required them to run away, jump a fence, climb a tree and lift heavy objects? Would the pain suddenly vanish and then return after the crisis has passed? For me there is a safer test, I have found it doing something active, usually exercise, with a group of people that I feel welcome and safe with.
Sometimes before my Kung Fu class I feel pain and or tired and then once I am in class and start moving and socializing I often forget about the pain and feel energized. And whereas sitting at work for a few minutes might have hurt and maybe seemed intolerable, I can sit with these folks for an hour or more and might only feel mild discomfort or feel super excellent.
Why the difference? When I feel pain what are my thoughts? Am I doing something I love and feel passion for? Do I feel supported and welcomed in my environment? Am I wishing I was somewhere else doing something else? Am I fighting or putting off doing what my heart desires, if so what is stopping me? Regardless of what the answers are help for me comes from being aware of my internal conflict. Then asking what small easily achievable step can I take to move towards being at peace and feeling calm and joyful?
You might be asking why does this pain keep reoccurring?
I certainly have asked this question, and the answer that makes sense to me is that each occurrence has the same underlying pattern. There is a life situation that I am uncomfortable with and uncertain of how to live with, and so I pretty much ignore it or tell myself there is nothing I can do except to resign to hopeless suffering. I find there is a story that I am unconscious of, the story I am telling myself is that really bad things will happen as a result of this life event. For example the story might be that I am short of money or in conflict with someone and this will lead to eviction or separation and that I will have no friends and nowhere to go and that no possible good will come out of this scenario.
Unquestioned our stories are very scary and seem inevitable, the truth however is very very different. In reality every loss of money or divorce or death or pain has taught me a valuable lesson that has opened me up to more good than I ever imagined possible. Every event that seemed terrible at the time has turned out to be a blessing in disguise or an opportunity in work clothes. The key for me is to become aware that I am following a fictional script, and to shine some light on this made up story and see if it holds up to some examination.
One of the things my adviser asked me to do during my divorce was to write down my relationship history and make lists of all the similarities and differences of all the women I have been with. We went over these lists together and patterns jumped out at me, and the question was why do I keep doing this to myself? Why do I keep repeating the same mis-take? The simple answer is I was unaware. Now that I am aware I can change my behavior and make a different choice that has a chance of leading to the outcome I want.
With back pain my work is to recognize the early onset of stress and if I start to feel like I can’t do this much longer this is my cue or the signal to do something different. I can start by writing down the story and questioning it, in a gentle loving way, and hopefully go through this life situation pain free while feeling calm and at peace and moving closer to enjoying and welcoming all of life.