Pain Is Not A Life Sentence
Look, there’s no clearer way to put it: pain is a signal that something is wrong with your body.
Masking it with pills or shots is only going to prolong the problem. Your pain will simmer and smolder, just waiting for its next chance to flare up. If something hurts, it’s time to address the sticky root cause. This may take some digging to find, but the alternative is a self-imposed life sentence.
Don’t Be A Hero
Have you ever met somebody who seems to wear their pain like a badge of honor? As if having never-ending aches or injuries were a sign of success? It’s not. But too often acute pains become chronic, and we start to identify with our pain. 1
That pain begins to define our perception of normal, and life takes on a very different hue. We wake up one day and realize: I have a “bad” shoulder. Or hip. Or back. Then resignation sets in, and we accept that maybe we’re just not able to do the things we used to do.
That’s garbage. You aren’t stuck there. The truth is that healing from pain can take a long time. And recovery deserves that respect. If we muscle through the process, gloss over it entirely, or fail to address the root cause of our pain, then we’re doomed to repeat it.
Honor Your Pain
It seems like a strange idea at first. But pain (the sensation) is a good thing. It means your body works and wants to stay alive. Our perception of pain is where things get tricky. Don’t fall for the mistake of blaming your body for pain, or punishing yourself over it.
Be curious. Pain is a chance to learn about your body. To resume a dialogue with it. After all, pain is just a message. The way you interpret it is up to you. You have a choice.
In fact, a mindfulness practice has been shown to have analgesic effects. 2 The simple act of bringing conscious attention to your body is a built-in painkiller. You might ask yourself if you can explore the boundary of your perceived pain. Can you draw a line around it? What sensations do you notice besides pain? Can you feel the ground underneath you? What is your breath doing?
I want to be clear: getting out of pain is not easy. But living with pain is not normal. It’ll be the hardest work of your life, but if you’re stuck with ongoing pain, the best gift you can give yourself is to find a way out.
1, S Harris, et al., “Role loss and emotional adjustment in chronic pain,” Pain. September 2003. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/S0304-3959(03)00251-3.
2. JA Grant and P Rainville, “Pain sensitivity and analgesic effects of mindful states in Zen meditators: a cross-sectional study,”Psychosomatic Medicine. January 2009. doi: 10.1097/PSY.0b013e31818f52ee.