For the last several blogs, we have discussed a lot about addiction. This week, I’m mixing it up by talking about an accidental addiction that has popped up in my life. Addictions can have many different causes, and sometimes we can cause addictions within ourselves.
During the years I was in constant pain, a lot of well meaning people gave me information and ‘helpful’ advice. My wellness coach was the only person who genuinely gave me some good advice about chronic pain.
The genuine advice from my coach was this: pain can become an integrated part of our identity.
The advice was so good that I never forgot about it. I just wanted to prove her wrong.
After years of agonizing pain, I was facing the prospect of neurosurgery on my lumbar spine. While waiting to have that consult scheduled, I tried another healing modality with massive skepticism, only to be completely floored by the results. I finally felt relief from my back pain.
My first thought was: Holy crap. It WORKED!
Something actually really worked! Cue the mental celebration and confetti.
My second thought was: Now what?
The next series of questions filled my brain as the panic mounted:
What in the ever loving fuck is wrong with me?
How many healing modalities have I tried now?
How much money have I spent trying to heal?
How many treatments have I tried to resolve this without surgery?
Why am I freaking out?
I was shocked to find a massive, mounting panic attack bubbling up.
My mind kept returning to the former desperation I had felt around my struggles to relieve the pain and now the pain was finally gone. So, why was I panicking?
After all, every conscious part of me did want to get my life back again. I was a world traveler, a skydiver, and enjoyed my former rigorous workouts tremendously. I wanted that life back.
My coach had been right when she said without mindfulness it’s easy to fall into the dangerous pattern of keeping yourself in pain.
Unknowingly, I had picked up another addiction: pain. I had become addicted to my pain.
As I reflected on my fear and panic, the answer came.
Slowly. Painfully. Almost like a whisper.
Who am I without pain?
In this blog, I am going to vary the definition of addiction just slightly. Addiction in this blog expands the definition to explain how I had laced my identity with chronic pain. I had adopted a mindset of pain and therefore, it was difficult for me to let go of the fact that I was in pain.
It’s important that you know I didn’t enjoy hurting or being in pain, and yet I was so used to it that I was scared when the pain was finally released.
When anything becomes part of our identity, it's hard for us to let go.
We can infuse many things into our identities: victimhood, pain, glamorizing stress from the shit job we habitually bitch about, even a romantic partner who claims to love us even though they treat us like shit.
When it's around long enough, we get used to it. We become… addicted.
Like a dark shadow on a sunny day, pain was my constant companion.
Everywhere I went, it was there.
Sometimes, the pain screamed.
Sometimes, the pain made me scream.
Sometimes, the pain lowered enough that I could enjoy small bouts of my life.
Sometimes, the pain bellowed so loudly that other parts of me ached.
Sometimes I was left desperate, bawling my eyes out, feeling a never ending sense of hopelessness.
Dear readers, I hope that none of you have experienced pain like I have. If you have, then I understand you and I hope you’re able to empathize with me while reading this blog. Hopefully, it doesn’t make you turn your head away and make you want to stop reading. Long term pain is terrifying to read about, nevermind live with.
For those of you who have experienced chronic pain:
What chronic pain do you consistently experience?
Is your pain constant?
Do you remember times when the pain ended?
What did you do to combat the pain?
Chronic physical pain is defeating, terrifying, overwhelming, and exhausting.
Every spike of pain has the potential to set your brain down the path of pure fear and hopelessness. The brain can manifest this pain and hopelessness with thoughts like the following:
Will the pain ever subside again? What if...what if it doesn’t this time?
How can I sleep when I hurt this much?
How can I get anything done if I only have 30 minutes of movement per day?
I can’t live like this anymore.
Help me. Somebody, anybody… please, make this go away.
Pain and fear love to play together; they’re the quintessential mean girl bff’s. They hold hands while stabbing us in the back.
Pain and fear can build on one another without reason. Those of us who suffer from chronic pain become acclimated to pain and fear, and because of this we often struggle to let go. The mindset that the constant pain and fear manifest becomes incredibly limiting.
Through my years of pain and disability, many people tried to tell me I could heal with my mind.
I wanted to.
I was ready to.
… but I just couldn’t seem to figure it out!
If anyone sent me a ‘helpful’ video of someone sharing their experience healing themselves with their mind, I would get insanely frustrated.
Then, I would get angry.
Not at the person sending it - okay, well maybe a little bit - instead, I was just so sick of all the ‘helpful’ advice that hadn’t worked for me.
Last fall, there was a week when no fewer than three people sent me videos of the same person: Dr. Joe Dispenza.
Dr. Dispenza has an incredible story of healing after an accident that paralyzed him, where he walked out of the hospital 9 weeks later, without surgery.
Super inspiring, right?
Well, the second time he was suggested I genuinely said out loud: OMG! I GET IT! We have the power to heal ourselves.
How about this: tell me HOW.
What am I not doing now that I can do differently?
I have tried like every-freaking-thing I can think of to improve my quality of life and ITS. NOT. WORKING.
By the time the third person referenced him I replied:
“Thank you. I can’t explain why but that dude is just pissing me the hell off right now.”
This MVP friend laughed and asked:
“Maybe this is crazy, but are you jealous? Not of what he’s built or his lifestyle or anything, but that he was able to heal himself when you haven’t yet.”
Ppppffffttttt. That’s the sound of the air coming out of my indigent balloon of anger and irritation.
Yep, I was jealous alright. I got angry because I was jealous of him. Which told me I really and truly wanted to heal, I just didn’t yet know how to let go of my pain. More on that later.
Once again, the time came for me to face some hard truths about myself. As with my other addictions, painful truths were a necessary part in resolving the pain and starting my journey of healing. I finally knew how to resolve the pain and I didn’t want it coming back!
Questions to ponder
Before answering the question of Who is pain-free Katie?, I needed to step back and answer some other questions. Now, I pass those questions on to you:
What was pain giving me?
Why and how did I incorporate pain into my identity?
What reward or incentive, positive or negative, did I give myself for being in pain for so long?
Why did I constantly return to this reward or incentive?
The answers I found are not things I do not take pride in. However, I am going to share them with you because I know I am not alone.
Hopefully, these resonate with you too and you can take steps to let go of your own pain. This includes letting go of emotional and/or physical pain.
Literally everyone I know has experienced emotional pain. It's a part of life. In my experience, emotional pain can be more addictive than physical pain.
Ready for my revelations?
First, I found that people didn’t hold me as accountable because I was in pain.
As an overachiever and someone who chronically overworked, it was incredibly difficult to accept that I had lost accountability due to my physical limitations.
Whenever I did something physical, like walking one mile, I was celebrated rather than scoffed at. If I managed to move for 20 minutes, even slowly, my friends and physical therapist applauded. “You moved, that’s fantastic!”
When someone reaches a level of pain where I was, those light activities should be commended.
For those who suffer or suffered from chronic pain, a big part of doing anything is the mere act of talking yourself into moving when every step makes you wince, or convincing yourself that doing your physical therapy will help, even when the act of doing so can be painful.
Another shock related to this was that I didn’t expect to enjoy not being held to the same accountability standard I once was.
Second, people gave me more empathy, and *gasp* even sympathy.
Again, this was surprising to me. I didn’t realize that any part of me wanted sympathy, or people’s pity. Yet, that’s what I found when I really dug deep, got incredibly honest with myself about the patterns that were keeping me in pain. I wanted people to acknowledge my physical state. I wanted special treatment. Basically I was saying “I hurt. Feel sorry for me.”
Third, being in pain made me feel more capable in the working world. Once I was functional enough to work again, I often thought: “Psh, I do double what they do and I’m in pain… they will never be able to deliver what I can.”
My addiction was fueled by the illusion of an easier way of life and feeling like more of a badass for what I could accomplish!
A double-edged sword if ever there was one. However, that’s often how fear works to hold us back. We get so caught up in judging ourselves rather than understanding the happenings within our mind and body.
Recognition and Awareness
Bringing awareness to an addiction is not enough to let go of the pattern. There are many similarities between letting go of an addiction like pain or victimhood and letting go of a vice like alcohol or recreational drugs.
Whenever we adopt a habit or a mindset, we typically keep it because we get a reward or incentive out of remaining in that state. If there was no reward, we wouldn’t stay in that state or continue the behavior. That’s Human Nature 101.
To help us identify what binds us to our addiction, we need support, and a safe space to untangle ourselves and what keeps us coming back for more.
Fear keeps you here
At the bottom of those questions, I found the fear that so often causes strife within us. That fear boiled over with more questions:
Would I still be good at pain management coaching if I didn’t hurt anymore?
Would I lose compassion if I get to a point where I forget what it's like to be in pain?
Would I become judgmental, scoff at those in pain while thinking “suck it up buttercup, life is hard”?
Will people in Corporate take me seriously if I resolve my pain without surgery?
Can I really improve my life without surgery?
After I broke through my pain, those questions fueled my fear and exacerbated my panic.
Logically, I knew resolving my own pain would make me a better coach, no matter how I resolved it. Hopefully no one will find me as frustrating as I found Dr. Joe Dispenza.
Who knows, maybe they will and they’ll find their own path.
After all, we all love stories and I’m here sharing my story to show you what is possible.
Maybe your current truth is that you believe you need a team of doctors to make you feel better. Or maybe that’s just the story you’re telling yourself because no one has given you permission to look at it another way.
Consider this your permission slip.
Once I understood the cookie I was eating with my former pain state, I could then look at who pain-free Katie is.
Who is pain-free Katie?
resolved her pain through a system.
helps others create their own stories.
laughs a lot more.
gets out more.
works in her yard.
has so much more energy.
What else would be possible in this pain-free state?
The sky's the limit my friends, and it can be the limit for you too.
Requirements to let go of addiction