On Facing Pain

I am going on year 2 of intense episodic back and leg pain. Well, to be fair, I am going on year 24 but there were many years in there where my life was not characterized by managing my back pain. Although, to be fair again, many of those years were characterized by surviving brutal monthly cycles with endometriosis. I had not realized just how much serious pain I have dealt with since I was a teenager until I was leaving my friend's acupuncture clinic 2 weeks ago and she said "Wow, you really have had some significant health challenges in your life, haven't you?" I don't characterize my life as such, but yes, I have had a lot to work through when it comes to inhabiting this remarkable earthly body. And the journey continues.

This article (linked below) came up in my feed this morning and I had that "so much YES!" response. There are many aspects to life in North America that just do not resonate with me and I often wonder "Why was I born on this continent?" I still have no idea because Europe has had a tug on my for the last 25 years for reasons ranging from ecological practices to healthcare to the simple practice of being more present to meal times, and more. As I read this article I realized another one. The doctor says to the author “Pain is a part of life. We cannot eliminate it nor do we want to. The pain will guide you. You will know when to rest more; you will know when you are healing. If I give you Vicodin, you will no longer feel the pain, yes, but you will no longer know what your body is telling you. You might overexert yourself because you are no longer feeling the pain signals. All you need is rest." 

I have always been hesitant to medicate my pain away, and have instead chosen to rest, to turn inward. When I was 16 and back pain left me splayed out on the field hockey pitch, never to play again, I was evaluated by a few doctors who were unable to give me any diagnosis for my pain other than "leg length discrepancy" (which was not helpful, but those docs did not have the understanding of fascia and soft tissue that we have today). As I lay in our sun room day after day, missing classes, camping trips, and field hockey practice, I kept my pain "under control" with almond sized pills, mostly Ibuprofen. After about 6 weeks of this I said "enough!" I was 16 years old and I should not be on that much medication nor should I be restricted from living a full life. Somehow (and it is literally still a mystery to me) there I was, a teenager in suburban Baltimore, Maryland with zero access to alternative health concepts, and I found myself an acupuncturist. Not only was she an acupuncturist but she was a Tibetan Buddhist nun. And she Rocked. My. World. 

I do wonder if those several months of pain killers are not what kick started my leaky gut, which triggered my celiac disease, which got the ball rolling on the endometriosis. Maybe? I will never know. But I do know that NSAIDS and opiates are not the answer for most of the ailments that most of us deal with. And I do know that we have a real problem in North America with facing our pain, facing what is uncomfortable. Why is this? Is it the deep generational pain that many of us carry from the origins of these countries? Is it the spiritual and human pain that we know in our cells from the way we treated the First Nations people? Slaves in the south? The way we STILL treat communities of non-white people? We have not dealt with our ancestral pain. Perhaps that has to do with our intolerance of so many varieties of pain we encounter in our current lives? I don't claim to have the answer, nor do I wish pain and suffering upon anyone. But we do need to stop medicating away our pain, of all kinds. My family is often marvelling at why I don't "just take something to manage the pain". Fair enough- they don't want me to suffer, just like I don't want them, or my own son to suffer in life. But they all will and I will and it is part of this wild, wonderful, brutal human experience. 

My heart hurts everyday for what I witness in the world and in the stories of pain and abuse and suffering that my patients share with me. I can't make it go away. My back hurts everyday and I am doing my best to let it lead me and teach me. I watch my young son express hurt and sadness over what he is experiencing in the world. This is a hard life and I fully realize that mine could be far more painful than it is. But I still have to push myself and those around me to face the question everyday: how can I be brave and not run away from or mask this pain? How can I let this pain teach me? 

I hope the deeper message of this simple NYT article permeates the psyche of hundreds of thousands of North Americans. We are indeed in crisis, hopefully a healing crisis, the other side of which will bring much balance. I hope.