Thursday, November 1, 2007

Chronic Pain: Tormentor and Mentor

Pain was my abusive parent, and I was its intimidated child. My moments became consumed with trying to predict when another outburst would occur. The child learns to watch for the narrowing of the eye lids, the slow, methodical clenching and unclenching of the fists, the smell of gin saturated sweat. I learned to look out for an early morning feeling of bladder urgency or a mild sensation of abdominal pressure that would inevitably become a storm of wild horses rampaging inside my body by late afternoon. And like that abusive parent, pain taught me its rules.

One winter day, I lay stretched out on the bedroom floor beside the wood stove, wrapped in a green fleece blanket and stared out the skylight at a classic New England winter scene – blue sky rippled with white clouds and trees heavy with snow. As I tried to relax into this calming view, I began to feel the telltale signals of an impending spike in abdominal pain. Instead of curling up into my usual fetal position and sobbing, pain compelled me to stand and begin walking. After so many blows over the past nine months of living with chronic pain, my will and my fear were beaten down to the point where I was able to hear my body’s instructions.

I stood in the center of the room and started to walk in one direction. When I reached the far wall, I turned around slowly and walked very consciously and deliberately in the opposite direction. Each step measured only four inches, and I rested for three breaths before taking the next one. After completing thirty laps, I could walk in a straight line with my eyes closed.

I tried this procedure several times a day. As I paced, I focused on each micro-movement of my feet and noticed the subtle, shifting realignments that naturally happened as my weight moved from heel to ball to toes. I noticed the exact moment my foot made contact with the carpet and the tickly feel of the fibers along my sole. I noticed the exact moment my foot lost contact with the carpet and felt a soft pat of cool air.

At some point during each walk, I began to feel my essence dropping down from my mind to inhabit my feet. When this occurred, I felt no pain. My focus was so totally concentrated on the micro movements of my body in motion, that the pain was somehow eclipsed. I paced in this manner for hours at a time. Over the following months, I carved furrows in the carpet with my glacial walks.

My pain was not only my tormentor, but also became my mentor. It shouted when I strayed too far from the lessons it was requiring me to learn. And it quieted when I listened to its urgings. This was pain’s first teaching -- that I acknowledge my body. I had always thought of my body as a convenient suitcase, useful for carting around a collection of bones and organs. I was bound to it but was rarely inside it. Pain brokered these first authentic contacts with my own body – forcing me to move with it, to see it, to be in it.


therapydoc said...

Powerful stuff.

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Kathleen said...

This is an amazing post. Looking at pain as an abusive parent really puts a different spin on things.

An abused child either becomes like their parent or rises above the abuse to be a better person. Obviously you have managed to choose the higher road.

Is it silly that I sit here in tears after reading this? Thanks for the inspiration.

Sherril said...

Inspirational. Thank you.