‘This is not about pain, its about my emotions. I see what you’re doing there, this is not about my neck, this is about my anger’. A book came into my awareness through a client maybe 2 weeks ago, Healing Back Pain: The Mind-Body Connection by Dr John Sarno. Pretty generic title. My client had been throwing out a few things, a few ideas and concepts from this book as she talked and pretty much every one of them shot right through me leaving wincing and saying, ‘yeech’. I read the sample on Kindle. And it electrified my whole body, in a terrible and exciting way. Just in the sample, I knew, ‘this shits about to get real’. I was feeling so much. I knew right away that I shouldn’t read this book at night or else it will interrupt my sleep.
I’ve been suffering from “chronic pain” since I was 23. It started (seemingly) from my job doing housekeeping and all the bending over and lifting I was doing. For 13 years I’ve been chasing the cure and or the solution. This pain has manifested in my spine, mostly. When it first started it was almost unbearable, it occupied a lot of my life. As a result, my life became EXTREMELY modified. The list of don’ts was a mile long and it dictated many of my choices including where I would work: NEVER a standing job, too painful. Since I was a teenager standing, sitting, walking brought on fatigue and pain very quickly.
I found yoga not long after the pain started as well as chiropracty. These were my lifesavers at the time and they didn’t always even work that well for me but I had NOTHING else. I still remember crying in pain in my living room, in college, just from being in “legs up the wall”. I was so crippled when this started.
At the age of 27 I found a recovery path, and things started to change, more than ever before. I discovered my trauma and how there was so much toxic energy trapped in my body. I saw a marked change in my body as a result of doing trauma. But it was not gone, just at a manageable place. I didn’t have to cry at the end of the day. And any of you that know me, know that I’m “built” for suffering. For striving and trying. So, this, for me was doable. ‘Smaller cross to bear, that feels right.’
Skip to today. Dr John Sarno is telling me that my body is not broken. The spine is not fragile. That this IS NOT A STRUCTURAL PROBLEM. That this is a MIND PROBLEM. That the combination of a certain type of personality (mine: perfectionistic, competitive, strong desire for recognition and approval, success-oriented, ambitious, great sense of responsibility, conscientious, and severely critical of the self) and a tendency towards narcissism and anger = systematic repression of emotions into the physical body masquerading as pain. So basically, because the emotions (mainly anxiety and anger) are judged as absurd, unacceptable, ridiculous they don’t even reach the conscious mind and a diversion is created rather than facing the emotion. Oh and by the way, we think it starts in childhood, ever heard of growing pains?? Or TMJ?? YEP! That started in high school! And the event I thought was the cause (dysfunctional back/lifting) was actually the triggering event! The straw that broke the mother fucking repressed-emotion camel’s back! AND HERE COMES THE ANGER. And I’m thinking to myself, I think this motherfucker might be right about the anger! I’ve been angry my whole life, I didn’t think I could express more anger! But guess what? There’s more! I’ve been leaning into this the last few days and I was been taken over by a white hot sheet of rage. I’ve been diverting my emotions for a looooong time. And I’m experiencing such a mixed bag. So overwhelmed with information, sensory and otherwise. The hope I always experience when I’ve found something new; another piece the puzzle. I don’t ever stop, I’m always moving forward. A hundred pieces of clicking into place. The things I’ve heard out of the mouths of idiots and sages over my entire life: “Mind over matter”, “All the answers are inside of you”, “You have the power to heal yourself”. And the things I hold true in my life and in my work: that trauma lies in the body. But this is coming to me now on a whole different level.
This brings me back to today and what I’m retraining my brain to do. That when the pain starts (and let me tell you, its all the time. It was/is overwhelming to start and see how accustom my body is to being in pain. And concurrently, how accustom my brain is to hiding my anger, ‘I mean, how much can there BE??’ Answer? ‘A fucking lot’) I spot it. And I say, ‘Hey, I see you there. We’re not doing that anymore’ or ‘This is not about my neck, this is about my anger’. The wild thing is, I am still this angry. Its taking me right back to childhood (the hurts and injustices) and all the things I’ve carried a torch for in this life. Like: the oppression of women and how far we are from ourselves, as a people.
I don’t think I could have known this before now. One reason I say that is because I believe I am just now able to stop doing so many things that bring me anxiety (TRANSLATION ANGER). One huge revelation that has emerged this year is: I don’t want to keep working like I’m working. Just this week I’m realizing how deep this goes. I don’t want to be a therapist. I don’t want to be regulated. I don’t want to restricted and bound to these rules that weren’t created by me. I don’t want to see someone every week. I believe the anxiety was trying to tell (what the anger was trying to say but I couldn’t hear): I DON’T WANT TO DO THIS, I CAN’T TAKE IT. I think the burden that is carried by me as a therapist (and others quite honestly) is unsustainable. Probably because it doesn’t recognize the autonomy of the other person. And my profession is not set up to recognize the autonomy of human beings. (God here we go…) Our world is not set up to recognize this. These are the things that I feel immense rage about! I think these are the types of beliefs that leave me believing that my BODY IS BROKEN. That I will always be this way. I see today that we truly are not conditioned to see how powerful we are. And I have lived this principal and perpetuated it to others.
One of the gifts I’m getting from this process is this: I plan to close down my practice when my lease ends in Oct of this year. I am going to drop my license and I will not practice psychotherapy. The vision I have for myself going forward is one of Healer. There is actually a law protecting these practices in Colorado, California, and Oklahoma. How bout that. Going forward, people will work with me on a short term and complementary basis. And I plan to take this with me wherever I go.
Dr Sarno says: no more restrictions, no more limitations, no special chairs, no more sitting a certain way, no more “don’t lift like that”, and no more physical treatment. That means rolfing, body-working and chiropracty, “-prescribing physical therapy contradicts what we have found to be the only rational way to treat the problem; that is, by teaching, and thereby invalidating, the process where it begins–the mind. Further, it had become obvious that some patients had put all their confidence in the physical therapy (me) or therapist and were having placebo cures, which meant that sooner or later, they would be in pain again” (absolutely true for me).
I started this today in my yoga class. I have many restrictions I had put on myself over the years, believing in my brokenness. Today, I did everything. I turned on my strong body when I needed to, activated the muscles I usually don’t. And I’m constantly talking to my body, retraining it. Fucking hopefully. Its hard to hope. Its hard to be excited. What if you see me fail? What if I’m wrong. But I don’t care, in the end. I’m doing it.And I cancelled my body work for the foreseeable. Until I can break the bind. Funny thing happened as I started to think it, ‘what can I do with that money?’. I’m thinking of the things that haven’t quite made it to the front. Like voice lessons.
I have more to say on this but I just have to stop. It feels like I’ve written way too much. It was very hard not to start this with a caveat. So for any of my dear ones that have made it to this line, here. I’d love to hear your reaction to what I’ve written. I’m not even sure of its coherence to someone that’s not me. But I was determined to bang it out anyway.