Pain: Stages of Deepening Awareness and Growth

NASA chaos in Orion 162283main image feature 693 ys 4

Pain is a great teacher, maybe the best. It plunges you into exploring and confronting yourself more deeply.

But, first you have to get past anger, entitlement, self pity, frustration and sadness. When those bring neither relief nor solution, you must move beyond them into new realms.

* pix credit below

First, I think you move into grief at the loss you are experiencing, both real and fantasy.  

  1. Pain may limit your physical ability to function. You grieve that loss.
  2. Pain saps your energy. You grieve the loss of your vitality.
  3. Pain can hamper or disturb your most simple activities, like turning the handle of a door or rolling on your side in bed or accepting the hug of a child. You grieve those losses and are humbled too.
  4. Pain can reveal your false fantasies about people you thought would provide help, understanding and compassion. You'll grieve the loss of the people you thought they were as you cope with the reality of who they are.

All these sources of pain stimulate you to grow.

Beware of anger that leads to bitterness or vengeful thoughts.  These only serve to poison you and create more pain.

Second, is acceptance of what is. 

  1. Let yourself discover what you can do.
  2. Let yourself discover the wonder of your flexibility and resilience as you creatively find new ways to physically function.
  3. Accept as real what you learn about people who cannot support you.
  4. Let your heart and soul be warmed as you learn the sources of the actual  help, understanding and compassioin that comes to you.
  5. Delight and take pride in how you can use the strength and abilities you still have.  
  6. Appreciate your situation and provide yourself with what you need whether it be gifts of time and energy from friends, family and associates, paying for more services, simplifying your activities and caring for yourself well according to your present needs. 

Third, consider what these learnings mean to your perceptions and the way you live your life. 

In the discussions and comments on the learning from pain article, a theme involves about asking for help. Yes, communicating your needs is important, especially if you've led people to believe you are indomitable.  Yet, care and comfort is only part of the learning.

I went to two different orthopedic surgeons for consultations when I first broke my shoulder. Both agreed I did not need surgery, thank goodness. But there was a huge difference in their approaches.  
The first was a gentle, caring grandfatherly man who offered me tenderness and comfort.  He also gave me a new and cushy sling to support my arm and take the burden off my shoulder.

The second was a much younger, kind of "hip" man.  The first thing he said was, "What"'s"with the sling?"

I went with the second doctor and took off my sling.  The point was that the sling would deliver comfort, but it would freeze my arm making a return to full range of motion a more difficult and painful procedure.  He said, in answer to my naive questions about protecting the broken shoulder, ""You'll know what movements aren't right for you." He also showed me some simple movement exercises to do immediately. The exercises hurt. But I found my limits and did the movements as far as I could tolerate the pain.

Interesting, isn't it?  Pain is a teacher, yes. But what is it teaching? Pain is a signal, and it's up to us to figure out the meaning of that signal.  Stopping pain immediately provides no learning. We miss the lesson.  

Now, it's possible that some pain is so overwhelming that major pain reduction is required at first.  I'm not suggesting that you go through surgery without anesthetic.  I also believe that a person should be given as much relief as possible when suffering from anything akin to horrific war wounds like automobile accident injuries or cancer.  Such relief may also help avoid dangerous shock to set in.

Happily I can report that each day, as I attempt to do all I can but not more, I can feel more strength and mobility. And yes,my shoulder tells me quite clearly what my limits are. Healing, so far, is gradual and steady. I feel pain most of the time and have learned what is okay, what is not, what is a signal for rest, what is a signal for changing position or needing heat.

Being the person I am, I look for the meaning in the metaphor.  
How does this process relate to 
  1. emotional pain?
  2. psychological pain?
  3. spiritual pain?
  4. What is tolerable?  
  5. What are the limits?
  6. What do the signals mean?
  7. How do you and I respond to emotional, psychological and spiritual pain?

When is the pain a signal for 
  • doing more?
  • doing less?
  • doing different"?
  • rest?
  • activity?
  • more environmental support?
  • new nourishment?
  • a new alignment in life? 
Pain can be a forced meditative retreat if you get past steps one and two and into three. I've been in grief since the death of my dear and beloved friend and mentor, Hedda Bolgar. And then comes my fall. And then comes the responses of care and lack of care from the people around me. Then come the lifting of fantasies from my perception. The I get to see where I actually am in my life.

It's a time, a gift, given to me by pain, to evaluate where I am, what I want and where I'm going. It's a time to pay attention to my energy, where I use it well, where I drain myself, how I build and how I can nourish myself to even greater energy for my passions. It's about doing some things less, some things more and some things different

This will be the topic of my next post in this little series on learning through pain. I'm coming to think of this experience as a timely gift.  I hope you can grow from it too.  

Please let me know what touches you in any way as I proceed.  So much about eating disorders is about flight from pain and suffering.  We talk about the eating disorders and ways to cope.  This is the first time I'm talking directly about the pain and suffering. It seems to me that this is far more important than techniques and devices for eating disorder recovery.  

Recovery is about not needing the eating disorder.  Not needing the eating disorder is about, rather than feeling pain and suffering,  being able to tolerate and learn from pain and suffering.  Then we can become wise, better human beings and happier in our relationships as we move toward what is really important to us.

* Chaos in the Heart of Orion, from NASA  


0 # beyond the resistanceshh 2013-07-22 15:31

I read this article a few times at different points during the day, feeling like I should have a response, but not having one because of what I eventually identified as some kind of resistance, holding me at a safe distance, at a place where I didn't have to engage with that is written - I could read the words, but not take then in deeply to a place where processing them acts as a catalyst, releasing my own thoughts and experiences, and that's what I did, just read them in a shallow way and let them go again.

I pondered about my reluctance to allow myself to "go there", after all I am physical pain on a daily basis, it's not like I can't identify with that.

My pain is the pain of relapsing so badly and regaining so much weight so quickly through ED behaviours, that my joints just can't cope, my knees and feet are especially bad. And you would think "if you're in so much pain, why don't you do something about it, you know, start losing some weight?" - I think it myself all the time! and the answer seems to be that if I stop doing the things that have led me into this physical pain, then I would have to deal with the psychological/emotional pains that the ED behaviours and physical pain are shielding me from.

About an hour ago when I first decided I would push past this resistance, I didn't even know what the pain I was avoiding was about, but the first sentence that sprung to mind was "to avoid having to feel like a failure", I kept on beyond this, and wrote a list of the things that would really bother me right now if I would stop eating and allow them to

  • I'm not a good enough partner/ex-wife

  • I'm not a good daughter

  • I don't know how to help and support my girls through their father's gender reassignment

  • I'm not the mother I used to be, I don't have as much time for my girls as I used to, and I think the effect is noticeable

  • My house is a mess, needs going through and cleaning and de-cluttering from top to bottom

  • I'm always behind with my uni work and feel like I could well fail my exams in Oct if something doesn't change

  • I don't have an established career/don't earn enough money

  • I'm not a very good friend at the moment

And what I realise is that a lot of the above go in pairs and create double bind type situations:

  • When I say or do something that is supportive of my ex's gender transition, I feel like I'm being insensitive and unsupportive of how my girls feel, and vice-versa

  • When I spend time on uni work I feel guilty that I should be doing housework, and vice-versa

  • When I contemplate getting some part-time work to supplement our income I feel guilty that I don't spend enough time with the girls, but when I'm with the girls I feel guilty that we don't have enough money to do the things they want to do

  • When I accept social invites I feel guilty that there's so much else I should be doing instead, but if I constantly decline them I feel like a bad friend

And I realise that I do try and sit in the middle and do enough of each thing to "keep all the balls in the air", but actually, I'm failing at every single thing because I'm either dropping half of the balls in order to keep the others up, spreading myself too thinly and not keeping the balls high enough in the air.

I've sat with each thing and asked if it's really as bad as I think? am I being too hard on myself? but unfortunately the answer is yes, I really am failing or on the verge of failing at everything, and I'm not really sure of a way out of it, which is why I'm still using my ED behaviours to cope and get by enough.

I'm not really sure where I go next with this!










0 # This onePTC 2013-07-22 18:26

Beware of anger that leads to bitterness or vengeful thoughts.  These only serve to poison you and create more pain.

I need to keep that one in mind.  I recently got rid of two people I use to call friends.  Honestly, I hate them both at the moment, one more than others.  Both disappointed me greatly.  One lied.  I shouldn't be surprised that she only has 1 friend, the one she met through me.  I wish ill will on her.  I want to whack her with my field hockey stick.  She is a vengeful person and what she did was not cool, to say the least. 

I know none of that really makes sense because it would take too long to go into details, but I hate her and I want bad things to happen to her.  I have anger, a lot of anger.  My therapist said today, "Wow, you never swear."  I did today when talking about this person.  She, and  the other one, make me angry and I have vengeful thoughts.  I hate them. I know hate is a strong word and I shouldn't hate anyone, but I do.

One of these girls I was friends with for 5 years.  She took care of my cats when I wasn't here.  She said NOTHING when I had to put my cat to sleep 3 weeks ago.  Not a word.  That didn't help me hate her any less, I'll tell you that much.

0 # thinking about itJackie 2013-07-22 20:33
I think of these things also when I allow myself to roam around in my head.

I can relate to what you said Shhh. It's the perception of failing and being found out that drives some of my avoidance behavior. It's eating everything and then waiting for my pants to catch on to what I have been doing to myself.  I'm failing. I'm not doing well. I can't manage. What will people think. But the whole time I'm having this conversation in my head, I forget that people can actually see me struggling and some of those people chose to love me anyway.

My twenty-seven year old daughter (a student of Tibetan Buddhism) recently reminded me that whatever the problem is, it is just a moment that is passing. We are in it and if we don't move, it passes us by. We can watch it pass. It doesn't have to take us over and we don't have to stay stuck in that moment. I think it's a good thing to remember. I wish I could remember this when I am in such moments when I am feeling something fearful or unpleasant and I wish to escape. The moment is escaping. I don't have to go anywhere. I'm okay where I am. I can just stand there and breathe.

I finished my project and I should feel a sense of relief, but mostly I feel tired. I feel a little bit fearful too, that I might have made a mistake or that somehow I will be used as an example in the future. Meeting with my friend/coworker who was unkind to me, I decided not to react to what she did and just be.

She said something and started the momentum for a situation that created a great deal of hurt and fear in me. She took her personal frustration from an unrelated event out on my situation and turned me in to my new boss for being behind. My new boss called me at home before I got out of bed and tried to reprimand me, but I was farther along in the project from where my coworker lead her to believe. I was almost finished. There wasn't much she could say, but she said it anyway.

 I hope that my coworker/ friend spent the same amount of time trying to undo what she said to my boss today after I turned the project in. She was talking about the positive points she was going to make to the boss on my behalf. However, she didn't say she was sorry. I took the spin she was creating to be a type of apology. I say spin away if it changes the perception she created about me. I have to let that go now.

Yes, I created the problem by falling behind. I have many valid reasons why it happened, but I didn't make a plan, create a structure or ask for help. I tried to hide what was happening as the snowball was growing. I tried to hide it from myself by avoiding how I felt about it. But, I couldn't hide it. That annoying part of me just kept punishing me for it. Even though the punishment was unkind, I continued in my pattern of punishment and escape. This is true for every area of my life.

I don't know how this plays a part, but I care very deeply about doing things well, yet I manage to behave in such a way that is contradictory to what I believe. This goes way back. I want to change this.

What I think I learned this week-- is that one way I can help myself-- my work life and my family life is by creating a structure to live in. I have no structure. I exist in space and try to survive. I'm not living. I'm not doing the things I want to do. I'm in my own way. If I had a structure for living, things might get better.

I'm sure I'll have more on the subject tomorrow.

0 # and this PTCJackie 2013-07-23 05:49
PTC  I'm sorry to read about your cat's death. There is never a good day to lose someone you love. I lost my cat after seventeen years with her. Our pets go through everything with us and still look forward to seeing us each day--that's true love. As for humans, some of them are not good for us.

Grief is full of powerful emotions. The only advice I can give you is to rest well. Make time for resting every day even when you don't feel tired.  Also, being a silent observer will help you too. I was very vocal and sometimes furious with people for their behavior in the deepest point of my grief after my son died. Furious to the point of rage. I can't get those moments back. I can't undo how uncomfortable they made me in my own body. I can't take back the hurt I caused others. I can't even sort out whether or not I was justified in my behavior. I think I was. But I might have handled it better, and if I did, I wouldn't have to question myself.
0 # Hi JackiePTC 2013-07-23 13:35

Thanks Jackie.  I had her for and she was my baby.  I still have her brother, who I obviously love to death, but she was my little squisher. She sat with me all of the time, on me, slept on my head at night.  I miss her. :sad:   I give her bro IV fluids once a week because he has kidney disease.  He needs to stick around a little longer or I'll lose it.  He's doing least as far as I know.

Thanks Jackie.

Laura R
0 # Hugs to you, PTCLaura R 2013-07-23 22:12
RIP little squisher. Sending good thoughts to bro kitty. He's lucky to have such a good kitty mommy.
0 # Thanks LauraPTC 2013-07-24 17:46
Thanks Laura.  I miss her. 
0 # feelingsmylifex2 2013-07-24 19:52

Writing about feelings and pain is much more difficult than writing about ways to cope.  Listening to my pain and learning lessons from and through pain can also be daunting when I am always running from the feelings.

When I was recently left immobile for several weeks due to a herniated disk in my back, I had a lot of time to be still and "listen".  My eating habits were more pronounced because I was acutely aware that whatever I ate would not be burned off as easily as when I can get around.  Despite the knowledge that I should make better decisions about what I was eating, I found myself with a 20 lb weight gain in 3 months.  

I had a lot of time to sit with various feelings, both past and present. Some of my most pressing feelings are those of insecurity, fear, self-loathing and regret. The weight gain didn't help any of these.

I have constant chatter in my head telling me that I'm not as good as other people, that in fact, I am much less than. I constantly feel self hatred because I feel that I have no self control in regards to my eating and fear that dieting will lead to severe restricting. I have been all over the place with my weight. While I was laying on the couch hurting physically, I was feeling regret over how fat I was getting and how sad I was because I couldn't get to the gym, even if I wanted to.

I have had to face feelings of letting my kids down. The back pain and the weight gain have gotten me so sluggish that I don't want to do anything adventurous. We have season tickets to a theme park and have yet to go. I feel like a bad mom. I feel fat, so I don't take them to the pool. I feel like a bad mom. I am uncomfortable in the church auditorium seats, so we don't go to church. I feel like a bad mom. I feel too embarrassed to let the people at the gym see how much weight I've gained, so we don't go to the gym. I feel like a bad mom.

I could go on and on. I feel like I have recently turned a small corner, however.  Like you, Shh, I can relate to the tired body, sore knees, etc. The horrid heat and humidity on the east coast has made my joints ache. My feet are sore and my ankles are swollen.

I am finally listening to the pain. I am cutting back on the junk food and trying to eat more healthy. I know that I will feel better if I get some of this weight off.  So I am working on it. I don't want to talk numbers here, but I have lost a few and heading in the right (healthy) direction. 

0 # When it rains, it poursmylifex2 2013-08-10 17:52
So just as I am healing from my back injury, I develop more health problems. I have been experiencing a lot of generalized weakness, shortness of breath, leg pain, and very swollen ankles. 

I put off going to the doctor for too long, as always. I ended up in the emergency room a few nights ago and it seems I may have some cardiac issues. I will see a cardiologist Tuesday. 

I am so frustrated over all of these health issues. I have missed a lot of work. Thank God my bosses are very understanding. Thank God I have been with my company almost 20 years. 

I am thinking about what I am learning through all of this.  I don't really know. I guess I will have more to digest if the cardiology appt gives me bad news. 

Of course, I would be angry with myself, wondering if all my years of starving, binging and purging, etc., landed me here at such a young age (44). 

I am really scared right now. I tell myself right now that I will stop all that madness and take care of myself.  But will I ? I hope for my girls I would. Is this the "scare" I need to get my act together and do what's healthy ?

I pray I'm not going to learn the hard way.
Laura R
0 # Sorry TracyLaura R 2013-08-11 08:59
Tracy - so sorry to hear about your ER visit. I hear your fear and frustration. It is hard to manage multiple medical issues and not get discouraged. I know every time I acquire something new I get a little mad then scared, and I then wonder if I caused it or could have prevented it.

Even if you if you find out that what's going on is related to ED, I hope instead of being angry with yourself (can't change what happened), you will be gentle and kind and take care of yourself. I believe in you. One baby step at a time.

One of my friends always tells her two year old, "being brave means being scared and doing it anyways". I think that speaks well to any kind of recovery.

0 # Thinking of you Tracy!shh 2013-08-11 14:57


I'm sorry that you are having to go through all this, I hope the cardiac issues turn out to be relatively mild - I'll be thinking of you on Tuesday.

I love Laura's friend's words about being brave!

I'm sure whatever happens Tracy, the love you share with your girls will be a great source of strength.

sending lots of hugs!!!


0 # ThoughtsJackie 2013-08-12 15:41
I'm back from vacation. I've had an unusual day. At dawn, I decided I was done with this eating thing. I had complete confidence in myself. I started the day by listening to the Ted talk on vulnerability that was on Joanna's fb page. I read a quote about choosing how you react to something. Then I went into work. I had an unexpected meeting with my new boss where I was offered a position in another building. I was shocked on the inside, but I knew that when I walked out of her office that I would take the other position. In my mind, I was given the opportunity of a door. A fresh start. 

If I stay, she will attempt to destroy me. I don't think she is worth the effort of fighting back. I'm a strong woman, but I don't need that in my life. I'll take the opportunity.

Two years ago I asserted myself as a parent of a child with special needs. My new boss was the administrator responsible for coordinating my child's 504 plan. It was two months into the year and her services had not been started. I spoke with her regarding this in person. I was polite. She told me that it was due to the fact that my child did not have a green light next to her name in the computer. My child is physically handicapped, you can't really overlook her. I waited three more weeks and heard nothing. I went over her head and asked for assistance from my big boss.

Apparently, my new boss still resents me for that.

I had every right as a parent to expect action. This however, took place during my time of great pain and grief. I was new at asserting myself and easily annoyed by the shortcomings of others. I don't know if I handled it properly then, but it seemed like the right thing to do at the time. I didn't yell, I just asserted myself in writing and I received action. 

Today, I handled myself properly. I was calm. I didn't react. I didn't mention the past. I talked about my strengths and I asked meaningful questions. I watched myself from a distance. I recognized the opportunity. 

After all of this happened, I learned from a co-worker that a former colleague had been hired back after being laid off. She wants my current position. I suppose, I should be upset, but I am not. I don't know what I am walking into, but I know what I am leaving behind and for that I am thankful.

However, I'm not in my body. Even though I have jet lag, I feel very strange, but short of eating two handfuls of raisinettes, I haven't done any harm to myself. I have to cook dinner, but since I am not in my physical body, I'm finding it difficult to jump up and get busy. I'm trying to process this without food. When I ask myself what my body would like to do, my body is telling me to go outside for a walk. I will do that after I cook. Maybe that will help me integrate. I don't know if anyone else deals with this type of disconnect here. I'd like some suggestions if you have any.

I'm curious about how my husband will react to this news.
0 # and thisJackie 2013-08-12 18:51
My husband asked for the details of the conversation while eating dinner, then he went for a walk with me. He held my hand and walked slowly--something he finds difficult to do! I was thankful for the moment.

Tracy--I hope everything goes well tomorrow. I'll pray for you.
0 # Tracyshh 2013-08-15 15:52

I've been thinking of you lots over the last few days and hoping to see an update - hope you're ok

S xx

0 # Me tooJackie 2013-08-16 04:58
I've been stopping by to see if you are okay too Tracy.
0 # Testingmylifex2 2013-08-16 17:36
I had my tests today and I have one more on Monday. It was a very full morning made up of poking ( my veins do not cooperate with IV's), ultrasounds, and imaging (I am claustrophobic). But I got through it. I won't have any test results until my cardiologist reads them. I should know something by mid week.

Driving to the test, I reflected on life and how poorly I have treated my body. There is a lot of guilt when I realize that I have put a ton of stress on my body first with anorexia as a preteen and bulimia most of the rest of my life to this point. 

It goes to show you how resilient the body is, however, I will no longer be taking that for granted. I can't leave my kids because I refused to take care of myself. 

Part of feeling bad physically over the past weeks has been a very low appetite and weight loss that has been unintended yet secretly enjoyed. I catch myself with thoughts like this and realize that this too must stop. 

My goal is to make sure my heart is ok and to STOP worrying about my weight and how I think I look. I was in the scan machine today and I was joking with the tech and said that I hope I fit. She gave me a strange look and said "you are bitty, this thing holds people 10 times your size". I still see the weird look she gave me and I guess I must have left out the part where I "joke" Because of course I really meant it and she knew it.

Well, I'm not bitty, but I really, really need a reality check and a new vision in the mirror. 

If everything comes back ok I am making a deal with myself to enjoy life. Oh how I just want to enjoy life!!!

i will keep you guys updated as I should know my results by midweek. THANK YOU for your concern and prayers! Love you guys!!
Laura R
0 # TracyLaura R 2013-08-17 06:39

I read something yesterday that made me think of you Tracy:

Everything changed

the day she figured out

there was exactly enough time

for the important things in her life.”

     (“Enough Time,” Brian Andreas, Storypeople)

0 # Love it.Jackie 2013-08-17 16:31
I love that quote Laura. I'm going to write that on my desk blotter  in my new office. I'm glad to hear that you are hanging in there and feeling optimistic Tracy. All good things to you. Thanks for the update. Now we can worry about Joanna :-). This is the poem I found this week. "Blessing the Boats" by Lucille Clifton:

"may the tide
that is entering even now
the lip of our understanding
carry you out
beyond the face of fear
may you kiss
the wind then turn from it
certain that it will
love your back may you
open your eyes to water...
water waving forever
and may you in your innocence
sail through this to that."

I'm not a boat, but I think it fits well.

0 # Thanks everyonemylifex2 2013-08-17 19:40
Thanks for the well wishes and encouragement !!

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