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Eating Disorder Recovery
Joanna Poppink, MFT
Eating Disorder Recovery Psychotherapist
serving Arizona, California, Florida, Oregon and Utah.
All appointments are virtual.


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  

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