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Sometimes pain just won't leave, but living in pain does not make you wrong, or a failure. Every day you make it through despite the pain is a day you lived as a warrior.
This post is the second excerpt from my interview with Jan Black on Nobody Told Me! Podcast
Jan: How important is it to not isolate yourself if you're dealing with chronic pain, even if you don't really feel like going out?
Sarah: Boy, I'd say that it's paramount. It's extremely easy to do the opposite, to pull in and of course, that's our first response. We pull ourselves back in from life because we feel bad. We do that naturally as an initial response when we meet pain. That can be fine at first because we need to pull away a bit, we need to have our quiet time, we need to heal. But when pain becomes chronic and is just not getting better we can tend to stay in that mode of pulling away to heal and lick our wounds almost too much.
We can get into that place where we're waiting for the pain to leave before we re-enter life and when that goes on for years, we can become extremely isolated waiting for when it's okay to be part of life again. For those of us that have to live with pain on an ongoing basis, that's the time we need to start to look at that because it can become extremely lonely, very difficult and it's not really healthy to be isolated all the time, I don't believe.
One of the things we have to learn when we are living with pain is how to reach out again even while we're still feeling the pain. How do we re-enter life even if the pain has to come with us? That's a choice we make. How can I be in life? Maybe I have to be in life in smaller ways, maybe I have to think about if I'm going out to meet friends, I can only go out for half an hour, not the whole evening. But begin to find ways to re-enter life again because it's part of our healing process too, to find ways to re-engage with life even if the pain has to come with us.
Jan: You also encourage people suffering from pain to express their pain, explain more about that.
Sarah: I certainly found it personally true and I think it's true for a lot of people that we think we're not supposed to talk about our pain. We're not supposed to show it, we're in a culture that says, "No, no, this isn't supposed to happen." So, we tend to hide it, we hide it sometimes even from ourselves, it's considered a burden if we tell other people about it, but I really feel that it's extremely important to express what's going on. Express how you feel about it, what is it doing to you, how it is affecting your life.
I think it's extremely important to have some kind of outlet for that, whether it is using artistic expression, drawing, painting, dancing if you can, writing. Any way of finding a way to express what's going on for you is extremely helpful and it may not sound like it would be, it may sound like a small thing, but I feel it was the first major step in healing for me.
Part of what I feel keeps pain in place is that we feel like we have to hide it, we feel like we have to cover it up, we aren't allowed to in our culture to express it much, that to me helps lock it in place, which is not healthy.
So, when we begin to express how we feel about it, when we begin to express what it means to us and maybe begin to ask those questions, well, if pain were doing this painting, if pain were going to do some little writing, what would pain look like? What would pain have to say, what would pain paint? Let your pain begin to express too through whatever these creative mediums are and that begins to loosen it up and let it begin to flow and it starts to have a healing effect.
Jan: You say that pain brings with it many unforeseen and unacknowledged gifts, like what?
Sarah: Well, it's hard to accept them at first but when you ask yourself how have I had to change? What has pain asked me to do here? What have I had to do to be able to get through this? You come to find out that wow, okay, I had to learn to slow down, which is for a lot of us, healthier, we're in this very go, go, go culture where we just keep going, keep going, keep going. Sometimes I think pain comes into our lives to point out that maybe it's time to stop being so push, push, push, go, go, go. Maybe it's not the way we would prefer it to show us that message but maybe that message has been trying to come through for a while and we haven't been listening.
So, pain in a sense is a very hard taskmaster, it's a very hard mentor to have in life but it does bring some lessons that are really valuable, that you can keep with you even after you move beyond the worst of the pain or move beyond pain entirely. Certainly, pain has taught me what my priorities are or should be, it really focuses life down to a couple of things. You might be able to do one or two things in a day when you're in a lot of pain and you have to decide what those one or two things are going to be. You begin to realize, to really appreciate your relationships with your children, with your family, with people that you love, and you can weed out the ones that aren't helpful or working for you. So, it brings your life into sharper focus, even though again, it's not necessarily the way we'd want to have to go through this.
We do learn to appreciate when we have a day that is less painful, you begin to appreciate your body, you begin to appreciate that you can breathe. You can begin to appreciate that you can move, and all the things that you've done in life, that you enjoyed so much, that you took for granted like even just mundane things like brushing your teeth. So, you can turn that around instead of making that about loss and how awful that I don't have that anymore, you turn it around and you say, "Okay, what can I still enjoy, what is still here? How can I look for these little things that I used to take for granted and actually revel in them and go, yeah, this tastes so good! Or this moment with my son is so precious to me because I'm still here on the planet even though I'm in pain, I'm still here and he's still here and we're together and we love each other." So, for me, it just brings everything much more richly into the present moment and teaches you to appreciate and to be here and to enjoy the life that you do have.
You can listen to the full Nobody Told Me! podcast and more radio and podcast interviews with Sarah HERE
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