Chronic pain distances us from others, and, seemingly, from life itself. We are immersed within, and surrounded by, the experience of pain.
Everything other than pain recedes, and feels like it is being experienced from afar because there is always this aura of pain that separates us from others, and from life.
It's not that we're not in life, obviously we are still alive, but the quality of life is so different - as if we are looking out at life or up at life from a deeply submerged place.
When we live there for some time, it can begin to feel as if we are distanced not only from others and the ongoing stream of normal life, but from ourselves as well.
It is almost as if the field of pain has inserted itself between us and Us.
It’s an eerie and unsettling feeling, kind of like when you have the flu or are terribly jet lagged and you don't feel like yourself - there is a sense of fogginess and existing apart from normal life and there isn't that much of You available.
The Cauldron of the Self
And there is a fear that you may never resurface, may never emerge from pain. And if and when you do, you won’t know that person anymore.
All of this is can be incredibly frightening and depressing and sad, but there is also a strange gift here too.
Living submerged in pain can be like living in a cauldron or a furnace of the Self. It burns away everything that doesn’t matter. It strips the self of everything petty and leaves only the essential Self that continues to shine.
You fear you will lose yourself, and in a way, you do lose yourself, or I should say, you lose the self that used to relate to the world in certain ways.
But you don’t lose the inner Self.
Once you get past the fears and find a way to live with what is happening, to accept without giving up or acquiescing, allowing what’s already here to be here as it is, the old you slides away, but you are not left with nothing.
What’s left is the essential Self, what I like to call the You of you.
Polishing The Mirror
It’s like what the Sufi’s call “polishing the mirror”. The challenges and hardships of life, if we meet them with awareness and allow them to show us what is essential and what is not, polish the mirror of the heart and allow the dross to drop away and we are left with a clearer knowing of the Self.
And that Self is tender and vulnerable because of what it has been through, yes, but it’s also incredibly strong.
You might call it your soul or spirit. It’s the eternal aspect of you that remains alive and clear and untouched. And, while pain is a very difficult mentor and not one I would ever recommend to anyone, still, it teaches.
It brings us to our knees at times, but it also brings us to ourselves. And that, in its way, is a tremendous awakening and a tremendous gift.
Sarah Anne Shockley is the author of The Pain Companion: Everyday Wisdom For Living With and Moving Beyond Chronic Pain and Living Better While Living With Pain.
She is a regular columnist for Pain News Network. Visit her at www.thepaincompanion.com for resources for people in chronic pain and more information on her work.