“People are not doomed by their past. We can heal from the shame of it and become healers ourselves. Actually, it’s difficult to imagine how one can become a great healer without having once been deeply wounded and then healed. This process results in more than just a heartfelt compassion for the unhealed. The once wounded and now healed are the most equipped among us to inspire confidence that everyone can transform themselves.” -Bruce Levine, Surviving America’s Depression Epidemic
Prior to becoming an Integrative Health Coach, I had a long career in public policy. I was the Principal Investigator for several research studies on higher education, including a major multi-year, multi-million dollar national survey administered by the U.S. Department of Education. The work was well respected but it was stressful. I slowly realized I was only doing it because it was something that I believed society expected of me: it was a high status profession, I was making adequate money, and I was working for the public good. However, it was highly demanding and not always personally fulfilling. I found myself developing severe back pains and succumbing to several colds and the flu each year. I suspected that my stressful life had something to do with my poor health and that something had to give, so I decided to quit my job. Although that gave me time to think and to spend more time with my family (I have two children who are now teens) it was not enough and I continued to feel pain. I gradually realized that in order to completely heal, something more fundamental had to change.
My chronic back pain did not begin with my stressful job. In fact, it started when I was only a teenager in high school and working hard to meet the high expectations of those around me. Pain and other chronic health conditions would follow me on and off over the next 30 years. I suffered from lower back pain, upper back pain, neck pain, foot pain and a whole host of other physical conditions with no clear cause, including irritable bowel syndrome, headaches, tinnitus, hives, and allergies. The worst was the back pain. Sometimes it was so severe that I would be on the floor for a week. Other times the pain would be less debilitating but was still there and no matter what I did I could not get rid of it. I tried everything short of drugs and surgery: regular treatments with half a dozen different chiropractors and acupuncturists, different types of mattresses, special pillows, ergonomic seat cushions, back braces, and foot rests. I would constantly adjust and readjust my workstation and do different stretching exercises. I even paid a sizable sum for a series of classes with a posture specialist. Everything either helped me only slightly at first or was no help at all. No single doctor or treatment could cure me and no one could tell me why I even had pain in the first place. I thought I had to resign myself to living the rest of my life in pain.
Perhaps you know how unrelenting chronic pain can be and how it can greatly decrease your quality of life. I now know that for much of my life, I lived according to what I thought society wanted and not what was right for me. This dissonance created stress in both my personal and professional lives, and constant pain and bouts of depression would follow me around.
I sought help wherever I could. It was not until I learned about the mind body connection that I finally found a way out. On my journey toward healing, some of the key resources for me were the books “Healing Back Pain” by Dr. John Sarno and “A New Earth” by Eckhart Tolle. When I learned about the connection between my pain, my emotions, and my spiritual life, I was finally able to cure myself. I was amazed at how the physical pain I felt was so interconnected with the parts of my life that seemed to have no connection with my physical body at all. I was enthralled by this new information so I began reading nearly everything I could get my hands on about the wonders of the mind and its profound impact on our physical health. I was amazed at how this simple information could cure me so completely.
I realized I could live a life without pain! And I learned that in order to completely heal, the way I approached my life had to completely change. In my search I was finally able to heal both physically and spiritually in ways I had never expected. For much of my adult life, I placed little value on having a spiritual practice, but when I became more attuned to the mind body connection, I found that an awareness of my thoughts was crucial to my ability to self-regulate. This was only possible when I learned that I could access that part of us that we all have in common and is the one thing that never changes: our conscious awareness. The non-judgmental, ever present part of ourselves that gets lost in the hustle and bustle of our daily lives. It was the spiritual part of my life that had been dormant for so long. It was always there and I just needed to find it once again.
Nowadays, I have learned to read my pain like a barometer for what’s going on in my life. When I feel my body tensing up, it tells me that I’ve placed too many burdens on myself, or that I’m resistant to something that’s not the way I want it. I try to remember that age old prayer of my childhood: “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” When I change what I can and accept everything else, I can stop that tension from turning into pain!