By Daniel J Benor, MD
Many people with acute pain simply want to be rid of it, without giving it much of a second thought. A pain pill does the trick and they move on with their lives. They see no reason to poke about and ask whether there are any deeper understandings to be had about the pain.
Most of the time, a painkiller for acute pain is a benign remedy for whatever hurts. Sometimes, however, it might be insufficient or even dangerous. A heart attack, twisted bowels, or appendicitis treated with strong pain killers could lead to delays in treatments for such serious problems, which could progress to fatalities if not treated in time.
With chronic pain it is a somewhat different story. These pains demand more than just a casual response. Backaches, arthritis, migraines, irritable bowel syndromes and other persistent pains interfere with our normal activities and demand more considered attention.
Addressing chronic pain is a challenge on many levels. Pain medication often becomes a problem when taken over a period of time. Side effects may develop, such as constipation, drowsiness, fuzzy-mindedness. Habituation and addiction may begin to loom as dangers. Fatalities from pain medicines properly used occur every year in significant numbers of users.
So chronic pain invites us to look more deeply at what might be causing the pain, so that we can address the underlying causes rather than just addressing the symptom. It is here that we may open doors to deeper understanding of the place of pain in our lives. Let us examine the various levels of our being and how they may be involved in pain and pain management.
Conventional medicine views the body as a complex set of biochemical interactions, and within this framework a pain is a manifestation of some malfunction of tissues, organs and chemistry. When we can identify the physical malfunction, we can sometimes offer a cure.
- For acute trauma – rest, ice to reduce swelling, surgery to repair damaged tissues and splinting for fractured bones
- For infections – lancing a boil, antiseptics and antibiotics
- For arthritis – anti-inflammatory drugs
- For irritable bowel syndromes, ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s Disease – special diets, drugs to calm the gut and surgery
- For degeneration – joint replacements
- For cancers – surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy
- For obesity – reducing diets, reducing diets, other reducing diets, exercise, appetite suppressing medications, and bowel surgery
Wholistic healing addresses body pains through preventive physical level strategies.
- Avoiding junk food and many ‘normal’ foods that contain poisonous chemicals such as monosodium glutamate (MSG) and aspartame that can cause headaches, stomachaches and arthritic pains
- Avoiding too much of certain kinds of fish, which can contain mercury and other toxic chemicals
- Eating a healthy, vegetarian diet
- Fitness practices
The above are items addressed well by Nutritionists and Naturopathic Doctors. Due to the indoctrination we receive from Western medicine, these may be the primary items we think of in connection with pain or any other body symptom. We tend to view the body as a physical object that needs physical or chemical manipulations.
What we are feeling may be reflected in our body. If we simply ask our body what it wants to tell us, we may be surprised to learn that our unconscious mind is using the symptom like the ringtone on a telephone. Once we start listening, our unconscious mind can then turn the volume down on the ring.
Wanda suffered from backaches for many years. At first they were intermittent, but in the six years prior to seeking psychotherapy they were constantly present. They were worsened with prolonged sitting and with picking up anything heavy. Over the years, Wanda found herself using increasingly strong painkillers in increasingly heavy doses. She had to quit her secretarial job, both because sitting for more than two hours became unbearable and because the painkillers produced fuzzy thinking and she was making too many mistakes on the job.
Wanda was very surprised to have an immediate response from her unconscious mind when I invited her to ask it what its message was, behind the pain. What her inner self was wanting her to become aware of was her anger over feeling taken advantage of and abused on her job.
Wanda very quickly uncovered deeper layers of awareness. Her frustrations at work were only surface issues. Her unconscious mind was actually inviting Wanda to open her inner file drawers where all of her memories and feelings of being taken advantage of and abused were stored. What surfaced were memories that had been totally shut away from her consciousness. At age seven she had been sexually molested by an uncle during a summer holiday visit. When these issues were processed with the help of TWR, her backaches were completely resolved.
Physical symptoms may be a form of communication in the context of our relationships, speaking to the person with the symptom or to those in relationships with him or her. A headache may be the unconscious mind inviting us to give our attention and healing to problems that we have been ignoring – consciously or unconsciously. A headache may be a complaint from our unconscious mind about a person or situation that ‘is a headache’ or nuisance in our lives. That same headache may serve double duty by also giving us the excuse to not have to do something we’d rather avoid; might invite others to give us more attention; or might make it easier for us to ask for help with difficult tasks.
Physical symptoms may be a message from our body that we are being poisoned by toxins in our environment. Stomachaches, headaches and general weakness are common messengers of this sort. All of these plus weakness and tiredness may speak to us in a chorus as fibromyalgia or chronic fatigue syndrome.
Existential unrest and pain may put us out of sorts or may open us to problems on any level of our being as a way of drawing our attention to the need to alter disharmonies in our current situation or to redefine our life course or goals. Dissatisfaction with our role on the stage of life may predispose us to any condition or may worsen it if we enter a vicious circle of frustration and despair over our illness and its treatments.
Dale was a nurse who had trained to work in hospitals, motivated by her love of helping people feel better. The grateful smile or squeeze of a hand from a patient who thanked her for her tender ministrations was more important to Dale than the salary she brought home. On returning to work after more than a decade’s break she took from work to mother her three children, she found that the hospital was no longer a place where nurses were expected by the management to serve in the ways that had made her heart sing. Her family needed her income to build their savings towards the children’s educational future, and she did not see another option but to grit her teeth and do her best to still provide service with a smile.
This was too dilute a soup to nurture her soul’s desire to be of healing service. Tending electronic monitors was simply not rewarding in the same way that direct personal care had been. Though she pleaded with her supervisors to be allowed to spend more time in direct patient care, even bolstering her pleas with research articles showing that this would decrease many symptoms, reduce stress and shorten hospital stays, her words fell on deaf ears. Dale started having migraines that were so severe she had to stay home for several days, at least every other week.
When a friend who had learned TWR suggested that she talk with her headaches to ask what they wanted to tell her about her life, she was surprised at the clarity of the answer: “Stop beating your head against a brick wall!” Find another job where your good heart will be appreciated. Dale found a job as a school nurse and it was no surprise when her headaches cleared.
Pains may often be blessings in disguise in these sorts of ways. Through the suffering of our pains and through the spiritual people we find who help us to deal with them, we come to reconnect with our personal spiritual awareness. Having had to deal with our own pains, we become more able and open to empathizing with others who have pain.
Choosing the level of entry to wholistic healing
My personal belief is that the spiritual is the matrix for all of the others. I find that whatever I learn on any of the other levels has its deepest reflections, resonations and lessons on that level.
There is no right or wrong way approach our problems. Each doorway will bring its own lessons. Each doorway can also lead to all of the others. Click on the round icons at the top of this page for a discussion about how each of these levels is related to all of the others.
Being aware of all of these levels, and knowing that we can explore and learn healing lessons at each and all of them, our lives our infinitely enriched through explorations of our pains.
Your feedback on this article is welcomed.
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