Pain is our Messenger… NOT the Enemy.
Time to listen, learn and thrive!
“That which we resist, persists”- Carl Jung
Despite the heroic battle, we are losing the War against pain & drugs in America.
In case you missed it, suicide has risen to the number two cause of death across several groups (ages 10-34). In the last month alone, it claimed two young men in my parish.. As a nurse who specializes in the treatment of pain, I see daily that the effort to silence pain and medicate our way out of ailments is, quite literally, killing us.
Without singling out any type of medication, were you aware that the USA has the second most deaths from drug use in the world (of 183 listed)… second only behind Ukraine? DRUG USE DEATH RATE BY COUNTRY (worldlifeexpectancy.com)… Clearly, we are not achieving the desired outcome by attempting to medicate away our conditions. Why are we not listening to our bodies before they collapse?
In order to maintain integrity and life, our bodies are constantly adjusting temperature, neurochemicals, and fluid stability— all on their own, seeking homeostasis. Brilliant! Yet, when we get a pain signal these days, instead of using it as our guide to alert us to danger or that something is out of balance, we often choose a distraction or pop a pill to silence our inner warning system.
Are we really any healthier or vibrant as a result? I think we would agree on a resounding, NO! So, what can we do to honor the protective energy of our bodies and heal deeply?
LISTEN- How can we listen IF we continue to SILENCE our pain using current pain scale (goal is <3-4/10)? Like trying to silence an irritated toddler, it may work briefly, but not for long!
It is critical that we change our focus, and this is why.
We have been actively silencing pain for 25 years (since 1996 when the American Pain Society introduced the concept that pain should be added as a “fifth vital sign”). It was believed that by assessing pain along with the other four vital signs (temperature, pulse, blood pressure and respirations) during each patient encounter, that we would better manage pain. While it was done with the best of intentions, it appears to have backfired on society. Resisting pain has not solved the pain problem, at all. One might argue, it’s even made it worse!
We are currently struggling with drug overdose and suicide epidemics in our country. In 2018, the CDC reported that 67,367 drug overdose deaths occurred in the United States (two thirds were caused by opioids, mainly synthetic) yet overall quality of life for patients is not improved. What if we are inadvertently covering up the root causes—deep-seated emotional, mental and spiritual sources of pain—and allowing them to fester under the surface?
I liken this to placing a bandage on a wound that has not been properly treated… If a patient came into the ED with a traumatic physical wound and we just covered it up and told the patient to take some pain pills if it started hurting, what would happen? Nothing good, for sure! We need to clean the wound first (assess what might be hidden in it and remove any old gunk). If not, it will become infected, and the toxins be driven deeper into the body. No pain pills are going to reach it and the patient suffers unnecessarily, possibly even succumbing to septic shock/ death!
With chronic pain we often focus on the physical causes, and overlook/minimize the emotional, mental and/ or spiritual wounds that may need healing. Our body is literally screaming out for help, yet no one hears the warnings!
LEARN- It’s time to shift our focus, and help people improve their quality of life while listening to our bodies and learning our next steps. I’d like to offer a hopeful, realistic new perspective, one aligned with our body’s innate capacity for life, balance (homeostasis) and self-protection. Consider this question: How would we ever know we were out of balance unless it was brought to our attention, especially in such a hectic world? That’s pain’s role as our guardian!
Our physical hearts know how to get our attention, but what about our emotional heart that seeks to give and receive love? When our coronary arteries are partially blocked, we get warning signs of chest pain and shortness of breath. If we heed the early warning signs and seek help, will may undergo a heart catheterization and will also need to change our diet and increase our exercise routines. In order to heal, we need to LEARN how to make healthy changes to sustain health and vitality, or the symptoms will return as the arterial occlusion worsens. We can’t just keep taking medicine, hoping the pain goes away… we need to LEARN and take action, making healthy changes in life.
To do so, we need to open our minds & hearts more fully… beyond our current paradigms.
Sadly, our medical model typically focuses on the physical, as that is what we can see. If our current model is not able to dissect the problem and physically SEE/ touch the problem, we are often referred elsewhere for help with our minds. Thankfully, psychoneuroimmunology informs us scientifically that our minds have a POWERFUL influence on our bodies. Our thoughts stimulate the release of specific neurochemicals in the body that impact our health, immunity and wellbeing. In that sense, pain and its remedies can be said to reside in our heads.
How to use that knowledge to our benefit?
The lens through which we view life is often described as optimistic or pessimistic. Each perspective is associated with the release of different levels of neurochemicals. Generally speaking, the optimistic, love-based view allows for the free-flowing release of neurochemicals like dopamine and serotonin. Sadly, the fear-based pessimistic view stifles those neurochemicals to a trickle.
THRIVE- It is time to harness those positive neurochemicals, even during the most challenging times, if we have hope and a positive vision of what is possible. It’s like finally seeing the lighthouse in the distance- keeping us safely off the rocks and guiding us home.
In order to THRIVE, we must flip the current fearful, pessimistic way of viewing pain as the enemy in society. Recall briefly, how we feel when we answer the question of pain on a scale of 0-10, “with 10 being the worst pain ever”. Who wants to keep recalling that painful memory? It has been preventing us from listening and learning from the wisdom that our bodies are clamoring to share with us. The urgent plea is to get us back into balance (body, mind and spirit)- to make those changes in life that will improve our health and well-being.
Our body is our friend and pain is its guardian- its healing messenger. Let’s decode pain’s messages with a hopeful vision towards comfort, balance and vitality once again.
It is time to start asking a better question- one that opens us up to embracing our body’s wisdom through a hopeful lens: “How do you feel today, REALLY- on a scale of 0-10 with 10 being the BEST you have ever felt”? Doesn’t that feel BETTER already? With this simple shift, positive neurochemicals can begin to flow freely, as we recall a love-based memory- one that will comfort and guide us as we make beneficial changes to stay off the rocks and to identify/ heal the buried wounds that have been silenced for too long.
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"Problems cannot be solved with the same mindset that created them" -Albert Einstein
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