I’d Do Anything to Stop This Pain

by Nov 20, 2012Science of Happiness18 comments

Y ou know what you should do, but you just can’t bring yourself to do it.

Maybe someone broke your heart.  Maybe you use food as an emotional crutch.  Maybe your doctor has warned you need to start exercising, or else.  Maybe the strain of grinding it out in a job you hate leaves you crying into your pillow.

The problem isn’t that you don’t know what to do.

It’s that the solution requires a strength you’re not sure you have.

Case in point: last week, I couldn’t get out of bed.  Or more accurately, a shooting pain from my neck down through my shoulder highly discouraged me.

The pain was almost unbearable.  It felt like I was getting a tattoo put on my shoulder … all day long.  I broke down crying while doing simple things like bending over to brush my daughter’s teeth.

My first thought was, “My goodness, there’s so much we take for granted.”

My second thought was, “I’d do anything to stop this pain.”

A physical therapist friend recommended I ice my neck and back and really lean into it.  Did I rush home to the freezer to follow her advice?  No.  Instead I took a warm shower and did some gentle shoulder exercises, convinced that was enough.

The truth is, most of us will choose endurance over courage nearly every time.   We’ll take the easy path, even when we know deep down it leads to nowhere.

Ironically, what helped the most wasn’t to break the problem down, but to realize that it was much, much bigger.

My problem wasn’t a muscle in spasm.  It was a lifestyle that made me stressed out and run down.

I wasn’t afraid of an icy burn.  I was afraid people wouldn’t see me as worthy outside of my to-do and have-done lists.

My expectations and aspirations had literally become a weight on my shoulders I could no longer bear.

This is the curse of the over-achiever, made all the worse when you realize the burden is nearly all self-constructed.

In the face of all that, an ice pack seemed like a piece of cake.  

Not only that, but after the first clench of discomfort, it actually felt … better.  So I did it again, and again.  I got better at doing what I knew I needed to.

In Brene Brown’s book The Gifts of Imperfection, she quotes Pema Chödrön

When we practice generating compassion, we can expect to experience the fear of our pain. Compassion practice is daring. It involves learning to relax and allow ourselves to move gently toward what scares us.

This helped me understand is that the pain is not punishment for doing something wrong.  And making it instantly disappear isn’t the goal (much as I wish it was).

This is a message from my body, one I desperately need to hear.

Maybe this time I will find the courage and compassion to listen.