Another Day, Another Book

It started with a massage – well, no, it started with neck pain. Chronic f*cking neck pain. It’d been over a year since my last appointment, but I booked with the same therapist I always do; this time though, he questioned if I was experiencing abuse or a history of abuse/trauma, which caught me completely off guard & I -of course- immediately and defensively denied any such thing…but didn’t think too much of it, just assumed it must be a standard question they’d added to their intake convo. Afterward, he mentioned an alternative option for pain relief, the use of FSM therapy, commenting that he himself had benefited from it as a treatment for his PTSD after serving in the armed forces. Again, at the time, I didn’t think much of it.

But later, I started thinking. As I’m prone to do. What if my pain IS caused by unresolved trauma? I’ve done physical therapy, I’ve done chiropractic care, I’ve done strength training, I’ve done stretching and yoga, I’ve worn a back brace for “better posture” …and nothing I’ve done has produced consistent results; yes, the pain fluctuates, but it does so with no regard to my efforts; so, what harm is there in considering the idea that it could be trauma related.

Down the rabbit hole I went.

If you google chronic neck pain you will find a repetitive narrative – poor posture! bad sleep position! pinched nerve. car accident/injury…& if you google treatment options – improve posture! rest. take pain relievers. physical therapy! exercise! surgery (no mention even of chiropractic care).

But if you google chronic pain and trauma, a whole treasure trove of incredible information is suddenly at your fingertips; I delved in trying to make sense of it all, to understand the biological processes, the mind-body connection and the pain cycle…and I found this completely thorough and logical explanation for pain, that no one else had ever relayed to me. One that I could actually do something about.

At the same time, I had been reading “No Bad Parts” about parts work/internal family systems (ironically one of the last chapters deals specifically with chronic pain & I had yet to realize that/read it at this point) – so on a particularly painful night, I was laying in bed, thinking what the hell…I don’t exactly know what the fuck I’m doing, but I’m just going to wing it & see what happens, if this pain IS related to trauma maybe I can at least find what “part” of me it’s linked to and kindly ask it to please fucking give me a break…the worst that can happen, is, well, nothing. So I closed my eyes and tried to think of any connection I could make between my neck, and trauma; of course the first thing that came to mind was the artist holding a knife to my neck… this felt contrived and I did an inner eye roll, thinking – ugh this is so ridiculous, just bc that’s what came to mind does NOT mean they are actually related. Right? But then I reminded myself that I’m not supposed to be judgmental, I’m just supposed to go with whatever comes up. I always stop myself with judgmental thoughts like that, so I may as well just, shut up and see it out. For once. So I reset, and let myself go back into that memory despite the fact that I felt like it was a little absurd & I vaguely followed the “script” from one of the sessions I’d read, attempting to re-live the feelings from that memory in an effort to connect and find compassion for that “part” (exile) of me that felt “stuck” in that moment and never got the chance to move on. It was a little difficult to stay with it. But at this point I was committed to the process. I stood in “my” place, feeling the knife to my neck and surrendering to the emotions that came with that moment…and then I told the “me” in the memory that I understood what she felt, and let her know that everything is okay now, that she didn’t have to stay there with him anymore – living in that state of fear anymore…and then I took her by the hand and walked outside, and I told her it was okay to let go of her pain, to give it to mother Earth. I know, this all sounds SO strange & I had no idea what to expect, but I swear, in that instant, it felt almost like I’d rubbed icy hot on my neck and the pain dissipated. I wasn’t sure what to think about the whole thing tho, or if I really even believed what had just happened really…so I turned my head back and forth a couple times just out of confusion/curiosity really and then, went straight to sleep thinking it was too much to process right then and I’d circle back in the morning and see how I felt then.

I went an entire week with zero pain or aching or tightness of any sort. And generally speaking, even on a “good” day I am still slightly sore/tight. And good days don’t happen often, much less consecutively. I woke up every morning, expecting whatever weird shit that happened to have worn off, and the pain to be back…but every morning I continued to wake up, pain free.

Then I re-triggered pain & a headache by going to my self defense class. Luckily I was prepared, and instead of freaking out and returning to the pain/fear cycle, I just reminded myself that if I managed a whole week without pain, I can do it again; just have to dig a little deeper.

So I returned to the IFS model and tried once again to find the part of me that was holding this pain and try to befriend and unburden it – only this time, I got a little bit of pushback. A little bit of “fuck you”. A part that put up a wall and said “you’ve abused your body just as much as anyone else has.” And, being completely unprepared for that, after how smoothly the process had gone the first time…I failed to find compassion for that sentiment and instead just felt a little defeated – not so defeated that I gave up completely though, I just thought, okay, fine, that fair, it’s a valid point…so, in return, I guess, I must start taking better care of my body.

And of course, needing more resources and more understanding, as I always do, I checked out another book “Freedom from Pain”. Which, pain aside even, focuses on building that mind/body connection – convincing me (despite numerous, previously failed, attempts by my therapist) that meditation, mindfulness, and self compassion are the exact bridges to recovery that I’ve been missing. I can’t decide if this enlightenment will delight him, or slightly irritate him. I HAVE stated, multiple times, that there is just something about reading words on a page…I can process easier than spoken word.

The book (or, maybe it was a different book, honestly I’ve read so many in the past week I can’t keep up) also made this point about how our brains rely on past experiences/current knowledge to interpret new situations & it really likes everything to make sense, to fit together neatly…this seems pretty basic, but what happens when something, doesn’t make sense? When it doesn’t fit? Right? Well if it’s small, it can be ignored and tossed out. But if it’s big? Well that’s pretty much the definition of trauma – something beyond our brain’s capacity to process. As a coping/survival mechanism it breaks everything up into smaller pieces and finds different little nooks and crannies it can shove them in and make them fit; so, all this information is separated, and filed away in places it doesn’t belong, to create a story that makes sense and allows you to continue to cope/function/survive. This lesson is 2 fold, because it explains why trauma responses then come out in all the wrong places (it was stored in all the wrong places, so what did you expect?) and explains how as a child, my response to my trauma was the only way I could make sense of it. I can’t judge it for what I “should” have done, because all I could do was relate it to what I knew at the time…and because it didn’t fit as is, because, trauma isn’t supposed to fit…I adapted to make it fit. To cope. Knowing that allows me to have a sense of compassion that I couldn’t even begin to have for myself before.

I also realized that I still, to this day, live with the belief that my worth is in my body – it is not uncommon to overhear me joking about how my husband only puts up with me because of the sex – that he could easily find someone else to cook and clean and raise the kids, but he would struggle to replace me in the bedroom. While I generally have low self worth,  I have plenty of confidence in what my body can do (and in my intelligence) – and I can clearly see how both those are rooted in my childhood and never let go. & Intelligence does come in handy, but it is also my main source of deflection. A self-like part that can only be differentiated by subtle nuances of intention.

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