“To goodness and wisdom we only make promises; pain we obey.”
I was 32 when chronic pain changed my life. I know many people who experience worse suffering than the pain that comes with my cracked vertebra…but when it’s your pain, and you have it all the time, it feels consuming. I know what it’s like not to be present in the moment because I’m counting the minutes until I can lie down and take painkillers. I know what it’s like to plan my days around pain, to quit activities I used to enjoy, and to struggle with the simplest daily tasks.
When it became clear I was an addict with a capital A and needed to go the abstinence route, I felt so sorry for myself. My black-and-white thinking painted the future as an infinite desert of unrelieved pain and bleak depression. It felt unfair. I had to change my attitude a lot to have a chance at staying clean.
When I went to rehab for the last time (well, let’s hope it was the last time) doctors told me that overuse of meds had screwed up my pain processing system to the point that my body was creating and amplifying some of the pain. They said for every year I had used narcotic painkillers, it would take about a month clean to figure out what my true pain level was. I’d used them for eleven years. So the first year of recovery was going to suck pretty badly.
Today, I can say with gratitude that the doctors were right. Though chronic pain is still part of my life, my average pain level is far lower than before I got clean. It gets bad occasionally, but “bad” now is what was normal back then. That’s only my story, of course. I got lucky.
Living with chronic pain, like living with mental illness or being in recovery, opens us to trying things that might not have been on our agenda if life had stayed “normal.” Spiritual exploration. Meditation. Trying to find and do small things that give pleasure. Examining our ideas about what we are if we’re not our jobs or our productivity. All of you who let pain steer you into a quest for growth inspire me: how amazing that we perform, however imperfectly, this mysterious alchemy that turns pain and despair into something beautiful.