Healing chronic pain in therapy
One morning about two years ago I woke up and couldn’t turn my head side-to-side because my neck and upper back were locked up. I figured I’d slept wrong and that it would go away on its own, but the pain and mobility issues only got worse over several days. I finally ended up going to the chiropractor because I couldn’t fix it on my own.
While getting treatment helped initially, the pain kept coming back. I found myself in this loop of going to physical therapy, the chiro, and even starting acupuncture every month to try and get to the bottom of it but nothing worked for more than a few weeks at a time.
All along, I knew how linked my body and mind are and had a gut feeling that there was something going on that wasn’t just related to my physical body - but, I couldn’t figure out how to uncover what it was. I’d meditate on it and ask it what it was, what needed to come up and be healed, and got nothing. As someone who feels pretty in tune with her intuition, I was annoyed as hell.
This led me to start researching how pain in the body actually works, especially chronic pain.
Acute pain can be super helpful. That’s the kind of pain you experience when putting your hand on a stovetop and your body quickly reacts to the heat and pain by telling you to quickly pull your hand away.
Chronic pain - especially when it’s not attached to physical trauma or injury - has no real purpose. It’s simply your brain telling you that it thinks you’re in danger, and your nervous system trying to get your attention in some way. It’s like an alarm system in your body screaming “Danger, Will Robinson!” when there’s not actually a danger or threat present.
I was pretty fed up with being in chronic pain and trying to do all the right things with no relief. So, what’s a girl to do? Naturally, I bitched about it in therapy and Sarah (my therapist) was like “we can explore that.”
Sarah explained an embodiment technique she uses to help uncover things going on in our minds that we might not be able to verbalize so that we can acknowledge it and intend to heal it. She and I had previously worked on healing specific traumatic memories with EMDR and I was curious what I could do to help heal the thoughts, feelings, and beliefs that I didn't even know were in my subconscious but were having a negative impact on my body.
In this session, she began by having me close my eyes and really tune into the area causing me so much discomfort. As I sat there breathing and simply noticing what it felt like, things started happening in my body really quickly.
She asked me to describe any other feelings and sensations I was experiencing. Immediately I felt my gut tighten (somewhere I tend to hold stress and anxiety) and found myself squeezing my legs together because they felt shaky.
Sarah kept asking “what does your body want to do?” and, if it was subtle enough, to oblige those urges. I followed these sensations and impulses and spoke them out loud them as they happened no matter how ridiculous they sounded (again, the trust we've built up over time allows me to do this).
At one point I felt my glutes firing and literally wanted to run out of the room but didn’t act on that one, lol. I was also called to turn my head to look both ways, likely to oblige the hypervigilance I’m often feeling (especially since having a kid), and followed that instead.
From there, the feelings started coming up. I felt the urge to cry but it wasn’t because I felt sadness or grief. Sarah asked if it was fear and I immediately said “nope, it’s ANGER! Like I feel so angry I can’t even speak and can only let it out by crying. I feel like I’m in a fit of rage.”
We kept following that stream of consciousness style, and I started bringing up all these old stories from childhood and limiting beliefs that I didn’t know how to express otherwise. Some of it had to do with having to grow up too quickly and care for others, and feeling like I wasn’t allowed to express my needs - and more specifically, my wants. There was also a lot of fear and distrust when it came to allowing others to take care of me.
I think a big part of why all that stuff got stuck in my body over time was because I was repressing it. Womxn aren't encouraged to fully express things like anger and rage, so we either numb it out or stuff it down so that we remain compliant with the rules of society.
We fear abandonment or punishment and want to stay safe and "good" to fit in and be loved, so we pretend like it's not there and simply wait until we implode.
And if this resonates, know it's not just you and it's not your fault. These are the messages we've been hearing since the day we were born.
This experience reaffirmed to me that I'm not willing to do that anymore, because I don't want to keep repressing my feelings to the point that they try to get my attention another way (hello, chronic back pain).
In that 50-minute therapy session, I allowed all the feelings and sensations to come up and move around instead of staying stuck in stagnation - that’s where the chronic pain was coming from; lack of movement of the emotions and energy I was holding onto. It’s several days later now and I haven’t had the same chronic pain my upper back since, which I still almost can’t believe.
Sometimes no matter how much work we do on our own, having someone to help facilitate deeper exploration while witnessing us makes a dramatic difference in our ability to heal. This is also why I do the work that I do with helping womxn feel supported as they explore the possibilities for their own transformations.
If you suffer from chronic pain, I hope this serves as a bit of encouragement to check in with how it might be related to what’s happening/has happened in your mind. I know how frustrating it can be not to have answers and deal with daily discomfort both physically and mentally. There are loads of modalities to explore if and when you’re ready, and I’m here to cheer you on along that journey.
Are you looking for support along your own healing journey?
Learn more about the work I do here and schedule your first session.