04 July 2010

5JulyWEEK: Overview

9 July: Living with Pain

Next week's topic: So Where IS God in all This?

Last week was one of my worst ever - "worst" in this case referring to pain and feeling ill. I am accustomed to constant pain wearing down my strength and have learned to pace myself through the day. But this was different, and I kept saying to Tim, "I don't know what's wrong. I feel so sick." Tim (my husband) and I speculated that it might be the heat and humidity. But when on Wednesday, after 5 bad days, I got what I call a "crasher" (pain so bad I cannot lift my head from the pillow for eight to twelve hours), something made me think of the new herbal and vitamin supplement I had begun taking the week before.

I contacted my neurologist and was told to discontinue the supplement. Within 24 hours, I felt much better, although the migraines continued.

This being a recent experience, it is on my mind as I write on this post's topic, Living with Pain. What is also fresh in my memory is the fear: it is frightening to be in that much pain. I am uncertain as to how long it will last and I know from experience that there is no medication to resolve it. I have these crashers several times a year and have learned they are not manageable in the way that less severe migraines are. For example, they do not respond to the PRN migraine medication. And the emergency room doctors I saw once or twice gave me, of course, narcotic pain medications. These, however, left me feeling so awful that I swore never to take them again.

After a crasher, a regular migraine is somewhat of a relief. This irony taught me that even pain is relative. In that relativity, there is space for a conscious exploration of the pain that reduces fear and enhances calm. In a calm mind is space for meditation and deep relaxation, both of which serve to quiet and relax pain-tightened muscles. The result: although the pain might still be present, my relation to it - my perception of it - have changed for the better.

Living with pain changes one. Pain that is also frightening in its power and duration changes one even more. It gives new meaning to the Twelve-Step concept of being powerless. Yet powerlessness over the pain does not have to mean powerlessness over my response to it. Years ago, after the first shock of experiencing 12 to 15 migraines per month receded, it was clear that I had a choice: I could give in completely or I could learn to live with them.

Now, lest I mislead you into thinking I was noble and brave, let me now assure you that I was neither. I whined ... a lot. I moaned and fretted about not getting things done - I had a more-than-full-time job at Miriam's House, and what is more, I loved it. It bothered me to be so absent from my desk, from meetings, from the community. As time went on and the migraines persisted unabated, I complained about life being curtailed to the point where all I did was work, have a migraine, recover from a migraine, and rest in anticipation of the next migraine.

In retrospect, it is clear I could have resigned my position as early as 2008, although the hope for help from different medications and/or therapies kept me plugging along. I always felt that better health was just around the corner.

No such corner - at least, not yet. Hence, this blog. Because living with pain has effected deep change in my spirit and in my spiritual practice. If it is true that we can find God in all things, then God is present in the pain of these migraines. This blog will explore and reflect on finding God in pain, living a spiritual life through pain, and finding hope in the spiritual practices and growth that arise from pain.

** Next post: Letting Go **

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  1. William Marsh20 July, 2010 21:49

    Being a survivor of a 12 step (that phrase in all its contradictions and cohesions) I remember deciding that admitting powerless was a contrarian way a gaining power. The contradiction is sublime- it takes courage to admit cowardness and confidence to admit doubt. The spiritual side of the powerless over pain is the power to turn it into the loving hands of God- a relationship that is yours alone- not from ego or self but from the yearning for an attachment to something greater than the pain.

  2. Yes - "from the yearning for an attachment to something greater than the pain", and, indeed, greater than all or any of life's sufferings.

    As for the contradiction - I often use the word paradox, and found a wonderful understanding of how paradox works in the spiritual life from a book called, "The Promise of Paradox", by Parker Palmer (a great book made better by the alliteration in title and author's name).