Victim to Student

2014-03-08 13.31.27A couple of years ago at a dinner party, my friend introduced me to a colleague of hers who was a physician. When this doctor heard that I had a chronic pain condition, she told me her theory about Fibromyalgia:

“Many people probably experience the same pain as someone with Fibromyalgia, but for some reason the people with this condition just take it to a whole new level. I think it’s related to their emotional make up or something in their past.”

“I agree. Many of my past experiences and the way I held my stress set me up for chronic pelvic pain. But I also have some trouble with your explanation.”

“Why? Because it shows weakness?”

“Yes. Many people with chronic pain are like me. I’m not weak; in fact I tried to stay strong for too long. I didn’t get the pain because I was over-emotional; I wasn’t emotional enough.”

When I was driving home that night it occurred to me that there were two different ways to view my pain condition. The pain could be a sign that my body was breaking down because of my suppressed trauma and emotional reactions. But it could also be a signal from my body to look, process and heal. With the first perspective, I am cast as a “broken victim”, but with the second I get to be a “healing student”.

I decided to take the second role.

Unconscious Suffering

I was attending a Myofascial Release seminar last year when a physician in the audience stated, “Some patients want to keep the pain. It is part of their identity, and in some ways it is holding them up.” I felt indignation when several people around me nodded in agreement. Then the course instructor, John Barnes, clarified it perfectly, “No one consciously chooses to be in pain, but they can have subconscious patterns that are keeping them there.”

Feeling My Life


DSCN0626My mother’s best friend called when she received my last Christmas card. Part way through the conversation she said, “Your mother was so strong and stoic. …Emotions weren’t allowed in your home.”

This comment brought back a distinct memory from one of my last visits with my mother. At this point, she was almost completely paralyzed from ALS and we both knew the end was near. I sat at her bedside and read a letter that described all the ways she had influenced my life. Afterwards, I buried my face in my hands and sobbed. My mother looked over at me and said with obvious discomfort, “You will be fine.”
“I know I will be fine. But I will miss you so much.”
“I would like you to read that letter at my funeral.”
“I don’t think I can do it; I might break down.”
“No you won’t. You know what to do. You’ll get up there and handle it.”

And I did. A few weeks later, I read that whole letter at her funeral without a tear or tremble in my voice.

But this intense emotion had to go somewhere, and when chronic pelvic pain descended five years after my mother’s death, I would come to appreciate how holding a lifetime of unexpressed trauma had affected my body. Over five years of healing and with lots of help, I gradually worked through the layers: feeling my pain, discovering my truth, and gradually moving through it.

After Christmas this year, my daughter hopped out of the car at the airport on her way back to college.
I gave her a hug and said cheerfully, “Have a great flight! I love you!”
But as I was driving away I thought, “Wait a minute! How do you really feel?”
Immediately, and to my surprise, I started to sob. I pulled over and cried for a half hour. And then, like a summer storm, it passed and I felt peaceful again.

I realized that I was now experiencing my life in a whole new way. This may not sound good, but it really is. Because now my body is more fluid, healthy and free. Before I was numb to the pain in my life, but I also didn’t feel intense joy, wonder and connection. Now, I am starting to feel all of it.