DO YOU *REALLY* WANT TO BE WELL?
The remainder of the article will make more sense if you start by watching the video below. Although the video features a Catholic priest and speaks of “wellness” and conversion from a Christian point of view, I believe Father Mike does a beautiful job of articulating an important truth that is universal, regardless of spiritual or religious beliefs.
This post is filed under the heading of “tough love” and I apologize in advance because what I have to say below might sting a bit. I can only present these concepts with conviction, however, because I have walked (and continue to walk) this path myself.
We define ourselves by our wounds
I struggled with chronic pain for over a decade and have worked with thousands of other people with chronic pain and other health conditions. Through these experience I have seen over and over again that giving up the status quo, as miserable as it may be, is often surprisingly difficult. As Father Mike says, we define ourselves by our weaknesses and our wounds. The role of victim is an extremely powerful one. Suffering gives us a certain presence and power that, when it really comes down to it, we may just not be willing to give up.
Our pain (or other symptoms) set boundaries for us. They say “no” for us when we would rather not have to say it ourselves. Our pain is a reliable excuse — when we are irritable with our kids, when we would rather watch Netflix than go to the gym, when we don’t want to have sex with our spouse, when we fail to live up to our potential, when we disappoint ourselves or others — in all these circumstances and dozens more we can point the finger of blame at our pain rather than taking responsibility ourselves.
Are you ready to be well?
When I ask people if they are ready to be well, they often scrunch their brow at me or even take offense. “Of COURSE!” they respond — “who would want to suffer like this?!” But here’s the thing: The first requirement for healing is a willingness to change. When I tell people this, they often assume I mean “the first requirement for healing is a willingness to change…your diet” or “the first requirement for healing is a willingness to change…your stress level” but that’s not what I mean. I mean the first requirement for healing is an authentic willingness to be well, even though this means giving up what is familiar and being thrown into the unknown.
Thrown out of the nest
To be fully alive, fully human, and completely awake is to be continually thrown out of the nest.
– Pema Chödrön
I remember when I started working the steps of what would later become The Meter Method and my pain levels started to decrease rapidly, I was surprised to find that not all the changes I was experiencing felt welcome. Being free of pain was wonderful, but it was also weird. Only in retrospect was I able to see just how much of my identity (at least in my own head) was wrapped up in being a person whose life was limited by chronic pain. Chronic pain had been my nest. Although it was cramped and uncomfortable, it was familiar to me and for that reason it felt safe.
By nature I am adverse to risk and change. From the time I was a little girl I’ve longed to arrive at a point in life when I could have the confident assurance that I won’t be thrown any more curve balls or have to adapt to any more big shifts. Although I hadn’t anticipated it, it turns out that recovering from chronic pain required a HUGE shift. It required me to adjust the fundamental dynamics in all my closest relationships. It positioned me to start expecting a lot more of myself. It forced me to start taking 100% responsibility for my life. When the demands associated with this shift became clear, I struggled against the impulse to retreat into the old familiar patterns. To climb back into the nest, as it were.
I have seen this happen with hundreds of clients over the years. Their pain goes from nine out of ten to non-existent. They are able to sleep through the night for the first time in years. They can do yard chores without hurting for weeks afterward. Their need for pain medication decreases dramatically. They are on top of the world, thrilled at the opportunity to do things that they thought they had had to give up for good. They start making vacation plans. Taking up new hobbies. Making plans to go back to a job that they loved. They stand at the precipice of being “fully alive, fully human, and completely awake”. Then suddenly they stop journaling. They stop tapping. They stop meditating. They stop doing all of the things that resulted in such dramatic improvement. They start saying things like “oh, I guess I really am incurable after all”. They climb back into the nest.
The magic of flight
In part 3 of my story, I shared a photo of the cover page of my copy of The Mindbody Prescription and talked about how many tries it took for me to “get it”. Part of the problem is that I was very defensive the first few times I encountered the notion that my pain was likely coming from my brain as opposed to my body. The fact that I was dependent on opiate pain medication certainly muddied the water as well. But in retrospect I can see that THE major factor was that I was simply not ready to be well. I was not ready to make the changes. I was not ready to be uncomfortable. I was clinging to the nest.
Change happens when the pain of staying the same is greater than the pain of change.
– Tony Robbins
I’m not quite sure what shifted for me in 2012. For some reason I suddenly had resolve and determination that I had lacked before. I was finally ready to answer a wholehearted “YES” to healing, even if it required me to change everything about my life. I allowed myself to be thrown from the nest and, as a result, finally experienced the magic of flight. Since then I have had the privilege of walking alongside dozens of clients as they have done the same thing.
There’s no RIGHT answer
Here’s the thing: there’s no “right” answer here. Not being ready to change does not make you a bad person. As I look back on my years of chronic pain I can see that the boundaries and power that my pain provided me were in some senses necessary at the time. My pain served as a necessary defense during a particular phase of my life. But eventually I outgrew the need for my pain and at that point I became ready to change.
This is not a readiness that can be forced, although it can be facilitated. Check out my new online course if you’d like to learn more.