This is the journey of endless wonder. I was told years ago that there was a way of living my life that I could not comprehend because there was nothing in my existence that would allow me to understand it. It does exist. I now feel that way every day because there is no end to the journey. As your regain your perspective and creativity returns to your life, your pain pathways become much less interesting and you will thrive.

Step 1 – Pass Through the “Ring of Fire”

I have a saying, “Before you can reach higher you must first dig deeper.” You have spent a lot of time and demonstrated a commitment to excellence if you are at this stage in the DOC process. This is also the point you have been waiting for. We spend a great deal of our life’s energy avoiding anxiety. Since anxiety is inherent to staying alive we cannot do it and you will eventually wear down. Conversely, every new endeavor, regardless of the magnitude, requires some level of risk. To be able to relax and thrive, you must learn to become comfortable with uncomfortable emotions. As you spend less time and energy fighting anxiety, it will lose its power over you.

Step 2 – Step into Your New Life

When you are engaged with your true value system and pursuing your interests based on that connection, it is probably the most powerful way of creating new neurological pathways.  I will term this, “living an engaged life.”

When you are driving home from work, your brain will not remember every car, house, tree, and store that you will pass.  Your brain will screen most of it out.  Your nervous system is hierarchical.  In other words, it will just remember what is most prominent.  It is the reason that rehabilitation physicians emphasize function over pain relief in their treatment of chronic pain.  As you become more active and functional, your focus will be diverted onto your life.  The pain circuits will move down the chain. If your life revolves around first getting rid of your pain and then you feel that you will then be able to live your life “forget it.”  You are done. Your pain will progressively occupy more and more of your conscious thoughts.

If you are just engaging in activities to distract yourself from your pain you will have the same problem.  Your pain is still running the show.

When you no longer have anxiety and anger controlling your life, you can engage in your life with zeal. Maslow’s Miss is the ultimate paradox of the human existence. It is not that you will get rid of anxiety and frustration; they no longer control you.  You will connect with yourself, family, friends, and the essence of your existence.  Adversity, including chronic pain, will also not control you.  New brain pathways will be created. It has been astounding how much of an effect this approach has had in decreasing my patients’ pain.  I would never have predicted this sequence ten years ago.

Step 3 – Fail Well

We tend to think in absolute terms. When we break our diets we feel we have failed. If we relapse into an addiction we are now “re-addicted.” Guess what – this is not a reality or a reasonable way to look at our behavior. Behavioral patterns are powerful and permanent. You will always “fail”. The goal is simply to minimize the damage and keep moving forward. A major factor in living a fulfilling life is “failing well.” BTW, if we all have flaws, why should they be labeled as such??

Step 4 – Look up – Your spiritual journey 

My definition of a spiritual journey is quite broad.  I define it simply as looking and experiencing life outside of you.  It means that you need to regain a perspective of life bigger than you.  You will begin to lose your sense of self-importance and increase your awareness of the needs of those around you. I think that this step requires a conscious effort to pursue it.  It can take an infinite number of forms:

  • Quality time with family and friends
  • Spiritual organizations
  • Good food, wine
  • Energizing experiences
  • Creative hobbies
  • The arts

Any experience that involves active engagement and involves experiencing a perspective bigger than you works.  Passive experiences such as watching TV are fine but will not aid you in achieving spiritual growth.

  • Consciously choose what form this journey might take and write it down.  You should review it on a bi-annual or annual basis.
  • Read Journey into Love by Kani Comstock
Step 5 – Give Back

You have come a long way in your journey out of chronic pain. This has been accomplished by calming down your nervous system, creating new neurological circuits and shifting onto pathways that are functional and enjoyable. The more time you can spend enjoying your life the farther you will be removed from your pain. Getting organized, enjoying friends and family, engaging fully in life are all effective ways to accomplish this. But giving back takes to you another level. When you are focused on the needs of others around you, your attention is no longer on you. It is on those around you. You can also better appreciate what you do have compared to others and not become negative about what you do not have. Giving back is the final phase of living a rich and full life, largely free of pain.

 

RESOURCES

LIVING IN STAGE 4

We are what we repeatedly do.

Excellence then is not an act, but a habit.

… Aristotle

Enjoy your new life!!