Here in part four of the Healing Yourself from Chronic Pain Series, let's do the work. In parts one through three, I’ve talked about the three steps to healing, the science behind healing your physical pain through emotions, and tried to convince you that it is time for you to take charge and heal yourself. Now it’s time to talk about what to do.
Repressed emotions are only powerful in creating pain if they don't have a voice. Nobody needs to hear this voice but you. This can be a completely private effort, or sometimes people like to involve their psychotherapist, if they have one. That's cool, but you don't need a therapist to do this. Some people, once they come to certain truths in themselves, like to share with loved ones. That's great, you may share if you choose but you don't have to share this with anyone in order to heal. That's the first thing I want you to understand.
What these repressed emotions will do to you, if they don't have a voice, is they will knock on your door. “Hello. I'm under here. I'm ugly and shameful. Hello.” If you don't decide to listen to those knocks at the door, they will knock as physical pain and we both know, you'll listen to that, right? If your back hurts so badly that you can't go to work, you'll listen to that. One of my clients said very aptly the other day, "TMS stands for telling me something. My body is telling me something." If you choose to listen, then it will simply be a piece of information that your body is trying to tell you. If you don't choose to listen, then it will come in the form of physical pain. This process I'm going to teach you today is the way to listen to your feelings. Give them a voice, let them be heard, and they will float to the side of the pool like that beach ball in part ??, and you won't have to constantly struggle to keep them down.
Giving Your Feelings a Voice
The easiest and the most effective way to give these feelings a voice is through journaling. Journaling is such an unsung hero in the world of mental health, in the world of happiness and joy and self-knowledge and inspiration. When we journal, we're taking our thoughts, which often race through our heads at Mach speed, and slow them down long enough for us to gain insights from them. Journaling in the way I will teach you is the quickest and most effective way to heal yourself from chronic pain.
The process we're going to talk about today was originally written and created by Dr. Sarno. The first book he ever published it in was “The Mindbody Prescription.” Let's start with Sarno's process of creating three, bulleted lists. The first list is entitled childhood, the second is daily life, and the third is personality.
Childhood refers to any memory, event, or reality that happened to you growing up, until you consider yourself no longer a child. It could be big things like, “my father was an alcoholic,” “my mother was bipolar,” or “my uncle sexually abused me.” But it also could, and should, be the time in third grade when Susie left you out on the playground, or when you had stage fright and ran off the stage at the school play. It is an exhaustive list of everything that you can remember in childhood that makes you take notice. It’s everything that sticks with you, has effected the person you have become, or still fuels your desire to be a certain way.
Daily life is the same kind of bulleted list. Everything that affects your day to day: your spouse, your partner, your kids, your business, your financial situation, or any responsibilities that you take on. Anything and everything that happens in your daily life that you think “oh, God that's hard.” Even beautiful, happy things are hard. Having a newborn baby, which is the joy of the universe, is hard. Anything that effects your life in a way that you need to work hard to deal with, tolerate, or accept should be put on the daily life list.
The third list is personality. We all have a personality. Most of the time it's shaped by the childhood stuff. Your compulsions to be a certain way, to dress a certain way, to look a certain way, to present a certain way. Whatever aspects of your personality fuel what you have decided creates your sense of self. The things in you that direct you to behave a certain way in order to perceive yourself a certain way. Those things go into the personality list.
Oftentimes the personality stuff is the most difficult and the most insidious, because it informs everything we do. I am a parent and so I have to do parenting. I have to adult and do parenting stuff every day, but my perfectionistic personality informs every single thing that I do. I can beat myself up over minutiae that you can't even imagine, but it's because I'm a perfectionist.
Through my years of doing this work, I've understood why I'm a perfectionist. It’s because my dad used to crack the whip about everything that I ever did in my childhood. I can gently look at that and be an observer of that. In meditation, they say "You are the whole sky and you watch your experiences pass by like the weather." That's the observing self we're looking to create through this work.
Attacking the Lists
You've created these three lists and they are long. You are going to create time for yourself every day. Right now, you might think “I don't have any time.” I'm here to say yes, you do. How much time do you spend on Facebook or watching stupid YouTube videos? You have 20 minutes a day.
If you're really in pain, I'm going to suggest 20 minutes twice a day. You are going to find a quiet space. It can be in your bedroom with the door locked so your kids don't barge in. It doesn't have to be sitting in the middle of a field. It could be in a Starbucks where nobody knows you. The point is, you're going to find a quiet space where you have at least 20 minutes to journal.
Then you are going to pick an item from one of these three lists. You do not need to go in order. Look at your lists and say, "What pops out at me today, during this session?" You're going to put it at the top of the page, whether it be a document on your computer or a notebook. You just something to write on. You're going to put the item as a heading. If I’m talking about parenting, let's say the heading for me that day would be motherhood.
Motherhood is part of my daily life. I am a mother. It defines a tremendous amount of what I do. Motherhood could go on the top, if that were me, but you're going to have your own thing. Then you're going to set a timer for 20 minutes. Turn your phone off or turn it over, do not watch your time, and just journal. Free write on the topic. You might start on motherhood and within five seconds you might be on “I can't stand walking the dog.” Five seconds after that you might be on “God damn it, if one more person honks at me on my way to work…” I really have to tell you that this is like a bunny in the snow. It's like a trail. It's going to go in ways that you might not have expected but just go with it.
One of the things that's most important in this kind of journaling is that this is just for you. This is not journaling in some beautiful leather bound book that's going to tell the story of your life that you're going to read again one day. This shit is dark. Now, not every single thing you need to come up with is going to be dark. Some of it is just going to be the blah, blah, blah that leads you to the dark stuff. This kind of journaling needs to be disposed of, okay?
This is not some pretty thing that you're going to keep. You are going to either write it into a document that you will erase before you even close your computer, or you will write it in your notebook and you will shred it into a public garbage can. In some cases, and this is a really personal decision, people keep it because they want to share it with their therapist, but they are very careful about where they keep it.
The reason why I'm so serious about this is because if you're going to journal in the way that I'm going to teach you that's going to really heal you and let that beach ball rise to the surface, people aren't going to always understand that language. I’m going to ask you to learn a whole new language and that language is called JournalSpeak™. It’s about inviting these dark feelings to have a voice and that voice could be very misunderstood by your loved ones or could be very offensive. It's going to offend you sometimes and you're going to have to be really patient with yourself.
This journaling is going to be something that you don't need to read again, because once you bring it to the surface and you take a moment to reflect on it, you've done the work. You've started to inform your conscious brain that these unconscious feelings are here, they are not going to kill you, and it's okay. We don't need to freak out. We don't need physical pain anymore. This journaling is not something that you're going to hold onto unless you actually have a purpose and a reason. You're going to be very careful about not leaving it around for your partner, or your kids, or your mother, or your grandparents, or your brother, or whomever to have a juicy look at because that is just really not helpful.
For 20 minutes once or twice a day, depending on how much pain or distress you are in, you're going to go through these lists, and one-by-one you are going to excavate things around these feelings. You're going to put things together and you're going to gently, kindly, and patiently forgive yourself for them. Let's do an example:
One of the things I write about in my book is the experience I had when I was in the throes of my worst back pain around motherhood. I had it in my head from a very young age that I was going to be Mother Earth. I couldn't wait to be a parent. It was going to be fantastic and I was going to have these babies and it was going to be joy. You might hear that and say "what the hell is she thinking? It's not like that." That was my reality.
My reality was, I decided it was going to be that way subconsciously and then when I had real kids, it turns out that not everything is a fairy tale and I was confronted in a way that I don't think I was quite aware of. Of how disappointing that was.
How devastating. How tragic. I use these very emotional words because JournalSpeak™ is emotional. Journal Speak is the language of a very mature five-year-old, of the adult brain that you have right now and the emotions of a five-year-old. When a five-year-old isn't given what he or she wants, it is a fucking problem. It is "give it to me!" Whereas an adult says, "Oh, that was a little disappointing. Oh, well. I'll have to make the best of it." Your subconscious emotions are a tantrumming two, three, four, five-year-old. Pick your age. It's a baby. It's a kid without social graces. That voice does not care if it's not reasonable to be upset about something.
My voice was with the five-year-old mentality of "Oh my God. This is not the way I want it to be. Everything is ruined. This is a devastating disaster." Whereas my adult brain, my conscious brain was "Oh, well. Today with the baby wasn't really so great, but that's okay. I'm going to be fine. It's all right if I feel alone. It's all right if I feel alienated, if I feel tired." In order to get to the JournalSpeak™, you need to start with an acceptable piece of your life, an item on your list, because the word motherhood was acceptable to me, obviously. I didn't think that there was a problem writing about motherhood. Motherhood was part of my life so it was on my daily life list and I put it at the top of the page.
When I started to journal, I realized I was in tremendous pain. When I started to journal, I got a notion that had led me and informed every day of my life since then. That notion was, this isn't the truth you need to get to. You're lying. You're not just tired. Now, of course, the word lie means that it's not the truth. Well, of course, it's the truth on some level that I was tired, but that wasn't it. That wasn't the poison that was lurking beneath the surface. The poison that was lurking beneath the surface was, I frickin' hated it. I hated being a mother. I hated waking up every day to the disappointment, to the devastation of my dreams, that this wasn't the unbridled joy that I expected it to be. This was hard work. This was difficult and I was more than tired, I was destroyed.
I've spoken about this on many panels and in many public forums, and I can't say it enough. As soon as that truth was allowed to rise within me and I realized it was not about hating motherhood. It was about connecting the expectations of motherhood to my entire life. I had kept myself safe in the moments of unhappiness in my childhood by saying "Well, it doesn't matter what happens now. One day I will create this family, this perfect family." That was really true for me. When it turned out to be regular life, that devastation was lurking underneath the surface and I didn't have words for it. This process invited those feelings to the surface.
At first, it was very upsetting and devastating, but it was so brief, because as soon as I was able to release this ugly truth I realized, I don't hate motherhood. I just needed that to be gone. I needed that perspective to have been unraveled and for me to get that this is life, this is the life I get. I was able to see it in a completely different way, not as the fallacy of my childhood or my unbridled expectations. I needed that five-year-old voice to be heard so it could be given perspective.
It opened me up to the real experience of motherhood and having been opened to that, I can't tell you how much I love it. I don't hate it at all. This is what's beautiful about this work. You start with the truth and you bring the ugliness up because you have to. Then you're able to see with your 44-year-old brain instead of your five-year-old brain. I love connecting with my kids and being a parent. Thank God I found this work so early on, when my daughter was only two and my son was just a little guy because I was able to clear that up with myself very early on and so can you. No matter how many years you've lived with these ugly truths being suppressed, you can clear this up for yourself through this process.
After I came up with that really difficult realization, the next morning my back pain was 80% gone. Not everything works that quickly. Sometimes it really does, actually, but sometimes it doesn't. It's not necessary for you to base your healing on me. I just want to explain to you how powerful it can be. I also want to explain to you that no matter how quickly or how slowly this happens for you, it will work.
Once your brain is alerted that you don't need to hold down these ugly feelings anymore, that you do not need the physical pain, it will melt away. But you must wake up every day, fight your resistance, and do the work. Find your quiet space, get your journal of choice, set your time, and you do it until that bell goes off. Then you throw it out and it will heal you, little by little it will heal you. You will look back after a month or two of doing this and you will say "I can’t believe I waited this long. I can't believe that it is this simple to get ahold of what I need to do in order to heal."
We are going to be discussing more tips for journaling and more insights in future posts but right now, in terms of the work, I have laid it out and I really, really encourage you to begin it right away because it will not hurt you. It will save you and it will heal you.