I have been wanting to post this success story for a while, hopefully so that it can benefit others. When I first came to this site I could find only 1 success story of someone with Spondylolisthesis, but that story really gave me hope and helped me tremendously, so I promised myself that if I did get better I would post a success story to help others with that “condition.” But I hesitated for a long time, not convinced that I was fully “cured” or that I could really claim that what I had achieved was a complete success. So a big shout out to BirdSetFree who responded to a post I wrote recently - her comments are exactly what I needed to push me over the top…she helped me rethink what it means to have “success” with TMS and helped me to feel like I had already “arrived.” More on all of that at the end of this post. Also a warning - I want to make this as helpful to others as possible so I am going to include as much detail and insight as possible. The result? This is going to be VERY, VERY long! So feel free to skim! I am going to start at the beginning and explain my journey and what helped me, but before I do I wanted to start by saying that one thing I have realized and that many people echo on the forums here is that the journey is bound to be a little different for everyone. We all come into this with a different history, different circumstances, different ways of coping, etc. I suspect that most of what helped me is what helped others and would help others, but I definitely read some things along the way that did not exactly fit for me, so a big part of dealing with TMS is finding the things that are most effective for you, and that will be a little different for each person. So keep that caveat in mind. Ok, so onto the backstory (no pun intended) and my journey….I am a 43 year old male and I would describe myself as a very active and athletic person. My back pain started in my late teens - I played lacrosse in college and missed an entire season due to unexplained lower back pain (the doctors at the time couldn’t find anything wrong with my back, but when I left college and went home for the Summer, my pain gradually and sort of inexplicably disappeared over the course of a few weeks). The pain was mostly gone for at least a decade until I started having achy pain in my lower back in my early to mid 30’s. And for the last 5 years or so I have had a continuous ebbing and flowing of pain - I have had some weeks or months when I have had no pain, but mostly I have had some level of pain and especially in the last couple years it has been pretty much non-stop. The pain would slowly escalate over weeks or months and then usually culminate in some kind of an incident, where I would feel a pop or something like that and then be in extreme pain, almost unable to move for a period of a few days. And the pain has alway been pretty localized in my lower back - no pain down my legs or anything like that, but at times the pain was excruciating. An MRI 5 years ago showed that I had a bilateral pars defect (I was told I probably had it since adolescence and supposedly it explained my back pain in college). A pars defect is a scary thing - basically a stress fracture in your vertebrae that never heals and that supposedly causes instability. The image of my spinal column essentially broken (in my case at L3/L4) scared me and convinced me that I had a serious structural issue. And so for most of the last 5 years I tried almost everything that one could try to “fix” a bad back (though looking back on it, it turned into almost an obsession and a lot of my mental energy was expended trying figure out how to heal my back). I tried inversion tables, standing matts, a sit-stand desk (that I actually like and think is good whether one has back issues or not), ergonomic chairs, building my core, losing weight (I lost 25lbs and was very lean and fit), chiropractors, yoga, stretching, PT etc. Then about a year ago after another “injury” I got another MRI and this time the MRI was really frightening. I now had spondylolisthesis (slippage of one vertebrae over the other) and the MRI showed all sorts of other things like some bulging discs and even a bilaterally torn ligamentum flavum, which is a ligament that runs the length of the spine. The radiologist even noted in the report that the doctor should question me about previous traumatic injury (although I have to give the orthopedist I saw credit - when I asked him about some of the scary stuff in my MRI he sort of shrugged it off and pretty much completely waved off my questions about the torn ligaments, so it was not really his fault that I got so carried away). But the orthopedist did tell me that I could get a spinal fusion, so then I started really considering that (although again to his credit he did not push me and told me that as long as my quality of life was ok, he would not recommend I go for surgery). But after that 2nd MRI I really became convinced that my back was very unstable and became both very frightened and very obsessed with “fixing” my problem. The idea that part of my spine was kind of detached from the lower part and slipping over it really scared me. It worried me on a day to day basis and affected my every day life. On a deeper level it worried me that I would not be able to continue working (this was particularly stressful because I have small kids and a wife who depend on me and I had a few acute episodes when I couldn’t work for a few days at a time). And I am a very active and athletic person and am an avid ice hockey player - the idea that I might not be able to play ice hockey anymore itself would probably have led me to get a spinal fusion if I believed that would have kept me on the ice. About a year ago someone recommended Healing Back Pain to me and I will never forget my initial reaction to reading the beginning of the book. I thought I had stepped into some crazy world of almost pseudo-science (or worse than that really) and that the book was clearly not for me. I did not see myself in the pages of the book in any way and wrote it off. But then about 6 month ago, after an “injury” playing ice hockey, I started to lose hope and become kind of desperate. I actually remember being in tears at the realization that maybe I just couldn’t play hockey anymore because my back was too unstable. But the thing that made me turn back to Sarno was that I was realizing more and more that my pain didn’t really make sense. I was in a lot of pain for months and then we went on vacation and for the week I was away, I just forgot about my pain. I forgot that I ever even had any back issues. Now you might say, well sure, you were on vacation relaxing so that shouldn’t be surprising. But I was not on a relaxing vacation - I was in Disney World with 3 small kids, not sleeping that much, running around all day long, etc. I think I actually lost like 5lbs on the trip just from sheer physical exertion. And there were other things like that that didn’t really add up. Even in times of acute back pain, I never really had trouble lifting very heavy things. So standing in my kitchen for 30mins would hurt my back sometimes a lot, but I could pick up both of my kids, who together weigh 110lbs, and that would never hurt me. Sometimes it would even seem to make my back feel better!!! Or I’ll also never forget how much my back hurt in the weeks leading up to the birth of my 3rd child - I was aware that stress could be part of that, but right after she was born, when I was in the hospital sleeping on a tiny couch (and not really sleeping that much in general) my back pain just went away again. So one day I decided to try reading Healing Back Pain again. And it’s really amazing and I don’t even know how to make sense of the difference between the 1st time and the 2nd time, but all of a sudden I just really saw myself on the pages and had this almost creepy moment when I realized that what Sarno was describing really DID fit me. This is an obscure reference, but it was almost like that scene in The Sixth Sense when Bruce Willis finally realizes that he is dead. It’s like it was there in front of him all along, but only then near the end of the movie did the pieces come together in a way that he could see it…..and when it did, it was like a lightening bolt realization. That’s what it felt like for me!!! I remember that night I got up after reading part of the book and just instantly felt better. I felt like I could stand for a long time and not be in pain, etc. It felt almost miraculous. Now I am not one of those people who was just healed instantly after reading. The feeling sort of faded and I began to doubt TMS pretty quickly thereafter, so it took many more months of work and effort to get to where I am now, but that initial moment of realization was the starting point and over the last 6 months it has been helpful to occasionally reflect on how I DID in fact feel better, even if it was somewhat fleeting, after just reading part of the book. So let me give some more details on my process of healing, post-TMS realization………First and foremost, this forum/website was really helpful in the beginning in getting me started. One of the first things I realized from poking around on the site was that it would be good to try to see a doctor versed in TMS to see what they would say about my situation. Again it’s interesting to reflect on how things change, but when I first considered that, it seemed like something almost far-fetched and not something I was ever likely to actually do. But within a week it started to feel like a really good idea and I am fortunate enough to live near NYC where it’s not that hard to find a TMS practitioner. I remember when I was doing research on this site, Steve Ozanich (whose book I read and found to be really helpful) recommended to some other person in a forum post who was looking to see someone in the NY area that that they should see a doctor in NJ (I am forgetting his name, but I think he is more of a family medicine type doctor) instead of Dr. Rashbaum (who worked with Dr. Sarno and who took over his practice when he died). I think his concern was that Dr. Rashbaum might be less confident in his diagnoses and might leave a person with less conviction about TMS. But I decided to see Dr. Rashbaum anyway and give it a shot and it was very helpful. In fact, I actually came away with almost the opposite concern. Dr. Rashbaum concluded with a pretty high level of confidence that I have TMS, but I had a hard time believing it. I didn’t really understand how, on the basis of his exam/consultation, he could be so confident. But I definitely walked away feeling more confident about my having TMS, so it was nice to get the stamp of approval from a doctor and I would definitely recommend that step to anyone who has the ability to see a TMS-minded practitioner. I honestly think that even seeing someone online would be helpful for those who are not physically near a TMS doctor. There is a physical exam but I think a big part of the diagnosis probably stems from patient history, talking to the patient, etc. I also attended the lectures that Dr. Rashbaum gives…..I found the first one to be moderately helpful, but the second one was more helpful (in the first one he talks about the basis for TMS and studies that are relevant to it and in the second one he talks more about what to do to try to deal with one’s TMS). And aside from the lectures themselves, it was beneficial to be in a room with other people who are suffering from TMS - seeing people in the flesh helped. But I think a similar thing is achieved on this website and the forums on it. You might not have the face-to-face interaction here, but you get much more intimate sharing of information, stories, support, etc. Really this website and the forums are a much more powerful resource. One of the difficult things with TMS in the beginning is that you don’t really know exactly what you should “do” to help yourself. I was reading Sarno’s books, but I felt liked I needed to do more and didn’t exactly know what. So this website was helpful for me at that time too. At first I didn’t really understand why reading and rereading the books would be helpful, but I came to understand that in a sense I had developed a habitual pattern of thought that was leading to TMS (obsessive fear that something was structurally wrong with me, etc.) and that reading and even rereading the same passages was sort of a way to remind myself of how I should think about things and break the pattern of thought that I was trapped in. Intellectually I understood that I was probably suffering from TMS, but I would keep slipping back into old habits and thought patterns and doing a little TMS reading every day helped keep me on the right track. Related to the above, on a gut level I was not 100% convinced that I had TMS. Even Dr. Rashbaum telling me that I had it did not completely convince me. The paradox of it is that in order to have relief from TMS, you really have to believe it, but you sort of need evidence that the pain goes away BY believing in it in order to believe it! So what comes first, the chicken or the egg? Some of Alan Gordon’s posts on this site really helped me with this. Basically, it’s a slow process of building evidence that it is TMS, which leads to greater confidence in the diagnosis, which then leads to more success and more evidence, and so on. Somewhere he suggested that people start making an Evidence List (not sure if that is what he called it), so I started doing that and it was helpful. It was amazing how quickly I would start to doubt things, so it was really helpful to be able to look back at something I had written 2 weeks earlier that reminded me that I had some pain but that the pain DID in fact subside even though I was standing or playing hockey or working out or doing some of the things that had previously been causing me pain. The first time I started playing hockey again (or the first bunch of times actually), I was really scared that I was going to hurt myself. I felt similarly about going to the gym and working out and lifting weights. I definitely pushed myself early on (partly because I was just so eager to start playing hockey again), but I did not really have pain or if I did it was minimal and I wrote it off as TMS. Actually now that I think about it, the first handful of times I was very achy after playing and very scared that I was hurting myself, but again I was able to convince myself that it was TMS and it subsided. Pretty soon I was back at it full force and for the last few months I have had almost no pain while playing hockey and have had only 1 or 2 moments at the gym where I have felt some tweaks of pain in my back (but again I have managed to convince myself that it’s TMS and they have quickly gone away). For those of you out there who are active and worry about returning to vigorous athletic activity, I want to make sure people understand what playing ice hockey is like and what would occasionally happen to me on the ice (and obviously everyone is different and what worked for me might not work for everyone, but I want people to understand just how “vigorous” my activity has been and what is possible with TMS healing). First of all, the hockey I am playing is near college level, so it’s intense. And in the last few months I have had at least a couple instances where I have been knocked straight on my ass - like my feet left the ground and I landed directly on my back. I also had at least 2 incidents where I was skating near full speed, caught an edge or got tripped, and went sliding VERY hard into the boards, usually with my back hitting first. In all of these cases I got up and was totally fine. Like nothing - no pain at all. These experiences definitely helped me start to accept the TMS diagnosis!!! I am into meditation so I started trying to meditate more and I started journaling. I think meditation is incredibly useful in life in general, and I think it has definitely helped me stay more present and in touch with my inner feelings. And it’s helped me to notice my habitual patterns of thought that lead to fear and obsession with pain. But I am not sure about the journaling. It did help me get in touch with hidden emotions as well, so in that sense it was helpful, but I would also journal a lot about my pain, so to some extent it sort of made me continue to obsess about my back. I still think it was/is a net positive, but I probably could have been more directed in the way I was journaling. I never did the Structured Educational Program, but I suspect that could have helped me be more targeted in my writing. Another thing I tried because I felt like I needed to “do” more, was read The Presence Process (this was actually recommended by Dr. Rashbaum). I am a little on the fence as to whether I would recommend it. Overall, I think it was helpful, and it really helped me see things and see myself very differently, so I guess overall I would recommend it. But to me the book is a little out there and there were some things that I had trouble accepting. I also could never really get into the breathing that the book recommends and just found regular meditation to be better (but I accept that I may just not have been doing it right or wasn’t bought in on the process enough). I also read most of Steve Ozanich’s book and I found that to be helpful as well. All of this reading was part of my daily diet of TMS reading, which I would usually do at night for 30mins or so (sometimes more). On a daily basis I tried to be more present and mindful, and to be more comfortable with the pain when I had it. Again some of Alan Gordon’s posts helped me with this - to understand that elimination of pain is not the immediate goal. Rather, the short term goal is to change one’s relationship to the pain. This is no easy task, because obviously it seems like the whole point of all of this is to be free from pain!!! So I would have days when I could anticipate the pain and welcome it and really genuinely be accepting of it (TPP helped some here, because the book is all about integrating experiences and not rejecting or resisting them). I took the attitude that having pain would present me with an opportunity to just be with the pain and accept it, so I tried to turn it into a sort of positive experience. But I would have days when, although that was my intention, I found myself resisting the pain and getting frustrated with the fact that it was persisting. My main problem at that point (which I am still dealing with to some extent even now) was pain while standing for long periods (30mins or more). I had every reason to believe it was TMS (I was getting knocked on my ass playing hockey and deadlifting with very heavy dumbbells, but I was having pain standing still!!!), but I couldn’t completely accept it (and even still can’t 100% accept it, though I am close to 100% now). I was also getting frustrated with how long it was taking to be "healed.” It didn’t make sense to me initially that it should take a long time. I had read about people feeling pain free in days or weeks, and I just didn’t at first understand why, once I understood TMS and had taken all the steps that I had, the pain wouldn’t just go away. What more could I do? What I came to realize (and maybe this isn’t the answer for everyone but it was definitely a big part of the answer for me) is that TMS can be kind of like having an addiction or obsession (that sounds obvious now that I am writing it, but I had never thought of myself as trying to battle an addiction in the way that an alcoholic battles addiction). So I came to understand that I had these deeply ingrained patterns of thought and emotion and that it would take A LOT of time and effort and mindfulness to change them. I couldn’t undo years or even a lifetime of thought patterns overnight. That realization helped me a lot, because prior to that, the persistence of my pain in the face of all that I was doing was making me doubt TMS. I also think that I was pressuring myself a lot. I had a follow up appointment with Dr. Rashbaum months after the lectures and I think I had subconsciously set as my goal to be pain free by the time I went back to see him. And I was not. In fact, I had pain in my back as I walked through NYC on my way to his office. But somehow once the appointment was over, I guess maybe I felt like the pressure was no longer there, and I felt better! Soon after the appointment, and still feeling kind of stuck, I posted on the forum here asking for advice about pain while standing and really just looking for some feedback as to whether it could possibly be structurally caused and not TMS. By this point I had come to accept that the “injuries” I had had while playing hockey and doing other things were almost certainly manifestations of TMS, but I still could not shake the pain I was getting while standing and was doubting whether that was TMS. And I indicated in that post that I really wanted to write my success story, but felt like I wasn’t ready because I didn’t yet believe that I had fully achieved a success. I believed that I needed to be pain free and basically “cured” of my pain in order to justify writing a success story. It’s clear now looking back that this was just more pressure I was putting on myself - I think I even knew that at the time, but I still believed I hadn’t completely “arrived” at the finish line. BirdSetFree was kind enough to respond multiple times and share her wisdom, so a huge shout out to her for her help. Thank you BirdSetFree! Her comments really helped me reframe where I was with all of this. I realized a few important things and it’s pretty amazing but almost instantly after my exchange with her, I felt like I had finally “arrived!” First, I came to redefine what success really means in the context of TMS. “Cure” was just the wrong way of thinking about it. That was and I think is very unrealistic. I realized that whatever had caused me to have the TMS symptoms in the first place (my personality, my life experiences, etc.) will likely make me prone to getting some TMS pain in the future. Again I draw the analogy to a recovering alcoholic - something makes that person predisposed to have a problem with alcohol in the first place, and once they are sober it does not mean that they can expect to be around alcohol all the time and never have some internal struggle or even setbacks. And so, I shouldn’t expect that I am going to close the door on TMS and never experience pain again. Like a recovering alcoholic, I will probably be challenged in the future, will need to remain vigilant, etc. And having no pain ever should not be the goal, in my opinion, and will only set one up for frustration and doubt and needless suffering. I also just don’t think I appreciated how “successful” my healing was. Again, if measured in terms of complete elimination of pain, I felt like I was not successful. But when I stepped back to think about how my life had changed (and showed myself some compassion and understanding), it was pretty remarkable. 6 or 7 months ago I believed that I could never play my beloved sport ice hockey anymore (or that if I did I would need a spinal fusion first) and I lived in constant fear of hurting myself - hurting myself if I sat too long, stood too long, turned the wrong way, sat in the wrong kind of chair, etc. I felt like my back was so fragile that I had to do things in exactly the right was so as to not hurt myself. And I was very afraid that I would not be able to work and support my family. I was obsessed with my pain and spent countless hours doing things or strategizing to try new things to “fix” my problem. So my pain might not be completely gone, but I am living my life again, feeling great, pretty much doing whatever I want, and so on a more psychological level I feel like I have achieved a huge success. And I realized that I was just pressuring myself way too much and really resisting the pain. I must say, even at the time I was kind of aware that I was doing it, but I couldn’t help it and couldn’t figure out a way to stop doing it. Like I wrote earlier, obviously the whole point of all of this would appear to be to eliminate one’s pain. So why the hell would anyone “accept” it, right? But that is really not the main goal and I pretty wholeheartedly believe that the more one resists pain and pushes it away the more likely it is to persist. I had experienced panic attacks when I was much younger and it was the same thing with that - the more I worried about and resisted getting really anxious (and having rapid heart rate and all that goes with a panic attack) the more likely it was to happen and I eventually learned to just let it happen, accept it, and let it pass, which is how I managed to stop having runaway panic attacks. The final thing that I got from my exchange with BirdSetFree was that I was just doubting too much. It’s hard not to do that - believing that all of one’s chronic pain is TMS is easier said than done, but I think this is part of what is so great about this forum. Just having some support and encouragement and validation that my lingering pain was almost certainly TMS really helped me. Somehow it really helped me just let go and say, “Enough. Enough doubting already. Just accept it.” I think early on it’s important to have evidence to bolster one’s belief in TMS, but I think sometimes, especially when the healing is already well underway, the belief in TMS needs to precede the evidence a little bit. I realized I had nothing to lose by just giving myself over to TMS - I no longer had any fear that I was going to hurt myself by standing so I might as well just accept that it’s probably TMS. Now when I am standing and feel pain set in and when I can observe my mind go to its familiar place of feeling like it is the standing that is causing it, I sometimes just repeat, “this is TMS, this is TMS,” almost like I am just kind of shouting over the voice in my mind that wants to say, “this is your bad back!” And that seems to help! The beautiful thing is that I don’t even care that much either way. Again, I am still not 100% convinced that the pain I get while standing is TMS. I mean, I am about 95% sure, but not 100%. But because of the new framework I have for viewing all of this, it doesn’t really matter to me. I expect that I WILL sometimes experience pain (in the same way that an alcoholic probably expects that they will struggle being around alcohol at some point in the future). And that is ok! (Again that is the compassion and lack of pressure that I try to extend to myself). But I am no longer afraid that something is really wrong or that I am going to hurt myself, and I continue to live my life and do the things I want to do, so as long as that is the case it doesn’t really matter to me what is causing it. Again, I am pretty convinced that it is TMS, but the relentless search for the “right” explanation for my pain and the pressure I was putting on myself to “figure it out” and rid myself of the pain completely is exactly what was causing me to continue to suffer. So I no longer feel that sense. And I feel like I have finally arrived! For anyone who has made it this far, I am sorry that this was so long! I just wanted to include as much detail as I could to help as many people as I could. Like I wrote in the beginning, the journey is going be a little different for everyone, but I have learned a lot along the way from my own experiences and from the great insights on this website and forum, in the books I read, etc., so hopefully some of what I wrote here helps to pass the torch of learning and healing along to others.