One of the more challenging aspects of escaping your pain is that you cannot do it. You cannot fix yourself. Understandably, everyone wants to be free of pain. But that is not life. Remember that the brain treats emotional and physical pain in a similar manner and the body’s physiological response is the same. So even you were to be rid of your physical symptoms the quality of your life would not change as much as you might think, since the emotional circuits will keep firing and your misery will continue. I used to think that if I effectively relieved a specific symptom in a patient with chronic pain, the relief would be so compelling it would propel them back into a full life. I could not have been more wrong. Raw anxiety is intolerable and it does not improve. Disturbingly, often another body part will frequently light up in pain. Going one step deeper, it has been shown that the quality of your sleep is a better predictor of becoming disabled than the severity of your leg pain. (1) So if you cannot fix yourself, what do you do? The patients who are successful in regaining their lives let go and move on. It is not quite that simple in that it requires engaging in specific practices to accomplish it. But it can happen very quickly – within days or weeks. The unwinnable battle The more you do battle with your pain, the more neurological energy is being spent on them and you are reinforcing the pain pathways. It is like being caught in a Chinese finger trap. The goal of being emotionally or physically pain free is not possible. Once you can accept the pain of living and move forward regardless of your pain, your attention will shift back to life and off of the pain. That is when your pain will begin to abate or disappear. Play pathways are also permanent and are present somewhere in everyone. Re-connecting with them, with or without your pain, is maybe the most powerful way out of pain. It is not even logical to think that if your pain was gone that you could enjoy your life. There are too many ways to experience pain. You have to first learn to enjoy life, understanding there are days you will enjoy it more than others. This is not about positive thinking, which is another way of suppressing negative thinking. It is about a positive outlook where you keep moving forward and staying engaged regardless of your circumstances. An old song returns One example I often use in clinic is that any time you do not spend time practicing a skill, you will eventually lose it. My wife played guitar in her 20’s and became proficient in a picking style of performing. Two years ago she began to take lessons from an extraordinary Bay Area guitar teacher. About six months into her lessons, parts of some old songs began to return in her head. One day she sat down and played a complete piece that she had not thought about for decades. The pathways were still there. Anxiety and anger circuits will atrophy, if you turn your attention elsewhere. They will never completely disappear since these are also emotions that are necessary for survival and will be in play daily. By become aware of their influence, you will gradually spend less and less time on them. Nurturing the part of your brain that enjoys life is a learned skill. That is why it is so critical what you choose to program it with. If your default state of mind is that of being agitated and upset, that is what will evolve. As you trigger the same response in those close to you, then there is no end to this universal ping pong game. Conversely, if you choose gratitude and joy, the same phenomenon will lift you upward. There is a lot to be angry about and also much to enjoy. What is your choice? How are you going to move forward? The Way to Love Two Wolves 1. Zarrabian MM, et al. “Relationship between sleep, pain, and disability in patients with spinal pathology.” Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation (2014); 95:1504-1509.