“Find a place inside where there’s joy, and the joy will burn out the pain.” – Joseph Campbell
I am certainly not unique in my experience of pain. Like physical scars — of which I have plenty — pain of any kind tends to hang around doing its dirty work until the one suffering takes appropriate action to help dispel it. Granted, some physical pain can only be ameliorated, not eradicated. That’s good enough in some instances, although not ideal. Having gone through numerous instances where I’ve suffered intense physical pain, some of it chronic, as well as emotional pain complicated by other factors, I’ve emerged both wiser and more effective in learning how to let go of pain. I hope you can benefit from what works for me.
My 24-hour theory – Everything changes.
During the worst and most painful moments of my life, I discovered a secret. I measured the hours and imagined myself and how I’d feel 24 hours hence. I recognized — even though I couldn’t physically feel the change yet — that I’d be different, that my level of pain would not be the same. That gave me hope that I could endure it. I have found this to be true no matter what the instance or episode of pain, whether in recovery post-surgery, or dealing with gripping emotional pain.
Just make it through the next 24 hours and things will be better. Tell yourself that and believe it with all your heart. Be sure to think back to how you felt a day earlier, and you’ll understand what I mean about how everything changes.
Employ the power of distraction.
I write a lot about mental health disorders, healthy lifestyles, wellness and positivity. One of the ways that people in recovery from addiction and/or psychological disorders such as anxiety and depression make it through pain is to make use of the power of distraction. When you fully engage your mind (and body, in the case of doing some physical activity), you’re not thinking about drinking, smoking a joint, how your life feels empty and worthless, or much of anything else that’s causing you pain. You have to really throw yourself into what you’re doing in order for distraction to work. It also helps if what you choose to do has been enjoyable in the past, for this helps resurrect pleasure to edge out the pain. Yes, distraction is a temporary measure, yet it is an effective one to keep pain at bay and allow you time to heal.
Pain is a negative. When you feel it, instead of wallowing in the fact that you’re miserable, do something to pamper yourself. Get a massage. Take a hot soaking bath. Make some tea. Go see a movie you’ve had on your list. Eat your favorite food — just keep it in moderation. What constitutes pampering for you is purely personal. It should be something you only do on occasion, something you identify with being extra attentive to yourself. You’ll feel better afterward, of that I’m fairly certain. After all, who doesn’t love a little me-time?
Spend time with people you enjoy being with.
One of the most effective ways to blot out the pain actually covers two items on my how-to list. When you spend time with people you enjoy being with, you’re employing distraction and doing something to pamper yourself. Sure, you could just connect online, but isn’t it more satisfying to get together in-person and real-time? Go to a coffee shop you like to frequent. Meet for dinner or the aforementioned movie. Engage in a recreational pursuit or work on a hobby or pastime together. Maybe go somewhere for a mini-trip or weekend vacation. You get the idea. Pain is always magnified when you’re alone and isolated. By spending time with others – and the key is people you like to be with – pain tends to recede, if just a bit and for a little while. It no longer has control over you, as you’ve taken steps to overcome it.
Seek professional counseling to help combat enduring pain (emotional and physical).
Having overcome a few physical issues, I’ve also had to simultaneously cope with various emotional problems that got in the way of my healing, let alone overall well-being. I knew I couldn’t just make the sadness or feelings of hopelessness go away on my own, so I sought psychiatric counseling. It didn’t matter to me what others might think, whether they’d view my going to counseling as a sign of weakness or consider me a failure. Since I lacked a well-defined support network, counseling was the only viable course of action. What I learned during psychotherapy was that I’m so much stronger and more capable than I ever dreamed. I had all the basic tools, I just didn’t know how to use them. I learned to believe in myself, to make smarter decisions, to think before acting on impulse, to consider how my behavior might affect others, and so much more. Frankly, I can’t think of a more effective way to let go of pain than psychological counseling.
Learn about exciting new developments in non-opioid pain management.
There’s much intriguing research going on now, some of it funded by the National Institutes of Health, on identifying the pathways of pain with the ultimate goal of developing non-opioid medications and treatments to combat pain. For example, investigators at Harvard Medical School have identified the nerve-signaling pathway involved in deep and sustained pain immediately following an injury. They also shed light on the body’s reflexive withdrawal to avoid injury and pain-coping responses afterward. Their research found that the rapid withdrawal reflex is nature’s first-line defense to avoid injury, while the secondary, pain-coping response “helps reduce suffering and avert widespread tissue damage as a result of the injury.” Why is this important? In the drive to develop non-opioid pain treatments, researchers suggested a more tailored approach for assessing pain response would be to focus on sustained response rather than reflexive protective withdrawal.
You may need medication to let go of pain in the short term. With some emotional pain and mental health disorders, you may need to take medication for a longer time. Yet, by staying up-to-date on developments in the field of pain management and treatment approaches to overcome pain without opioid drugs, you may learn about approaches that may work for you to alleviate your pain. Information is great currency. Talk with your doctor or treatment provider to find out what might be best for you.
Finally, recognize that while everyone experiences pain, some pain is temporary and some lasts longer, there are always things you can do to effectively let go of the pain. Be open to trying new pain relief methods — as long as they’re proven through research and clinical trials, such as mindfulness meditation to cope with chronic pain. Above all, be hopeful and proactive in managing your personal well-being.