I was 13 years old when I was goofing off with my best friend in the gym at our junior high school playing “king of the bleachers” when she pushed me off and I landed on my tailbone, subsequently causing a herniated disc at L4-5 in my back. Because I was, first of all, super tiny and, second, so young, it took nearly 8 months of seeing specialists in my tiny home town to figure out what was going on. That August between my 8th grade and freshman year, I underwent surgery to repair my back.
10 years later, while not really taking care of myself and exercising, I ended up re-injuring this section of my back, ending up again in surgery, at 24 years of age.
My drinking began in high school and looking back I don’t know how much of it was because of the pain I dealt with. My drinking amped up in my 20s with the loss of my brother and then again dealing with physical pain. As a result of that first injury I have suffered with back pain my entire life. But up until about 2 years ago, I never labeled myself as a chronic pain sufferer. In fact, when hearing others talk about their pain I would get so annoyed with them. I don’t talk about my pain and I surely don’t want to listen to others complain about all of their pain. My attitude is that it’s a waste of time. Why spend my hours and minutes ruminating about my back pain and all the things I can or cannot do because of it? I don’t want pity and I certainly don’t want to waste other people’s time boring them with my stories of how much pain I’m in.
But through this journey, I have finally begun to accept my lifelong pain. Call it chronic pain suffering if you must. But it’s not the label. It’s the fact that pain has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. The lessons I’m learning along this journey have been about accepting things for what they are. The biggest one I’m learning right now is about ownership and letting go of the blame game.
What I mean by this is, yes, I can sit in blame. In many ways, that’s easier. Tina pushed me off the bleachers and it was HER fault I landed on my ass that caused the herniation. I can continue to blame circumstances throughout my life that caused me to not take care of myself which resulted in another disc herniation in my 20s. I can easily blame that single accident at 13 that subsequently caused all of the issues with my back over the past 40 years. That’s easy.
But what if I now take ownership of all that? Since I quit drinking in February, I have, for the first time in my life, been able to start an exercise program. The last time I had back pain was in March and I have been feeling amazing. Proof to me that all of the recommendations for building a stronger core and overall strength will help my back is absolutely true. I ended up getting sick recently preventing me from exercising as I’m trying to recover. What happened? My back went out. My chronic pain is that. It’s chronic. So when other things go wrong, that is likely going to be the first thing that rears its ugly head. When my back started hurting this time, I had all the initial emotions: fear, anger, frustration. But I never once turned to the thought of, “boy do I want a drink”. That was HUGE for me. In March, when my back was bothering me, I definitely went there.
I learned a key coping skill a while back about how much language affects us. That the way we talk to ourselves will drive the outcome. The words I used above, fear, anger, frustration, is what I went to initially. But I have begun to take ownership of my pain. Instead of fear, what about courage? Anger? How about acceptance. And frustration?? Let’s say ‘challenge’!
Instead of blaming my problems on that single incident in December when I was 13 years old, I’m taking full ownership of it. Like it or not, it’s mine. I have the courage to face it. I have accepted that it is part of who I am. I am up for the challenges I face dealing with the pain. It is certainly not who I am but having ownership of it helps me stop the blame game.
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