Mindful Monday: Learning Acceptance in Chronic Pain
Lately I have been listening and reading a lot about acceptance. I’ve been trying to relate it to my diagnosis and the chronic pain that I experience everyday. This weekend I dove a little deeper into the topic of acceptance, as I just couldn’t wrap my head around 100% accepting my new life chronic pain. I began reading several articles, participating in guided meditations and reflecting on what all this means. This topic proved to be difficult for me. I wasn’t even sure that I would be able to make enough sense of it to write this post. I had touched on it briefly in other mindfulness posts but I had avoided focusing an entire piece on the concept. Because lets face it, who wants to accept being in pain? And in a difficult moment? Not me!
As I continued to read through my material I had gathered on the subject, the dots began to connect for me. Now…. this doesn’t make me an expert. I honestly hope that I continue to learn more about concept because research shows that it does lessen our suffering and therefore lessens our physical pain. So lets take a look:
Here are my take-aways on acceptance and how it relates to chronic pain & illness
Acceptance does not mean “giving up”, “throwing in the towel” or “feeling like a doormat”.
- This is what grabbed my attention. We don’t have to grab our pompoms and do a victory cheer for pain or the illness that is present in our life. We only need to acknowledge that it is there.
- For me accepting CRPS was difficult and it is ongoing challenge. I don’t think acceptance is a one time deal. For me it is not: “Well, I have accepted that I have this chronic pain and I don’t ever need to think about it again!” Instead it is a daily acceptance, daily awareness and sometimes a moment by moment recognition. And honestly, somedays are harder than others, but that is okay.
- If you follow my blog you know that I am always saying no judgement, no judgement, no judgement! I do this because when we add in judgement we are bringing in new suffering as negativity, shame and disappointment and it causes us to latch onto an already difficult experience or moment.
- We are simply seeing something for what it is. And if there is a feeling already attached to the situation, we accept that as well.
- I’m noticing that my pain has been increasing the last few weeks. Today I had to cancel having brunch with my girlfriends because I knew I had to do some self-care and I had to choose between taking care of myself and friends. I certainly don’t feel happy about cancelling. I am disappointed. BUT I am only accepting this: “My pain is higher than I would like it to be, I had to make a decision that would help support me for the week, and I am disappointed.” THAT IS ALL. I don’t have to like it (I don’t like it). I am also not projecting that this will happen in all scenarios going forward. I am accepting this moment for what it is.
When we accept, we are relaxing the resistance.
- when the resistance against the reality is relaxed, we allow ourselves the space that we need to heal, breathe, and release tension (which may be causing increased pain). (Think of acceptance as a big exhale)
- We are letting go of the narrative that we want things to be different.
If you can’t acknowledge where you are in this moment or the truth of the moment, it is difficult to move forward.
- Going back to my scenario today. If I allowed the decision to not go to brunch with friends to negatively impact my day, I wouldn’t have been able to take care of myself. With that resistance, I would have increased pain. I wouldn’t have been able to get my groceries for the week, prepare my lunches in advance for work and write this post. I would have stayed in the disappointment & resistance by thinking “I hate this, this is awful, I can’t believe this is happening to me again, this isn’t fair, my friends aren’t going to ask me to go ever again, my life is ruined.” (see how that snowballed!) And for those of you who find yourself in this scenario, you know that I am not exaggerating about how quickly things snowball!
Respond don’t react.
- When we accept something we are only acknowledging what a moment is, without judgement.
- If we judge a moment, we end up reacting. Which sometimes is not a good way to move forward. We have all had a time where we reacted impulsively and then regretted it later. Through acceptance, you are able to respond with clarity and grace.
- Wise behavior can also come out of acceptance & good boundaries can be established.
The link below is a guided meditation on accepting pain. It is under 12 minutes and even if you are a novice, this will help you put the act of acceptance into practice. Tara Brach’s voice is gentle guidance and she provides alternatives to when the pain may be too much to bear. I am bookmarking this to return to whenever my pain is just too much.
Check in with yourself after this meditation. Are you feeling less resistant? Is the tension of holding on to a belief relaxed? Where you able to stay with your pain? Did you notice what happened to the pain as you focused on the sensation? Without imposing on your experience, I would like to share that my pain often shifts in my body when I accept it. It will change shape and origin. It also often times shrinks or goes away completely. Of course this doesn’t happen every single time and there is no right or wrong experience.
Do you have something in your life that you are struggling to accept? Please feel free to leave a comment below.