It takes courage to acknowledge when something we want to get rid of is the very thing that has been protecting us from perceived harm. Sometimes we have physical challenges in life. These challenges could be knee issues, back pain, chronic fatigue syndrome, the list goes on and on. It takes a brave person to finally accept ‘Hey, I think a part of me wants to be in pain, because it protects me’.
Why do I say this? Because I’m there right now.
I’m into my final week of a 12-week chiropractic process for my back pain. I used to be someone with my head forward, my neck forward and my shoulders very hunched. I guess in a way I started doing this in my early teens when I noticed I was the tallest in my class. I also had some early life programming that made me want to hide myself. There was deep shame inside of me that led me to physically try to become invisible.
So over time my neck leaned further forward, as did my shoulders. And as my chiropractor said, when the head and neck are forward, the balance of weight is off, so the rest of the body, back and spine compensate to find a new centre of balance. That means that you can have spine issues, knee problems, hips going out of place, even feet or arm issues all stemming from another issue. The body always wants to keep us in balance. Even if we have made the body out of balance it will find a new centre.
Over the years my back pain has gotten worse. I am at the computer a lot, but I have done a lot to try to alleviate it. From making sure I take plenty of breaks and do stretches, to using a standing desk to break up the sitting down. I also have a kneeling chair. However, I grew more and more frustrated that no matter what I was doing, my back was in so much pain both sitting and standing. And my neck and shoulders were causing me problems in bed.
After my first course of treatments with an ABC expert (Advanced BioStructural Correction) my back started to straighten, my shoulders have moved back and my neck and head are no longer in the forward position, but the back pain has still been very stubborn.
It has been in the position of the middle back, it is a burning pain. This past week I had an appointment with my chiropractor. He had reminded me of mindfulness and asking the pain if it had a message for me, so I did ask the pain. I sat with it for a bit and I realised before my next appointment that the pain was a huge protection for me.
Pain Is My Fear of Change
Pain for me means I cannot fulfil my goals or aims in life. A lot of my ideas involve working at the computer or sitting in some way. The pain has been protecting me from perceived future harm or fears. Mainly a fear of change, a fear of moving forward.
Once I realised this, I had a really intense maintenance session with my chiropractor on the same day. I was ‘cracked’ from the base of my spine all the way up to the bottom of my neck, but I knew it was like a response to my new understanding. New body incoming!
On the way back from my chiropractor the previous day I had seen a caterpillar running along the path. It was orange and black. On the way to my intense maintenance session I saw the exact same caterpillar on the same path.
So I looked into caterpillar. I realised that so many of us look at the beautiful butterfly. We all want to be the butterfly, spread our wings and fly. I had not really thought about the cycle of the caterpillar. I soon discovered caterpillar symbolises determination, patience, moving forward, but especially moving forward in the face of not knowing our potential, moving forward regardless.
After my session I went home and while having lunch with my housemate I burst into hysterical laughter. I suddenly realised a statement I had been saying to myself over and over again was very relevant. The statement was ‘I’m sick of holding myself BACK’.
And there you have it, my back was holding me back. With the pain and challenges sitting, it was protecting me from future change. It wasn’t doing some bad thing; it wasn’t something I needed to get rid of, but to understand and have compassion for the part of me scared of change. It will do anything to make sure support or help I get doesn’t work, because if it doesn’t work, I remain safe in my uncomfortable comfort zone.
I’ve lost count of the number of times I have thought to myself ‘I’d love to focus more and spend more time on this particular goal, but I can’t because I’m in too much pain’. So instead I would go downstairs, laze on my sofa and watch TV instead of doing those productive things that could effect change in my world.
Huge Secondary Benefits
Many of us do this. You may be reading this wondering ‘Is there any pain I am holding onto because it protects me, it gives me secondary benefits?’ More than likely you have at least one.
I also feel that sometimes, long term conditions like chronic fatigue syndrome can be so deeply embedded because the pressure of the world, the pressure of getting things right, has become so strong, the body just says ‘I’m exhausted, all of the time’. Much like my back, it may well be a route to avoid living, to avoid moving forward in some area and even more so if the health issue becomes your identity.
I do know people who have health conditions who have made health issues their entire identity, joining the club of people with that condition. It gives a sense of belonging, solidarity in the pain, however…long term it’s not a healthy plan for life. This is where sometimes holding on to an issue gives us more benefits because we haven’t dared to look beyond those benefits.
Another example is alcoholics.
Many alcoholics fall off the wagon, not just because of addiction but because they can then re-join the club of AA and get support and help and connection with others. That is not to say this is always the case, but every addiction we drop back into is because we gain something from it, not just the drug of choice.
And going back to my back, I sit here writing this blog post and my middle back is in intense pain, it is burning. It’s like a signal saying, ‘You need to listen to me, I am protecting you, you can’t let this pain go’.
However, the alternative is growing more strongly for me.
I want change.
I want to move forward.
I no longer wish to hold myself BACK.
If I have to be like the caterpillar for a while, moving forward, even when the pain is there, so be it. I don’t want to stop. I need to see this through.
Is there anything in your body that is signalling a change is needed and the pain or discomfort is holding you in an uncomfortable comfort zone or identity that needs to now be released?