After seven months of chronic pain, I’m thrilled to be able to say that my sciatica is gone! You’ll never guess how, either. I wouldn’t believe it unless I actually did it. A few years ago, I picked up the Mind Body Prescription by Dr. Sarno, read it, then tossed it aside. I didn’t get it. It felt like a bunch of theory to me without any practical steps I could take and use in my life. At the same time, I wasn’t in physical pain then and really did not have a reason to use it, but was always fascinated by the mind body connection.
After having a few rounds of back pain in the past few years and enduring my most recent bout with sciatica, I decided to pick up a few of Dr. Sarno’s books and give it another whirl. I am a firm believer in the mind body connection which is really the connection between our health, our thoughts and emotions. Dr. Sarno’s books were a natural extension of this for me, so it didn’t seem that far out as I read his explanation of what the brain does to protect us from stressful thoughts and emotions. He believes that some pain, especially back pain, is your brain’s way of distracting you from something you don’t want to deal with or face. There are many people who have herniated discs and other structural abnormalities and do not experience pain, while others do. What’s the difference? Dr. Sarno calls it TMS syndrome which stands for Tension myositis syndrome. TMS is a condition in which emotional stress causes physical pain and other symptoms. His theory suggests that the autonomic nervous system decreases blood flow to muscles, nerves or tendons, resulting in oxygen deprivation, experienced as pain and tension in the affected tissues.
The emotional stress is usually some kind of repressed rage but can be other emotions as well. As a survivor of abuse, there was plenty of repressed rage mixed in with a bunch of other emotions that were too frightening as a child to express and too unavailable to me as an adult. I also had the classic personality of someone with TMS. I am a perfectionist and to some extent a goodist, someone who strives to always do the right thing, to be good. Dr. Sarno, says perfectionists and what he calls goodists are very susceptible to back pain because of the internal rage they feel at having to be “perfect” or “good” all the time. People with trauma history are also very susceptible to back pain.
He claims that many people can read any one of his books on a daily basis for a few weeks and their pain can go away. Some have to go to the three hour lecture he conducts in NYC and others may need to go to psychotherapy sessions focusing more on the underlying issues. There are also some daily exercises you can do at home. I anticipated that I would be one of the hard ones to crack, that perhaps I would need all three approaches and then some. But I didn’t. I read passages in the books a few times, started acting as if I was no longer someone with “back pain”, resumed some activities I was told to avoid such as bending down, spoke to my mind/brain and let it know that it no longer needed to distract me and that I could handle whatever it was protecting me from. In about a week and a half, the pain was down 50%, by about three weeks it was down 90%. Every once in a while I still get a twinge of pain or pulsing down my leg and I talk back to my brain, reassure it that I can handle whatever it is and the pain goes away. Sounds crazy, and if I hadn’t done it myself, I wouldn’t believe it.
The beauty is that you don’t even need to know what your brain is distracting you from. You can make a list of what you think it is, just so you are aware but you don’t need to know exactly which stressor it is. You also don’t need release the rage or whatever the emotion is although this is ideal. Dr. Sarno says most people are unable to release repressed rage especially if it is long stemming or just too frightening to do so. According to him you can still release the pain by acknowledging what your brain is trying to accomplish. It is called knowledge therapy, which really involves knowing specifically what your brain is doing and how your body is responding through TMS. Just reading the books and understanding what is going on, is enough in about 85% of the cases.
This was quite a relief for me as someone who was very aware of the lost feelings of trauma but unable to access them. For years I spent a lot of time trying to figure out what was causing my various illnesses and all I ended up doing was going in circles. It could have been anything, but with Dr. Sarno’s work, I didn’t need to know what it was in order to heal. I could just acknowledge that I was repressing emotions, that my mind was trying to protect me and that now I could regain control by being willing to face whatever it is in time.
I must admit that I have also done a lot of work around feeling my feelings and uncovering some of the lost emotions in my traumatic childhood. I am also in therapy and have been working on my “stuff” for quite a while, long before Dr. Sarno’s work came into my life. It is this combination plus getting more in tune with my body which has equaled this enormous shift in my health. I am grateful every day for all the wonderful tools that I have at my disposal and for my ability to see them and use them.
For those of you who may be experiencing health issues in your own life, or in particular back pain, I must caution that you have to be ready to let it go. You may say, well of course, I want to let it go, who wants to be sick? The reality is, many of us are addicted to pain or being sick. I know because I was and still am to a certain extent one of those people. As a child it was the only way I received love and attention from my abusive mother and so it became a way of life.
As an adult I became one of those adults who commiserated with others about my health issues. I frequently visited the doctor, had chronic bronchitis, chronic back pain and for a period of about seven years had abnormal cells growing inside my body. By the time I was 37, I had three surgeries to remove abnormal cells/tumor from various parts of my body. I know full well what is like to not let it go, to not be willing on subconscious level to release it and to not even be aware that it was serving me in any way.
The truth was that my back pain and my various illnesses served me for a very long time. It was my way of getting out of things, not having to take responsibility or do things I was afraid of doing. It was my handy excuse whenever life just got too hard or scary. I eventually had to get tired of being sick. I had to want and need my wellbeing more than I wanted the love and attention I received from being ill. Releasing this identity was terrifying, for I was identified with being someone who became sick often. I was the person who always had some weird thing going on, someone people worried about and wondered about. I needed to get to the point where I could begin to give myself the love and attention I depended on from others. I needed to embrace and experience my life fully despite the fear. I needed to return to my Self. It is a daily process of remembering and returning to the truth of who I am. Today, I am now healthier than I have ever been.
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