Shame Stories and Chronic Pain – Using Mindfulness to Heal
I woke up confused- fresh off a vivid, violent dream, and hurting from head to toe. Some days seem set before my feet hit the floor. Eyes open to yesterday’s struggles, and I’m wishing for a Teflon brain, so all my troubles could slide right off.
Painful mornings stack up, making it easy to slip into a story…
I feel too much pain. Maybe I made this happen. If I was stronger I could overcome this. Other people get things done and go to bed accomplished. I’m perpetually behind. What’s the use of trying to catch up? I’m different, separate, and never good enough.
This is the story I tell myself when I wake up from traumatic dreams and in physical pain. It’s a shame-driven story, and one which shows me just how entwined physical and mental pain are.
About a year ago I told my therapist about my pain and shame story. She said, “you don’t have to believe your thoughts.” My eyeballs dropped out of my face. That shame story played so often, it was hard to stop believing it. It just felt like who I was!
I began to practice mindfulness by paying attention to my stories. Mindfulness entails observing things as they are, no more, no less. It’s about recognizing our feelings, but leaving the storyline out. With mindfulness we can move through our feelings, rather than cling to and over-identify with them.
Once I became aware of the way I was speaking to myself, I learned I could take the needle off the record. I could practice using a compassionate voice- the sort I’d use if I was talking to someone I loved.
By noticing, then separating my shame story about my pain from my pain, I free myself up to compassionately care for my body. I gather ice packs, heating pad, pain meds, and oils. I rest and make plans based on my spoon gauge. I cultivate love and acceptance of myself, and resist the soul-suck of bitterness.
Mindfulness is a practice. It’s not something I’ll ever *get* or a space which I’ll rise to and abide in. It’s a choice to learn about shame, notice how shame shows up in my life, and work hard at the practices that will make me more resilient.
When we feel pain, the stories we tell ourselves may be colored by shame. One way to become resilient to shame is to speak it. That’s why I’m here, sharing with you. Thank you for being a part of my healing journey.