Learning to Inhabit My Body

I have struggled all my life to be fully present. As a child, I was frequently identified by others as "spacey," "a daydreamer," and "off in her own world." I moved into adulthood as a reader and a writer. I tend to live in my head, ignoring -- or attempting to ignore -- the body.

I say "attempting to ignore" because, truth be told, the bodyrefuses to be ignored. For as long as I can remember, I have dealt with chronic pain -- a condition that I share with many of my fellow adoptees, as well as with countless other sufferers. In my case, the pain is a slippery one, moving around my body, settling in one spot for a while and then moving on to another. My neck and shoulders are its most common residence, but it has also been known migrate down to my lower back or into my hip, knee, or even my ankle.

I've used a variety of techniques over the years to manage the pain: medication, yoga, massage, chiropractic care, etc. All have been effective to varying degrees, but pain management, I've found, is an ongoing process. Sometimes I manage well; other times, not so well.

The tool that seems to be most effective for me is something called Somatic Experiencing®. Developed by Dr. Peter Levine, Somatic Experiencing® is a body-awareness technique that operates on the assumption that humans (unlike animals in the wild) tend to hold onto traumatic energy in the body. Rather than completing the full fight, flight, or freeze response, we often get stuck mid-process. Somatic Experiencing® employs a variety of guided visualization exercises to help the sufferer release the traumatic energy and move forward. 

In the past I have worked with a therapist trained in Somatic Experiencing®, and I found the techniques to be very effective. But therapy is expensive, and the therapist's office was not ideally located for me. As a result, I stopped going once I was beyond the crisis point. I got to "good enough," and called it good enough.

In the last year or so, I've slipped into a phase of managing my pain less effectively than I have at times in the past. Part of this has to do with caffeine. I seem to be highly sensitive to caffeine and do better when using less of it, but I have a tendency to slip into bad habits in this area. The other factor is that I simply hadn't been doing the work. Rather, I had been relying on analgesics -- using them more and more frequently and at higher and higher doses, while simultaneously finding them to be less and less effective. Something had to change.

So I've cut back on caffeine and I've returned to Somatic Experiencing®, this time as a self-guided process using Maggie Phillips and Peter A. Levine's book and audio Freedom from Pain. Additionally, I've been supplementing with Jon Kabat-Zinn's audio Meditation for Pain Relief.

I'm finding the two approaches to be complementary, as both pull my attention to the inner sensations of body and breath and draw on the healing potential of the mind-body connection. The results are promising. I've already cut down my use of pain medication to next to nothing, and I'm also finding that I feel more comfortable and confident overall.

Time will tell if these results are long-lasting, but in this moment I am feeling good. And as Kabat-Zinn and others have noted, "this moment" is all we really ever have.

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