Chronic pain is very discouraging. Ten months ago I had a spinal fusion because of a back injury I suffered. I had been in pain for two years prior to it. And now, as I’m supposed to feel the relief of full recovery, I still have back pain and nerve pain in my feet.
Like some of you, chronic pain has robbed me of my zest for life. And it has left me feeling very discouraged—even hopeless. But at 57-years-old, I am not willing to spend the next 20 years marooned by medications, living in an opioid stupor.
It’s time to get out of the preoccupation with pain and to get into my life.
Living an inspired life means making inspiring choices. One of the most inspiring of those choices was to embrace the power of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT).
At the core of ACT pain therapy is an essential truth: elimination of chronic pain is not possible for some of us. But it doesn’t have to sideline us. In their Internet workbook called Life with Chronic Pain: An Acceptance-based Approach, Kevin E. Vowles, Ph.D. and John T. Sorrell, Ph.D., apply the core processes of ACT to pain.
They acknowledge that pain, thoughts and mood, and basic functioning interact in a way that contributes to increasing problems and decreasing quality of life. As so many of us who suffer have come to realize, treatments often fail to provide us with long-term decreases in pain.
Trying to change our thoughts and moods also becomes problematic. “If you wake up in a sad mood, does telling yourself, ‘Don’t be sad anymore.’ lead to any change in your mood?” ask Vowles and Sorrell, knowing, too, that trying not to think about your pain only increases its hold over you.
Functioning, though, may be the area where your efforts will have the most impact, according to Vowles and Sorrell. It’s about deciding what is vitally important to you and pursing it despite pain. I have found that if I remain on the sidelines trying to avoid anything that may incite my pain, that my pain still exists. On the other hand, when I am actively engaged in my life, I often forget about my pain. Consider this: when you are laughing with loved ones, what happens to your pain? Exactly! It disappears. Remember, we give power to whatever we give attention to.
Breaking ACT Down
The “A” in ACT is about acceptance. It’s about becoming comfortable with discomfort. “It is not the same as defeat, helplessness, quitting, or resigning to a life of unhappiness, struggle, or misery,” Vowles and Sorrell say. Acceptance of chronic pain, then, is living a life driven by the things you value despite a physical issue that contributes to pain and suffering.
The “C” in ACT is about commitment. By combining acceptance with commitment, you begin living a life driven by the things you value despite a physical issue that contributes to pain and suffering. “Values are what you want your life to stand for,” according to Vowles and Sorrel. “Values are what you want to be remembered for by loved ones and close friends after you have passed.”
ACT is about accepting the fact that we all face difficult challenges that we cannot control, alter, or eliminate. It’s not about “throwing in the towel.” We, instead, commit to a life in which we are engaged in the present moment with things we value in the here and now. We live a life, not in the absence of pain, but knowing that there is something more important than pain.
I leave you with words that you can say that will help you keep your mind centered on acceptance and commitment. It is called the Serenity Prayer: Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.