Consider your healing journey in terms of becoming a Major League baseball player. You are the hitter and life is the pitcher. Your goal is to get on base safely.
“You are not here to get rid of your mental or physical pain.” This is true because your attention is on the pain, and it is continuing to run the show. So, my patients frequently asked me, “why am I talking to you?” My reply was, “You are here to learn how to live the life that you want. You can move away from these unpleasant, but necessary pain circuits.” This is the opposite of “fixing.” How do you accomplish this?
Chronic symptoms, illness, and disease all have a common cause – time spent in threat physiology. Physiology is the term that refers to how your body functions. The common term for threat physiology is “flight or fight” and your body will eventually break down. The answer for healing lies in minimizing your time in threat physiology and optimizing time in safety, where your body will rest and regenerate. Anytime your circumstances, stresses, or threats exceed your coping skills, you’ll be in flight or fight. By viewing your journey as learning how to become a “professional” in processing your stresses and increasing the resiliency of your nervous system, you can accomplish this goal.
Major League Baseball
There are many ways to get on base safely. You might make it with a walk, being hit by a pitch, an error, balk, dropped third strike by the catcher, or a base hit. It requires years of repetition to develop a disciplined eye for “your pitch”, have the patience to walk (especially with two strikes), have a reproducible consistent swing, and be in excellent physical shape.
Life throws us any type of pitch at any speed – fastball, curve, slider, sinker, and changeup. It may be delivered overhand, sidearm, or even a submarine. It is almost miraculous that a human ever hit sthe ball. Some pitchers “cheat” with spitballs, which increase the movement of the ball, and are illegal.
Years of coaching and practice are required to make it to the majors. You must develop a wide range of skills and engage in tens of thousands of hours of repetition to make it to the top. There are different levels of skill ranging from little league, the major league farm system, and then majors. A nickname for this highest level is the “circus” – not a subtle analogy to life.
With regards to chronic mental and physical pain, we are generally focused on fixing the problem, but there is a problem. Healing occurs through your brain physically adapting to what you want (neuroplasticity). If you are working on what you don’t want, your pain circuits are reinforced. You must learn to separate from what you don’t want, and “get on base,” by creating safety physiology. In this state, your body heals. The more time you can spend in safety, the better.
Keep in mind that the best players make an out a high percent of the time. Life keeps coming at us and sometimes we do well and often we don’t. That is not “failure”, it is just life.
The key to healing is learning and developing your own set of strategies to create safety physiology. The approaches are in two different arenas. One is efficiently processing adversity and the other is nurturing joy. Each person is unique and will attain his or her own best set in each realm. If you are waiting for a medical provider, course, or book to fix you, how is that going to work?
It is also critical to always treat yourself with kindness. Your skills will be limited in the beginning. You have to attain a minimum level to play the game, including just learning the rules and then strategies. That is why there is a “homework” of learning the nature of the problem and the principles of allowing your body to heal.
As you work your way through the system beginning with little league, high school, and then Single A ball to the top, you’ll begin to feel better. The good news with pain, is that it doesn’t require years, as much as it does require repetition. Most people already know many of the healing concepts but must learn to create a more cohesive whole. Each person moves at his or her own speed.
“I don’t want any pain.”
One common trap in dealing with pain, is that people want it gone forever. If they heal then “relapse”, they become upset and self-critical. Even worse, they might blame someone for their pain. Staying alive is a challenge and there will always be pain at some level every day. It may be minimal. But some days your stresses may be overwhelming, or your nervous system is hyper-reactive, and you’ll go into a threat physiology state. The good news is that you’ll come out more quickly and eventually you’ll learn better ways to avoid it as you become more proficient.
Staying focused on fixing your pain will take you in the wrong direction. You must learn the skills to feel safe, attain the life you want and move away from the pain. We all begin somewhere, and you don’t have to be in the majors to have a lot of relief. Even in little league, you’ll experience a lot of success. Remember, the highest-level players continue to hone their skills and practice even harder.
You might feel that you can’t put in the time or effort to learn these skills to heal. Really? This your one chance at life. It requires much more energy to flail away in The Abyss than to be out of it and thrive. What is more important than you? Become a professional at living your life.