Staying in the Storm

posted in: Stage 3, Stage 3: Step 4

Almost every patient of mine who is in chronic pain is also experiencing much adversity in the rest of his or her life. Chronic pain rips through every aspect of your life and there is no apparent escape. The stories I hear each day are mind-boggling. They include abuse, murder, family suicides, extreme financial struggles, homelessness…the list goes on and on. The anger I hear expressed about these troubles is more than legitimate.

The point I always make to my patients is that the energy being drained by your anger is what is needed to solve your problems. However, the more legitimate your anger, the harder it is to detach from it. It will destroy you if you don’t. So, you still need to truly let it go. Being trapped by chronic pain, of course, is a valid reason to remain angry.




True Freedom

It is critical that you learn this life lesson quickly: separate your life circumstances from your happiness. When your peace of mind is independent of your external circumstances, then you are free. Period. End of story. Here is one of my personal learning experiences:

I started my Seattle practice in 1986. I thought I had it made and had all the tools I needed to help people out of pain with spine surgery. I quickly found out that it wasn’t that easy.  I was working long hours. Most patients did well after surgery but many did not and were upset with me. There are complications associated with spine surgery and some were severe. All of this took a toll. There were also the stresses associated with running a practice.

I remember sitting at my desk late one night in 1988 ruminating about my problems. I had a patient with a massive wound infection; another 300-pound post-op patient was belligerent and fighting with the hospital security guard; I was having a hard time financially meeting the office overhead; and as I opened my mail, one of the envelopes contained a summons for a malpractice suit. I remember thinking, “I can do this. I’m tough. Bring it on.”

Six months later, I began to experience anxiety. I was not familiar with this emotion. I became a complex spine surgeon by completely suppressing and detaching from this emotion. By 1990 I was having panic attacks and feeling fatigued. None of this was remotely anticipated as a possibility. It was incredible to me that I had worked so hard to become a surgeon and had achieved my dreams. Yet I had no capacity to enjoy it. Of course, that made me even more frustrated. What else could I do?

“I Quit”

I made a decision to quit being a spine surgeon. Nothing about my lifestyle seemed to make any sense. I didn’t understand the anxiety and why it was occurring with such intensity. Somehow in the midst of all of this, I instinctively knew that bailing out of spine surgery wasn’t going to solve the anxiety problem. I committed to remaining a spine surgeon. If I made a career change, it would be on my terms–not because I was on the run from anxiety. It was the correct choice but a close call in that I almost did not make it through. However, I was correct that the anxiety was a separate issue. One that was going to follow me regardless of what I did. It wasn’t for another 13 years that I finally broke through and was able to escape the pit of anxiety and frustration. I will say in retrospect that easing off external stresses in the midst of severe anxiety might be a more rational choice and I do support people backing off until they heal. It is just important to understand that the anxiety is a linked but separate problem.

“The Eye of the Storm”

I wrote a post, “The Eye of the Storm”. The gist of it is that the center of a hurricane is still and quiet. The winds represent racing thoughts and/or life circumstances.  Most of us are programmed to think that if we had the perfect set of circumstances, we would be happier. Or if we could control our thoughts, we would be more at peace. This simply isn’t true. You can’t control or outrun your thoughts and you can’t change most of your circumstances. You must learn to be happy regardless of your circumstances and it is a learned skill. .

You cannot stop a hurricane. When you try to control your thoughts, they just spin faster.  Many, if not most, of your life circumstances are out of your control. Yet people spend a huge amount of energy trying to slow down their thoughts or change their situation to acheive happiness.

What are the odds that you will have every variable in your life so perfect that you will be at peace? If by chance, you come close then you might experience even more anxiety about how long it will last. I eventually discovered that I have as much or more anxiety when circumstances are better and have had to learn to calm down when that happens. From reactive to creative

Moving to the Center of the Storm

The goal of the neurological reprogramming tools is to pull you into the center of the storm and stay there. Then you’ll have the mental clarity and emotional energy to solve and deal with situations as they arise. It doesn’t matter if the problem is in your career, friendships, family, accomplishments, body image, or project work. Your peace of mind will be independent of all of them. But you cannot do it through positive thinking or “mind over matter.” You must use the reprogramming strategies that work for you.

Adversity as an Opportunity

One of my more successful mentors pointed out a new concept to me, “Never waste a crises.” It had a major impact on me. You will eventually be able to view each life-hurdle as an opportunity to practice what you have learned. Your energy levels will soar and you’ll be able to create whatever life you like on your own terms.




You cannot run from anxiety. It will follow you everywhere. You need to face it head on. The sooner you do so, the sooner you will be free.

  • Your situation in life will never be perfect
  • Happiness and peace of mind don’t come from a perfect life
  • It is not possible to outrun anxiety
  • You must face life from where you stand right now

Welcome to freedom!!