Chronic pain is a complex problem consisting of many variables that affect your perception of it. Additionally, we now know that unpleasant mental input is processed in a similar manner as physical pain. Applying simple solutions to such a multi-layered problem can’t be and isn’t effective. Through many years of my personal experience with chronic pain and learning from my patients, a sequence of learning has evolved that has been consistently effective in helping people take back their lives from pain. This has been largely accomplished by the understanding of chronic pain provided by Back in Control and the roadmap presented on backincontrol.com.
The DOC Journey is a condensed set of core resources that reflects the experience of hundreds of patients suffering from chronic pain that have successfully taken their lives back. It reflects the evolution of our knowledge of about pain and how to more clearly present the problem, principles behind the solutions, and how to continue to thrive and move forward once you have broken free.
The 8-week course is one one of the resources that provides a guided pathway through the maze of choices offered to patients. It provides background information, tools, strategies and support that enables you to develop a game plan around your unique set of issues and circumstances. As it’s a largely self-directed process, you can then create partnerships with your medical and non-medical providers to solve your pain.
Back in Control: A Spine Surgeon’s Roadmap Out of Chronic Pain provides the framework for a deeper understanding the nature of chronic pain and breaks it down in its component parts. It is recommended that you use it as your reference book.
Overview of the 8-week course
This course is organized around principles we learned in our workshops. We witnessed profound shifts in pain and mood during the three or five-day events and we were consistently amazed by the magnitude of the changes. For those who continued to learn and practice the tools, the outcomes were sustained. Your brain can only rewire by consistent repetition. This is the sequence that emerged from our experience.
- Awareness – first step in solving anything
- Hope – has been shown to be a powerful healing force
- Forgiveness – you cannot move forward until you have let go.
- Play – is how we evolved and figured out human relationships. Re-connecting with this energy is precipitates rapid changes. It does take a series of steps to get there.
Why this sequence
This process is evolved from my own 15-year suffering from severe chronic pain. There was no reason it should have happened and I was extremely fortunate to break out of it. It all began with a panic attack in 1990 out of the blue. I was under a lot of stress but nothing more than I was used to. For 30 years I have been searching for the answer of how could my life been so dramatically and permanently altered in 10 minutes?
I broke free from the grip of pain in 2003, but I only knew that some writing exercises that I had inadvertently began to engage in seemed to be a significant factor. I still did not know why it happened and I certainly didn’t know anything about chronic pain. The neuroscience research since 2009 has clearly revealed the answers and the solutions.
I feel the reason that this journey has been so successful for well over 1500 patients is that I painfully traveled every millimeter of it and learned a process from mostly from what didn’t work. If some approach seemed to have promise, I pursued it personally and shared the ideas with my patients. It is still evolving and I am excited in that I am able to present it more clearly and my patients have been able to respond more quickly.
Awareness is the foundation of healing. You will develop an awareness of:
- The nature of chronic pain – as opposed to acute pain, there is nothing useful about being in ongoing pain. Mental pain is a bigger issue than physical pain.
- Your situation. What factors are relevant to your specific situation? What is your diagnosis? Has it been clearly explained to you?
- The principles behind solving chronic pain. Once you understand the problem and the nature of the solutions, you’ll be able to take charge of your own care.
Hope has been shown to exert a favorable effect on the inflammatory response and is a key factor in healing. (1) Loss of it is a common theme with almost every patient experiencing chronic pain. You are suffering miserably, no one can tell you what is wrong with you, you’ve been told that you just have to live with it and do the best you can, and no really believes how much pain you are in. Where is the endpoint? Not only do patients break loose from the grip of chronic pain, they often thrive at a level they never conceived possible. You will hear many of their stories.
Forgiveness is critical and is the dividing line between healing or remaining stuck. Your brain processes mental pain in the same way as a physical threat. Most people in pain hold onto the situation or person who wronged them. (2) It is understandable, but you cannot heal and move forward until you let go. Forgiveness is learned skill and a powerful statement that you are taking your life back!
Play is how mammals learn to socialize. Humans take it to a different level since we have language added to the mix. You learn safety vs. threat, body language, negotiation skills, effect of tone of voice, etc. When you are in a play mode your body’s chemistry is optimized and your sense of contentment and well-being is increased. This is not play intended just to distract you, but rather that in which you are fully engaged in something you love.
You will learn methods that will stimulate physical changes in brain (neuroplasticity) and can re-direct your nervous system to form more functional circuits. The outcome is to optimize your body’s reaction from one threat to safety. The final signal to your body’s cells is sent through cytokines. These are extremely small communication proteins. The defensive one are inflammatory (Pro-I) and the safety cytokines are anti-inflammatory (Anti-I). You will learn to regulate your body’s chemistry and inflammation to create a favorable healing environment. The effects are often profound with all parties excited and somewhat incredulous at the degree of healing.
Navigating The 8-week Course
The core journey is arranged in sequence that begins at where you are at suffering from unrelenting pain and lays down a foundational set of concepts and tools in order to move forward. The intention is for you to move at your own pace, as the healing process is different for everyone. Some people experience rapid relief of pain within a few weeks. Most people experience significant shifts in pain and mood within 3-6 months. But never give up. I have had many patients email me years later that they had broken free from the bonds of pain.
Although there is often some improvement early in the Journey, the tipping point for deep healing always occurs around processing anger, which is inevitable when you are trapped in misery. Anger is protective and we are not programmed to be vulnerable. It threatens survival. That is why the DOC Journey is arranged in this order. You must first be ready to let go before you can accomplish it.
The 8-week course
There are six legs to this guided journey with “rest stops” along the way. The reason for the stops is to embed and practice your tools. Calming your nervous system and optimizing your body’s chemistry is a learned skill set. Each person will find his or her own best set of methods.
Leg 1 – Preparing for the Trip
Leg 2 – Anxiety is the Pain
Leg 3 – Awareness
Leg 4 – Anger/ Forgiveness – the Tipping Point
Leg 5 – Moving Towards Your Vision
Leg 6 – Expanding the Center of Your Circle of Life
Although this 8-week course is a core aspect of The DOC Journey, other resources are available that will provide additional support and depth of knowledge about how to proceed. The group coaching is especially helpful. Many of your questions will be also be answered with the video tutorials, which are connected to the appropriate lesson and also accessible in the Toolbox.
The best part of The DOC Journey is that the effects continue indefinitely. You have “changed your filter” and you’ll continue to process your environment with this new perspective. Since your brain keeps physically changing, it takes an active effort to turn back. Once you own your life, it is yours.