Chronic Pain is related to PTSD & C-PTSD
My story is one that is filled with heartache & triumph over situations that I'm honestly surprised I didn't take my own life over. Adversity plagued the earliest years of my life. I was a smart kid so while I did fail a class in school it certainly wasn't because I lacked the mental aptitude to pass. It was simply because I couldn't focus on what was in front of me due to what was going on in my head & body as a result of my life & past. It took a long time for me to even realize I needed to deal with my past simply because I didn't believe it was that bad. You see I didn't remember a lot of the abuse/neglect I suffered. I thought that if I didn't remember then it didn't effect me. Boy was I wrong!
The Body Never Lies
I remember leaving home & being so relieved. I love my family but the years of conflict, abuse, & neglect had taken its toll on my mental health. Of course at the time I didn't realize this. I was like a bird that had been caged for 18 years & I was happy to soar in the clouds. I joined the military as my way out (more on that later). I also remember having a very consistent thought of "I don't want to end up in chronic pain". I had no conscious reason to have this thought but it nagged me. I wasn't in any chronic pain at that time. I was healthy & felt real good. It wasn't until I realized that I had developed chronic pain for seemingly no reason that I began the work of healing from my past. Anxiety.org has this to say about it, when chronically activated, the stress response can become dysregulated and lead to many negative physical and psychological outcomes later on. Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is also linked to pain conditions and higher levels of reported disability from pain. Complex PTSD is also heavily related to chronic pain conditions. In other words staying hyper-aroused dumps stress hormones into our systems, creates constant constriction, & our bodies remain in a constant state of pain as a result.
Even when I don't think anything is going on with me, I pay attention to my body because it never lies to me. My mind does what it needs to in order to cope but my body tells me the true state of my being. If I am in pain it's because I'm in my stress response & there IS a perceived threat albeit one that I have probably forgotten about. My chronic pain shows up as trigger points in my trapezoid muscles that refer pain to my hip. I also have tendonitis in one of my feet. I also had a weird instance where I got a tattoo & only the tattoo broke out in a rash. I used the tattoo as a reminder to not hide who I am & how I feel. It was a very painful realization that my body was "allergic" to telling the truth of who I am. I will share more of my journey as time goes on.
Practice to Help Release Constriction in the Body
It takes time to connect with your body when you have been disconnected for so long. Below are a couple of practices I use to help me release constriction when I realize I'm in pain
Practice 1: Healing Through Breathing
Sit down in a place that you will not be disturbed. Begin by taking 4 deep complete breaths, inhaling for 6 seconds, holding for 2 seconds, & exhaling for 8 seconds. Set the intention that you will release whatever constriction you feel in your body. This is simply saying to yourself "I choose to soften the muscles in my (insert body part here) in this moment". See if you can feel the body part that is experiencing pain or constriction. Once you feel where the pain is focus your attention there. Take 4 deep breaths using the same pattern as before however this time see if you can breathe into the area you are focused on. When you inhale visualize that area filling with healing light. As you exhale visualize the light leaving the area & taking all constriction with it. Relax as much as you can & try to experience gratitude for yourself for paying attention to your body.
Practice 2: Progressive Muscle Relaxation
Begin as always by sitting/lying down someplace where you will not be disturbed. Take 4 deep breaths, inhaling for 6 seconds, holding for 2 seconds, & exhaling for 8 seconds. Set the intention that you will release whatever constriction you feel in your body. Now starting with your feet, clinch them as tightly as you can without hurting yourself. Feel the tension you are holding. Hold for 5 seconds, then release. Now feel what it's like to relax your feet completely. Move to your calf muscles, clinch them as tightly as you can, hold for 5 seconds, then release. Repeat this for your thigh muscles, butt muscles, abdominals, back, chest muscles, arms, & hands. Once you have moved through all major muscle groups see if you can notice the difference between tension & relaxation in your body.
The Body Keeps the Score is an excellent book by Bessel Van der Kolk that illuminates the connection between the body, chronic pain, & trauma. It is a lengthy book but the detail he goes into about how our bodies never lie & his own experience helped me really understand why I ended up in chronic pain 30 years after the abuse I suffered. I recommend it to those suffering from chronic pain to help them begin the path to healing.
Remembering To Be Kind To Yourself
I cannot stress enough that this is a process that requires you to be kind to yourself. You cannot force your way through healing. You will resist & you will not be able to sustain a practice. Please take your time as you dig through all of this. Your body & mind want to protect you & have served you well. Communicate with them & tell them your intentions to heal. They will respond with consistency & kindness.