At some point along the way in writing this blog and trying to figure out this whole chronic pain thing, I went from learning about and understanding more about the science of pain to actually living what I know (well, mostly living what I know, I have my moments). I didn’t really notice it myself, at least not until it was pointed out to me by Alison Sim, a lovely osteopath and author of the site Beyond Mechanical Pain (and a speaker at 2016’s Pain Summit).

It got me to thinking about how this transition happened, from the knowing to the living. I think it was made possible only when I finally accepted pain as a part of my existence, as a part of who I am, as a part of life. A true acceptance, though, not the Accepting pain is not just a box to checklip service I had been paying it for years, years when I’d said that I accepted that I had chronic pain, years I’d said I was ok with it. Years when I wasn’t really accepting of it at all. Years when I wasn’t really ok.

I said it because that was what I was supposed to say, it was a step in the process of successfully managing and overcoming pain, so it was a step I wanted to check off the list so I could get on with it, so I could move on to the next check box.

But acceptance isn’t a check box, it isn’t so easy as that. You can’t just say it and have it be so. For years I had said “I accept my pain”, but I didn’t really feel that acceptance in my heart. I didn’t live that acceptance.

Acceptance alluded me because I kept fighting it off and I kept fighting it off because I thought if I accepted that I had pain it meant I was giving in to it and giving up, that pain would win. I thought that acceptance meant giving up on the hope that one day the pain would be gone, that acceptance meant that I had failed.

It ain’t easy

Acceptance was also hard to come by because it’s hard to come to terms with the complexities of pain, the biopsychosocial nature of pain, the nuances and intricacies of pain.

It was easy for me to learn that pain doesn’t always equal damage, that pain is not always reflective of the state of the tissues, that pain is rather a combination of many different biological, psychological, and environmental factors that are all interrelated and all influence one another and all matter.

It was harder for me to believe that the pain that I felt wasn’t in my tissues somewhere, that it wasn’t a thing that could be isolated and repaired or removed. That it couldn’t just be fixed by someone or something. I still had fear, I still worried, I still thought I was moving wrong or sitting wrong or damaging myself in some way, that it had to be damage or else I wouldn’t still be in so much pain.

This even though I knew that pain doesn’t equal injury, even though I’d already had surgery and wasn’t fixed, even though I’d been through years of physical therapy and still had pain. Deep down I knew that there had to be something more to it, that perhaps there was something to all the pain science stuff I was learning, something to these other factors, that might help.

I also knew that going down that route wasn’t as easy as a quick fix.

What it’s not

Acceptance isn’t giving into the pain or giving up on hope, it’s not resigning yourself to a life of pain and suffering. Pain can exist without the suffering. Pain can be a part of an awesome, active, meaningful life.

Acceptance is about about making space for the pain, acknowledging it’s presence, and recognizing that there is room for it alongside all of the other stuff that makes us us, that makes life life. It’s about making peace with ourselves and our current situation so we can get on with living and loving and doing.

But though the words are easy to say, the act is much harder to come by. That’s why I think acceptance is such an important concept to talk about and then talk about some more. It’s why I’m thinking about starting and ending my book with it. It’s like you need to be exposed to the idea so it can marinate a bit while you learn all the other things there is to learn about your pain, about yourself, about life.

The idea of acceptance needs to be present, even when we’re not quite ready to act on it, so that we can become accustomed to it, so we can get familiar with it, get to know it, get comfortable with it, so we can actually embrace it once we’re ready for it.

Getting from there to here

I don’t have a ready solution for how to get there. Truth be told, I don’t know how I got here, but it was life changing once I did. I do think I know some of the pieces that fell into place that helped me reach that point, not to say that every day is rosy and I don’t still get pissed or frustrated or sad that I have pain.

I do know that it wasn’t until I realized that pain wasn’t a battle to be won that I could begin to accept it’s presence. That I could finally be at peace, that I could stop resisting, that I could make space instead of make war.

It wasn’t until I stopped defining success as eradicating the pain, conquering the pain, that I could begin to accept it as a part of my life, as a part of the human experience, as a part of me. Just a part amongst many other, more interesting, parts.

It wasn’t until I understood that my life was now, regardless of whether or not the pain was there, that I could begin to accept that pain may always be a part of my life, and that that was ok, that there was still a life to be lived. A life to be loved.

I still get scared sometimes. I still have moments when I long for the days of yore when I was running, lifting heavy things, and fighting fires. Acceptance doesn’t mean that doesn’t happen, at least not in my book. Acceptance does mean we get better at dealing with those things, though.

Acceptance is a state of mind where those thoughts, feelings, flare-ups, and frustrations don’t have the power to derail us any more, where pain doesn’t color all of our days in shades of black and gray and paint our future bleak and miserable. Acceptance isn’t giving in or giving up on hope, it gives us up, it helps us see the endless possibilities within our limitations.

 

It’s possible

Acceptance became possible for me when I was finally able to reconceptualize what pain was and understand what pain was not.

Acceptance became possible when I could look at my life honestly and introspectively, when I went within to seek the answers even though some of the questions were really, really tough.

Acceptance became possible when I could take responsibility for the things that were within my power to control, to figure out the things that made my pain worse and the things that made my pain better and to do more of the latter and minimize the former. And, no matter what happens, I can always manage my thoughts, behaviors, and reactions, that’s where our power is greatest.

Acceptance became possible when I figured out that I wasn’t broken and in need of fixin’, that there wasn’t a surgery (been there) or pill or person (tried a bunch!) out there that could solve this pain problem for me,  that maybe the pain didn’t have to be such a problem.

Acceptance became possible when I no longer saw myself as damaged goods, when I realized I didn’t need to be put out to pasture, hidden away from the world.

Accepting pain doesn't mean you're going to be put out to pasture

(although this is a pretty pasture to be put out in, if one were to be put out)

Once I realized that perhaps, just perhaps, I didn’t need to be fixed, that perhaps I was ok just how I was, I was able to stop searching for that which would fix me. I could finally stop thinking about ‘my pain’ so damn much, stop stressing about it so damn much, stop fighting it so damn much.

I could finally start living.

Paving the path

I think that my path forward was through understanding pain differently. That new understanding, that pain didn’t mean damage, that pain didn’t mean broken, that pain didn’t mean I was less because of it, helped me realize that I had the skills and abilities to manage my day-to-day pain stuff, to successfully handle flare-ups, to realize that I was in control of my life, my pain didn’t control me.

That new understanding opened the door for me to be able to move and play more and without fear, to be ok with some of the uncertainty that comes packaged with pain (with life, for that matter), to be able to talk about it even when it was awkward, to get out and engage with the world again and do stuff that matters to me.

And it allowed me to accept that I had pain. In turn, that acceptance allowed me to stop searching for the meaning of my pain and start focusing on the meaning of my life.  It allowed me to be me and to be ok with who me was.

An amazing thing happened when this shift occurred, when I finally was able to accept where I was, who I was, and that pain was a part of it. The pain got smaller and my life got bigger. When I made room for pain, pain was no longer everything, there was so much more room for everything else.

We are not our pain

We are whole, we are strong, we are awesome, even with pain. We can be active and creative and kind and loving and funny and beautiful and complete, even with pain. We can be in control, we can live with pain and not have it control us. Pain can become a part of us without defining us.

Pain can become a part of life, without it becoming life.

We can go from living painfully to living with pain, really living, not just half-living, not just living in anticipation of better days.

Today is our day. Right now.

Once we stop focusing so much on the pain and start focusing on what makes our lives meaningful, the pain gets better, our lives get better. That right there is the clincher – that once we can accept the pain, the pain gets better. Once we accept the pain, life gets bigger.

Once we accept the pain, we can get on with the living.

Acceptance helps us get on with life

(I took this pic down in La Jolla and the pic in the middle of the post in Mission Trails park in San Diego. Part of my living right now is taking pictures – I love being outside and seeking out the beautiful in the world around me. I’ll be talking about creativity and self-expression in an upcoming post, but acceptance was one of the things that got me outside taking pictures, when I stopped putting my life on hold waiting for the pain to go away.)

As always, thanks for reading my post, folks! Without you, there’d be no MyCuppaJo. If you like what you read, please share with your friends, family or network! Or sign up for the monthly(ish) newsletter – it always has the previous month’s posts as well as musings on interesting news stories, research, and blogs with links to everything. And I always love to hear from you. Leave a reply, shoot me an email, or hit me up on social media. 

Until next time, stay awesome, friends. 

 

Note: Red checkmark in box image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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4 Responses to "Acceptance: It doesn’t mean giving up or giving in"

  1. Thank you, once again, for a lovely reflection on life, Jo. The line that I love most is this one, “once I accepted the pain, I could really get on with living. I didn’t have to wait anymore.” I think this is what acceptance is about…once I accept anything, then I can get on with the living and am not waiting around for whatever I think is better, juicier, more fair, right, justified, will make me happier, blablablablabla…. The acceptance part, though, is the really difficult thing. For me, it takes time and during that time there is a bit of a temper tantrum, getting distraught, crying, yelling, stomping my feet, saying “IT’S NOT FAIR!” about a million times, and then basically tiring myself out to the point where I simply CAVE and say, “ok, Universe, what do you want me to do?”. It’s at that point, when I am so tired of being with the frustrating UNacceptance of whatever it is, that I am truly willing to just be and accept.

    Over the many years of living and the work with mentors, therapists, teachers, and mindful practice, I would say that I am a tad bit better at ACCEPTING, and usually I don’t have to go down the dark rabbit hole as deeply as I used to, but man oh man is it hard. (and now we will knock on wood since I put in actual words that I think it is a tad bit easier!)

    When I sent the message to my instructor last week outlining what had happened for me in the current course I am enrolled in (and she opened the door for me to do this) I was finally at a place of acceptance. I am so glad I waited to send the darn thing. It was so smooth to simply write it, take responsibility for what was working for me and what wasn’t, and leave it. If she changes my grade, addresses my issues, etc, I will be ok. If she doesn’t, I will be ok. So far she hasn’t written back. Although it disappoints me, I am accepting that she is handling it the way she is. That doesn’t mean I won’t try to be pro-active this week and maybe go over her head again, but it won’t be with any anger, just as an appeal to address something I think is important. We’ll see but I no longer feel like there is a storm in my belly and I can live happily with that.

    Some of the acceptance, I think, has to do with our/my need for perfectionism. Because, really, accepting is about letting go, detachment, and simply being “human” with whatever “hurt” we have. Accepting the limits of my own humanness.

    Thanks for letting me write my thoughts. Your posts always allow me to think and apply to my own life.

    Much love.

  2. This was beautifully written, Laurie, thank you so much for sharing your words, your perspective, yourself here! It is very true, acceptance has not only to do with pain but with anything in our lives that we find challenging or adverse.

    I find this true for me for the big things, like chronic pain, and for some of the day-to-day frustrations that I used to let get to me and send me into a tailspin, getting upset or angry and allowing something pretty insignificant in the grand scheme of things overtake me for a bit.

    And I wholly agree, I think it has very much to do with perfectionism, for needing to control everything, for everything having to come out right. I’ve been working on this for many years, and hope that I’m making progress! I posted on Facebook the other day about how I beat myself up a lot, about all sorts of issues from my weight and cellulite to my writing and email responses, often thinking I could be better, what I wrote could be better, etc etc. I have had to learn how to love myself, write now, pain, lumpy thighs, imperfect writing and all, and it’s not always easy and I’m not always successful. But I try not to beat myself up anymore :)

    I am so happy to hear you are in a much better place with your course and school right now. The outcome doesn’t matter, a grade doesn’t reflect your intelligence, your effort, your learning, your worth. I know you know this, but I also know I need to hear it often myself, I need the reminders from time to time.

    Much love and many hugs, Laurie!

    Onward along the path :)

  3. Great blog again. I have found acceptance hard, what exactly am I accepting? So, I think you pointing out that sometimes it’s just accepting the uncertainty helps me. The other part about illuminating how acceptance really isn’t a blunt point. It’s not really you accept or you don’t. You aren’t on one side of the fence or the other. You try to accept, you WANT to accept, you see the importance of accepting, but it’s still forced, it’s not yet coming from within, it’s not yet allowing you to let go and move on.
    Reading your article helps clarify where I am with acceptance. I know I’ve made progress, I know I’m no longer actively denying my current physical state and abilities, as I’m not pushing through my symptoms everyday anymore, which just kept perpetuating my symptoms, entrenching how badly my body felt, and overall just making me worse.
    I commend you on being able how to live and ENJOY yourself even when the pain is still present.
    I am not at all there yet.
    I totally still feel like my life is on hold. I feel like I can only try engaging in life when I am by myself, because then I can trust that I will listen to my symptoms, and I don’t have to feel like a burden on others.
    I feel like if I were to try to ‘live’ right now, I need to make too many modifications and accommodations as safeguards in order to prevent a setback. I feel like I would need to get a mobility scooter, an automatic garage door opener, and wait for the snow to melt, or get a bigger vehicle that I could drive a scooter or a wheelchair into…
    This all seems extreme and overkill, when I’m told I will make a full recovery (but it’s not happening).

    Anyways, I’m digressing from the acceptance topic.
    I think feeling like you’re still living is a good gage to see where you’re at in terms of acceptance.
    Thank you for reiterating that it’s a process, it’s not a switch you can flip. I’m really eager to find all of the parts of my experience that are acting as obstacles in the way of acceptance. In this moment I am realizing that I am still totally focused on the end goal. But, it’s all about the process, right? I don’t need to uncover everything BEFORE I can move on. Gotta let go of trying to do it perfectly. Gotta accept messy. Gotta accept that if I start being more honest, there’s probably going to be some awkward moments, but if I don’t let that happen, I am actually just continuing to deny. Ya, I’m trying to get through this as cleanly as possible. I’m trying to get through it without as many people noticing the mess I am in. OK, this is helping.

    Exploring pain with Mycuppajo is certainly becoming an enjoyable part of the process. It also excites me for when I can apply it to my work as a physio again. Such a new, enlightening prospective.

    We just got a fresh dumping of snow today, so, in the spirit of living, I’m going to go lie in the snow in my backyard and do my meditation there. I love the outdoors and I this is how I will enjoy it.

    Jo, thanks for all of your commitment to helping others.

    • You have hit upon so many of my own truths in this post, Kyla! I can relate to what you’re saying on so many levels. Acceptance was hard for me as well, my identity had been so tied up in being a firefighter and a badass that it was hard to accept I was no longer those things, I resisted and fought back but the resistance only led to struggle, not ‘better’.

      But it is a process, there is no switch. It takes time to sit with these ideas a bit before they become something we can embrace.

      One of the things I had to do was stop focusing on an end goal (being pain free, being my old self, etc) because they weren’t helpful or realistic goals. In truth we can never be who we were before, and that goes for all of us. We’re all evolving, growing, learning, aging…we’re all different than the people we were ‘before’ and that’s ok because we’re still us.

      And it is messy, this life thing. And pain makes it messier. Perfectionism is a hindrance to progress, something it took me a long time to realize. We can’t do this ‘right’ because there is no one right way, there’s only our way which will be unique to us, to our experiences, to our pain, to our meaning, to our lives.

      It was hard for me to let go of what I thought other people think of me, and I can’t say I’ve been 100% successful, but once I felt ok talking about my own pain experiences more, once I felt ok being me right now pain and all, once I had some awkward conversations with friends and family (which weren’t nearly as awkward as I thought they’d be), I didn’t feel so abnormal anymore, so broken anymore, so ‘not me’.

      Having pain or a chronic condition is not a defect, it’s a part of life for millions of people and it’s time we start thinking about it differently as a society. Nobody is perfect, there is no normal.

      Acceptance isn’t an easy thing to come by, it’s hard to face our truths and our current reality sometimes. But once we do, it’s often not so bad as we thought. The worry and anticipation and uncertainty were way worse than the reality for me. So what if I couldn’t do the things I used to do anymore, who cares? I thought everyone was judging me and didn’t realize that they’re so busy trying to figure out their own lives that my issues barely registered to them. So it was me that cared so much and I had to figure out why.

      That figuring out is tough. But once I started thinking about those whys, about what is meaningful to me, I was able to shift my focus away from what ‘I used to be’ and away from what I was worried about becoming to what I could do right now to live my best life at this moment, today, right now.

      I still slip into old ways of thinking, but I’m not so hard on myself anymore. I’m human, as are we all. We’re fallible, we’re complicated, we’re weird, and we’re awesome.

      I hope you enjoyed your time in the snow, that sounds marvelous!Thank you again for taking the time to leave such thoughtful replies and kind words, I’m greatly appreciative of your sharing your story and your own thought processes with me. It’s been nice to ‘meet’ you.

      Just keep in mind that you’re not doing this wrong. It sucks and it’s hard, but it’s possible and you’re well on your way.

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