I am Responsible for the Healing

Categories: Elite Writes

By Kara Frahm

Just got back from a 4 mile walk. For the first time with no pain in a couple years. Anyone who knows me, knows hiking is my happy place so being able to experience movement without pain today was a big deal. It’s been a frustrating battle not being at full capacity for all these months. But today I found hope!

Over 2 years ago I was rear-ended at a standstill by a distracted driver going 60 miles an hour in rush hour traffic. Although my car didn’t come out unscathed, the initial analysis was that I did. I didn’t have any broken bones or lacerations which was a miracle in and of itself. On the surface I initially looked fine, but underneath was pain brewing from an injury to my back. What came over the next couple of years was a journey through pain not much different than the one I took when I stepped into recovery. As I approach a decade of sobriety this month, it doesn’t escape me that this accident and journey with a new kind of pain serves as a reminder to me where my responsibility for healing stands. Not only with my body and health but also with my spiritual healing in recovery.

As I walked for the first time today with relief and less pain, I realized ways that this journey towards healing is reminiscent of my recovery journey. I must admit, I have been pretty hard on myself with this annoying back pain. I have seen many Dr’s who dismissed me and told me things like “strengthen your core, you’re just weak”, “lose some weight, you’ll get stronger”, “you’re body is just getting older, it comes with aches and pains”. I started to believe this and began some good, old fashioned self-deprecating. Internally questioning myself.

I tried everything in my own power to feel better so I could go back to enjoying my favorite things in life. I like being active and healthy. I wanted that back! I went to a chiropractor for a long time, that was great for short term relief. But it didn’t fix anything. The pain kept flaring back up. My Chiropractor sent me to physical therapy. That was also nice and helpful and I learned some great stretches for my achy muscles and my stiff neck. But the back pain got worse. I was told to strengthen my body, so I joined a strength training boot class at a gym. I then tore my meniscus because I was carrying too much burden in my knee in order to cater to my injured back. I tried swimming laps because it would be gentler. Fun but still no relief, the pain was still there and getting sharper. There were MRIs and X-rays, all which determined my bones and cartilage were good. I kept trying everything in my own power until I pretty much gave into the fact that I was going to have to live with it.

The internal talk I was having was that I wasn’t trying hard enough. I was weak. Lazy. Out of shape. Not giving it my all. I should do more. That I wasn’t enough. Maybe I was making a big deal out of nothing. At the same time, I was pleading for someone to hear me tell them I was hurting but I felt dismissed (in this case with professionals because my friends and family were great). I started to believe I was over-reacting and that my pain wasn’t that real. I stopped trusting that my pain was even relevant. Sounds familiar as I did the same thing in early recovery with my emotional pain.

When I first got sober, my belief was that I was weak, broken, lazy, bad and that I was just not trying hard enough. The message in the world I was allowing myself to receive was one of try harder and you can fix it by yourself. Just do better and stop acting like this! I found myself doing the same exact thing with this accident injury. Just try harder and you can fix it. Stop acting like it hurts more than it does, so many have it way worse. Walk another mile or do some sit ups and you’ll get stronger. Throw in some yoga for good measure and don’t forget to be grateful it isn’t worse.

What I didn’t grasp both times in the midst of pain was that you cannot fix your pain alone, especially if you don’t even know where it is coming from. You also can’t fix pain overnight (which would be nice but…). I didn’t cause the pain either time. I certainly did a good job of exasperating it, self-diagnosing it, and minimizing it, but I didn’t cause it. I wasn’t finding out where the core of the pain was coming from and I wasn’t finding the relief I needed. Suffice it to say, if there is no searching and discovery of the core pain, whether it be emotional or physical, it’s just simply throwing noodles at the wall and hoping something sticks.

I am not responsible for the pain others caused me. Not in the trauma that I believe fed my addiction. And not because of the accident that caused my pain. What I am responsible for is discovering the solution. I am responsible for reaching out for help from people who are empathic and understand and taking the right steps to connect with them. I am responsible for recognizing that certain things I think may alleviate the pain (like substances or pushing physically through the pain) will only make tomorrows pain worse. What I am responsible for is to not give up and to keep trying whatever avenues it takes until the healing resonates and starts to work. And I am responsible for accepting the truth and knowing that my only option is through it and not around it.

When I think about the back injury I can see perfect correlations to my recovery healing. Many professionals tried to help me, but they didn’t understand my pain. They had good intentions and did what they knew to help but they never really dug into the source of the pain. Good intentioned folks just said to stop it or start this or give it time so you feel better. Same goes for the message I received and told myself with substance use disorder… “do this and do that and stop drinking”. It never worked out! What I needed was someone to look me in the eye with compassion and say, “where is your pain coming from? What’s it’s source? It’s not your fault you are hurting and your pain is valid. Your pain is real. So let’s dig into that and see where its coming from so you can find the real healing that will give you your whole self back”.

I got that with a nurse in a hospital once. Her name was Michelle. She looked me in the eye in my darkest days and said “You are safe here, you will be ok, you will get through this and I am sorry you are hurting”. I got that from my family and close friends who endured watching my pain right along with me! They didn’t berate me or attack me but they also didn’t tolerate my coping with drinking and got me help finding a lasting solution. I found my solution in answering a new question. Not “why don’t you stop drinking” but instead “why are you in pain?”

With my back injury, I finally met Dr Matt and Dr Johnson through my accident attorneys who recommended these professionals and said give this one last try. They have been able to help others we work with. I’ll never forget the moment I met Dr Matt and he said, “this isn’t your fault, you have nerve damage. No strength training, no boot camps or any amount of chiropractic work will fix your nerve damage”. From experience, Dr Matt diagnosed the injury where the pain was coming from and knew the next person who could help solve it. So, I went to see Dr Johnson, a specialist in alleviating nerve damage pain. I told him I just figured I had done what I could and would just have to live this way and tolerate the pain. He said “Not on my watch!”. I love that statement! It made me feel taken care of and his confidence fed mine. When I found the right help with both empathetic Drs, who had experience in this kind of healing and who relieved my burden of trying to do it myself, I let out a deep sigh of hope. Maybe I didn’t have to live in this pain after all!!

This is much like my great friends in recovery. They told me they understood my pain because not only had they been in it, they found a way to manage it and start to heal it. And I could too! I could live a life without this emotional pain. I didn’t have to accept it and tolerate it. I could get the right help and fight to get myself back. Step by step and day by day. In bits and pieces, I had hope of building my spirit back. Not only that, but that I deserved to live that kind of free life. I eventually found a lot of that healing in the woods on the hiking trails. With my higher power and with myself, I built my life back up with my pillars of experienced support. I found my strength and my confidence and my value once again. And then the heart ache and pain began to diminish.

My Dr performed what’s called a Facet Nerve Radiofrequency Rhizotomy on 3 damaged nerves in my back a few days ago. Basically, they fried my damaged nerves so the pain receptors to my brain don’t act like assholes anymore. They blocked the pain pathway so that I can get strong again, I can get rested again, I can stand up tall again and I can get back to what I love doing. With compassion and empathy and support might I add! I was told step by step what it would be like and what would happen next. I felt safe. Because they had done this before. I felt hopeful!

My supports all around me in recovery do the same thing. But I have to take the responsibility to heal both types of pain. I had to walk the steps. I had to keep trying and not give up! And I had to believe that my Higher Power was leading me towards the right path that was the best way for me. That he had plans to heal and prosper me, not to keep me in pain. And then I got out of my own way. In recovery and in physical pain, I came to the end of myself and trying to fix it on my own and leaned into faith to take one last try and let others support and help me instead.

I am not responsible for the pain I endured. I am not responsible for having a disease of addiction or for having nerve damage. At the same time, I also CANNOT be fooled by that relief of burden either. I am solely and entirely responsible for taking in the help and standing firm on not giving up to find the relief and healing I deserve to live in. That is the journey of finding the whole self again. To never stop searching until the healing takes hold.

In a few weeks I will celebrate a decade substance free. But more than that I will rejoice in a decade of healing from emotional pain. I imagine I will do that on a trail somewhere, hiking without back pain to the top of the world somewhere while breathing in my emotional recovery which fuels my strength.

Don’t give up! There are answers when you discover that the pain is not your fault. There are answers when you discover that healing is your gift to grab. So grab hold of that responsibility to yourself and never let it go. We all deserve that! Lean into those who have walked before you, who have compassion and who have experience. Those guides will give you the strength to walk strong until you can do it on your own. One day at a time, little by little, the pain will subside and freedom will take its place. Whether it’s a battle with addiction, physical pain, grief, trauma or just plain old life itself, we all have a journey towards healing that we can access. Now is that time, it always will be!

I don’t know how long this back pain relief will last, there are never any guarantees, but I do know I now have access to the truth of where it comes from and how to manage it. My help is there if I need it. I hope I don’t, I probably will, for just like in recovery there are going to be good days and there are going to be hard days. In the good days I can be grateful, in the hard days I won’t give up!

Access to more healing is always there. You just have to be brave enough to accept the responsibility of walking towards it. I do believe that is a responsibility I can live with!

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