Fighting Big Pain? Start Small.

A doctor once suggested I should pick up a hobby to distract me from my pain. It was a challenging proposition and I searched aimlessly for weeks to find one.

Then, one day I found some rocks under a pile of papers in the basement and decided to paint them. Without a game plan in mind, I pulled out my paints, put on some music, and started by painting a few dots (mainly because that was all I knew how to paint.)

Then I painted a few more.

While I painted, I thought about how dumb these dots were. Sure they were easy to paint, but they weren’t art or anything. But, I kept painting them anyway and, after awhile, I got lost in the music and the activity. After a few hours, I realized I had made some patterns that were not too ugly and, after the rock dried, I gave it away to a child who acted like it was the Mona Lisa, (which was pretty entertaining.)

The whole exercise reminded me of my journey with chronic pain recovery.

You see, most of what we do when we’re trying to recover from our pain is so terrifically boring and unrewarding, it’s not even funny. But sadly that’s the stuff that usually makes the biggest difference in the long run.

As Aristotle said, “We are what we repeatedly do.” Our daily habits and rituals have a ridiculous amount of power in determining the quality and shape of our lives.

  • You walk a block. Then another block. Then back to one block again, and continue this literal one step forward, two steps back baloney for 17 weeks until you can walk a mile and realize daily exercise might be actually making you stronger.
  • You meditate every day for 37 days and then one day someone does something annoying and you find you magically don’t want to punch them in the eyeballs and realize meditation might be actually helping you manage your stress.
  • You adjust your posture every hour for 142 hours, until that memorable hour arrives when you go to adjust it and realize it’s not quite so bad anymore and that not slouching all day might be actually helping you reduce some of the pain in your body.

Sadly, there are no cheering crowds for any of this little stuff. No one will be wearing T-shirts with your name on them. Even your doctor may not be all that jazzed, (“You’re going to try eating less processed foods? Sure, have at it. Guess it couldn’t hurt,”) In fact there will be no real reward for ANY of this little stuff other than you feel less slightly like ass than you did 13 days ago.

And that has to be enough.

Unless we’re talking about a training montage in an action movie, NO ONE is transformed from sad schlub to prizefighter overnight. True transformation only comes from making dozens of changes for dozens of days, over the course of dozens of weeks, (with no cool soundtrack!)

That’s how you get better — whether you are fighting to reclaim your body or your spirit after trauma has pulled it apart — not by going on wide sweeping adventures like getting major surgery or firing your doctor or becoming a devout vegan chef, but by making dot after tiny dot on the landscape of your life. Until the day comes that you realize you just may have made something beautiful.

Interested in this topic? Please follow me on Medium to read more posts about chronic pain and my new book, Chronic Pain Recovery: A Practical Guide to Putting Your Life Back Together After Everything Has Fallen Apart, now available on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, iBooks, Google Play and Kobo.