A Painful Confession

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For nearly seven years I’ve had chronic pain in my back and my right hip.

At first, the problem was mild and sporadic but slowly, over the years, my favorite activities have been slipping away.

The first thing to go was yoga.

Then dance.

Then snowboarding.

Then bike riding.

Then hiking.

And strength training.

In the last couple years even cooking has become a challenge.

Recently I’ve stopped taking even gentle walks.

Often I cheat and do these things I love, but almost always, I pay the price of pain and days of limited mobility.

Yes, I have tried so many things from doctors and x-rays, to energy work, chiropractic, acupuncture. I’ve seen more body workers than I can count and multiple physical therapists. I’ve done medicine journeys exploring this issue and I’ve read all the famous books about emotions and back pain and did my best to follow their prescriptions to the letter.

I am currently under the care of a new PT, and while a part of me is optimistic, another part says “Yeah but…” I’ve been here before. I feel hopeful and defeated at the same time.

I’m writing this letter tonight as a kind of confession, a confession even to myself. What am I confessing?

Well, for one thing, all the innerwork I’ve done has been unable to touch this problem. I have been believing that if I just feel my feelings enough, or think the right thoughts, or do the right exercises, or surrender completely — basically, if I am a model student of whatever the current approach — my body will heal.

It hasn’t turned out that way.

As I write this letter tonight, I’m tipped to my left side, my journal awkwardly balanced on one knee. I will need help from the table to stand up

But perhaps the bigger confession is how I’ve been unconsciously treating myself about this. Years of chronic pain and lost activity-loves, have I offered myself kindness? Compassion? Tenderness and care? You tell me; my inner monologue sounds like this:

“Oh my god. Again? Seriously? Are you F***ing kidding me? What’s wrong with you? You know better than to dance/walk/workout/stretch… are you a f***ing idiot!?

How could you hurt yourself aaaagain? How could you let this go on? How stupid are you? 

You are so pathetic. You think you are somewhat impressive at times, but how can you be when you can’t even cure a simple back ache? 

And you call yourself a coach? A teacher? A guide? You can’t even heal yourself from this, how can you help anyone? If you can’t help yourself you have no business helping others.

You’re obviously not capable of anything meaningful. If you don’t have the creativity, courage, and commitment to heal this thing, how can you expect to do anything remotely valuable with your life?

You are weak, and this proves you are weak. Anything you attempt will end in failure and the pain in your hip is the proof.

I’m embarrassed by you, ashamed of you, and I hate you.” 

Until now, I had wondered why I’ve never been very public about my pain. Even my friends and family might be surprised to read how long I’ve lived with this, and to what extent.

By turning toward my own inner attack, now I see why. 

I’ve been ashamed.

Tonight, for the first time, I have intentionally and consciously heard this voice out.

This voice, the one who says all those things, she is scared. Actually, she is terrified.

And she is angry too — no, furious. 

She is terrified and furious because of how helpless she feels. There is nothing she can do, at least so far, to change this situation, and so she takes it out on the only one who can hear her, the only one who will listen: me. 

Now I, Awareness, am witnessing her fear, her sense of betrayal, and her tantrum that life is not fair. 

Now I, Love, am a space for her anguish, her loss, and her not knowing what’s next. 

“Maybe I will always be broken in this way,” she says. Her eyes fill with tears. My eyes. My tears.

“Maybe,” I say. And we cry together. 

“Other people have it way worse.” This is some other internal voice, trying to help.

“True,” I say, “But tonight it’s not about anyone else. Tonight I feel sad and mad, helpless and scared, and that is allowed.” 

A protective voice asks: “If I allow these feelings, won’t I become a useless puddle of self-absorbed misery?”

“Maybe,” I say. “But probably not forever. And anyway, these feelings are already here. The only real choice is to resist or relax.”

So I relax. I allow. I feel. I let go. My back still hurts, but my heart feels held.

Eventually, I help myself up. It’s time for dinner and life goes on.


I created a short meditation on helplessness for you (and for me).