Category Archives: Back Pain

a stab in the back

Since Mother’s Day 2009 I have seldom had back pain.  If I do, I can usually trace it to emotional stress, and get rid of it.

One night about three years ago, I went to a party.  I didn’t want to go, didn’t want to be there and didn’t fit. I felt stupid and stupider and by the time I got home, I felt stupidest of all.

That night a searing pain started in my back.  It kept up for days.

I tried everything.  I told my mind to back off.  I told my mind that I knew there was nothing wrong with me.  Nothing.  I told my mind I wouldn’t have anything to do with it, so it might as well leave off.

I ignored the pain and carried on as usual.

After days with no change or let-up, I tried a different approach.  I lay on the floor and shut my eyes.  I relaxed into a meditative state.  I talked to my back and asked it why it was giving me pain.  I talked to the pain and asked it what it was doing and what it wanted.  I waited.

Then I saw.  I saw a knife in my back at the point of the pain.  And I knew.  I had knifed myself in the back with my own self-loathing.

I lay there allowing that realization to fully permeate through me.

After a bit, that knife came out of my back and as I watched, it turned into a sword in my hands.

The power of self-realization.


sally caldwell

The other major part of my recovery from chronic pain was the work I did with a therapist.  I started seeing Sally at around the same time as I was learning about TMS and the two approaches complemented each other well.

I had heard about Sally from an old school friend who lives in a different city.  Then one morning when I got to work (16th floor, corporate jungle) a colleague said, “You have to come and have a coffee with me so I can tell you about this amazing woman I went to last night”.  As she described her session with Sally, I told her that it sounded like the woman my old school friend sees.  “What’s your friend’s name?” she asked me.  I got a kind of sick shock when she said, “Hey, your friend is my cousin!”  A sick shock as my separate worlds collided, and I knew then that Sally would get me from every direction until I booked myself in.

Sally taught me how to meditate, to listen and to connect.

Her first homework instruction was for me to lie on the floor (because I wasn’t able to sit in a chair then) for 40 minutes every day and repeat as a mantra in meditation:
I choose to change.

This is an incredibly powerful thing to do and the more you say it with conviction, the more you become aware of the areas within your life that you are holding onto that may not actually be serving you well.  The more you listen you can uncover why you are holding on to these beliefs or habits, so that ultimately you can release them.

In my first session with Sally we discussed what patterns I was holding onto that needed to change.  We looked at my childhood (without judgement) to identify where these patterns had come from.  What I liked most was that we didn’t dwell on the past, only identified where it had started in order to understand how I had gotten to where I was today.  Understanding puts you back in the control seat, and able to drive change.

The next step in my homework was to repeat in meditation:
I choose to let go of my anxiety, help me.

Again this was very powerful for me.  She was showing me that a lot of my problems were stemming from anxiety.  I had a choice whether to let this anxiety rule me.

Anxiety is the opposite of ‘trust’.  Trust in what?  I don’t think it really matters.  All I know is that anxiety and trust can’t coexist and I would rather have trust than anxiety.

And my final piece of homework from that first session was to repeat in meditation:
I choose to be supported by the universe, show me.

Here you could substitute your personal preference for “the universe”.  The point is we need to feel supported.  So much misery occurs because of a feeling of lack of support and lack of connection.  And I loved it that through meditation I could ask for ‘signs’ of support.  Why not?

With Sally I also learnt that I am the type of person who processes information through my body.  If I am not ‘connected’ then I can’t hear what needs to be heard and so messages come through my body by way of pain or illness.

So armed with Sally and the Dr Sarno theories, I rid myself of pain within a few months.

The next post is the final one in my back pain saga, and it epitomizes what I learnt to do with Sally.  After that I plan to start posting about my current problem: escaping from a job I don’t want to do anymore.

dr. john e. sarno

I wrote these first 17 posts towards the end of my battle with chronic pain.  When your life is consumed with pain, that’s all there is so that’s all there is to talk about or write about.  And when it was over, I got back into life and didn’t look back.

The pain has rescinded from my memory as childbirth pain did, so reading back through these posts does not affect me.  It just is not a part of my life anymore.  In fact, it feels slightly uncomfortable to talk about it now at all, as if I am a fraud.

The Mother’s Day post marks the end of that time.  I began this writing about 4 months before Mother’s Day, after my first visit to the specialist.  After the third injections, he gave me a book to read by Dr. John E. Sarno called The Mindbody Prescription: Healing the Body, Healing the Pain.

I gave a very brief summary of Dr Sarno’s theories in the TMS post.   To expand a little further, his book suggests that the body is programmed to heal itself after an injury and that if you continue to have pain at the site of the injury after a normal healing period, then it is likely that the mind is interfering.

This book changed everything for me.  It was as if he were describing me on every page.  How did he know me so well?

So I took his theories to heart and put them into practice.  The big thing for me was really making myself accept that there was nothing wrong with me, regardless of the diagnoses, and that I was experiencing pain for no actual physical reason.  My original injury had happened 2 years before I got to this book and there really was no physical reason for it not to have healed normally.

The other main part of the process is to identify and address the aspects in your life that are causing you stress.

The pain didn’t leave overnight.  I had to fight my mind for at least 2 months to really get it under control.  My mind had such a stronghold over me.

I remember going back to the specialist after he had given me the book and his genuine pleasure for me when I told him ‘Yes, I get it. This is me. This is what’s going on here.’  And then his surprise when I asked for another round of injections.

Why did I need them?  Because I needed all the back-up I could get to fight my mind!  The injections gave me a physical sensation of strength and support in my back and at that stage I was so unstable (physically) that I needed this.  I also started to take strong painkillers if the pain was really bad, so that I wouldn’t feel it and therefore I couldn’t give it any attention.  (Previously I hadn’t used painkillers very much as I don’t like taking medications.)

Even recently I had to put this method into practice again.  I had a very bad day at work and then that evening while lying on the couch my back ‘went out’.  After trying to ignore it for a few days, I realized I was starting to worry that it was something serious (even though I knew, rationally, that it wasn’t).  So I gave myself a very stern talking to: “I know there is NOTHING PHYSCIALLY WRONG here. You can’t fool me” and sure enough, it was gone the next morning.  Of course when you do this, you have to actually believe it.  Your mind will sniff you out if you are faking and won’t let it go.

I find it interesting that this only happens to some people.  My partner, for instance, never takes any notice if he hurts himself, and consequently, never has lingering pain.  Whereas I had always taken sickness and injury VERY SERIOUSLY, and had lived a lifetime of ailments.  Thankfully not so anymore.

mother’s day

Friends are coming for lunch.  It’s a long, long time since I’ve invited anyone for a meal.
I am happy.

I bend down to dust the bookshelves and as I stand up a vice clamps around my chest inducing the most excruciating pain in my upper back.

I cannot breathe
I cannot move for pain
I have never had this pain before, in this location
I feel my ribs being crushed

There is NO PHYSICAL REASON for this pain

Normally I would lie on the floor and breathe
Normally I would cancel the lunch and go to bed for days
I am well accustomed to indulging pain

But I tell no-one
I laugh at how ludicrous this is
I laugh at pain
I keep dusting then start vacuuming
I can dust and vacuum with little half breaths

How long will it last?  It doesn’t matter.  I won’t acknowledge it.  It screams at me and tightens further.  I refuse to give it attention.  What if it keeps up while the friends are here?  They’ll be able to see it, to hear it.  It doesn’t matter.  I won’t acknowledge it.

I don’t acknowledge it.

And I don’t even notice when it gives up and quits.



If this is really true,
If all this pain has been caused by my mind to distract me from repressed rage,
Then I feel sick.
I feel so ashamed.

If this is really true,
I have spent two whole years of my life (and two whole years of my partner’s life and our son’s life) indulging a painful distraction of my own making.

Can you forgive me?

If this is really true,
It’s two years lost and gone forever.  Two years of pain and suffering for what?

If this is really true,
I am a loser of the largest proportion.

Oh don’t be so hard on yourself.
Why are you always so hard on yourself?
We’re all screwed up one way or another.

I have a foul taste in my mouth.
I’ve been duped by my own mind.
Whose side are you on?