Pain Companion: How to Release Pain

By Sarah Anne Shockley, Columnist

In all the discussions about pain medications, various approaches to healing and alternative treatments, we don’t want to overlook a key aspect of the nature of pain.

Chronic pain is a messenger. It is here because it has something to say.

Giving pain a voice helps it, in incremental stages, to complete, release and move on.

What does it mean to give pain a voice? You may already be familiar with journaling and finding someone to tell your pain story as ways to relieve the emotional ramifications of living with chronic pain. They are excellent and I highly recommend them, but that’s not what I’m talking about here.

Rather than expressing how you feel about pain, I recommend finding ways to let pain express itself. Think of it as allowing the part of you that is experiencing physical pain to express from within the pain and as the pain.

For example: the next time you decide to journal, instead of writing about your feelings and experiences, try taking a deep breath and stepping into the pain.

I know, at first you may think, yuck, why would I step into my pain? It’s already hard enough to live with it. But bear with me.

From the experience of being within the pain, begin to write what pain wants to say. Write as if you are the pain speaking. Write about what pain feels like to be in your body, what pain wants, and what pain is trying to accomplish by being there. Don’t try to figure this out in your head. Just go into a slightly altered state of consciousness and let the words flow, even if they seem like nonsense at first.

Ask your pain questions, and let it respond. Who are you? What are you? What are you doing in my body? What do you really want? How can I help? How can I soothe? How can I heal?

If it’s difficult to step out of your thinking mind and you find yourself trying too hard to come up with answers for pain, try writing with your non-dominant hand.

The first time you express yourself as pain may feel a little strange or silly, and you may come up blank at first. Just be patient. Pain isn’t used to being listened to in this way. It might take a moment for it to register that you actually want to hear what it has to say.

Experiment with other ways to let pain express too.  Instead of journaling, you can try speaking for pain. Designate a chair in the room as pain’s chair for a moment. Then go sit in it and speak into the room as pain (or do this from bed if you aren’t mobile right now). Just let the words flow.

Pain may surprise you. It may express as very angry about being stifled all the time. Or very tender. Or confused. Or incredibly sad.

Don’t try to analyze it while it’s happening. Just let pain express as pain wants to, however that is. Right now, even though pain feels like a nasty invader, it’s living in your body and it’s a part of your experience that needs to be heard. It’s part of you expressing as pain.

Another way to express pain is to use your voice to express pain as a sound. You might want to wait until you’re alone for this one.

Again, take a breath and go into the experience of pain in your body, and then begin to hum from that place. Experiment with very high and very low pitches. Let the hum express the sound of pain. Then, if you’re feeling adventurous, let the humming morph into other sounds: moans, groans, high pitched whines, sobs, sighs -- whatever sound wants to come from the pain in your body.

It’s most freeing to just let the sounds come out in whatever form they want to take, whether loud or soft. If you’re self conscious or there are others in the house you don’t want to disturb, you can make the sounds into a pillow. Just make sure you’re listening. You are the most important person to hear the sounds of your own pain. It is a way of witnessing, validating, and releasing the pain you’re in.

Do this for as long as you want (or until the dog starts howling). If you’re musically inclined, you might want to make up a song of lament or a song of freedom. Give pain the stage for a few moments.

This may strike you as naively over simplified, but I have found throughout my pain journey that the most potent remedies for ongoing pain are very straightforward and simple. Rest often. Reduce stress and stay as calm as possible. Release held or restricted breath and allow its life-giving and healing force to move more freely through you body. And give pain a voice.

Remember, probably no single thing you do to heal, soothe, express or release your pain is going to be the whole story of your healing. Chronic pain is multi-leveled and complex. Yet all of the simple, yet profound practices we put into effect on a daily basis have a positive cumulative effect. I can testify to that.

Sarah Anne Shockley suffers from Thoracic Outlet Syndrome, a painful condition that affects the nerves and arteries in the upper chest. Sarah is the author of The Pain Companion: Everyday Wisdom for Living With and Moving Beyond Chronic Pain.

 Sarah also writes for her blog, The Pain Companion.

The information in this column should not be considered as professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It is for informational purposes only and represent the author’s opinions alone. It does not inherently express or reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of Pain News Network.