When clients feel strong amounts of chronic pain or illness, they will say “I’m Broken”. I ask them what that means, and they say “there’s something wrong with me that needs to be fixed”, “I am not okay”. But many of them are neither “broken” nor fixable. They are just in chronic pain or states of illness that will not easily remit or change quickly. They are not broken, they are in a process of healing in one way or another.
Those who have chronic low back pain and shooting pains down their legs, are neither broken nor fixed. They are in pain. To separate “being in pain” from being “broken” gives us hope, a new set of possibilities. It is possible to be whole, to be in the stream of growth and healing, and simultaneously, to be in pain. The pain may have a physical cause, like nerves in our back, or it may not, but we are in pain. If we have seen a physician who has examined us and found us not to have a broken bone or infection, we are not “broken”, but rather in pain. It allows us to see ourselves in an entirely new way. Like an allergy, most of us will experience greater or lesser degrees of pain throughout our life, some of it due to the aging process, previous injuries or chronic illness. It is not helpful to see ourselves as “broken”, not whole, less than whole, minus or any of these ways. We are simply whole growing people who have pain. We may not be able to do some things, but pain can teach us types of resilience we have never known.
Pain teaches us to tolerate, mediate, detach, center and use psychological and, perhaps, spiritual skills otherwise unknown to us. We can actually become stronger people both psychologically and physically by strengthening the skills available to us. I know clients that have become stronger in both areas due to their diligent practice of physical therapy and psychological pain management skills. They are more tolerant, accepting, physically fit, and perhaps, happier people than when they started having the chronic pain.
“ I am broken” indicates that we think we must be whole, healed, 100 percent well, in a sense, perfectly healthy. But, we are all human, and are in the process of growing, aging, or maturing. We are evolving and not static. We can never be perfectly healthy, perfectly well, or perfectly anything. We may be suffering an illness, an injury, or be in a state of sickness or pain. But as long as we are seeking to heal, we are not “broken”, we are “healing”, “evolving”, “growing”, “transitioning”, and the like. We are moving toward a state of greater wholeness, of greater breadth of knowledge and opportunity to care for ourselves.
We want to be what we were before, but, as we look at the people we were before this challenge, we had not often the compassion, endurance, and strength we have now to cope with adversity. And, often, therefore, we had not the perspective and understanding we now have to give ourselves and others. We went to work and took care of our families in a state of little complaint. We had no idea what we could do under adversity. In many ways, we can see a newfound strength.
The other misnomer caused by believing we are broken is that someone can set the cast to which we can heal. Conversely, in healing from chronic pain, the power to heal our brain is within ourself. The concept of “ I am broken” leads to “ You fix me”. This encourages us to be more inactive and to wait for the right person to bring us a solution. As you and I both know, believing that any one person or technique is going to intervene in our feelings of brokenness, is not sustainable.
It is important to pace ourselves , to find our fluid “new normal” as a basis for starting.
You are not “broken”, you are on the road to finding the situations and conditions that produce healing and coping. You are in the process of finding your middle of the road.