Pain is a part of life and cannot successfully be avoided. If pain is unavoidable, now you are left with what to do with your pain. First, understand that pain is multidimensional—it’s much more than your body experiencing aching, throbbing, stinging, burning, or whatever other sensations plague you. It is enduring loss (emotional), feeling alone or unsupported (spiritual), and thinking you’ll be in pain every day (mental). If your goal is to eliminate all physical pain, your only option will be painkilling drugs such as opiates. Even with these drugs your physical pain may not be gone, and the use of opiates will create imbalance and more pain in your emotional, mental, and spiritual self (suffering). The question remains: What to do about chronic pain? While pain cannot be avoided, suffering is modifiable. Once you understand and accept this, you have a choice of how to deal with the inevitable painful issues and conditions life hands you. There are essentially two paths you can take. Neither can eliminate pain, but one path leads to healing and personal growth while the other leads to ongoing suffering. You choose the path of suffering when you attempt to eliminate all pain by avoiding, masking, and medicating. This approach does not eliminate all pain and results in imbalance in other areas of your life. The more you attempt to avoid, mask, and medicate, the greater your suffering will be. Choosing the path to pain recovery means you must give up the quest for “no more pain.” Rather, you begin by acknowledging and accepting your pain. Recovery starts with recognizing that pain is an essential part of life and does not need to be feared or avoided. By leaning into the pain, by simply allowing it to be there without resistance, you become empowered to change the way you experience it. Rather than attempting to eliminate your pain, you can change your goals to achieving manageable levels of physical pain, increasing function, and reducing suffering. This is not being pain-free, but this is pain recovery. Choosing the path of healing and growth will require work on your part. The work starts with taking action—completing exercises, sharing and accepting feedback and help from others. In order to do this, you will need to learn to trust and have faith in the process of pain recovery. After years of battling her chronic pain by using powerful prescription painkillers, Deanna realized more medication wasn’t the solution. In the following story, she describes how she was able to find a better way to live and how acceptance of her pain was an essential element in her recovery. D e a n na’ s S t o r y The pain hit me one day right before my freshman year of college. I began to get terrible headaches every day and I couldn’t do anything to make them stop. My head would pound so bad that I couldn’t get out of bed, and I didn’t want to be around anyone or near any loud noises. Anything that was stimulating was annoying, and all I wanted to do was sleep in a cool, dark room. I went to see my primary care doctor looking for some answers, and, when nothing out of the ordinary came up, he sent me to a well-known neurologist and headache specialist in the area. I had what seemed like every test done to me, including MRIs, spinal taps, etc., and nothing was showing up. They tried putting me on almost every type of seizure medication, antidepressant, and mood stabilizer available, and I was still in a lot of pain. When everything seemed unbearable to me, the doctor offered me what seemed to be the only solution—narcotic pain medication. They didn’t start out small with me. I remember getting tons of injectable morphine during an episode where my headache had lasted for more than five days. As the year passed, my pain continued to increase and nothing was helping. Finally they put me on so much pain medication—“benzos” and different psychiatric drugs—that I had a major breakdown and entered psychiatric rehab. Taking these medications in the wrong doses and combinations and being in so much pain led me down a path to feeling like I wanted to die. I hated being in that much pain all the time! I truly believed there was something wrong with me and that I had nothing to live for. Although I did not get off all of the medications, I was able to clear my head of some of the mess and move to a lower dose of methadone. At that time my headaches were not occurring daily, but they were still very much a distraction. I wanted to make it through college so I went on Duragesic for three years. Things weren’t easy, but I didn’t want that to get in the way of graduating. The medication kept the pain at bay, but I was never clear-headed. Sometimes I would still have to stay home. Nothing was ever perfect, and my head pounded the majority of the time. After I made it through school, I decided to see if I could deal with my pain without the pain meds. I detoxed off the Duragesic and got a job in sales. I made it about a month, but didn’t even know how to live my life without being on pain medication. I feared being in pain every day. Every time my head hurt I thought that I needed to have some sort of medication. I was afraid to be without something to take for my pain. Being in chronic pain felt like a death sentence—so unfair—and the problem seemed to have only one solution. I couldn’t see an alternative, so I went back to the only thing I knew worked, which was pain pills. I went on OxyContin. After I had been on “Oxys” and other painkillers for many years, my family helped me realize that opiate pain medication was not the answer to my chronic pain management. I went to treatment for ten weeks and learned different methods to deal with chronic pain, along with other ways to think about my pain. Now I recognize it as something that is part of me and not something that I hate or a death sentence. I am one with my pain, and it is no longer “out to get me” or “against me.” I recognize it and then I let it pass. I get massages, go to the chiropractor, use breathing exercises, and take safe, nonnarcotic pain medications recommended by an addiction specialist. I no longer see my pain as the evil force I did before. It might always be with me, but at least I can manage it today in ways that do not include pain medication and a hateful attitude. This blog post is an excerpt from Pain Recovery – How to Find Balance and Reduce Suffering from Chronic Pain by Mel Pohl, MD, FASAM, Frank Szabo, LADC, Daniel Shiode, PhD, Robert Hunter, PhD; Published by Central Recovery Press (CRP).