Suffering in general, as well as specific to addiction and/or chronic pain, is a function of imbalances in physical, mental, emotional, physical, and/ or spiritual functioning. Recovery is a gradual, progressive, and ongoing process of restoring balance in these areas. Suffering is both a cause and an effect of the full range of emotions associated with chronic pain—anxiety, irritability, anger, fear, depression, frustration, guilt, shame, loneliness, hopelessness, and perceived helplessness. Pain recovery involves the way we think, how we respond to feelings, our physical functioning, and our spirituality, and applies the time-tested efficacy of the principles of the Twelve Steps to the challenges of living with chronic pain. Scientific study continually generates proof of the intimate connections between the mind and body, with empirical research on meditation and mindfulness practices cited in the previous chapter providing compelling evidence of this linkage. Whatever affects the mind or the body will inevitably affect the other, regardless of which side of the fence an issue originates. As a result, imbalances in thinking can contribute to imbalances in physical, emotional, and spiritual functioning. Negative thinking only makes situations we believe to be “bad,” worse. Many people, including those who do not suffer from addiction or chronic pain, can ruminate on something by continuously and unproductively replaying it in their minds or magnify the negative aspects of it, exaggerating its significance, and turning what was really only a small problem into a major disaster in their minds. Whenever a person emphasizes the negative aspects of their experience by the way they think about them, their mood goes south and they make their life more negative. Our thoughts have the capacity to make us miserable, and negative thinking can be especially insidious, feeding on itself, with the potential to become a self-fulfilling, self-defeating prophesy. It is important to be aware that if negative thought patterns are not addressed, they lead to negative, unhealthy behaviors—for addicts that often means an eventual return to active addiction. For people with chronic pain, there is a direct correlation between negative thinking and beliefs, and the level of pain they experience—the more negative the thoughts and beliefs, the greater the pain sensations and the more intense the urges to numb, escape, or avoid them. This quickly becomes a vicious circle as pain triggers negative thoughts and internal self-talk (what we tell ourselves about our pain), then translates to feelings that coincide with suffering, and increases muscle tension and stress, which in turn, amplify the pain signals, triggering more of them. The progression is essentially as follows: pain leads to negative thoughts/self-talk/beliefs lead to feelings of frustration/anger/anxiety/ fear/sadness/depression/hopelessness lead to suffering leads to muscle tension and stress lead to more pain leads to increased negative thoughts/self-talk/beliefs lead to increased frustration/anger/anxiety/ fear/sadness/depression/hopelessness leads to greater suffering, and so on. The longer such a cycle continues, the more out of balance a person becomes. Pain is inevitable; suffering is Suffering can be modified when people learn how to respond differently to their pain. The process of pain recovery includes dramatically changing this negative progression starting with regaining balance in thinking through the application of mindfulness-based practices. Reestablishing balance counteracts the above deviation-amplifying dynamics: conscious awareness of negative thinking/self-talk and how it sets off the cascade of events that fuels suffering leads to mindful acceptance and detached observation of negative thinking/self-talk lead to minimization/elimination of suffering leads to decreased feelings of frustration/anger/anxiety/fear/sadness/depression/hopelessness leads to lower stress and muscle tension leads to less pain. By adjusting our thinking, and how we think about our thinking, it is possible to change our emotional responses, the extent to which we suffer (or not), our level of tension and stress, and in turn, our experience of pain. This blog post is an excerpt from Some Assembly Required – A Balanced Approach to Recovery from Addiction and Chronic Pain by By Dan Mager, MSW; Published by Central Recovery Press (CRP).