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With Love, Hope, and Perseverance


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Coping with Pain

sunset w bird soft

Pain just spilled out of  Saturday’s Stream of Consciousness post and  got me thinking about my frustration with prescription pain meds. I know some people legitimately need Rx pain medication at times, but after 27 + years as a substance abuse counselor, I’ve watched addiction to pain pills torment more people than addiction to any other drug, except maybe alcohol.

Add to that my experience of every time I’ve had  minor surgery or an injury, I’ve been given way more Rx pain medication than I needed. The last time, I didn’t even bother to get the prescription filled and did fine with ibuprofen.

Now, before you start thinking I have a high pain tolerance, think again. I wanted to birth my babies naturally, with no pain medications, but after twelve hours of labor with my firstborn, I was asking for a second shot of stadol. They said, no, it was too close to delivery. I moaned in acceptance, but would have gladly taken a second shot, even though I hate needles. With my second delivery, I made a feeble attempt to forgo pain meds, and caved again.

My second born, now an adult, also has no special tolerance for pain, but only used one third of the pain meds prescribed after her oral surgery. I waited for months to take the leftover 20 pills to the bi-annual Rx drop off.

So why are all these extra pain meds being prescribed, and why are the extras so hard to get rid of?  Why are we so quick to want to take a pill, rather than try alternatives? Part of the problem is that alternative therapies, like acupuncture and massage, are rarely covered by insurance.

If you’re prescribed pain medication, take it as prescribed, for you, and ask your doctor if you have questions. For example:

  •  Can I take less than what it says on the bottle?”
  • What else might help besides the pills?
  •  Can I try a heating pad, or ice pack?”
  • What alternative therapy can we try, like physical therapy or massage?
  •  Do you know people who’ve handled this with over the counter medicine?
  • I have a family history of addiction, is there something else we can try?

If a person takes opiate (sometimes  called narcotic) pain medications long enough, tolerance develops and the medication doesn’t work as well. Withdrawal happens when the body stops making natural endorphins because the pain meds tell the body it doesn’t need to make the endorphins. The receptors are full. And that’s just the physical explanation.

Addiction is sneaky.

I’ve seen it in action.

Most people have no idea how much work it takes to fight it.

Here are some things that have helped me and others cope with pain, both physical and emotional:

1. What’s the message?  What is your pain trying to tell you? Go to the doctor? Get some rest? Stop eating junk? Pain exists to let us know something needs our attention.  About thirteen years ago, the post-divorce relationship I was in was stressful (to put it mildly).  This showed up with increased heartburn, abdominal pain, and mysterious female ailments. My body was trying to tell me to ditch the person who was making me sick.

2. Prayer: Ask God to  show you the reason for your pain and to help ease it. For me, the answer doesn’t always come right away, but it comes in one way or another.

3. Positive Distraction: It’s probably not going to make the pain go away completely, but it will decrease your focus on it. Be aware of  things that don’t hurt. Watch funny movies, do puzzles, listen to music, or color in a coloring book. Focus on something other than the pain. My dad seems to feel better when he’s telling a story about his youth.

4. Meditation and/or Guided Imagery. This is not a substitute for medical care, and generally takes practice. I’ve had clients come to my group with a headache and tell me it was gone after practicing relaxation skills with guided imagery. It tends to work better for stress induced symptoms if we catch them early. I usually start with mindful breathing, focusing my awareness on the breath, without judgement.

For example, see:  Jon  Kabat-Zinn:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D5Fa50oj45s        

Then, I move into muscle relaxation by imagining a soft wave of healing light starting at my head and moving slowly down my body, releasing tension with each breath. I imagine the breath softening the tension (or pain) to help it dissolve, allowing it to become easier to release. I repeat this wave as many times as feels right. Sometimes I imagine breathing in healing energy or God’s love and letting it flow throughout my body with the exhale.

Belleruth Naparstek is one of my favorites when it comes to guided imagery. Here’s one of her exercises for stress management :  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WhTSaNwnip8

Thanks for reading this longer than usual post. I hope it helps somebody. Do you have other ways of coping with pain?


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Having Fun with Mindful Eating

Being here now, observing the present moment, doing one thing at a time, without judgement, effectively. These are all components of mindfulness, something we could all use more of, especially during this busy season of holidays which we so easily forget are also holy days.

Why is it, that around this time of year, so many people take it upon themselves to bring all kinds of alluring desserts to share at work? I know they have good intentions, and I love the holidays, but a quick nibble here and a mindless indulgence there can add up to unpleasant consequences like: “Why am I so moody/tired lately? Could it be all that sugar I’ve been eating?” and “Where did those 5 extra pounds come from?”

going for the cookies

Quick! before my mind notices!

Slowing down and eating mindfully can enhance the experience of eating.  Mindful eating improves our digestion and can help us maintain a healthy weight. It allows us to nourish and respect our bodies. Using mindfulness, I would not just grab that chocolate chip cookie and stuff it into my mouth without thinking. If I was being mindful, I would not be eating in front of the TV or at the  computer as I too often do at work.

Using mindfulness, I would start by observing. I would observe the  cookie and all it’s friends: the gingerbread man, the rice crispy treats and those little white balls covered with powdered sugar with nuts inside (if it has nuts, it’s healthy right?) I might observe my mouth watering slightly with detachment (Hmmm. That’s an interesting sensation.) If I don’t observe this sensation for too long, if I don’t let it turn into drooling, I can choose not to act on the urge to grab and gobble, and instead go on serenely about my business. Maybe get a cup of herbal tea, or a carrot stick…. which I  would eat mindfully of course.

But when we’re going to have a treat, whether it’s a cookie or a green bean, lets make it count. Let’s make it a memorable experience. Here are my steps for Mindful Eating using all of your senses:

1. Use your sense of sight to observe the colors and shapes of your well  chosen treat. Take some time to study it.  With fruits and vegetables, you might even discover something new. Jon Kabat-Zinn does this trick with a peeled banana where he shows how it’s  made up of three distinct segments lengthwise. Just try it!

banana

Normal view of a banana

Banana segments attached

Mindfulness allows you to play with your food.

2. Smell your food. It could be a strong or subtle smell. If your nose likes what it smells, enjoy the aroma. If not, you might want to stop here and not proceed to step 3 with this particular food item. Our sense of smell is designed to protect us from things we really shouldn’t eat.

3. If you like the smell, put a small morsel at a time in your mouth. Will it melt or is chewing required? (If it’s a carrot, there’s no need to wonder, but it can be interesting to let a bit of sugar cookie or chocolate melt in your mouth.)

4. Feel the texture or textures. Is it smooth or rough or a combination?

5.  Savor the tastes.  Is it sweet, salty, tart, tangy……?

6. Does the process of eating create any sound, like crunching or even slurping?

Do all the above slowly so you can to make your treat last. In case you hadn’t noticed, I’m partially suspending the nonjudgmental aspect of mindfulness in favor of  healthy fun.  It’s ok to judge the flavor or texture of your food in an appreciative way, but don’t judge yourself,  for eating too fast for example. Just observe and you might slow down. And if you do judge, just observe the judging without additional judging about the judging.

Now, you might not want to try your first attempt at mindful eating at a party. You might not want to say, I can’t talk right now, because I’m going to eat this cookie mindfully, unless you have the kind of friends who would appreciate that. It’s best to practice mindful eating alone at first or with one good friend who’s willing to humor you. If you’re at a party, or with someone who doesn’t know you well, you might just go with eating semi-mindfully or having mindful moments. Either way, you’re likely to eat less and enjoy it more.

Breakfast Oatmeal w fruit

We like a little oatmeal with our fruit.