Lessons from a Life in Chronic Pain, Part 1 — I’m Stronger than I Know

As I’ve written before, I began experiencing back pain as a teenager. I felt all I had at one point was football, but decided to give it up, since, at the tender age of 16, I was going to the chiropractor once a week.

I’m 51 now, and it occurred to me a couple weeks ago that I’ve learned a thing or two from my pain. I quickly grabbed a pen and furiously began scribbling these down. Before I knew it, I had compiled a list of 15 “life lessons” I’ve learned (the hard way) from living in chronic pain for 35 years. I figured others may benefit from me spending the next few blogs fleshing out my thoughts on some of the things pain has schooled me on.

This is one of the biggies:

I’M MUCH STRONGER THAN I GIVE MYSELF CREDIT FOR

I recall during my sophomore year of high school, when I first started having back pain, my immature, 15-year-old mind would try and describe to my friends what I was going through.

I guess what it means is that, if I get one good shot to my spine, I’M GONE…” 

I can’t help but laugh at this now. “Gone?” I would love to ask my teenage self, “Gone where? You mean like ‘dead’?” Ha.

So, finally, after playing a few games that season, I DID get hit really hard in the back during a game. The coach ran out to check on me, and I had to lie there for a minute or two in order to catch my breath. I was helped up and limped off the field to rest for a few plays.

James, one of my buddies on the team, had watched me get hit in the back, and walked up and sorta snarkily said, “You’re gone.” I looked at him a sec and then we both started laughing.

To my surprise, I wasn’t “gone” (whatever that meant). I’d taken the hit and survived. Also, to my amazement, I was still standing, and not doing too bad. 

Weird.

God built us strong enough to withstand the pain our lives will bring, and this sounds surprising, considering the sheer MOUNTAIN of pain some of you have suffered. But it’s true.

My whole life I’ve limited myself. My wife is telling me that constantly. A dilemma will arise and my first reaction is, “I can’t do that. I can’t handle it.” 

Thankfully, she has the patience of Job, and will quietly encourage me. I stop, let the problem sink in, and then realize, “Yes, ok, I can do this.”

As I wrote in another blog last year, I didn’t ride roller coasters for many, many years, up until a couple summers ago. I got sick of watching my son ride these awesome, winding, metal snakes without me and figured, “Forget it, I’m just gonna DO it, man. What’s the worst that could happen? I have WORSE back pain? I already live in pain, so who cares?” 

Thus, I made a rule: I would let my son choose ONE roller coaster per amusement park visit for me to ride with him.

Ya know what happened?

I had a lotta fun, that’s what. I made it.

So I would encourage you not to limit yourself. Don’t let your first reaction be…

“I can’t.”

Well, maybe you CAN, you just don’t know it yet!

It has been said, “You are confined only by the walls you build around yourself.” 

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We let doctors and well-meaning friends and loved ones put us into a box which, frankly, I’m sick of living in. It’s boring in there, man. I wanna break out, break free.

I don’t wanna dwell in that sweaty, confining box anymore.

My mom and I have fought this for years. My dad worries about both of us, and granted, she is in much worse pain than I am. “But, pain is pain,” she says. When we go on vacation, dad will ask us to “take it easy” and “rest as much as we can.” While these are very important, neither mom nor I have any interest in spending our lives “resting.”

I love that he’s so concerned about us, but I can no longer be defined by limiting definitions of “fear.”

“Our Greatest Fear”

By Marianne Williamson

“Our greatest fear is not that we are inadequate,
but that we are powerful beyond measure.

It is our light, not our darkness, that frightens us.
We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant,
gorgeous, handsome, talented and fabulous?

Actually, who are you not to be?
You are a child of God.

Your playing small does not serve the world.
There is nothing enlightened about shrinking
so that other people won’t feel insecure around you.

We were born to make manifest the glory of God within us.
It is not just in some; it is in everyone.

And, as we let our own light shine, we consciously give
other people permission to do the same.
As we are liberated from our fear,
our presence automatically liberates others.”

A few weeks ago we went to Orlando on vacation. For the last few times we’ve visited, my wife and I have purchased a plane ticket for me, since I told her, “I can’t make that 18-hour trip in the car. Not with my back pain.” 

Well, this year I said, “Why CAN’T I?” and just did it. Surprisingly, mom did, too. We were hurting, yes, and it took a couple days to get over, but we did it, and here is the lesson I was once again reminded of:

I’M MUCH STRONGER THAN I GIVE MYSELF CREDIT FOR

You are, too, and don’t let anyone tell you different. Break out of the box and start to live. You wouldn’t believe how beautiful it is out here!

Many blessings, my friend.

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