Pain Management Without Opioids – My Journey Through the Odyssey of Pain by Traci Baxendale Ball LMSW, CAADC
There’s no magic solution to chronic pain. Opioids are not your friend. It’s like having a full-time job getting through the day when you’re in pain. So what can you do if you face unrelenting pain and the only solution seems like a pill?
No matter what your age and medical status, the fact is at some point you will face a period in your life of chronic pain. If it doesn’t sound bad enough to have to face what seems like endless days of chronic pain, it is clear that the secondary effects of pain such as insomnia, mental fatigue, and depression can have you questioning your reason for living. I have written before about the causes of suicide being much broader than ‘mental illness’. We know that the stress of chronic pain contributes greatly to suicidal thoughts. This explains why counselors are interested in helping you manage chronic pain.
2018 taught me a great deal about chronic pain. A neck and shoulder injury that I sustained about four years ago left me with a secondary set of symptoms including daily migraines, nausea and vertigo. I had to stop teaching fitness for a while, which was a big deal because exercise has always been my sanity. Some days I could barely stand. Clients that saw me in my clinic would often be greeted by the sight of their therapist wearing an ice pack. The pain was so bad it would wake me in the middle of the night (if I ever did get to sleep) and I literally felt as though my skull was going to split open. I had a mask made of ice that I would place on my face for flushing as well as ice packs I would place at the base of my skull. I had a neck traction machine that looked like some kind of torture contraption. What a strange sight I was!
The months from October 2017 – April 2018 were the worst in terms of pain levels, although I would have week-long episodes before this that were a challenge too. During that time, I honestly did not have even one day without a migraine. OTC pain meds and typical migraine/vertigo medications did not work. I noticed that when I felt stressed the pain was worse, and so was my vertigo. Peppermint oil, heat, ice, breathing, meditation, EFT, an anti-inflammatory diet, abstinence from caffeine and alcohol, lots of supplements (such as turmeric and ginger), CBD products, as well as a PT designed exercise program turned out to be key to having my symptoms finally decrease. Though I still have a few migraine/vertigo issues, and certainly lots of neck pain, I can count on having quite a lot of pain-free days too. It’s now 2019, and I am teaching again, but have not been able to fully return to all of my fitness hobbies. I was able to take a four-day road trip across the US without any pain. This would not have happened if it were not for my daily regime of pain prevention/management.
I believe holistic approaches worked overtime because my pain was about inflammation around the site of the injuries. Stress always made the inflammation worse, hence the pain – stress correlation.
My 23-year-old nephew was the victim of attempted homicide in 2018. A bullet traveled through his jaw, miraculously missing his spinal cord, esophagus and major arteries. Once out of the critical stage, doctors were able to operate and replace his jaw with a titanium implant. Unable to speak or eat for months, he is now on his own journey of recovery and his pain levels have been intense. He has undergone an additional two surgeries as well as many medical procedures related to his injury. He was unable to work for almost a year and relied on his immediate family to get him through financially and emotionally. His experience of unrelenting pain was difficult to watch from the outside. I can’t imagine what it’s like to actually be in his body. He also had to rely on an atypical pain management program because pain pills did not work adequately.
It’s essential you have a program and habits you can rely on if you experience chronic pain. There will be some rituals and practices that help slightly even if they don’t take the pain away. You must focus on soothing yourself. Firming up the mind through meditation, relaxation, EFT and mindfulness proves to be a major factor in resilience to pain. Fastening yourself to the FACT that you can live alongside pain is critical to both maintaining some level of productivity as well as remaining hopeful. Unfortunately for some, lifelong chronic pain is a reality due to injury or a disease process such as neuropathy, endometriosis, arthritis, or fibromyalgia. In these instances, the question is not when things will get better as much as it is ‘how do I cope with a lifetime of pain’?
If you need help creating your own pain program, find a counselor that helps with pain management. The opioid crisis means that even pain management clinics are offering alternative healing modalities and pain management classes, rather than relying strictly on medications.
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Here are some mantras (phrases you repeat to yourself) to work with if you experience pain on a frequent basis. The idea is to soothe and strengthen the mind to create resilience and coping. You can practice mind strength or cognitive strength by writing down your own phrases and using deep breathing as you repeat them either out loud or in your head. Remember to reach out and tell someone how much you are hurting. Don’t expect them to understand…simply focus on seeking out connection and support.
Affirmations to Flex Your Mind Against Pain and Hopelessness
- I have a serious medical issue. This is a bad day. I will have good days!
- There is no magic solution. I will practice flexing against this pain (and depression).
- I need help. I will reach out and rely on my support team.
- I’m in so much pain, it’s only natural I feel desperate for relief.
- I’m doing everything I can.
- I’m exhausted from dealing with this. It makes me want to give up. (While this does not seem ‘positive’, it can be seen as validating and resonant with how you feel. Sometimes affirmations are not bouncy, motivational statements. Instead, they may be simple reflections of what is the reality for you. Reminding yourself that pain is the reason you want to give up makes it less likely that you will feel like a flake).
- I have so much to live for. I am not going to allow this pain to take that away from me.
- There’s no way others can really understand what this feels like in my body. I will focus on understanding myself.
- I’m hurting, depressed, and I’m tired. That’s what’s driving these morbid thoughts. I don’t have to act on them.
- I will treat myself with the highest amount of care and respect possible.
- I am not my pain. I am so much more.
- I am amazing. Look what I’ve gone through.
- Today, in spite of my pain I WILL____________
If you’d like to hear a meditation that can help with pain, you can find my recording here:
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Traci Baxendale Ball LMSW, CAADC is the founder of Vibrant Health Company LLC
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