I know what you're thinking: Are you nuts? My back hurts like hell. Why would this ever be a good thing?
Bear with me for a moment.
First off, I know what back pain feels like. I know what it's like to have pain shooting down your leg. I know what it’s like to not be able to move your toes properly. I know how excruciating it can feel to peel yourself out of bed in the morning and I know how infuriating it is when your body keeps you from living your life the way you set out to live it. I get it.
At 25, my lower back started hurting so much that I often couldn’t find a physical position that would free me of my pain even just for a short while. After months of denial, trying to medicate the pain, and forcing myself to strengthen my abs and stretch my hamstrings, I finally admitted that something more serious was going on with me. I was diagnosed with two herniated disks in my lower spine.
As a then soon-to-be med school student and the daughter of two physicians, I did what made the most sense: I had surgery and went through month of recovery ... and guess what? The pain was still there.
The primary emotion I felt throughout was anger. Anger towards my body for hurting, for being weak, for deserting me, for keeping me from reaching my goals and living the ambitious life I had planned out for myself.
I was deathly afraid of looking like a failure and now that my spine was giving in, I was forced to take a break, forced to stop what I was doing (applying to medical school), and worst of all: since I wasn’t able to keep myself busy and distracted, I had to feel all of my stored up unhappiness.
In addition, I was an avid runner and loved yoga, and I had I drawn a lot of confidence from being athletic and feeling like my body was invincible. Secretly, I was also obsessed with exercising because I was terrified of gaining weight. (In fact, I was constantly trying to lose 10 pounds.) I often pushed my body beyond its limits and told myself that until I lost weight, my body wasn’t love worthy.
The world I had built up for myself crashed when my back pain became unbearable, and thank goodness it did. Throughout my recovery, I came to realize that my entire reality was built upon the idea that I had to impress others, that I had to push myself to perform, that I had to compete and that I needed to be “successful” at all costs. What I did was more important than who I was. What others thought of me carried more value than how I felt.
My back pain forced me to question this reality and the choices I was making.
By way of the pain, my body forced me to stop and to reconsider the choices I was making. My body wasn’t willing to sacrifice my happiness for what I thought “success” was. My body had my best interest in mind and since I didn’t want to listen when it was whispering, it began to scream.
My back pain sparked the biggest transformation of my life.
Through my pain, I was able to reconnect with my body and come home to myself. I was able to hear my own voice and identify my own desires without thinking that the external environment knew better. I began to honor my body, listen to my intuition, and create a mind-body connection that is full of wisdom and gentle guidance.
I withdrew my med school applications and instead got my M.A. in Counseling Psychology. I graduated as a published author for my work on how women experience emotion in their body and have created my own life-coaching business since. I fell in love with the man of my dreams and lost 20 pounds without forcing myself into a strict diet or exercise regime. Best of all, I am now free of pain, once again running and practicing yoga, and I'm filled with a deep happiness and trust in myself and my abilities. When my back starts aching (which it sometimes still does), I know that I need to listen, release the pressure I put on myself, and invite more playfulness into my life.
My back pain saved me from a path that was in disharmony with my internal world and instead allowed me to take a step back and create a life that is in alignment with who I am and what I want to add to the world.
If you are experiencing pain—whether it's back pain, tight shoulders, a knot in your throat etc.—ask your body what it is trying to tell you. If your symptom could speak, what would it say? By having this pain, what is your body forcing you to do differently? What is it keeping you from doing?
If you want to befriend your body, think of it as your most loving advocate, helping you become the happiest and most fulfilled individual possible. Be gentle with it. Honor it. Engage in conversation with it. Make feeling good a priority.