Pain has a lot to teach us. It can let us know when our lives are out of alignment, when we need support, when we need to ask for help. But narcotizing the pain away through opioids such as codeine and hydrocodone—especially during pregnancy—is an alarming trend. A recent article in the New York Times reported, “In February, a study of 500,000 privately insured women found that 14 percent were dispensed opioid painkillers at least once during pregnancy.” The safety risks are not well understood, but opioid use in pregnancy can lead to neural tube defects and potential addiction symptoms in children.
To make matters worse, opioids are often a gateway drug for heroin addicts—the low cost, the readily availability and the prescription pill-like high makes heroin almost irresistible for some.
Using prescription drugs for pain has become an epidemic—and the results are devastating. We need to avoid using opioid analgesics as the first-line therapy.
What we need to do instead, as therapists and doctors, is to help our patients be less afraid of pain and more willing to embrace the intelligence of our emotions. Sadness, loss, suffering, and despair get to the very heart of life. As Buddha so famously said, “Life is suffering.” Pain can be our best friend, our teacher, our way to work with one of life’s essential truths. But when we try to numb the pain, instead of feel it, pain’s message gets squashed.
When I work with clients, I encourage them to experience, fully and safely, the full range of feelings. And when pain does arise, as it inevitably will, I suggest the following strategies to help befriend it.
EMDR and Brainspotting are excellent ways to work with complex trauma and pain. The basis for these therapies is that pain/trauma interfere with the brain’s ability to process information, preventing the information from being used to make new connections and adapt. Echoing the latest research on neuroplasticity, both strategies assert the brain’s ability to change based on events and the environment. When you do EMDR or brainspotting, you can help your brain to process pain differently and reduce its intensity.
A fundamental willingness to being OK with not feeling great all the time is called for here. Mindfulness inducing activities, be it a contemplative walk, yoga practice, or meditation offers a gentle way to tune into the pain. Cultivate curiosity about the pain, trying to find its location and its source. Is it stress-based or body-based?
Acupuncture, massage, cranio-sacral work, and even medical marijuana (imbibe responsibly) all offer wonderful ways to self-regulate and soothe. As a therapist, I love to work with and recommend other professionals to form a support team that treats the whole client.
Diet, exercise, therapeutic movement, and even simply being in sunshine can be just the boost you need to strengthen one’s inner resources. When you are in a state of balance, you have more resilience to face the difficult times square on.