When I was 19 years old, the back pain that had afflicted me on and off since childhood reached a turning point.
It was my freshman year of college, and during a particularly stressful week I found myself on the floor in pain, unable to sit, stand or even lie down comfortably. After a few weeks of hobbling around and downing over-the-counter pain meds, I cut short my semester, retreated to my parents’ home for winter break and decided to dig in to the medical world to see what was going on.
I submitted to a battery of tests associated with “low back issues.” Orthopedic surgery consults, X-Rays, MRIs, narcotic medication, steroids and physical therapy. The diagnosis came back as a degenerative spinal condition called Spondylolisthesis. I was told not to lift anything, bend without tremendous care, ride in a car for more than 60 minutes, sleep on my back or stomach or exercise.
They warned me that I probably couldn’t carry a child to term, as the weight of the baby would be too much for my damaged spine. They recommended waiting as long as possible to undergo Spinal Fusion Surgery—a procedure which would likely limit my mobility for life.
I became obsessed with my situation, and worried constantly that it would never change.
Still, something deep inside of me didn’t believe that this was my fate. Ever in pursuit of another way to tackle my disability, I learned about a doctor in New York—Dr. John Sarno—who healed people without medication or surgery. I knew I had to meet him.
Through working with Dr. Sarno, I began to understand that physical pain is an entry point, a door of desperation that brings us to the precipice of a truth that’s been awaiting our acknowledgement. I took the time to systematically look at the truths of my childhood, daily life and personality traits.
The process is not complicated. One needs only uncover his or her truths; nothing in life needs to be changed or fixed. The pain is simply our primitive brain’s way to protect us.
The question is, from what? Our deep, ugly, heretic, defiant, inconvenient and impolite thoughts seem to threaten us somehow, as if feeling them would kill us. This, of course, is not rooted in any truth—scientific or otherwise—but the phenomenon of the mind’s desperation to protect us from these feelings is the direct cause of chronic pain and conditions.
I know it sounds crazy that giving a voice to your repressed emotions and darkest thoughts could end your pain, but I’m here to tell you that it most decisively can. I’m not only a survivor of chronic pain but also a psychotherapist, speaker and writer working nationwide, empowering common people to do the uncommon.
The language I coined during this time of self-discovery in my life is called JournalSpeak.
It translates your surface truths into the core truths that must be acknowledged to heal. Your body will stop sending the message of pain to your muscle groups, nerves and organs once you become proficient in allowing core truths to rise without fear. The goal of a JournalSpeak practice is to create a vehicle by which these submerged feelings can rise safely.
Remember—you need only speak JournalSpeak to yourself. No one else needs to hear, but you do. We must convince our own brain that we will not die if we feel our core feelings. In fact, we will thrive because our body will not need to work so hard diverting us from experiencing them.
In order to practice JournalSpeak for yourself, follow a few simple steps:
1..Get yourself a notebook you don’t care about—one that you’d be happy to rip pages out of, and discard. Or if you prefer to type, grab your computer.
2..Find a quiet space where you feel safe and comfortable.
3..Set the timer on your phone for 20 minutes, and turn it over so you can’t watch it.
4..Write until the timer goes off. There is one important thing to remember about this kind of writing:
It is impolite. Nothing you say here should be shared with or available to your loved ones. This is your time. Win every argument you’ve ever entered. Speak your mind. Say awful things, unspeakable, rude and inappropriate. Tell the truth. Even if this doesn’t remain your truth after you get it out and see it clearly, your body needs you to tell it at the moment.
5..Topics should include, but are not limited to: family, friends, work, partners, situations, childhood left-overs and emotions you are feeling. When I struggle for a topic, sometimes I just write at the top of the page: Why am I so (angry, sad, ashamed, scared, annoyed) today? And go.
6..Free write for the 20 minutes. Give yourself a huge dose of love and compassion. This might feel unkind, but it is purging your system and saving your life. Repeat this process every day, especially if you are in chronic pain. After your pain recedes and eventually goes for good, you can ease up on the daily work. Just pick up your JournalSpeak practice any time you want to address an ache, pain or bothersome emotion that arises.
The healing from this work is enduring.
7..Dispose of your writing in a place no one will find it. I like to use a public recycling can or erase the file as soon as I’m done typing. Some people do this right away, and others like to keep it to discuss with a therapist or trusted friend. Either way, make sure you keep this safe. The essence of the healing is the freedom to speak your mind knowing it won’t be read by another living soul (unless you choose).
Remember, no matter how “real” one’s diagnosis, this process can still end the symptoms and pain. From fibromyalgia to migraines to chronic issues anywhere in the body—I’ve seen them all resolve completely.
Personally, I still appear broken via MRI. You would never know it, though, to see me live.
This works. I mean, it really works.
My pain steadily decreased as I worked the JournalSpeak program. With dedicated effort on my part, I began noticing entire days when I felt no pain. Days turned into weeks, and then months until finally I noticed—without much fanfare—that the pain had disappeared completely.
I finished college, completed my graduate work for a Master’s of Clinical Social Work, and earned my Licensed Clinical Social Worker. After hearing for years that my life was going to be seriously compromised by all the rules and “can’t do’s,” I now regularly drive around in my bouncy SUV with my five spunky children in the back seats—three of whom I naturally and painlessly carried until their birth. (The other two are my wife’s from a previous marriage.)
I’ve never taken the word “miracle” seriously because it always sounded trite to me.
The word has conjured up the idea that one can’t have a personal hand in his or her own healing; that it must come from elsewhere, like some gift that is bestowed on some but not all of us. What I’ve found is that we not only have a hand in our own healing, but it is—especially in the case of pain—almost entirely in our hands.
It’s hard stuff, but certainly no harder than enduring the physical pain and emotional drain you’ve already been dealing with for way too long.
Author: Nicole J. Sachs
Editor: Ashleigh Hitchcock
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