In my childhood memories, my mom always had a sore back.
She never seemed to do much to overcome her pain. She would just treat the worst symptoms with heat or some topical cream, and rest. I cannot remember her ever going for a massage or physiotherapy. I never saw her do any stretches.
She made me believe that back pain is an inevitable part of life and a constant cause of suffering.
It wasn’t much of a surprise when my back started aching at a young age. We thought it was hereditary, and it never even occurred to me that I could get out of that prison of pain. For more than 15 years I believed that I had been sentenced to a life-time of chronic pain, just like my mom.
Then, on vacation in Costa Rica with a friend, I met someone who changed my life drastically.
All he did was tell me the story of his own chronic pain, and how he got rid of it. Not with operations and drugs, but with massage and physiotherapy, with yoga, meditation, mantras, and reading books that showed him the way to his physical healing—and emotional, as well. Someone had convinced him that he could do it, and then he did.
Now he has convinced me that I could do it too.
Here’s the one hack that this man taught me:
In order to heal, we have to be fully willing to do anything to heal from our pain.
We have to sign a contract with ourselves in which we agree that we will invest all the necessary time, effort, and money into our healing process, for as long as it takes.
Yes, this involves an intimidating amount of commitment. But just as the child will only learn to walk because it keeps trying, we can only heal if we commit 100 percent to the wish to heal.
When I heard him say commitment, I tried to back out at first and came up with excuses.
I was living in a remote place. Once I would have returned from my vacation, there wouldn’t even be a doctor close, let alone a physiotherapist, an acupuncturist, or a chiropractor. No yoga classes, no massage therapist, no counselor. How was I ever going to keep my promise to do everything possible to heal?
But he was a very cute guy, so I made the promise in front of him, even though I had no idea how I would fulfill it. Then we parted ways.
Two days later, my travel companion wanted to stay in a hostel in the middle of nowhere. I was reluctant, but she insisted; someone had recommended the great surf nearby.
We threw our bags in our room and walked out to find some lunch. Fifty steps down the road, I saw an inconspicuous sign on a closed door set in a blind wall. It was at the end of a mud road in a small surfing town in Costa Rica. Forty-eight hours after I committed to healing, I happened to find a chiropractor opposite my hostel.
Thank you universe!
It looked anything but inviting, and I wanted to tell myself that the place must be closed, so I might as well walk on by. But I remembered my promise (and the cute guy), so I took a deep breath and knocked on the door.
Following my intuition, I went in and got my first appointment. It turned out to be the best thing I have ever done for myself.
Once I started working with this chiropractor, who was also an acupuncturist, kinesiologist, and chakra healer, my own healing took no more than two months. More than 15 years of suffering were resolved and dissolved.
It was a life changing experience.
Of course, now you all want to go that chiropractor. He is an excellent therapist. But It wasn’t him that healed me.
We can only heal ourselves, and “healers” are nothing more than the facilitators of our personal healing process. They show us the way.
Looking back on that period in my life, I can see clearly now what actually made my healing successful. It was that 100 percent commitment. Healing means “becoming whole.” Healing halfway is not healing at all.
Taking a closer look at this commitment to heal, we can distinguish five aspects to it, none of which are optional:
1. It starts with faith. We have to believe every moment that we can stick to our commitment. We have to believe the universe will now conspire to help us, and that the therapists, treatments, and information most suitable for our particular healing process will be presented to us in the right moment.
The moment I committed to my healing, I found my first chiropractor within 48 hours. Once I got back to my little island in Nicaragua, two chiropractors became regular island visitors, and an acupuncturist fell in love with a local man and stayed for six months. In every book exchange I browsed, Eckhart Tolle’s book The Power of Now jumped into my face, so I finally picked up a copy and found a well of wisdom which helped me understand my pain, its root, and how to let it go.
As part of our commitment, we have to have faith that our bodies have the ability to heal and that we can be pain-free. This means trusting we will know what to do in each moment, trusting our intuition and the innate wisdom of our own body.
I allowed the chiropractor to introduce me to all sorts of new healing modalities that I had never tried before or even heard of. I trusted that they were going to help me. Every session seemed to launch me forward on my way to a pain-free life. By the time I went home, I knew I could carry on with my healing process by myself.
We also have to have faith that we will have the epiphanies that show us the root of our pain, the courage to forgive ourselves and others, and the open mind to see things in a new light.
And finally: faith that we will find the funds to do this all.
This brings me to the next commitment:
2. Money. Yes, money is part of our healing process and our commitment to it.
Many of us believe that we should only take the treatments that our health insurance pays for—which is usually not enough. Some insurance companies don’t allow for any alternative therapies and push us toward operations and medication.
But just because insurance doesn’t compensate us, it doesn’t mean we cannot go and take those other treatments.
It might mean no new boots and winter coat this year, but for sure last year’s are still good enough. It might even mean fewer nights out with our friends, where we easily drop $50 or $100 on food and drinks. And yes, maybe we cannot afford a vacation this year, using that money on treatments instead.
These choices might seem hard in the moment, but what’s a pair of boots, a night out, or a vacation worth when we cannot enjoy them because our body is hurting too much?
We have to commit to truly invest in our healing, using money that we’d usually spend in a different way.
When I committed to work with this chiropractor, it meant I had to extend my stay in Costa Rica for an unknown length of time.
I spent a big chunk of my savings on all his treatments, on massages, yoga classes, and, of course, the hostel where I had to stay. I started making jewellery that I sold to tourists, and I even sold some of my personal belongings to stretch my budget.
Another aspect of money in our healing process is the message that we are sending to our body when we tell ourselves that we shouldn’t spend so much money on our healing.
Basically, what we are saying is, “I don’t love you enough; you’re not worth it.” That’s the kind of message no-body wants to hear if they are making an effort to accomplish something. Lack of self-love will not help us heal.
We have to choose wholeheartedly to spend every available penny on our healing, because we deserve to heal—our body deserves to heal.
3. Time commitment. So often, when I gently scold them for having such big knots in their shoulders, my massage clients (yes, now I work in that field myself!) tell me they don’t have the time to get a massage more often.
Having time for something is a matter of choosing our priorities.
When we commit to healing, it should be our only priority. Our work, social life, entertainment, and hobbies will have to come second.
Work, you ask, second? We all have to make a living, of course. But we can treat work as if it isn’t our number one priority by not taking on more of a workload than necessary, not taking on new clients, not committing to extra projects, and overtime, or after-work gatherings. Our network is most likely not going to heal our chronic pain. Nor will those new clients. Use that time for healing instead.
I stayed in that muddy town in Costa Rica for more than two months. I slept in a bunk bed in a mixed dorm. I didn’t go home until the chiropractor told me I could. Being self-employed, I chose not to work for two months, and focus on my healing instead.
4. Effort. We have to commit to do the work.
To heal we have to do our exercises and stretches, sit for meditation, say our affirmations or mantras, eat healthier foods, stop smoking, reduce our alcohol, caffeine, and sugar intake, and read the books.
Whatever it is that we need to do or stop doing to heal (and this will be different for each of us), we have to do it—every damn day.
We have to practice our healing in every moment of every day.
We have to commit to making these things into daily habits that become so ingrained in our system that we never want to go without them anymore. With enough effort, healing and staying whole could well become second nature to us.
I started doing yoga every day (I thank my back pain for getting me into a daily practice). I tapped my EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique) diligently mornings and evenings. I changed habits and started to pay attention to the way I use my body. I got used to meditating daily.
I went for long walks in nature which also facilitated my physical healing. These endless hours of solitude also allowed me to look inward and learn what I needed to let go of, what old trauma didn’t serve me anymore. Yes, I shed some tears too.
This takes me to the last aspect of our commitment to heal:
5. The inner work. We have to commit to look inward and see if we can find an emotional cause of our pain.
What’s nagging us in the back of our mind? What’s making us unhappy? Is it our job, a relationship, or our financial situation? Do we have to make some difficult choices about changing any of these?
What emotional trauma have we never resolved and let go of? Sometimes we’re not even aware what old pain we are carrying around. Our chronic neck or back pain is just a physical expression of it; it’s the way our body is trying to call attention to the work we need to do on ourselves to grow, to move forward, and to let go.
Being stuck in chronic pain could be an indicator that we are stuck in our life in some way. What’s the rut we’re in, and how can we get out? The healing of physical pain often involves the healing of emotional pain, so we have to commit to working on that too. For me, it was the EFT and journaling that really helped me in this process.
I have been pain-free now for more than a decade.
What healed me, and what probably can heal you, was 100 commitment. The full monty. The all-inclusive package.
Because we can’t heal half.
Author: Leontien Reedijk
Image: Flickr/Tomás Fano
Editor: Travis May
Copy Editor: Lieselle Davidson