“New Life, No Instructions”

newlifenoinstructionI love well-written memoirs. They open the world and offer language to understand how different people live, and feel and create.

A recent find is Gail Caldwell’s New Life, No Instructions.  In this book she tells the story of living with chronic pain and discovering a way through. Unlike those with RA or other inflammatory diseases, her most painful woes could ultimately be helped by the right doctor ( a universal story) and the right surgery ( particular to her).

The following quote got my attention:

“Chronic pain is a mean strategist – it takes away your life a little at a time. Acknowledging it goes against some primitive instinct of survival, and so one adapts by denying. This applies to all kinds of trouble: We find ways to anesthetize ourselves to bad situations. It’s easier – at least in the beginning, to pretend the antagonist isn’t there – or will go away, or not do it again, or not turn out to be such a problem after all. It’s always easier to wait until tomorrow to make the call. Then you look up and the trouble has bullied you into a corner of the room and eclipsed everything else in your life.”

Ah yes. Denial. It isn’t as bad as I think it is. I can put off for another day that call, or exercise, or medication, or, or , or…

And we know what it is like to be bullied by our pain, or our symptoms that insist we attend to them. But still we put off what we know we can do in our own best interest.

Many people who see me want to figure out why they put off their own best interest.

I think that Caldwell is right – it is a primitive instinct for survival – and we do not need to understand it, as much as we need to override the denial.

Much easier to say than do, but take a moment and reflect.

What are you putting off right now? What piece of your story are you denying or coping with, adapting to and downplaying? Where might you ask for – and insist on – some help? What is your body saying to you that you may be trying to ignore?

There is an old story of a frog and a pot of boiling water. If you drop the frog right into the steaming water, it will jump right out. The intensity of the heat and the pain make the effort to get out non-negotiable.

If however, you put the frog in a pot of warm water on a stove and gradually turn up the heat, the frog will not jump out. It will keep adapting and adjusting until it boils to death.

That’s the kind of adjustment that I see many of my clients making. Not that they are boiling of course! But they keep trying so hard to “make it work” and not taking the first step out into potential new avenues for healing and relief.

So today, I encourage you to notice one thing about your body or life that you are “putting up with “ and tolerating. Make an effort to feel what you might be suppressing or denying and determine to take whatever the smallest step you can towards an opening, towards a possibility.

Let me know what you discover!

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