My Pain Journey, Part 2

I went to Lagoon today, and I was safe. I went there virtually, with the assistance of a four hour ketamine infusion at the University of Utah Hospital. Although I went to BYU, I’m quickly becoming a Ute fan. The Lagoon part was just as good or better than the real thing. I don’t think real Lagoon has any of the actual rides I went on – mine were probably better. I also went on a bunch of other trips but it’s too mind-blowing to even attempt to describe. I’m speechless.

Today’s takeaway was that “I am safe.” That’s important because I didn’t feel very safe for much of my childhood and feeling safe impacts the perception of pain. Yesterday’s takeaway was that nothing is permanent – good or bad. They are both healthy beliefs to carry around inside. Today’s infusion was the second of five that I’ll be getting, one each day this week, and each time the dosage goes up a bit. I can’t wait for tomorrow.

The infusions are for my chronic pain, which I’ve had now for well over 30 years. But ketamine is not a “pain killer” in the traditional sense. I say that because it works on the brain, not at the point in the body where the pain is perceived.  

Pain is an evolutionary mechanism that enhances living things’ chances of survival, so it has an extremely important function: it keeps us safe. But chronic pain is when the experience of pain goes way beyond its usefulness, typically any pain (besides neuropathic pain, such as arising from diabetes or multiple sclerosis) that lasts longer than 3-12 months.

Compression, stretching. These concepts kept going through my mind with a visual of a taffy pull where parts are pushed together, then pulled apart and in the process new things are created out of old, while the essence of the old parts remain.

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Feeling unsafe arises from the fear of being damaged or destroyed, so feeling safe would likewise be strengthened by a perception of being indestructible or timeless, outlasting any pushing and pulling.

And feeling safe is extremely important to recovery from chronic pain, because if one is safe, then any pain one might experience isn’t really relevant, and if it’s not relevant, then it doesn’t need attention. If it doesn’t need attention then it doesn’t matter and the intensity fades.

As I laid there doped up on ketamine, the line from my yoga nidra audio kept floating through my mind: “I am open, spacious and free.” Almost these exact concepts were described in the first book I read on meditation called The Joy of Living. It said “Our sense of personal limitation and vulnerability would gradually be replaced by a sense of openness and possibility.” A sense of vulnerability is the same as not feeling safe, and not feeling safe is a conduit for pain because if feeling safe makes pain less relevant, then feeling unsafe makes pain more relevant. The feeling of being open, spacious and free feels safe because of the perception that just like the taffy pull, you or at least some part of you will continue on regardless of any pushing or pulling you might be subjected to.

What does Lagoon have to do with it? I think it had something to do with experiencing fear while knowing at the same time that I was safe. It was a great metaphor for the human experience of chronic pain. Just keep reminding yourself that you are safe, even when it’s really scary. The more you understand how safe it is, the less thrilling it becomes.

During the experience I was actually grateful at times for my pain and sorry for others who hadn’t had it, because that’s the whole reason I got to go on these amazing trips today! Compression and pulling. It was as profound as any spiritual experience I’ve ever had. I literally reached nirvana. I was the laughing Buddha.

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