Says Who??

Verstehen, through shared perspectives


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DISCOVERIES ON ANCESTRY.COM

For the past decade, my discoveries through the use of Ancestry.com have delighted, amazed, frustrated and humbled me. I have discovered that Queen Elizabeth is a 6th cousin, 3 or 4 times removed (I have forgotten the exact details). I have also discovered that Clyde Barrow of Bonnie and Clyde fame is also a remote cousin of similar connection. And those are neither the best nor the worst of it. The humbling part is that I can accept neither one nor the other without accepting both. My heritage contains heroes and villains, rich and poor, peasants and royalty, geniuses and the learning disabled—in other words, some of everything. But today I am most concerned to focus on a family relationship that I cherish equally with the members of my most immediate family.

Like thousands of others, I sent my DNA sample to Ancestry to learn more about family connections. I grew up in New York State, far from the southern families of my maternal and paternal heritage. I waited far too long to question the few family members I did meet, to learn much about my family history. I therefore set out to learn what the combination of DNA and recorded history could tell me. Thanks to Ancestry, there were also professional genealogists to help when I needed them. I soon learned more than I could have hoped.

Looking at the big picture, I found confirmation in the results of the Human Genome Project that supports Anthropology’s claims that there are more differences within the so-called “racial groups” than there are between them; that human ancestry can be traced back to its origins in East Africa, where we became human. This, by the way, does not in the least challenge my equally strong understanding of a Creator of the Universe and all that is in it, who also gifted everything in the universe with a portion of Himself, finally giving the first humans a portion of His spirit. The Bible tells us that the Creator longs for restoration with the portion of His spirit that is within us, explaining also our longing for Him.

But I digress. My point is that our earliest ancestors lived in Africa. Probably East Africa. When I visited Uganda a few times while living in South Africa, I heard over and over how its inhabitants believed Uganda to have been the Garden of Eden. Their proof is the amazing fertility of the ground in Uganda, such that I also heard that “our children may be naked, but they are never hungry!” Fruits and other growing foods are plentiful in Uganda, almost seeming to grow wild. Today, that is an unusual claim for any part of Africa. The Garden of Eden claim may just be local lore, but it brings home what has become a scientific claim: We human beings are all descended from the same family, and that family lived in Africa, and they were therefore black. And, I might add, they were also beautiful, and perfect. The Creator said so.

That is the big picture. Let’s focus in now on my personal ancestry, keeping the big picture firmly in mind.

After I sent in my DNA sample, an avalanche of names of new relatives hit my inbox on a regular basis that continues to this day. Some connections were easier to make than others, but one particular type of connection brought home to me the importance of remembering the truths of history. Names began appearing on the list that belonged to present-day African Americans. While my mtDNA history did not place any immediate ancestry in Africa, it definitely connected American African people to me. Our combined histories confirmed the stories of the past, where African women enslaved to the owners of southern plantations were frequently impregnated by those same owners and/or their adult male relatives. The resulting children were not acknowledged by these same men, and they were raised as slaves. If they survived to have children, the children of those children are alive today and are my cousins. If I had been alive during the era of slavery, they would have been my sisters and brothers.

So I cannot say that I had nothing to do with slavery, because still today it affects members of my own family. My ancestors and their families owned southern plantations, and owned slaves. Some of them fathered children by those slaves. I am definitely not alone in this reality. It happened everywhere.

So it follows that if I quietly accept the institutional racism of my country, and the economic injustice that has grown out of it, I am guilty of denying the blood of my blood–the children of my own forefathers–the justice I would seek for myself or my own brother. And if that doesn’t bring the reality of the brotherhood of mankind, who are children of the same Creator, into focus…well then, we are deliberately blind and fully deserve the consequences that will be visited upon us.

 Or, we could accept our responsibility for failing to stop and reverse the sins of the past, and work for the equality—social, economic and legal—of all who share this nation with us, until we are able to join those in the world about us who have understood that our fate as a human family depends on our combined efforts to honor and care for this planet and those who share it with us.

It may not be too late.

photo of four persons uniting hands

Photo by rawpixel.com on Pexels.com


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“I SEE YOU”

 

Although I returned to the USA twenty-three years ago, my experiences and relationships in South Africa are still very much an important part of who I am now. The Apartheid regime that governed the country was still in operation when I arrived there in January of 1989, and the signs of its potential demise were only simmering underneath the appearance of Afrikaner control. The changes came about quickly, however, and Nelson Mandela was installed as the first African President of South Africa in 1994. I recall the day of his election vividly, as I sat glued to my TV watching scenes of Africans and Europeans (mostly Afrikaner and British) standing in long lines together–Africans patiently awaiting their very first opportunity to vote in their own nation of origin. The awe in the announcer’s quiet voice was obvious, as he stated “Today, PEACE broke out in South Africa.” Like our own nation, however, the peace was not a permanent characteristic. But it was a dramatic beginning.

I felt concern for my country only days after getting home just before Christmas in 1995. Had it only been seven years since I left? This does not seem to be the same country where I used to live. In fact, I noticed many unsettling events that reminded me very much of Apartheid South Africa. How I hate to report that over the next 23 years those similarities would grow in number and severity. I cannot escape the knowledge that while the histories of the two nations are widely different, the root causes of their worst similarities are exactly the same: (1) Blatant, deep racism; (2) A belief that God chose white, male property owners as the elite of the earth; and (3) Greed, for both wealth and power.

Granted, these false beliefs and the self-serving actions that accompany them are not unique to our two nations, nor to the four-century long histories they possess. They are not even universal in either country. But they are as old as time, for as primitives we humans feared others who were different from ourselves and believed in strengthening ourselves (in many ways, such as land, weapons, etc.) for the purpose of protection from the outsider. Along the way, fortunately for civilization, some groups began to understand that human beings were all one race, and our different languages, appearances, lifestyles and mores were mere expressions of the many possible ways of being human.

The Zulu, for example, use the word Sawubona as a greeting. I was told that the word was translated as “I see you,” but the Zulu explained to me that there was a deeper meaning: “I see you, and I recognize that you are a human being just as I am.” Now, I have unashamedly used this example as being evidence that the Zulu (and many, many Africans like them) had a precious understanding of what it means to be human in a human world. Which is true, and this particular greeting was used when I was greeted by many Zulus, and I saw and heard it used to many others who were not Zulu or African at all.

But like all good values and habits, there is a downside. What if the “other” is a stranger, or a member of a tribe with which my group is not in good standing? What if they belong to a group of oppressors, who have colonized my country and taken over its resources and governance, and killed my people? What if they just look and sound different, and I am afraid of them?

We humans are not completely civilized. Our primitive fears of the stranger, or the other, lurk in our subconscious. They arise fully established when we feel threatened. But if we are to accomplish our own growth as human beings, we still must look at any other human being and deliberately state with all the empathy and honesty we can muster: “I see you, and I recognize that you are a human being just as I am.”

Just as I am. Made from the energy and stardust of the universe, and imbued with the Spirit of our Creator, to grow out of our primitive fears and beliefs, protect the planet we all depend upon for our lives, and work towards peace with those other humans. To look people in the eye and see that Spirit within them and know that born in their place and time, we would be no different. To make sure that we do not take more from the earth than can be renewed, and that we stop fouling our own homelands to the detriment of its inhabitants. To remember that we all descend from the same roots in Eastern Africa millions of years ago, and underneath our differences we are the same human family. To build, instead of tearing down. To share, instead of hoarding. To speak with civility and respect to all, and receive the same treatment. To be thankful for our home planet, our neighbors and families, and our own lives. To nevertheless welcome the stranger, protect and care for widows and orphans, and work to empower others to become what they were meant to be, rather than punishing them and destroying any chance they might have to be a productive human person.

In other words, to REALLY look at the people we come in contact with, and to be present to them. To show respect, and eschew arrogance, as well as ignorance. To grow into a civilized world, respecting the lives and rights of all and whenever possible, to help others to do the same. To be worthy of the category HUMAN.


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STORMS WITHIN AND WITHOUT

pain photo

What a week it has been! Of course, seen in the broader contexts of the divisive national environment, natural disasters, global political and social issues, my own problems are barely a speck of dust on the scoreboard of the Universe. Nevertheless, they have soul-shaking impact on my personal world. As they say, major life events tend to occur in triplicate, and so it has been for me. Ending what had been an important and life-affirming relationship now turned toxic; having to give up working with a community group that was very important to me; and finally having a corporate relationship severed without warning—all within three days—pushed my stress and grief levels to what felt like lifetime highs.

During the two dark and stormy days when life outside my windows seemed to echo the gloom and chaos within, I minimized my contacts with the outside world as much as possible. Perhaps not the best possible choice, given the inborn need for social reassurances and support that my sociological training might have suggested, but my awareness of a profound need not to allow my anger (part of the normal grief progression) somehow become part of the greater anger and hate of our environment informed that choice. My grief, especially for our nation, was already great. This added grief seemed unbearable, even mind-destroying.

Fortunately, I am an introvert. Isolation can be, and often is, healing for me. Having already spent the previous weekend enjoying a get together with friends, followed by spending the rest of the weekend in meditation and soothing music (including instrumental Christmas music!), I believed that I could achieve some balance in my life while at the same time honoring the pain and grief within. It worked, then.

Therefore, I returned to the soothing music and meditation, while experiencing the storm outside merging with the storms within. This time, meditation was wordless and almost without thought. I allowed the storms to purge the anger, and wash away the losses. For two days, while gloomy skies prevailed, the storms raged and abated until all was still and the snow gently falling outside revealed its beauty and peace to support cessation of the chaos within. Not that grief had passed, but now it had stopped owning me. I accepted that entire chapters of my life have been closed.

Because I still live, this, by default, means that a new chapter is beginning. At the present time I have no clue what that will be, nor am I ready to begin it. I need a period of healing, first. I plan to protect myself as much as possible from the outside influences that disturb my soul until I am ready to begin choosing my battles once more; until I can safely allow my rage against injustice to serve appropriate action without being destructive. I am not that strong just yet, but I will be.

 

I awoke this morning to bright sunshine and beauty outside my windows, and I drank it in though my eyes to the brightening of my very soul. Life is indeed about pain and loss, but it is also about beauty and opportunity if I allow it to be. When I open myself to observe and take all that is good within me, and refuse to succumb to the domination of hatred, I know I will be ready to deal with the world once more.

scenic piano


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I ALMOST WISHED I HAD DIED

lighthouse in storm

One of the major adjustments I have had to make as a retired Sociology professor is no longer having a captive audience for my carefully considered observations of American society: The problems and the joys. I do love writing this blog, which does not require the same degree of objectivity, but let’s face it. I am no Dan Rather (whose daily contributions to Facebook I look forward to reading). Thanks to social media, I am but one tiny voice buried in the cloud of articles hourly produced by everyone with a computer, cell phone or camcorder and an opinion to share. So, to be perfectly clear, I am writing today not to be read, or “heard,” or even to keep in touch with the world. I write today because I must. For me.

I do my best thinking when I write. This blog is for me, but if you want to read it, challenge it, agree with it, or ignore it…just feel free. But do not think that I am trying to take on the world. I no longer have that kind of energy. I just want to try to get all that I have internalized about our social environment outside of my head and heart. I am in sensory overload from being bombarded with angry, hurting, hating, yelling, profane, lying, manipulative messages from the world outside my apartment.

As I write this, I have received 13 emails already that are unsolicited ads for things I don’t want, don’t need, or don’t agree with. I am a registered Independent, so both Republicans and Democrats feel free to email and/or call me with requests for financial and electoral support. I am so very grateful for those quiet, caring people who are all around me when I turn off the tv, the computer and the radio and get out and share time with them. I don’t answer the phone if I don’t recognize who is calling, and I don’t open any mail not from family or friends (or bills I know I owe). When it all gets to be too much, I listen to my classical piano CDs, or drive down to the river and just sit in the quiet, now cool afternoon and breathe fresh air.

Many of my friends no longer really want to talk about politics. Life is so full and rich, relationships thrive and laughter once again seems normal, when I am with my neighbors and friends. So long as we don’t talk about politics.

Yes, there are pressing issues that must be addressed, must be advocated for. Babies in cages. Chronic pain patients losing their pain medications, physicians and pharmacists being threatened. Members of all three groups committing suicide at ever higher rates. Private prisons being filled with drug users who could become productive citizens again with the right treatment, but whose prison terms will leave them right back where they began and worse. Families, communities and organizations being divided by political differences. More problems than any one person or organization can possibly resolve. More finances needed to be directed toward rebuilding communities devastated by nature. It seems overwhelming. I can’t address all the things I am deeply concerned about, and I feel frustrated and guilty for neglecting the ones I can’t get to.

Yet deep in my soul there is a calm, quiet place in the midst of this storm. A place where I know that all is not lost. That there are wonderful people in my world, and in the greater world in general. People who value honesty, integrity, caring, and excellence, the beauty of the gift of our natural world, and the shared intimacy with a loved one in a monogamous relationship. People who know that we cannot be truly human without being part of a community that works, plays, and worships together. People who accept me as I am, and who are in turn accepted by me as they are.

That is the beauty I see in my world, and it is more important to me and to my well-being than money or status. Because I live in a community where this beauty shines brighter than all the noise of the media and the political world, I regain my will to live on a daily basis. Once again, I can accept that I can only fight these battles on one front at a time, and trust that others will work where they are best suited to deal with other battles.

God did not bring us this far to abandon us. Today, I was tempted to say that I wished I had died five years ago, when undertreated chronic pain had brought me so near to that end. Then, I would not have had to see the devastation being brought about in my country. But I cannot wish that. These five years have been a great gift, and I have gotten to meet and work with people whose willingness to make a difference…no, not just willingness. Determination. Whose determination to make a difference to those who are being marginalized, stigmatized, pushed aside and left to die is greater than any I have seen in this country in my nearly 78 years. Policies we have lost by reversal in the last two years cannot compare to what we are gaining in finding the deepest good within ourselves and our families, friends and neighbors. In our communities and states. Soon, hopefully, in our nation once again.

Yes, it is hard and frustrating. But we come from good stock from all over the world. Our ancestors knew worse times and better times than these, but they persevered. We know that, because we are here. The way ahead is in our DNA: not in specifics, but in inner strength and outer relationships.

I am so glad I lived to see it begin.


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WHY JOIN A PAIN SUPPORT GROUP?

I know, I have heard it before: “I feel bad enough already. Why would I go somewhere just to sit and listen to other people complain about their pain?” A few years ago, I would have asked the same question. Now, fortunately for me, I belong to a support group for people with chronic pain and I can list reasons why I am grateful for the blessing of belonging.
Painchangespeople
First of all, after 8 monthly meetings I have attended, I have found a group where I do not feel like an outsider. When I have sat in a chair as long as I can, I just stand up and move around. Everyone understands, and some of them do the same thing. If I am ever too overwhelmed with living a life in pain and don’t feel like going out, I am understood and comforted by my group friends.

No one tells me “You don’t look sick/pained” or suggests that I am just looking for attention. In fact, if I do need attention in a meeting, all I have to do is ask for it and explain. No one complains that I took a handicapped parking space when I “obviously” don’t need it. No one tells me to “just get over it, move on with your life.” No one rolls their eyes when I groan, getting out of my chair. You know what I am talking about. In fact, several other insults to your efforts to live something akin to a normal life probably roll right off your tongue as you read this.

Other reasons to belong to a Chronic Pain Support Group include:

*Sharing experiences of successful and unsuccessful methods to manage pain.

*Sharing new pain management techniques and medications, and information about pain management physicians when someone has lost their pain doc.

*Sharing resources like who to follow on social media for the best information regarding debates in pain management, etc., and articles that help us keep up with and understand this controversial and complicated field of medicine.

*Learning from physicians, psychologists and other professionals in pain care about new legislation, new research, and alternative pain management methods, in detail. (At special meetings, not every meeting)

*Having a group of people I can ask for information or prayer or good thoughts when something difficult for me comes up between meetings.

*Hearing about advocacy groups that members may also belong to, and what successes they are having, or special drives they are conducting.

*Being able to bring a friend or caretaker along to share the experience and knowledge with me, or to assist me.

*Knowing that confidentiality is observed faithfully, and what is said in meetings stays in the meeting.

*Knowing that I will not be expected to do what I can’t or don’t wish to do, without losing the respect and support of the group.

*I am doing something positive for myself, and working to break the chains of pain in my life. And I am not alone.

I am sure that with the passing of time and our growing together in caring and in knowledge, more reasons will be added to this list. Meanwhile, no discussion of reasons to join a support group would be complete without access to the article written about our group by our recent speaker and supporter, Dr. James P. Murphy:

A Letter in Support of a Support Group

BTW, our next meeting will be Wednesday, September 12th. 4:00 to 5:30 pm. Dr. Murphy’s article has further details on where, etc. Please join us!

grand canyon


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IT WAS AN EPIPHANY

 

Derived from the Greek word epiphaneia, epiphany means “appearance,” or “manifestation.” In literary terms, an epiphany is that moment in the story where a character achieves realization, awareness, or a feeling of knowledge, after which events are seen through the prism of this new light….*

 dreamer

 

If you have read any of these posts in the past, or followed me on social media sites, the topic of this blog undoubtedly presents as a drastic departure from my usual chronic pain patient advocacy, and even more so from my general political observations. In fact, perhaps it seems too esoteric for a sociologist to even think about, much less write a public blog on the topic.   Psychology, chronic pain, and the mind-body connection nevertheless are all familiar territory in pain management literature, and the numbers of really good approaches to these problems are legion.   Yet their true value becomes lost in the fog of the inevitable watered-down versions that we end up producing in our collective need to simplify the complex and package it for quick sale. Epiphany, as a necessary element of both healing and evolving human processes, is a concept that while accepted as part of the break-through of successful science as well as of evolving spirituality, is not often explored for its own sake.  Whether it becomes part of the pain management lexicon, I can only pray that it does not do so at the cost of its complexity and authenticity.

To be clear, I have had little choice in accepting the reality of epiphany as a healing event. What you will read, if you continue here, is the process that I have experienced, and which I now believe vital to the understanding and proper management of chronic pain (both physical and emotional, which seem to be deeply intertwined). That was definitely not the position I would have taken as recently as a year ago. In fact, this is pretty deep stuff for me to think about, much less write about. I am not trying to drown myself or the reader in the depths of this topic, or in the murky waters of my own, very long, life which has been accompanied all the way by pain in various manifestations. My recent personal epiphany has led me to first accept, then to firmly believe, that the mind-body connection cannot be ruled out as an invaluable—even necessary—prerequisite for understanding the role of chronic pain in the lives of many patients. And that it may necessarily include the experience of an epiphany of some kind.

I believe the psychologist’s role in mending the mind-body connection is vital to wholeness for the chronic pain patient whether the pain is barely managed, or has been controlled “enough to cope.” Does that make sense? I inquired of my favorite pain management physician. “Yes it does,” he promptly replied. But even now as I begin to dive into the narrative explanation of my experience, I strongly resist the idea of any psychological protocol that has been watered down into a one-size-fits-all process for pain management. It would be no more useful than a one-pain-medication protocol would be suitable for every patient. Chronic pain patients are unique individuals worth the time and effort spent, working with the cooperation of the patient, to achieve the wholeness and productivity uniquely suited to that individual—spiritually, emotionally, and physically.

So, getting to the point, an epiphany can be all that we commonly accept as a liminal** moment in time when we stand in the dangerous threshold places that are holy, or liminal.  It can also be simply a flash of understanding that may change the way we look at things, or simply allow us to move on in a very this-worldly fashion, without much in the way of miracles to play a part in the proceedings. Or, it may heal a broken spirit and allow normal light to return to a life. This was my recent experience of epiphany.

I would never have called it an epiphany, yet it is due to the wisdom and patience of my psychologist that the spiritual and psychological environment for this very liminal event could ever even have taken place. To clarify, my psychologist is not a pain management therapist, nor is he associated with any pain management  group,  but I was referred to him because of my pain.  Through two years of working together with him on the mind-body connections of my chronic pain, it was becoming more and more clear to me that I often described myself as “who I was” (in survivalist mode) during periods of physical and emotional abuse; and “who I was” after having removed myself from all connections to those times.

During about a decade immediately following the achievement of my freedom, my anger was so deep—almost primal—that I acted on that anger and the cynicism associated with it most of the time. Until I could no longer live like that. From somewhere, I found my survival depended more on having a better understanding of my worth as a human being than to accept that version of the “new me.” The behavior ended, but the anger remained and deepened. And I hated it. And sometimes, myself.

But the anger was also motivating. I went to University in my 40’s, received my PhD, lived in South Africa for seven years, and came back to the States “a different person.” So I described myself, anyway. The anger was still with me, like a two-ton vehicle attached to my back. I thought of it as the vehicle that kept me alive, that got me where I needed to be. But actually, I carried the “vehicle.” And it was heavy, and it caused me a great deal of physical and emotional pain. The pain alone finally nearly destroyed me, and at the age of 72 I finally gave up on life, death seemingly imminent. I had the satisfaction, I thought, of having overcome the person I had been, to achieving something in life that had real meaning to me. I no longer behaved as “that other woman” behaved, but still there was the pain. Still, there was the anger.

Anger at God? Probably, but more like confusion. How could the God I had experienced as a real and positive presence in my life since childhood be the same God that allowed me to be abused and violated, to suffer deep and painful losses right up to that very year I retired—how could that be the same God to Whom I could honestly give the credit for “leading me all the way?”   For that matter, how could the person I am now be the person I was then? I would never discuss her, or even think about her if I could help it. That part of my life was more and more a void. I hated who she had BEEN, and felt relieved that I had “left her behind.” Except, of course, for the pain. Except for the anger.

By now, my therapist had earned my complete trust and with deep respect for my privacy, had still managed to elicit some valuable understanding of who I thought I used to be, and why. Then came the day of The Epiphany. I had been listening to “Jesus led me all the way” in the car on the way to the session, and my newfound road to freedom from deep angers was being threatened. My psychologist must have sensed the time had come, because in our subsequent conversation my confusion about how God could have been leading me in those dark, anger-filled years finally made sense. Don’t get me wrong. I made the decisions, and I alone used the anger from previous helplessness to get me through some situations I probably didn’t need to be in, in the first place. I don’t claim God made me suffer, but at that specific moment I saw that He used my suffering, my bitterness, and my losses to lead me to a better place. That was how He led me “all the way.”

Hard on the heels of that epiphany came the certainty that the new understanding being true, every experience, every “version” of who I was at different times of my life, thus were all about the same, ongoing story about the same, greatly blessed (and yes, greatly misused) human being. Paradoxically, the person that I denied as part of myself has shown me how much I need her cooperation in order to continue to follow a purposeful life; how much I need her forgiveness in order to forgive those who hurt me; how much I need her experience of the worst in human beings in order to try to make some sense of the world we live in today and avoid giving up in despair.

I call that a real epiphany. Both the dangerous, liminal kind, and the blessed, healing kind.

In common usage, it has been my understanding that an epiphany is an “Aha!” moment at the very least; more likely a “Eureka!” moment, in which (to borrow from James Joyce) the radiant object becomes a surreal, even a sacred thing (or idea, or experience). In religious terms we might think of Saul of Tarsus being blinded by the Epiphany (of the manifestation of Jesus), after which he, his life and his purpose were completely changed. We think of him bathed in the magnificent presence of the Christ during that moment too radiant for mere mortal eyes to bear. For some, the idea of epiphany embodies that sacredness and is not expected to happen to ordinary folk like you and me.

For most of us, we may think of an epiphany in the terms of “Aha” or “Eureka,” but still as something contained within the ordinary living of our day to day lives. We are not blinded, our lives may shift a bit one way or another, but we continue to use our same names and, while some changes in our lives or lifestyles may occur, we remain essentially who we were. We struggle for hours, even days, with a problem we just can’t get our minds around. Suddenly something clicks in our minds and everything falls into place. The answer is obvious. We have experienced an epiphany, and it was a good thing. It was a positive occurrence, after which we might say “Why did I not see that before?” The implication being that we discovered it ourselves, it was not given by divine intervention, did not occur at a liminal threshhold. Or did it?

And, finally, do I now need to spend time trying to understand the unexplainable, or would it be more useful to incorporate the results of that experience into a life that has achieved continuity, meaning, and potential as a whole tapestry? A tapestry that reveals both beauty and ugliness, both mystery and clear understanding, both light and dark. A tapestry as yet unfinished, in which the ongoing presence of the Weaver may continue His work.

Looking at that tapestry, I can only believe: The Best is Yet to come.

Thanks for listening.

 

 

NOTES:

*https://literarydevices.net/epiphany

 **Liminal: a psychological, neurological, or metaphysical subjective, conscious state of being on the “threshold” of or between two different existential planes, as defined in neurological psychology (a “liminal state”) and in the anthropological theories of ritual. www.askdefine.com

 

DEDICATED WITH LOVE TO THOSE WHO SHARE THE EXPERIENCE OF

 CHRONIC PAIN;

TO THOSE WHO AS FAMILY AND FRIENDS

HAVE WALKED WITH ME IN JOY AND IN PAIN;

AND

ESPECIALLY TO

JAMES PATRICK MURPHY, MD

AND

DENNIS E. WAGNER, Ed.D,

WHO SEE AND TREAT ME AS AN INDIVIDUAL PATIENT,

WITH THE RIGHT TO MY UNIQUE EXPERIENCE OF PAIN.

AND FINALLY AND FOREVER,

TO HE WHO “LED ME, ALL THE WAY.”

 

hands, heart


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BREAKING THE CYCLE OF PAIN: THE CHRONIC PAIN SUPPORT GROUP

cpsg flyer 4.11                  Last year, as you might have read in previous blogs, I worked in a Pain Management Center. My favorite times at the Center were when I was calling the patients between their appointments, to make sure they were doing OK and find out if there was anything they needed from us before their next appointment. Some were not doing well for various life experience reasons and needed an earlier appointment. Others were having trouble with obtaining their medications from their pharmacy and needed us to work with them to locate a more reliable place to obtain their medications. Still others had questions about various issues of living with chronic pain in a less than supportive political environment and a health insurance economy that does not guarantee that a patient will be able to afford the medication that they need.

But the patients that stay in my heart the most are those who lived alone, those who were themselves their only caretakers, and those who struggled the most with their pain. Their misery resulted from the entire gamut of problems from cancer to rheumatoid arthritis, from low back pain to pain in every joint in their bodies, and more. But that was only the pain. There was, added to this insult to the body and mind, the trauma to the soul. I heard how they were not believed when they tried to relate their stories; how no one wanted to listen to how they felt because “They heard it so many times already.” I heard how they missed doing the things we all took for granted, such as; going out to eat or to a party or a concert, cleaning their homes the way they liked for them to be, or working full time and earning a living that included enough money to pay for the extra needs in life. Even worse was the fear associated with brain fog and confusion and the ultimate threat of not being able to stay in their own homes. The increasing loss of choices in their lives was worst of all.

I, of course, could relate. This week I read an article from KevinMD, entitled “Seven Reasons Why Being in Pain is a Pain,” by Franklin Warsh, MD, MPH. It was not so much an eye-opener for me as it was a message to my soul. Here, finally, I heard a medical professional unburden himself of the true awfulness of chronic pain, how it takes over every facet of one’s life, and how it makes the patient fight for every ounce of joy they may be able to experience. Some of what he said echoed the voices of patients who had shared their stories with me. Much of what he said was also about things I knew our Pain Center patients would not necessarily voice to anyone. Some were things I also often experience, but would never tell anyone because I was not sure they were not the result of some flaw of my own—some insufficiency of my DNA, or my character, or my failure to be a better person in some way. Dr. Warsh was able to take the shame out of chronic pain. By sharing (naming) the common symptoms and losses accompanying chronic pain, he defused the stigma we assign to ourselves for having pain.

I am not saying everyone suffers all of these things he mentions, because all chronic pain patients are unique in their experience of pain, their response to pain, and what works for them to ease that pain. Some can take medications with a lot of success; others cannot tolerate medications and have to seek other means to alleviate their pain. And there are many other ways—ways that, like medication, may be more or less effective for any given patient. But that extended discussion is for another blog. This blog post is about a means of dealing with chronic pain that I believe to be one of the most important, based on my own experience and the experiences that of some of our patients have related to me. The experience is that of  Joining a chronic pain support group.

Recently some of my professional friends and I agreed that a Pain Support Group that was open to all chronic pain patients was a necessity for our area. We decided it should be free to the public, approved by relevant medical and psychological professionals, and not intended for political advocacy but rather would be a community of accepting, active listeners who are willing to care for one another and meet together for learning and sharing. That group has begun to take shape, and the next meeting will be on April 11th of 2018 at 4:00 pm. We meet in St. Paul’s Episcopal Church Education Wing at the corner of Market and Walnut Streets in Jeffersonville IN.

This group is intentionally meant to be a means of healing through our sharing, rather than advocacy. We are definitely not opposed to advocacy and know that it has its own role in healing. But it is often difficult for people in severe pain to commit themselves to such active work. As one patient has said very poignantly, “Why, when I finally have something I really need and want to advocate for, am I least able to do it?” On the other hand, if you already belong to an advocacy group and would like to join us as well, you would be very welcome.

I have the privilege of being the facilitator, or moderator, of this group. My professional life as a nurse/sociologist has been based on working with groups to facilitate the process or goals of the specific group. We do not work on what my personal agenda might be, but what we all agree we want the agenda to be. The caveats I have mentioned above concerning advocacy and sharing are the basics agreed upon by the professionals who participated in our discussions when we formulated the group, along with the co-pastors of the church who have donated the space for us to meet each month. From that opening point, we worked together to create the process of finding healing within ourselves and each other.

The links for the article by Dr. Warsh, as well as an article written by Dr. James P. Murphy about the group, are below. I invite you to read them and to think about what we might be able to accomplish together for and with others, and please meet with us on April 11th or any second Wednesday of the month at St. Paul’s. We need you, and if you are seriously considering this, you probably need us.

      breaking cycle of pain

 The Family of Pain is a Club Nobody wants to join, 

But Isolation is Worse.   –Lynn Webster, MD

  

Resources

Murphy, James P. “A Letter in Support of a Support Group” March 25, 2018 https://jamespmurphymd.com/2018/03/25/a-letter-in-support-of-a-support-group/

Warsh, Franklin “Seven Reasons Why Being in Pain is a Pain” in KevinMD, Dec. 27, 2017 https://www.kevinmd.com/blog/2017/12/7-reasons-pain-pain.html

Webster, Lynn “Family of Pain is a Club Nobody Wants to Join, but Isolation is Worse.” http://thepainfultruthbook.com/2018/03/family-of-pain/