August 3, 2014
Primary pain is what you get when life hands you something you don’t want, something you’re not prepared for, or something that simply hurts even if you are prepared.
Secondary pain is what you get when you piggy back onto the primary pain with judgmental thoughts about yourself, or others, or simply about life handing you THAT.
Primary pain is workable. There’s always a way out or in (that will be another blog). Secondary pain is a bottomless pit with no rope ladder.
In 2006, the year of unexpected surgeries, I experienced both primary and secondary pain. Primary pain was being confronted with the realities that I’m actually not immortal, that bad stuff can happen to me no matter how well I take care of myself, and that I needed to make some adjustments in my life.
Primary pain also came after one of the surgeries when I hurt like crazy for a while.
Both those primary pains were workable. I made arrangements to miss work, got some amazing support, did the rehab, ratcheted up my nutrition, meditation and over-all self-care, and got on with my life.
Secondary pain showed up when I forgot what I know. I mostly struggled with secondary pain before the surgeries, in anticipation. On automatic pilot I would attach to the ruminations that I would never run again, and on my worst days, that I might end up quadriplegic and alone and unable to take care of any of my physical or emotional needs. I found myself precariously dancing around the edges of that bottomless pit.
Serendipitously over the previous year I had worked with more clients than usual around the use of mindfulness for chronic pain and disability. So I was somewhat prepared to catch myself when I was creating imaginary suffering. Gently, over and over, I’d bring myself back to the reality of the moment, that I wasn’t quadriplegic and literally every one of my basic needs was being met. And being met very well.
Since that year much of my personal practice has been about noticing when I’m torturing myself and creating additional suffering with the fantastical stories generated by my very active mind. Of course bad and unthinkable things happen. But the particular awful things I imagined didn’t happen to me. And that’s the point. If I don’t unconsciously run away from the primary pain by adding that layer of secondary pain, I can pretty much handle whatever shows up.
Like me, I know you’ve had your share of heartaches and challenges. I hope you’ll join me in setting an intention to remember that life will hand us enough to deal with without our adding insult to injury by turning discomfort into suffering.