By Cynthia Toussaint
I’ve been using distraction as my #1 painkiller for 34 years without knowing it. Now that I’ve come to understand the power of intuitive healing, I want to shout it to the world.
After getting CRPS from a ballet injury at age 21, I thought I had gangrene and my purple, burning leg would be amputated. Perhaps the biggest mystery back then was not my excruciating, undiagnosed pain, but the fact that when I got on stage in a Vegas illusion act complete with tigers and fire, I didn’t feel it. When I was in front of the audience, it was as though someone had flipped my pain switch off.
Problem was, when I wasn’t on stage I couldn’t walk let alone dance. When the pain spread and I had to quit the act, I listened to Prince – a LOT! His artistic genius gave me an adrenaline high. Don’t get me wrong, I still had pain. But listening to my all-time favorite artist at his peak often turned a level 9 or 10 down to something I could survive. At least temporarily.
Back in those days my mom was in tune with distraction therapy more than me. When she heard my moans and cries, she automatically started cooking. I was shocked one day when she confessed that my pain was always better when I was eating something tasty. How could that be?
Years later after the CRPS spread throughout my body and I was bedridden, my life became pretty damn small. But I still had normal desires – and my life partner John and I made love often. I was amazed that my tortured body could still feel pleasure. Those afternoon delights gave me ecstatic relief.
Founding and leading the nonprofit For Grace – where we empower women in pain – continues to be my healthiest, most meaningful distraction. Waking most mornings to projects stacked high, phone calls and emails to return, meetings to attend and interviews to give doesn’t allow me to focus completely on my pain. When I’m fully engaged in work, this healthy distraction sets up a barrier to the pain-is-me identity, a trap too easy to fall into.
Probably the longest, most focused and challenging project at work was writing with John our pain experience as a book. For nearly seven years, we huddled with co-writers, agents, lawyers, publishers and our editor. During this often grueling, yet liberating, process, I noticed a subtle improvement in my function and reduction in pain. I used my wheelchair less and began yearning to get into a swimming pool.
When I finally made the splash, it was like moving through medicine – but with no side effects, except for gaining a new community and a better shape. In fact after no aerobic exercise for 19 years, I was within weeks swimming a mile. In no time I recaptured other passions that CRPS had long before ripped out of my grasp. I was singing, traveling and playing the piano.
The doctors called my partial remission a miracle, inexplicable. However I knew it had come about as a result of my years of healthy distraction forged by narrative therapy. But how did it work – and why?
That’s what we’re going to learn at For Grace’s 9th annual Women In Pain conference on September 23rd in Los Angeles (a free, live webcast will be available at forgrace.org.) Speakers will unveil the research that explains how positive things that take us away – allowing us a mini-vacation if you will – also lowers our pain level.
We’ll discover many strategies and actions that can help us get away from our pain including good sleep, healthy sex, guilty TV pleasures and expressive arts. With our Hawaiian theme, including a hula dance troupe led by a woman in pain, we’ll be reminded that fun and play can still be a part of our lives.
I understand too well the suffering, fatigue and isolation that defines chronic pain. In fact, in many ways this has been the most painful year of my life.
But come September 23rd, I’m grabbing my passport, slathering on suntan lotion and going on vacation. I hope y’all will join me. Aloha!