Editor’s Note: Kerry Smith is a former minister, a professional artist, and has suffered with chronic pain for 14 years. He has lectured and written on the topic of chronic pain for several years.
Accept chronic pain? Really? I mean, accept this nagging pain that has robbed me of so much of my life? My first reaction is no way! I want to fight it with every ounce of energy in my body which today, just is not a whole lot thanks to the side effects of a lumbar fusion that will not let me sleep! Accept this too? Sigh….. I sure as shoot’n don’t want to! I don’t think any of us who have suffered for half as long as I have want to accept this part of reality for our lives. But research is showing that maybe, we may need to rethink our own strategies as fighters of debilitating pain.
It is called Acceptance and Commitment Therapy and studies are showing that it is benefiting folks who are using it for managing their chronic pain. A number of studies are underway that are telling us that the results are in favor of this form of therapy that has befitted our dilemma. Acceptance and Commitment Therapy or ACT (the word ACT) is based on several dynamics found within our human existence. According to the work book “Living Beyond Your Pain: Using Acceptance and Commitment Therapy to Ease Chronic Pain” by Joanne Dahl, PH.D and Tobias Lundren, MS, “The ACT approach to pain involves two fundamental concepts. The first is that you must accept the aspects of your pain that you cannot change, including all of the difficult thoughts, feelings, and bodily sensations that come with it. The second is that this acceptance allows you to open a space where you can commit to acting in ways that make you feel vital and energized.” They go on to say that “ACT is not about eliminating pain. In fact, you’ll find out that one of the fundamental tenets of ACT is that pain can’t be avoided. So while this book promises to help you with your pain problem, it won’t help you escape pain.”
The first part of the ACT acronym is Acceptance. The idea is that by accepting that we have pain that may not ever quite leave us, that by doing so we disarm the effects of Chronic Pain. According to the authors of this book, “the key thought in the ACT approach to chronic pain is that you can accept your pain and live a valued life with it rather than allowing it to control you and minimize the vitality you feel every day”. It may sound sad that this is what we now have to do, but in accepting our chronic pain, we decrease the attention that we are giving it and work on living our lives. For a number of people using this therapy, by shifting their focus from the battle to accepting it, it is really disarming it. I know that it is doing so for my own struggle with chronic pain.
Another dynamic that ACT deals with is Values. I don’t know about you, but I have discovered when I allow pain a place of prominence, I could care less about anything else but pain. What I am doing is that in effect, I am allowing my pain to be first in my life and everything else that I value to take whatever is left over. NO I cannot do what I used to do. Period. And that includes like, I don’t know, but EVERYTHING! Yet, when I let myself off of the hook, I can do something for just a little bit of the time if I am easy on myself. A song by country music star Toby Keith certainly applies when he sang, “I ain’t as good as I once was, but I’m as good once as I ever was!!!!” (By the way, that is my theme song for existence!) There are so many dynamics to our life that we live every day and the goodness found in you and me is still what makes our world go around. You are way too good to allow pain to be THE main focus in your life. AND while I am at it, PLEASE JUST LET YOURSELF OFF THE GUILT HOOK! And you know this to be the truth, don’t you? You are way, way more valuable to our world and your loved ones even in the pain you are going through!
Finally, the last dynamic is found in the C part of the word ACT and that is Commitment. For those of us who are using this kind of therapy, we are asked to commit to changing our mindset by accepting that pain is a part of our lives, that I and my loved ones are way more valuable than any damned pain, and it deserves my commitment. We can do this. No, you nor I will be perfect anytime soon at trying to manage our pain and no, pain may never leave us. But we can commit our lives to living out our values and living a fulfilling life while living with chronic pain.
The depth of this therapy is taking hold along with learning Mindfulness techniques which include meditation and the diffusion of our thoughts that seem to drive me us nuts when it comes to managing pain. The work book,“Living Beyond Your Pain: Using Acceptance and Commitment Therapy to Ease Chronic Pain” by Joanne Dahl, PH.D and Tobias Lundren, MS, is a great tool to use in our own empowering work with chronic pain.