Friday, March 21, 2008


I like slingback-style shoes, but they aren't terribly sturdy. I had a pair that broke midweek, and I was stuck for something else to wear. I tend to dislike shopping for clothes, so I don't have many back-ups.

I had a pair of shoes I'd purchased at the same time as the slingbacks and never worn. They had three-and-a-half-inch heels (I love high heels), and although they felt fine at the shop when I tried them on, just two hours in them once I'd got them home made me realize I'd made a horrible mistake. So they sat in a bag destined for Goodwill for the better part of two years.

I dug them out of the bag, not having an alternative until I could shop for a new pair.

Within two hours, the ball of my right foot was numb and the toes of my left foot felt rubbed raw. I thought about methods of interrogation and torture and decided if high heels weren't one of the tactics the military used, they were dolts.

Day Two was more of the same. By the end of the day, I was in agony. The admiring comments on my "cute new shoes" seemed to make it worse. Didn't it just figure that something I hated provoked compliments from others?

On Day Three, I knew something had to give. I shoved a pair of Dr. Scholl's gel inserts into the toes and decided to focus on anything but my feet. My posture. My breathing. The muscles in my abdomen and lower back. My shoulders. Any time pain drew my attention to my feet, I took a deep breath, looked up at the ceiling, sucked in my gut, threw back my shoulders, and told myself I was strong, tall, graceful, and powerful.

I imagined I was standing in front of a lecture hall giving a presentation with a huge screen behind me; so huge that I had to stand tall or else I'd be invisible in comparison.

I told myself I'd only have to endure this for a few more days; then I'd go shopping and get a comfortable pair of shoes.

By Day Five, the shoes seemed looser, my toes felt pressured but not pained, and I began to regain a nice rhythm and confidence in my walk.

By Day Seven, I was pretty sure I could love these shoes. They were becoming comfortable. By the end of the second week, they were completely broken in, as easy to wear as my old pair, and I really did love them.

Isn't breaking old habits often like that? We struggle to incorporate new actions that seem difficult, sometimes even painful, to perform. Using repetition, positive self-talk, change of focus, setting a limit of "just a few more days," engaging the imagination to dissociate from the challenge and associate into an outcome, strong emotion -- in other words, hypnosis -- awkward new behaviors become second nature.

How easy it would have been to give up the first day!

Pain is a message. Sometimes, it means something is deficient (health, wholeness, safety). Other times, it means something is different. When I use different muscles, learn new information, experiment with different foods, get a new pair of glasses, fall in (or out) of love, or expand ourselves in any way, pain is sometimes a passenger in the experience.

No matter what the message contains -- "Something is deficient" or "Something is different" -- I get to decide how to respond to pain. I can stop what I'm doing and consider my options. I can completely abandon the course I was taking. I can ignore the discomfort and persist.

I can label or categorize the pain in a number of different ways: Use Robert Dilts's Logical Levels, for example. I've known people who lived with chronic pain for decades. Some made it a part of their identity; others made it a part of their environment. Even at the level of identity there are differences. Some made themselves a victim of their pain. Others regarded it (as Richard Bach has said) as "a problem with a gift in its hands."

The best way out is always through. -- Robert Frost

No comments: