Learning to be Pain-Free

by Ken Malloy

Attending Dr. Sarno’s lecture,  was comfortably reminiscent of a college class. There were about twenty people in the room. A mix of varying ages and walks of life. Although we were all total strangers, I felt a kinship with everyone, as if we were all part of a community. And, of course, we were. We shared the common experience of chronic pain.

Wearing a white coat and half-rim glasses, Dr. Sarno had the aura of a seasoned professor. He stepped to the front of the room and after roll call, he jumped right to his presentation, complete with projector, slides and a long wooden pointer. For the next two hours, he presented his entire lecture.

He spoke calmly in measured, balanced tones with the patience of a scientist explaining his theories to a group of laypeople.

The certainty with which he spoke about his work was euphoric. His words washed over me. Unlike the other doctors I had seen, he showed no hesitation. Dr. Sarno had spoken many times on the subject; he had lectured to thousands. I felt incredibly lucky and grateful to have found him.

As he explained his theory, his diagnosis and treatment strategies,  I became more and more intrigued. I was attentive and focused. I took copious notes. This is fascinating, I told myself.  Here’s a man who is telling the cause of my pain, finally an understanding that is accurate and specific.

I became more and more intrigued but also more calm and relaxed. Dr. Sarno encouraged and inspired me to believe that indeed this was going to be my way out.

He sent us off with well wishes and instructions to “be a good student and do your homework”.

Committed to becoming pain free as quickly as possible, I tore into the assignments like a man on a mission. I did the homework every day, taking time to reflect and put my conclusions in my journal.

I managed to stay calm, and not worry too much about the pain.  I approached Dr. Sarno’s homework as something I knew I could do– never wrestling with indecision. I just did it. “You’re going to do this every day,” I told myself.

I did my best to fully accept the diagnosis and to attend to the psychological factors.  Within a few weeks, the pain slowly diminished.

Even though I had been told that there was nothing physically wrong, I still held onto the idea that there might be something structural causing to my pain.

I had Dr. Sarno’s confidence and yet, I still wrestled with the diagnosis for a while. The change came for me when the pain would significantly decrease and then return with no correlation whatsoever to physical activity.

It was then that I made the Mindbody connection. I noticed how the pain tended to increase during stressful times, and fade when I was relaxed. Making the connection between emotional states and the manifestation of physical symptoms is a crucial part of the recovery process.

The next aspect of healing was fear of physical activity. Before I met Dr. Sarno, I was afraid to bend over for fear of doing injuring something in my back. This was really irrational because the doctors had found nothing wrong with my spine.  I never was told to get an MRI because my X-ray was completely normal!

Never the less, I knew my fear of activity would be handled when I was no longer afraid to bend.  As long as I felt that way, I wasn’t completely cured.So I practiced bending. Slowly at first.

At this point in my journey, I came up with the mantra: “There’s nothing wrong with my back, there’s nothing wrong with my back.” I practiced dropping things and picking them up! I braced myself, took a deep breath, and went for it. I was okay with it! After a while, it became clear that I was no longer afraid. I’d made substantial headway in recovering from TMS.

I had one more fear to get over: running. In fact, being able to run with no pain took more work. As Dr. Sarno recommended, I got back to physical activity gradually. I’d put on my running clothes and run for 25 yards, and the pain in my back would begin and again so I’d stop and I’d walk home. I did this every day, and every day I got a little bit farther. It took me a few weeks before I could run without stopping, with no pain.

That day, with tears streaming down my face, I ran for 40 minutes with absolutely no pain.

That was the day I knew I was cured.