Pain, pain go away!

Written by Eileen Hopkins

My road to counselling and psychotherapy has been interesting. Having worked in a caring profession, nursing for over 30 years, I was always at my happiest when interacting with my patients & I have always been a people person.

‘I’m afraid, there’s nothing more we can do for you, you will have to learn to live with this pain’.

These words were spoken to me by my specialist in April 2014. Pause for a moment and ask yourself how you might react if you heard these words?

Back then, following failed back surgery and a subsequent diagnosis of chronic pain, I consulted my buddy Dr. Google and read a definition of chronic pain;

‘Chronic pain is a disease of the central nervous system for which there is no cure.’

I had two choices here; Lie down and give up on life, or, make the most of life as it was at that time.

What did I choose?

To be honest, I did initially feel like giving up, & my initial reaction was; I’m finished!!  After all, I was requiring morphine three times a day and unable to work.

My identity had become; ‘Eileen Hopkins, chronic pain, and my other roles such as Friend, Sister, Daughter, a colleague had faded into the background.

Can I ask if you have EVER experienced pain?

If you had said ‘No’, I would have been able to identify you in a large group, as I am ‘gifted’ in the skill of identifying people without a head, because if you have a brain you will experience pain.

“Pain is inevitable, suffering is optional.” – Buddhist proverb

Have you ever felt, like me, that life was hopeless, and the pain was taking over your life?

At that time, I believed that my life was over!!

Or was it???

I decided that there had to be another way. Because, in my life, I have learned that for every negative life experience, there is always a positive aspect to it, sometimes you really must search for this.

Like Dr. Martin Luther King’s famous ‘I have a dream’ speech, I too had a dream. This was to reclaim my life & to give hope & inspiration to others.

In this article, I would like to share with you how I have realised that dream by exploring and befriending my mind, body, and spirit and how this has changed my life.


Firstly, my mind

I started to explore the mind-body connection. The mind-body connection is the ability of the mind to influence the body. I began to understand the simple concept that our thoughts, beliefs, and attitudes can reduce or alleviate pain.

I decided to take ownership and responsibility for what was happening by changing my thoughts and language around pain and using positive language.

When we experience chronic pain, suffering occurs on two levels, namely primary and secondary suffering. Primary refers to the actual sensations felt in the body. Secondary suffering refers to our thoughts, feelings, emotions and memories associated with the pain.

A good example of this is while delivering a series of workshops on Chronic pain earlier this year I asked the participants to sum up their experience of living with chronic pain in one word. The top 5 words used were as follows:

Heart-breaking, isolating, detached, disempowered, and sad.

This insight is crucial… why…because it actually reveals a path from suffering. If you can tease apart the two flavours of suffering by identifying your thoughts and beliefs and challenging those which no longer serve you, this can greatly reduce, or even eliminate, your pain.

John E. Sarno, Medical Doctor & bestselling author maintains that there is nothing like a little physical pain to keep our mind off our emotional problems. This statement really resonated with me because when I started to acknowledge and deal with my emotional pain the physical pain gradually reduced. Chronic pain for me was an invitation that challenged me to learn how to manage my mind.

I began to turn towards my pain rather than trying to push it away. I did this through mindfulness, and practising mindfulness in this way has been shown to dramatically reduce pain and the emotional reaction to it.  My belief that life could be different coupled with sheer determination is what has me in a very different place than I was in 2014.                                                                                                                                            

Yes, I had two protruding discs and degenerative disease but so do many people of my age and they don’t know it. I stopped focusing on my MRI results and started to allow myself to live again. In the words of Tony Robbins: ‘Where the focus goes, your energy flows’. If you can sit with your pain, respect it and listen to your pain, in time it is possible to move beyond a pain-filled existence.


Moving now to my body,

Realizing that I could exercise again and that it might even help, was a big turning point for me.

In our brain, the amygdala plays a key role in how we process our emotions. It is often referred to as the fear centre of the brain. This plays a key role in shaping our response to pain, particularly our response to pain-related memories and fear. In chronic pain states, the brain acquires long-term maladaptive pain memories that associate tissue stress and load with danger and threat. For example, bending forwards in individuals with low back pain, raising the arm or lifting objects with shoulder pain or squatting type movements with individuals with knee pain. Our beliefs and attitude can bring us forward or hold us back.

The body and mind love movement and gradually becoming more active is essential for treating and managing chronic pain. Essentially, the motion is lotion for your joints and muscles. I started to exercise with a personal trainer. Initially, the exercise increased the pain and many times I walked out of the gym in tears blaming my trainer and vowing never to return. But return I did, again and again. These days I work out in the gym at least three times a week and have lots of fun in the process!

I am stronger and healthier now than I was thirty years ago, and my life has changed for the better.


Finally, I will talk about my spirit,

My big ‘lightbulb’ moment came when I read an article about pain and discovered that 70% of people who develop chronic pain had experienced previous emotional trauma in their life…… 70%!!!!

I was one of those.

The International Association for the study of Pain defines pain as:

 “An unpleasant sensory and emotional experience”

This is where I want you to notice the word, ‘Emotional’. Most of us tend to think about pain as the actual physical sensation in our body, however, our past and present experiences and our environment also play a big part.

I started to work through my trauma and emotional pain with the help of a psychotherapist. This was very tough and at times it would have been easier to ‘shove it all back into a box’ and try to forget it. However, in time my lost roles started to reappear, friend, sister, etc. and my chronic pain began to fade into the background. I came to know and love my hurting, fearful ‘little girl’ inside me. We were all once children and still have that child dwelling within us. For 50 years of my life, I was an emotionally wounded inner child inhabiting an adult body. We have all been influenced by our environment, events, and the significant people around us. Our inner child has stored these memories, and their impact often manifests in physical pain. Remember that your inner child is a real part of your subconscious mind. This wounded child who needs your love and compassion, because no one else can heal her pain and help her to make peace with the past, after all, you are the only person who you can guarantee never to leave you.


In this article, I have shared how the complex interrelationship between my body, mind, and spirit has helped me to reclaim the life I thought I had lost forever. My belief that life could change, coupled with the determination to do so is what has me standing in front of you today. By choosing to keep going at a time of great adversity, I can now smile at all the people I have proved wrong including myself.

Ian Maclaren once said.


My emotional and physical pain didn’t stop me, and if you ever experience pain it doesn’t have to stop you either. My message to each of you today is, no matter how you feel, get up, dress up, show up, and never give up.

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