In my last blog I blog, I began the discussion of chronic pain. My friend and colleague, Peter Blum, of Woodstock, New York (who actually does everything, including hypnosis, and is a Buddhist, Jewish, Native American priest of sorts who married Barbara and me) had important things to say.
Peter said, "This is a topic that has been particularly significant in my life, and I would like to weigh in on this discussion. As a hypnotherapist, I have addressed the issue of pain management with numerous clients over the years. As a practicing Buddhist, I have read and studied and meditated for many years on the "Four Noble Truths" - the essence of the Buddha's teaching - which deals with the nature of suffering and attachment. And perhaps most importantly, as a recovering drug addict, I have had direct experience with the cunning, baffling, and seductive nature of what is currently often viewed as the "disease" of addiction.
"In your article, I loved what you said about the "seeking system", and that "seeking has been found in studies to be more rewarding than finding". That would be validated by many addicts, who speak of the "high" of the hunt... the actual physical/emotional thrill of figuring out ways to get more of whatever it was they were addicted to. I was a bit surprised at the revelation, in your article, that in patients receiving prolonged opioid therapy, there is an increase in production of one of the body's endogenous opiates.
"Years ago an acupuncturist (who was explaining how acupuncture was beneficial to people who were in the process of detoxing from opiate addiction) used the metaphor of the body having little "factories" which produced the endorphines and enkaphalons, the feel-good neurotransmitters, which also regulate pain control. When a person starts "importing" external opiates, such as morphine, heroin, codeine, etc., on a regular basis, these little factories shut down. So a person's natural ability to manage pain, and regulate mood, is impaired and becomes dependent on continuing to receive these "imports".
"It was heartening to read of others who responded to your posting on this thread speaking of utilizing mindfulness meditation as a tool in helping clients understand the working of mind/body, and find other ways of coping with or alleviating pain as an alternative to synthetic opiates. A recent issue of "The Buddhist Review Tricycle" (Fall 2012) contained an insightful article by Andrew Olendzki, entitled "Pinch Yourself - A Physical Sensation Becomes An Experience To Be Explored". To quote briefly, in the opening paragraph, Olendzki, a Ph.D., and senior scholar at the Barre Center for Buddhist Studies, says "Pinch yourself. Go ahead and give yourself a good hard pinch on the arm or the back of the hand. Now, according to Buddhist psychology, you should be able to distinguish at least three different components to the experience: the touch, the pain of the touch, and the aversion to the pain of the touch. Our mind if very good at merging these all together, but there are actually three different processes - synthesized by three different brain systems - that are then synchronized with one another and interpreted as a unified experience."
"Our culture continually bombards us with media advertisements encouraging us to immediately turn to the pharmacy to deal with the slightest pain. So before we even sit with the touch, and the pain of the touch, we are proceeding instantly to aversion to the pain of the touch. What if, instead, we were to center ourselves and allow ourselves to sit with the pain. My experience, in hearing the stories of many who use opiates, is that the "cover story" of needing them to deal with physical pain, is frequently masking the deeper, underlying story - of inability or unwillingness to deal with metaphysical pain. Some of the therapeutic guidance we can give, is to encourage a person to actually feel their pain - emotional, psychic, etc. To be willing to take a look at the pain of their lives, and look at the situational reinforcements of isolation and obsessive/compulsive behavior that, unless addressed and ameliorated, will bring a person cycling back over and over again to the same lonely and desperate places.
"It was particularly heartening to read your last paragraph: "For all these reasons, I believe we need to work together to create communities of pain sufferers, to change their brains through social interaction (the social brain hypnothesis) and to help each other to live better lives with or without pain." This reinforces the hochoka project - of having community healing circles. Many have found the rooms of Narcotics Anonymous to also fulfill that function.
"But whatever it is, it is a pervasive and rapidly growing problem. Many are probably aware that prescription pain-killers are the drug of choice these days recreationally among many high school and college age folks and are overtaking heroin and cocaine as a cause of death by overdose; hospitalization for complications, and treatment in detox and rehab facilities. Not to be overlooked in this discussion is the mega-bucks of the pharmaceutical industry, and their continued investment in pushing more pills. Thank goodness we have some independent thinkers amongst our prescribing physicians who are willing to explore other, healthier and more wholistic ways of helping clients deal with pain."