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Monday, December 21, 2009

Soul Soothers - The Secret to Dealing With Chronic Pain and Related Depression - Part 4

Soul Soothers

By Cheryle M. Touchton
The Pocket Full of Quarters Lady

The Sh’ma: Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind; and, Love your neighbor as yourself. Luke 10:27 NIV

Does your soul need soothing? Chances are, if you are in chronic pain, it does. Chronic pain is a soul distraction. It screams so loudly that it is difficult to hear the Still Small Voice of God. I know from experience how hard it is to love God with your entire soul when you hurt so badly that pain consumes you. If you allow it, pain will literally steal your soul. Every thought, feeling, response, and action becomes about identifying the cause and treating the symptoms of pain. In short, you lose the essence of who you are as your soul bows to the demanding god of chronic pain. Below are signs that chronic pain is consuming your soul:
  • People close to you are tired of hearing about your pain.
  • You wonder if anyone cares that you are hurting.
  • You are taking so much medicine that you have trouble focusing thoughts.
  • Your body is growing lumpy bumpy from inactivity and/or an excess of food.
  • Your sleep patterns are disrupted – from too much or too little sleep.
  • You have waning interest in things of the spirit – personal time with God, Bible Study, or church.
  • You feel hopeless that things will ever change.
  • Every activity revolves around how you expect your physical condition to be.
Chronic pain lies by insisting it is the most important thing in your life. It is a demanding master that steals the pleasure from everything else. The only answer is to fire chronic pain as a god and replace it with Jesus - the Truth, the Way, and the Life. The Truth is that pain is not who you are. You are a child of God who happens to suffer from chronic pain. The Way is to stop surrendering to pain and replace it with surrendering to God. The Life is to refocus all energy consumed by pain to loving the God that created you for abundant life.

Soul Soother #1: Separate Yourself From Pain and Remember Who and Whose You Are

Do you know who and whose you are? You are not your pain. You are a child of God, loved by God. Your soul is the essence of who you are. You may be a person in pain but the pain is not who you are. Force yourself to think about yourself in relationship to the people around you and your joys, responsibilities, and dreams. As a young mother in her twenties, I had much to look forward to but all I could think about was my health. It felt like my life was over but that was a lie. Now, thirty years later, I live a full and productive life. I was able to go back to college and get an MBA, run a successful software company, and now am in full time ministry. I did all that while soaring at my roles as mother, wife, and now grandmother. How did that happen? It happened because God had plans for me that I could not see all those years ago. Let yourself dream again and take baby steps toward those dreams every day. Assume those dreams are God given and will be fulfilled. Let hope replace hopelessness. Remember who and whose you are.

Soul Soother #2: Be Honest About What Is Coming Between You and God

Before I could even think about hearing the voice of God and fulfilling His plans for me, I had to release all other gods. Because I was in pain, doctors freely offered prescription drugs. I didn’t feel like moving so I stayed in bed. I ate out of boredom and to avoid feeling my disappointment with life. In short, drugs, food, and inactivity had become false gods. I was a Christian who had no idea how many other gods she had put before the one true God.

Eat Right

The first thing I did was to start eating correctly. I stopped eating all unnecessary or unhealthy food, eliminated foods that triggered food cravings (like high fats, sugars, and processed flour,) and joined a support group to help me deal with food addiction.

Stop Drugs That Are Only Masking Symptoms

I explained to my doctor that while I wanted medicine to help my body heal, I no longer wanted mood altering addictive drugs. I was amazed at how much better I felt just from putting down pain killers. It turned out that my body was producing many symptoms just to keep me addicted to prescription drugs. When I stopped masking symptom, I was able to notice and respond to what foods and activities helped and hurt and over time, I improved. I also learned techniques that helped mentally block pain.

Start Moving Again

While we will talk more about moving our bodies in the next article, there was a spiritual component to deciding to start moving my body again. Since I didn’t feel like moving, I stayed in bed or on the couch way too much. I realized that inactivity had become a false god. The evil voice that whispered the condemning words, “Stay in bed,” wasn’t healthy and had to be fired. I went to physical therapy to learn safe techniques for improving pain. I got out of bed and began living life again. Over time, my desire to stay still left.

Soul Soother #3: Worship God

The most important thing I did to improve my situation was to develop a close personal relationship with God. I’d been a Christian since I was 8 but it wasn’t until 1979 that I began to spend disciplined time with God. A spiritual mentor instructed me to spend thirty minutes a day in meditation, prayer, and Bible Study. I had young children so I needed help reaching that goal. I explained to a dubious husband that we were both getting up earlier each morning and that he had “parent duty” for thirty minutes every morning. Now, thirty years later, I testify to the fact that my relationship with God has grown sweeter every day. I do hear that Small Still Voice and obeying that voice led me to being the productive person God intended me to be. As I write this, I am aware that my pain level today is a little high for me – a 4 out of 10. We recently moved and are in the middle of the Christmas season so I know stress and heavy lifting is contributing to increased pain levels. I will stretch, spend time with God, keep eating right, and in a few days, the pain will drop back down to a more manageable 1-2 out of 10. What I won’t do today is go back to bed. It won’t help and in fact, would make it worse. Two side benefits came out of my disciplined time with God:

Side Benefit 1: My Children Developed a Closer Relationship with Their Heavenly Father

My children grew up watching their mother spend daily time with God and saw the results of that. We also become more active in a church that had a major impact on their lives. Now, they have a close relationship with God. My daughter is in ministry and my son teaches a Bible Study. They both are active in church.

Side Benefit 2: My Children Developed a Closer Relationship With Their Earthly Father

In the 70’s, moms still took care of most childcare responsibilities. My children have a closer relationship with their dad because of that focused time with him every morning.

Action Steps

God has plans for you that include hope and a future. Listen to those plans carefully and do what He says. Those plans start with separating who you are from the pain you are in. Do what it takes to surrender false gods and spend time every day getting to know the one true God better. The previous articles on this blog deal with improving pain and related depression by loving God with your mind and heart. The next 2 articles will discuss pain and how you can reduce it by loving God with your strength and loving your neighbor as yourself. Until then, sooth your soul by:
  • Spending disciplined time in meditation, prayer, and Bible study.
  • Learning the difference between what helps healing and what simply masks symptoms and refocus all energy on what heals.
  • Getting help for addictions.
  • Making and reading daily a list of who you are in relationship with and your joys, responsibilities, and dreams.
================================================== Cheryle M. Touchton is the Director of Pocket Full of Change Ministries. For more information, to schedule a speaker for an event, or to make a donation, go to the website or call Gail Golden at 904 316-5462. Copyright: Pocket Full of Change Ministries

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Heart Helps: The Secret to Dealing With Chronic Pain and Related Depression - Part 3

Heart Helps

By Cheryle M. Touchton
The Pocket Full of Quarters Lady

The Sh’ma: Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind; and, Love your neighbor as yourself. Luke 10:27 NIV

“Listen to your heart,” a well-meaning person encouraged. When you hurt, there is no shortage of advice.

I tried listening to my heart and things got worse. I’d had a series of health problems that left me feeling broken. I was only 26 but felt 80. I hurt most of the time. My relationships were struggling. I envied my husband’s life and youthful body. That resentment drained my already floundering emotions, which added to my misery. The misery led to depression which sent me to bed. Staying in bed insured that my damaged body never got the exercise and blood flow it needed to heal. In short, I was stuck in a slimly pit of pain, self-pity, and inactivity. The problem with listening to my heart was that it lied. It whispered nasty things like:
  • Eating chips will make you feel better.
  • You need to stay in bed.
  • Nobody loves you.
  • There is no reason to try.
  • You will never be happy.
  • You will feel bad forever.
  • That the pain means you cannot live your life.
These nasty indictments started a chain reaction that seemed impossible to break. Sound familiar? I’ve seen a similar pattern in countless people I’ve met in my missionary journeys across America. So what can you do? The answer is simple. You stomp your foot at your lying heart and decide that your heart’s only job is to love God completely. You combat negative emotions with the word of God.

Heart Help #1 Combat Negative Emotions With Scripture

You can replace every nefarious heart whisper with truth from the word of God. For example, thoughts about eating chips can morph into “My body is the temple of the Holy Ghost and doesn’t need junk food.” Your need to stay in bed can become “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Feeling unloved evaporates when you read what the Bible says about God’s love for you. When pain threatens to stop you from living, you remind yourself that Jesus’ did His greatest work as the world beat him and drove nails into His hands and feet. Read God’s word aloud to every wayward emotion.

Heart Help #2 Choose Happiness

Abraham Lincoln said that most folks are about as happy as they make up their minds to be. I am still astounded at the power of that statement. When I was sick, hurting, and miserable, I had no idea I could choose happiness. When a mentor suggested it, I grew angry. He issued a two week positive thinking challenge. He instructed that I take two weeks and only allow positive thoughts in my head. He said that negative thoughts would sneak in but that I needed to immediately kick them out. It they lingered for more than five seconds, my two-week challenge was to start over. Since I had nothing to lose, I tried it. My first attempted didn’t last five minutes. I was astounded at how my unruly thoughts controlled my emotions and caused unhappiness. For example, I noticed the newspaper lying on the floor. My thoughts went like this. How many times had I asked Bob to put the newspaper away when he finished reading it. He didn’t even try to do what I wanted. If he loved me, he’d do what I asked. He must not love me. My feelings boiled their way to rage that caused me to lash out at my husband. When I tried to think positive, I discovered that anger at the scattered newspaper was a secondary emotion to grief about feeling unloved. That feeling was a lie. My husband loved me. Unfortunately, cleaning up newspapers was not one of his ways of showing it. When I focused on positive things about my husband, I started noticing all the other loving things he did. I felt better so I acted better. When I acted better, he grew more loving. Eventually, he even started putting the newspaper away. The same thing happened about pain. Thoughts of pain flooded my brain. Being female with a tendency to think in absolutes, my heart whispered words like, you hurt everywhere. Go to bed. You can’t do anything anyway. Those discouraging whispers were lies that doomed me to unhappiness. I didn’t really hurt everywhere – it just seemed like it. There was plenty of things I could still do. When I began focusing on possibilities, I began to accomplish more. My heart was encouraged by those accomplishments and I began to feel better about myself. It became easy to choose happiness. It took six months before I reached 2 weeks of positive thinking but my life improved every day during the process. Today, I know that if I am to love God with my entire heart, I must choose happiness no matter what else is going on.

Heart Help #3 Fire Self Pity

One of my favorite prayers is the Serenity Prayer. It begins with accepting the things I cannot change. Health problems had broken my heart and I was drowning in self pity. Accepting what I could not change meant firing self pity. I was shocked to discover that I almost enjoyed my feeling sorry for myself. After all, I’d earned it. An emergency hysterectomy at age twenty-five meant I’d never birth another child. I’d only had one baby and longed for more. No amount of time or positive thinking was going to change the fact that my body would not produce another child. I checked into adoption but my health problems made me a poor candidate. To get better emotionally, I had to accept the bitter fact that I was done making babies. Once I accepted it, my heart began to heal. Heart healing led to physical healing. When my body healed, adoption became a possibility. Today, I’m grateful for that hysterectomy because it lead to our adopting Kelley. Being around Kelley Touchton Pekarek is like having your own personal antidepressant machine. She brightens lives everywhere she goes. Self pity is a luxury that people living with chronic pain cannot allow. It may be the single biggest reason people stay stuck in their pain. Wallowing in negative emotions will keep you on the merry-go-round of pain that leads to depression that leads to more pain. The only way to stop it is to step off the merry-go-round completely.

Action Steps

Previous articles discuss improving your situation by loving God with your mind. The next 3 articles will discuss pain and how we can reduce it by loving God with our souls and strengths, and loving our neighbors as ourselves. Until then, help your heart:
  • Chase away negative thoughts with the Word of God.
  • Decide to be happy.
  • Take the 2 week positive thinking challenge.
  • Fire self-pity.
====================================================== Cheryle M. Touchton is the Director of Pocket Full of Change Ministries. For more information, to schedule a speaker for an event, or to make a donation, go to the website or call Gail Golden at 904 316-5462. Copyright: Pocket Full of Change Ministries