Pain Is the Wake-Up Call

Nearly everyone who shows up for Five Element acupuncture arrives with a “symptom,” typically pain. Understandably, it takes something extraordinary and often disagreeable – like an injury or illness – to compel us to seek treatment. Pain has a way of getting our attention, very quickly.

What We Resist Persists

No matter the symptom — physical pain, depression, fatigue — we’d like it to go away and never come back. That’s the tricky part. We may be able to suppress it for a while with drugs, but until we resolve the underlying issue, the symptom has a way of sneaking back. And each time, it’s a little harder to resolve. We need something stronger. We go from ibuprofen to Vicodin to Neurontin (or perhaps Prozac to Wellbutrin to Trazodone) and still the pain comes back.

Human beings are creatures of habit, with good reason. Our habits and routines make our lives familiar, predictable and comfortable. They bring us a sense of security, order and ease. Sadly, even when our habits no longer serve us, we often cling to them and resist change.

Pain Has a Purpose

Pain is a messenger of healing. Our body/mind/spirit always does its best to heal. Pain is one way of telling us that something is wrong.

Did you know that there is a disease of no pain? It’s called leprosy. In antiquity, lepers were stigmatized because they lost body parts, especially fingers, toes and noses. Now we understand that the reason lepers lose these parts is because they can’t feel pain. They unknowingly injure themselves and develop infected wounds.

Pain gives us feedback that we need.

Lepers lose the ability to feel pain. Photo credit: HawaiianVirtualTours via Visualhunt.com / CC BY-NC-ND

The Way Out of Pain Is Through

It seems like a paradox. The way out of pain, physical or emotional, is not to push it away. The way out is through. Look at the pain, and listen to the message. It points the way to deeper healing than you might ever imagine.

But, deeper healing is not without a price. Exploring the painful, wounded parts of ourselves takes courage and persistence. The price of healing is leaving our comfort zone. That means changing who we are and how we live.

Crossroads of Crisis

A crisis, such as an injury or illness, brings us to the crossroads of life. It’s a place where we have choices. We can travel in different directions. A lot can happen. We’re on sacred ground. Rarely comfortable, the crossroads is a place of transformation.

The choice we face may be one of waking up to life or numbing out, moving into new territory or backing away. It might mean changing jobs, changing a relationship, or changing what we eat. Old habits and routines get broken. New ones are explored.

Entering New Territory

Starting a new treatment, such as Five Element acupuncture, means entering new territory. We cross a few personal boundaries. We take time out of our busy schedules for treatment. There’s a financial commitment, and a lot of questions. Will it work? Will it hurt? Who is this acupuncturist, anyway? We may face fears about needles, the vulnerability of being exposed and touched, or simply the need to develop a trust relationship with a new person.

Beginning the Journey: Cynthia’s Story

Entering new territory, we start a journey. Every journey has a story. Cynthia’s journey started with a life-changing injury over 20 years ago. She has been a client of Five Element acupuncture ever since. Cynthia shares her story and her wisdom with us in her own words.

A Miserable Day and Two Broken Legs

I was having a miserable day. It was November 1995 and Congress did not approve a budget in time to prevent a furlough of Federal employees. I had recently begun a new job with the Immigration and Naturalization Service. I was not happy with the INS job, despite the fact that it was a promotion and the agency had sought me out. It was not the work that I had been promised, and the agency seemed dysfunctional.

On this particular day, I had to make the two-hour commute to D.C. in order to be officially furloughed and head home, without pay. I rode the crowded Metro car back to the Silver Spring station. Walking up the hill to the parking garage, I was furious. The weather matched my mood—dark, heavy clouds that spit rain on an icy wind. It was very murky in the garage, as I headed briskly towards my car.

Craack! In the gloom, I had walked off the edge of a deep step and fell hard. I heard and felt the bones break as I landed, and screamed in pain. Some time later at the hospital, I found out I’d broken both legs. The right ankle was severely damaged and required surgery. The left tibia was also fractured. I had casts on both from the knees down until the New Year.

Pain is More than Physical

By the time I was ready for the casts to come off, I was feeling more optimistic. The furlough had ended, and paychecks were coming in again. I guess I thought once the casts were off I would just hop up and start walking around. I was wrong.

The left ankle looked and hurt like hell! I was in constant pain, walking on crutches. I had cabin fever, but dreaded returning to a job I couldn’t stand. I was cranky and depressed. I couldn’t imagine how I would be able to resume my active life. The only things that gave me pleasure were food and Percocet, and I needed to wean myself off both.

A friend suggested acupuncture and, out of desperation, I called. I knew it wasn’t covered by insurance, but if it helped the pain it was worth the cost. As soon as I spoke to Karen, my first Five Element acupuncturist in Maryland, something in her voice told me that she understood that the scope of my pain was more than physical. I began to cry.

The First Five Element Acupuncture Session

No M.D. had ever asked me so many questions or spent so much time getting to know me. In that first session, Karen spent over an hour asking me detailed questions about my medical history, the accident, my personal habits, diet, dreams, work, sex-life, and relationships. She explained that Five Element acupuncture is an ancient system of healing. Treatments are determined by observation of the physical body, discussion of what’s happening in my life, and monitoring multiple pulse points. The body’s energy, or chi, flows along meridians, and illness or stress cause them to become blocked. The needles stimulate the energy flow to break up blockages, restore the body to balance and allow natural healing to occur.

Karen examined the scars on my legs, took my pulses, and inserted several needles. Soon I began to feel something moving inside the middle of my leg. Have you ever cleaned the inside of a tube with a pipe-cleaner or long bristled brush? This was the mental image that came to me. It was not unpleasant. It felt cleansing. It was my body’s energy struggling to move along the blocked meridians.

I slept deeply that night. The pain was lessened and I felt lighter of spirit as well.

Wellness Treatment “Womb to Tomb”

I improved dramatically after each session. Karen explained that Five Element acupuncture treatments ideally spanned “womb to tomb,” restoring balance and harmony to the whole person in every life phase. I have continued treatments every three to four weeks ever since.

When we moved to Portland in 2008, I found a new Five Element acupuncturist, Elizabeth Zenger. She continues to help me to restore balance. Five Element acupuncture has helped me through colds, menopause, pneumonia, seasonal allergies, surgery to remove an ovary, knee pain and all kinds of emotional stresses.

Through our discussions, I came to understand that sometimes the universe sends you metaphorical messages to which you must pay attention. My broken ankle was a strong message to slow down and be alert to where I’m headed. I’ve been sent this message in different ways many times, both before and since the accident—stories for another time–but I didn’t really “get it” until Karen finally asked me “What must the cosmos do to get you to slow down? It literally stopped you in your tracks by breaking your ankle and leg.”

My ankle sometimes “talks” to me—reminding me to slow down and pay attention to what’s going on and where I’m headed.  Liz would call my ankle injury a messenger of healing.   It led me to acupuncture and, most importantly, a proactive and natural approach towards caring for my health.