I am Not My Pain
by Angela O’Dell
Someone reading this needs to hear those words again. You are not your pain. You are not your sadness, your anxiety, nor your fear. So many of us think that we are our thoughts, our trauma, our disfunction, but these malfunctions of our physical brains are byproducts of living in a corrupt, fallen world; they are not our identity.
I am going to tell you the story of my journey of learning this, but first I want to make something crystal clear, right here at the beginning of this post: your brain and your mind are not the same thing. Although both of these parts of us are affected by the fallen world we live in, they are separate and distinct from each other. Your mind is connected to your soul; your brain is a physical body organ. Your brain is responsible for the automatic thoughts and physical functions it governs; your mind is the intangible part of you, which governs your conscious decisions, your choices, and your consciously chosen thoughts – what we choose to “ingest” and ruminate upon.
Where your mind, soul, and spirit meet is your inner-most part – the Bible calls this your heart. Secular or new-age philosophers might call this your “essence,” but we, as Christ-followers, know this is the God-breathed spirit, which separates us from the other warm blooded creatures of the earth. This is where we feel the screaming vacuum of our sinful nature and where the Holy Spirit comes to take up residence when we accept Christ as our personal Savior. This is the part of us with which we are told to love God completely. (Deut. 6) This sold-out love is the natural redeemed response to completely understanding what He did for us to make this possible.
Understanding the difference between our mind and our brain is crucial in understanding how they are meant to work together. We can and must use our mind to consciously choose our thoughts. By doing this, we can, as Romans 12:1-2 says, “not think like this world, but be transformed by the renewing of our minds.” Our brains may do the miraculous and automatic work of controlling our physical functions by taking in information, translating it in the various centers, releasing appropriate hormones to regulate our physical reactions, and commanding our nervous systems, but our minds are where we are actually in control. Our minds are where we take captive and align our thoughts to the truth of God’s Word. (2 Cor. 10:5) Our minds are where we teach ourselves to meditate on that Word and to align our actions with it. Our minds are meant to control our brains.
I have long had a profound interest in the function of the relationship between my brain and my mind. I spent many years in complete mental and spiritual bondage because of the lies, abuse, and neglect that were so instrumental in forming who I was in my formative years. The lies and trauma formed my physical brain, leaving scarring and deformity and creating unhealthy automatic thought patterns and trauma loops. They also bound and gagged my mind, soul, and heart. At the age of 18, God began the work of healing me. First, He removed me from the place of that hurt, and then over the next twelve years He led me through the foundational stages of working through the complex trauma that determined who I was.
During the beginning years of healing, I spent my time hiding and self protecting; He spent His time winning my heart. I spent my time screaming in anger and pain as I realized what I had gone through and what it had stollen from me; He spent His time holding me with His kindness. I spent my time trying to grasp the foreign world of freedom; He spent His time showing me He IS freedom. I spent my time running from the god that had been used to torment me; He spent His time showing me Himself, the One True God. I spent my time banging my head against the bars of my prison cell of deceitful lies, hatred, and unforgivness; He spent His time sitting with me at my well of need. For twelve years, I fought against Him, raging and railing against Him in anger for my pain. For twelve years, He patiently stored my tears in His bottle and sent out His light and truth to lead me to Him. (Psalm 56:8 & 43:3)
During those twelve years, my body ached almost as much as my deepest inner being. No medication could stop it. The doctors said it was the built up trauma of my past. They said that sometimes chronic pain and fatigue is caused by intense traumatic psychological pain and suffering.
This is a part of my story I haven’t told many people, and to be honest, even now, my palms are a little sweaty as I type this. Throughout the years between age 18 and 30, my body was wracked with an almost indescribable level of intensely crippling and chronic pain. I often begged God to heal me. I even challenged Him to prove that He was real by taking the pain away. I had all of my children in those years; they were uncomfortable pregnancies to say the least.
Looking back through each one of those years, I can see the vast areas of emotional and spiritual healing that took place. I can see the rooms of my heart, soul, and mind being flooded with the light of truth and love. I can see how God used the love of my family to break and heal numerous trauma loops. I can see the vast areas of victory in my mental health as I read and meditated on the Word and what it truly means. I didn’t even realize it at the time, but He was beginning to use His Word to heal and renew my mind. But my body still ached, and there were still vast areas of darkness that would often make me feel like I was a breath away from complete insanity.
Then joy came in my mourning.
One early morning in February 2004, my husband had gone to work, and since my children were still sleeping soundly, I went back to bed to try to make up for the usual lost sleep of the night before. I had just managed to doze off when I startled awake by someone standing next to my side of the bed.
At first it I thought it was my husband or one of my kids, but when I opened my eyes and looked around, I realized there was no one there. Yet, I still felt the presence. At this point, I felt a hot pressure – like a heavy, yet gentle hand – on my left foot. I heard a voice (probably in my spirit) saying reassuring words of comfort. The hot pressure went up the left side of my body, up to my head, and down the right side to my foot. I sat up thinking I had been dreaming. I looked down at myself almost expecting to see my body glowing. Swinging around, I put my feet down on the floor. No pain. I stood up quickly (something I hadn’t done in years because of the “jelling” in my joints). No pain. I touched the pressure points on my knees. No pain. I opened my hands wide. No locking or pain. I closed my hands tightly. No limitation or pain. I turned the light on and studied my hands closely. The swelling and permanent bruising was gone. No pain. Throughout the rest of the day, I felt pain leaving my body. As I stood at the kitchen sink washing dishes and smiling at the baby, I felt the iron grip of pain that had locked my shoulders, upper back, and neck for over a decade, lift and release. No pain. By the time my husband got home that evening, the miserable thrush infection my mouth had suffered from for nearly a decade was gone, and my tongue was pink and healthy looking. The pain, the swelling, the tender pressure points all over my body…all of it was completely gone.
Over the next two weeks, I went through an immense internal war. I didn’t know how to live pain-free. My firmly held view of His “meanness” had been shaken to crumbling. I know this might be hard for some of you to understand, but our established view and identity of ourselves and of God truly does shape our worldview. I no longer had the pain that I had hated but was accustomed to. I no longer could say that God did not care for me.
All of the work He had been doing in my life over the last twelve years and now this miraculous healing had completely spun my God-view on its ear. His joy had come in my mourning. His grace, love, mercy, and forgiveness had come crashing down on me, and I was completely undone.
I could go on with this story because, honestly, this healing experience was just the beginning of the journey I am still on today.
But I want to stop here for now because the point I want to make is this: We are not our pain.
God chose to come crashing through the wall I had built up around my heart. In my case, He chose to use a sledgehammer of miraculous healing to break the lock off of my highly fortified fortress of pain and disfunction and lies. But His crashing through was only the beginning. I had to choose to let go of what was familiar and the unforgivness gripping my heart that was so directly linked to the pain gripping my body. I had to choose to come out of my prison cell and learn to live in freedom.
I had to accept that I am not my pain.
I still have to accept this truth: I am not my pain. I am not my pain of dealing with long lasting relational consequences of my childhood. I am not my pain of the residue of complex trauma loops that still occasionally come to light in my life. I am not my pain of my physical body’s allergies and illnesses while I live here on this broken soil. This world and its pain is not my home; I’m just passing through. When pain does come, I have the choice of holding onto it and fixating on it, or holding it up to the One who gathers my tears in His bottle.
I have to be willing to be greeted by the JOY that comes in my mourning.
Send out your light and your truth; let them guide me. Let them lead me to your holy mountain, to the place where you live. (Psalm 43:3)
Hey guys, I hope my story has encouraged you. I have to be honest, I almost didn’t click the publish button on this one… I thought, “What if they don’t get me? What if no one connects to my story?” I know that I’m not the only person who has dealt or is dealing with significant pain, so I breathed a prayer for wisdom and guidance, decided not to allow fear to set my boundaries, and I clicked “publish.” You know, sometimes pain can blur our vision and make it difficult to stay oriented to our true reality.
The truth of the matter is this: we all deal with the pain of this world. It’s important that we remember that we are on our way to a place where there will be no more tears or pain, but until then, we have the promise of the comfort of the Holy Spirit, who brings joy in our mourning. Sometimes that comfort comes through knowing we aren’t alone on that journey – we have traveling companions who need encouragement as much as we do sometimes.
Hello, friend, I’m thankful we are traveling companions.