After having been in pain for so many years, I am convinced that pain brings many unforeseen and unacknowledged gifts with it. Most of these gifts were unwelcome at the time, but looking back, I can see the value of what I’ve learned from my experience of living with pain. Following are seven ways that pain taught me how to honor myself and thus enhance my life, even in the midst of the challenges.

1. Slowing Way Down

I had to learn to slow way, way down and move only at the speed that worked for my body, not at the speed that worked for my former life ­style.

Pain forced me to operate in a completely different rhythm than I was used to. Life became simple, minimalist, quiet, and slow. This was a pace I normally found boring and unproductive, but slowing down taught me how to tune in to my body and its natural rhythms. I found that there is a richness to life when you slow down and take each thing as it comes.

2. Honoring the Present Path

Whether I like what is happening in the pres­ent moment or not, pain forces me to be present while I am feeling it. In that way, it is a very difficult teacher.

Pain teaches me to remember my body, to tune in to time (because it moves so slowly), and to be aware right here and now. I have learned to find the pleasant and happy things that are available right now even when pain is there, too.

3. Letting Go

Pain also taught me to let go. It forced me to finally give up the fight. It simply refused to budge until I had made an inner movement in attitude from someone who insists on making things happen to someone who gives up the need to control everything.

I learned the hard way that healing comes faster when I let go of trying to run every aspect of how my journey through pain is going to unfold. I had to learn to share the driver’s seat, in that regard.

4. Saying No

I had to learn how to say no to friends often and to the things I would have liked to participate in but couldn’t. I learned to say no to requests for my time and energy that didn’t truly honor my limitations, that would have left me feeling worse, even if the person asking was disappointed in me.

I had to learn to put my body’s needs before someone else’s need to have me be there for them. Sometimes this was difficult, but it taught me a lot about how to create healthy boundaries for myself.

5. Speaking Up for Myself

I learned to ask for help. This is not something most of us want to have to learn.

When I learned to ask openly for help from others, I also learned to acknowledge the existence of all the other people who were already affecting my life and contributing to it, even if I didn’t know them.

I also came to understand that each of us has a voice, and sometimes it takes feeling like we don’t have one, and struggling with that for a while, in order to find the courage and inner strength to finally find it and speak up. Speaking up for oneself, whether to ask for help or to communicate in other ways, is the first step in rediscovering a voice in the greater world. It’s the first step to self-empowerment and, ultimately, to full healing.

6. Being Softer with Myself and Others

When you’re fine and things are moving along in a fairly normal fashion, it’s sometimes hard to have patience with either yourself or others. We expect so much of ourselves all the time, and we also place these impossible standards on others, including our mates, siblings, and children.

Being in pain, I had to learn to take care of myself differently, to have greater gentleness toward myself and what I was going through. I also began to understand what others go through when they are dealing with illness, injury, loss, or other hardships.

Having to live with less of everything — less strength, less energy, less brainpower — taught me to be kinder to myself and kinder to others. Living with pain taught me how to give myself and others more of a break.

7. Appreciating the Little Things

I remember sitting in my house, my body burning and aching, and noticing a ball of dust in the corner of the room. I realized that, in the past, I would have gotten up and cleaned it. Right then, that action was more than my body could handle. I glanced around the room and saw all the things I wasn’t cleaning or couldn’t keep up with.

I began to appreciate how much I had taken for granted in the past. Brushing my teeth, picking up a plate of food, or driving more than ten minutes used to seem like nothing, but these were now painful and laborious.

I realized how amazing life really is and how much I looked forward to regaining any capacity for doing these things with less pain and more mobility. I remembered how I may have complained in the past about having to do something minor that now seemed like a privilege to do. It was very humbling.

Being in pain, while I would prefer not to have had to go through it, nevertheless taught me a great deal about slowing down, being more present with life as it is right now, letting go of trying to completely control how my heal­ing would unfold, how to say no when I really needed to, how to find my voice to speak up for myself and ask for help when appropriate, how to be softer and more forgiving toward myself and others, and how to be appreciative of the smallest things in life, which sometimes are the most precious.

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