MBS Blog #27: Joe’s story: A journey towards wisdom

Written by Dr. Schubiner on October 6, 2009

Everyone has a unique story to tell and often the paths that lead to healing are also quite different.  I received the following email the other day, and I was very touched by the authenticity and depth of what Joe had to say. He describes a journey that he has taken and continues to take.  This journey is slow, but steady and it has lead him towards a self-acceptance that is a powerful step towards health, both in mind and in body.  Everyone with MBS should read his story as it will inspire many to persevere despite continued pain.  Through having MBS and by dealing with it over time, Joe has learned to see his pain as a teacher; something that teaches him all he needs to know in this life and all he needs to understand. 

Here’s his story as told in an email to me:

“As far as my pain goes, I cannot report any miraculous change in symptoms; however, I continue to experience a very subtle phenomenon that I have dubbed an “erosion of tension.” Like the tide coming in and out, eroding the beach, it seems like my tight muscles are very, very slowly beginning to loosen. Then they contract again (or feel contracted), but when each time this happens (each time being like one back and forth of the tide), the tension in the muscles seems just the slightest bit less than before – so slight a difference, however, as to seem non-existent for the first few months that this was happening. Now, it has been long enough and steady enough that I believe it is happening, but doubt still lingers because of how subtle it all seems. Nonetheless, I am convinced of the MBS diagnosis. I do think that I am a particularly tough case, though. When I read about people who are totally healed by reading Dr. Sarno’s book one time through, I can get very envious, and also, sometimes, filled with doubt about whether I have MBS at all. But I am beginning to settle into the knowledge that I do.

Since first reading Dr. Sarno’s book (about nine years ago), I have forgiven my parents for an abusive childhood, begun to come to terms with a very rigid and intense Catholic upbringing, been able to sort through childhood traumas, been able to give up excessive drinking, gone through a whole year of psychotherapy, am finally done with the incessant belief that “there is something wrong with me” physically, and am at work on believing that there is nothing wrong with me mentally. I also went back to college and got a degree from an elite college, realized and admitted my deeply ingrained traits of perfectionism and self-hatred, rekindled a relationship with my wife and my daughter, my parents, and many other strangers. I have written literally thousands of pages of reflection, inquiry, and self-discovery, and have begun to remove from my shoulders the weight of the world, (and maybe, perhaps, if only for an instant, begun to rather like myself). I will say that most of the significant changes listed have come in the last year, with the help of your MBS website.

So, in one sense, yeah, I still have pain, and I’d love for it to be gone; but, in a weird sort of way, due to the incontrovertible changes for good that have transpired amidst the process of trying to “get healed”, I can now consider the pain a kind of benevolent guide. And while it was very difficult to trust this guide (it seemed so hostile and set against me) at first, I do trust it now; and if the pain is not totally gone yet, then I must choose to believe that it is because there is still more work that must be done.

The whole process has been like peeling an onion – one layer after another, after another – or, like unwrapping a gift, that gift being the unveiling of my long-covered-up True Self, which I hid so well for fear of it being destroyed by the hostile world surrounding. I think that this happened at such a young age that “undoing” it, at this adult age, seems semi-mystical. In actuality, perhaps it is just very natural. Or, yet again, perhaps the natural and the mystical are one in the same. I still don’t entirely understand any of this. The work of a Catholic monk by the name of Thomas Keating has helped exponentially. He writes much about the true/false self dichotomy; and has developed a form of Christian meditation that comes from ancient monastic practice. It is called Centering Prayer and I would highly recommend it to any other patients that you come across who, like me, struggle with a legacy of Christianity that might be suspicious of all things Eastern. You can learn more about his work here, if you have an interest: www.contemplativeoutreach.org

The greatest relief, thus far, has come in the instances where I’ve been able to throw up my hands and plead my ignorance. I don’t understand any of this! A favorite poet repeats the line: “I know nothing and I’m overjoyed. I know nothing and I’m overjoyed.” And I find myself resting in this, his mantra. This whole experience/journey/process has had a kind of supernatural aspect to it, and I find it very difficult to lay down my former ideas and just trust the leading, but this is what’s necessary. And that’s okay, I tell myself. I don’t have to be comfortable with it all the time. But, I’ve never been able to let my guard down like that before. I’ve always needed to concretely and intellectually “figure it out.” Be sure there were no surprises. And I have literally spent my whole life plagued by this vain attempt to make sense out of which religion was the true, right religion; what God wanted from me; whether or not the world was headed toward some kind of apocalyptic destruction; and on and on ad nauseam… But none of this has served me. It hasn’t allowed me the freedom to serve others either! It has only constructed a life lived in fear, isolation and self-hatred. Letting myself just be some guy who doesn’t have all the answers has been the greatest liberation of my life, and I know that it has been the catalyst to much of my own healing, both physical and otherwise.

Know that I am grateful for the opportunity to share these thoughts with you. And thank you for your continued interest and support. I feel confident that you are helping far more individuals with this work than you will ever get to know this side of the grave.”

Joe, thank you for those kind words.  You, also, are helping many people by your words, your example, and your wisdom. It is amazing how often the truth comes to us when we least expect it or when we aren’t really trying. Often we see the truth when we have surrendered to the realization that we are just who we are, and nothing more.  And that we are all that we need to be.

To your health,

Howard Schubiner, MD

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4 Comments to “MBS Blog #27: Joe’s story: A journey towards wisdom”

  1. martina Says:

    I love Joe’s story. I am Bowen Practitioner and combine Bowen and Neuro Linguistic Programming and Hypnosis to help people with psychosomatic disorders. Before I started studying Dr. Sarno’s take on TMS and yours now on MBS I always considered the unconscous mind trying to alert us about buried negative emotions through physical pain rather than divert attention from it. The UM is serving us in the best possible way and through the physical pain we get alerted to invited to start dealing with the emotional problems, negative emotions. Is that a way we can look at the MBS as well? http://www.syncholistic.com What is your take on that? Martina

  2. Dr. Schubiner Says:

    Thanks for your comment, Martina. While it is somewhat speculative to try to understand exactly what is happening in the subconscious mind (or unconscious mind, and I use these terms interchangeably), it is often helpful to describe processes that make sense and shed light on how the mind works. As I mention in my book, the mind is constantly scanning the world for danger and danger is perceived with the stresses of modern life. Danger signals cause the body to respond to protect us by activating the fight, flight, freeze, or submit reactions. These can cause pain and many other symptoms. Danger signals are particularly caused by situations that trigger strong emotions and when those emotions are buried, not recognized, suppressed, or are conflictual, physical reactions commonly occur. Whether the body is alerting us, protecting us, or diverting attention is not totally clear, but it may be a combination of all three or different aspects at different times. In any case, we can change those reactions and resolve the physical symptoms.
    Best, Howard.

  3. martina Says:

    Many thanks for your prompt reply Dr. Schubiner. Having read Deb Shapiro’s “Your Body speaks your mind” book where she makes the connection of specific physical pain connected to somewhat related emotions such as pain in the hip – problems with finding ones direction probably rooted in past negative events, shoulder pain – carrying too much on your own etc…do you find these observations useful and applicable in your practice? Thanks M

  4. Dr. Schubiner Says:

    Many people have commented on this concept, that certain physical symptoms are typically representative of certain underlying emotions. I certainly see that on some occasions, when the nature of the pain is symbolic of an underlying issue. For example, if someone is a pain in your neck, you may develop neck pain, if someone makes you sick, you may have nausea, etc. However, applying this concept to all people is, in my opinion, a bit too simplistic. There are many other reasons for certain physical symptoms to arise, as I mention in my book, Unlearn Your Pain. Sometimes certain disorders occur because of a prior injury in that area (thus activating learned nerve pathways, because of “social contagion,” or simply because certain symptoms tend to “run in the family.” Taking detailed and careful histories will usually determine why someone has specific symptoms caused by underlying stress and unresolved emotions.
    Best wishes, Howard.

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