My story of chronic pain is probably the exact opposite of the majority of readers on this website. Over 60% of people that are physiologically dependent upon opioids became that way because they had some type of pain syndrome, went to their doctor for treatment, and were prescribed opioid drugs.
In my case, it wasn’t until after I recovered from opioid dependence and addiction that my issues with chronic pain began.
In fact, it was only four weeks after I quit using opiates that my three-year-battle with chronic pain began.
Furthermore, the way I recovered from chronic pain is an odd one indeed.
Some even call the method I used “quackery.”
Yet thousands of individuals have healed using this unique method, and here I am, 100% pain-free for over two years now.
In this article, I’m going to share with you my story of chronic pain and the process I went through to naturally and permanently heal, resulting in a 100% elimination of pain.
My Opiate Addiction
After an addiction to opiates that lasted from the ages of 30 to 32, I finally quit for good. I didn’t use opiates for pain.
I started off using opiates for the following reasons:
- Recreational use
- To help with Social Anxiety Disorder
- To alleviate depression
- To help provide energy and make my job not suck as much
Though opiates are painkillers and CNS depressants, they give some people a ton of energy.
I was one of those people.
Opiates made me feel totally invincible.
At first it seemed harmless, but I quickly became addicted, and it took me over two years before I conquered my severe opiate addiction.
How My Pain Began
Four weeks after I quit opiates, I hurt my shoulder. I was doing a set of pull ups at home, and afterwards I felt pain in my right shoulder.
I didn’t think too much of it at the time.
I just thought I had slightly pulled a muscle and that it would feel better the next day. However, the next day it still hurt.
Yet instead of resting it, I decided to go surfing.
My reasoning was that it was probably just a tight muscle, and surfing would actually help to stretch it out.
But that wasn’t the case.
I lasted less than ten minutes, and had to come in from the ocean because my shoulder started hurting much worse than it did before.
I knew it was a serious injury, but since I didn’t have insurance and I was close to being broke at the time, I didn’t go to a doctor.
Instead, I spent $45 to go to my chiropractor, who told me it was probably a minor tear of my rotator cuff.
He taught me how to recover from the injury using specific stretches and rotator cuff strength training exercises, and two months later I was back to working out at the gym and surfing.
The Re-Injury Which Led to Chronic Pain
After several months of surfing, swimming, and weight-training, I had gotten into extraordinary shape. My health and fitness were at an all-time high.
Then, one evening at the gym, while I was doing a set of an exercise called the “incline dumbbell press,” I literally heard a “snap” sound when I lifted the weights above me.
I admit that I was lifting more weight than I had ever lifted before. I was trying to bulk up and add more muscle, which required heavier weight.
And thus truly began the start of my chronic pain.
This time I didn’t heal in two months as with my previous shoulder injury. Instead, my shoulder pain became chronic, and I began obsessing about how I could eliminate the pain.
This obsession totally consumed my life.
I went to see a doctor, and he diagnosed me with tendonitis in the following areas:
- Anterior Deltoid
- Pec Minor
- Rotator Cuff
No Improvement with Western Medicine
While my previous minor rotator cuff tear was pretty simple to heal, this new injury seemed impossible to recover from.
For shoulder tendonitis, doctors prescribe the following method to heal:
- Stop or markedly decrease the activity that required the use of the shoulder at or above shoulder level.
- Apply ice to the affected area.
- Take anti-inflammatory medication to reduce arm and shoulder pain.
- Begin an exercise program to maintain flexibility.
- Avoid carrying heavy objects with the affected arm or using shoulder-strap bags on the affected side.
I followed this program to the tee, yet I saw no significant improvement.
And to make matters worse, I had more than one friend tell me that once you have a shoulder injury, it continues to come back throughout your life, and you can never fully get rid of it!
I didn’t want to believe this, but part of me did.
Since the traditional medical treatment approach wasn’t working, I began my long and arduous journey down the road of alternative and complementary healing modalities, hoping and praying that I could finally end my pain and suffering.
My Experiences with Alternative Healing Modalities
Over the timespan of approximately three years, I tried a superabundance of alternative modalities to treat my chronic pain.
Here is a list of the alternative modalities I tried:
- Massage Therapy (Deep Tissue and Rolfing)
- Chiropractic Medicine
- Herbal Medicine (Western, Chinese, and Ayurvedic)
- Orthomolecular Medicine
- Osteopathic Medicine
I have to say, going through all of these healing modalities was incredibly stressful and frustrating.
No matter what I tried, I would never fully recover from chronic pain.
Well, that’s not entirely true.
The first method I tried was a form of massage therapy called “Structural Integration” (also referred to as Rolfing).
Structural Integration is a technique of deep massage intended to help in the realignment of the body by altering the length and tone of myofascial tissues.
After a few months of regular sessions with my massage therapist, my shoulder was awesome once again.
Unfortunately, my break from chronic pain was short-lived.
Within almost no time at all, my shoulder pain came back with a vengeance.
It was even so bad one night that I drove myself to the ER at 2:00 am, where they gave me a cortisone injection.
From Shoulder Pain to Neck Pain
To say that I was “obsessed” about healing my pain would be an understatement. I was completely consumed by my pain and finding a cure to end it for good.
I spent countless hours researching online, and every once in awhile I would find something promising, only to have moderate success with a healing method, then to ultimately relapse back to pain.
During these years, I was also afraid of exercise.
I would either not exercise at all, or I would be very careful when I did exercise, making sure to not re-injure myself again.
At one point, something very interesting happened to me.
I healed from shoulder pain yet another time, but two weeks later I began to have neck pain.
The neck pain became chronic, but at least it was far easier to deal with than shoulder pain. Most of the time I could still surf, bodysurf, and lift weights with my neck tension, though I was going to my chiropractor for realignments 1-3 times a week.
The Book That Led Me Down the Right Path
After trying numerous healing modalities with no permanent results, a true miracle happened. One evening, I was hanging out with my friend Jessica.
Jessica had also been battling chronic pain for years (neck and back pain).
We were talking about our pain and methods we’d tried to get rid of the pain, when she mentioned a book that someone recommended to her.
The book was called Healing Back Pain: The Mind-Body Connection, by Dr. John Sarno.
Upon her recommendation, I ordered the book right away. When it arrived in the mail, I began reading it, and I intuitively knew this was the method that was going to help me heal from chronic pain permanently.
Dr. Sarno & Tension Myositis Syndrome
Dr. John E. Sarno (1923-2017) was a medical pioneer whose program has helped thousands of people overcome their pain syndromes without the use of drugs or surgeries.
After many years specializing in back pain treatment, Dr. Sarno realized that the vast majority of his patients presenting with back pain shared a “certain profile.”
Dr. Sarno came to realize that most of his back pain patients were self-motivated and successful people that put a lot of “pressure” on themselves.
Dr. Sarno believed these personality traits can lead to anxiety, tension, repressed anger, and other psychological issues, which can ultimately be the root cause of pain syndromes and many other dis-ease processes in the body.
Dr. Sarno named this ailment Tension Myositis Syndrome (TMS), which he also refers to as Tension Myoneural Syndrome or The Mindbody Syndrome.
Tension Myositis Syndrome – Overview
Dr. Sarno created a unique TMS healing method, which is totally counterintuitive and opposite to what the traditional field of medicine believes and prescribes.
Dr. Sarno believed that the vast majority of pain syndromes are not caused by physical abnormalities (such as rotator cuff tears, tendonitis, pinched nerves, herniated discs, etc.)
Instead, he was of the opinion that most chronic pain syndromes (pain lasting more than 12 weeks) are the result of repressed anger, anxiety, or rage that is outside of conscious awareness (buried in the unconscious mind).
Once these unpleasant and ego-threatening emotions bubble up close to the surface (conscious awareness), the autonomic nervous system creates physiological changes in the body to distract an individual from these unpleasant emotions.
When the TMS manifestation is a pain syndrome, the autonomic nervous system will reduce blood flow to the muscles, nerves, and connective tissues of certain areas of the body (e.g. lower back, shoulder, neck).
This reduced blood flow leads to reduced oxygen to the muscles, nerves, and connective tissue. Without adequate blood flow, tissues undergo oxygen deprivation.
This oxygen deprivation can result in a variety of symptoms in the affected area, such as:
- Physical Pain
Tension Myositis Syndrome – My Treatment
After I read Healing Back Pain, I started my journey of TMS healing. I love how Dr. Sarno created a simple system of recovery that has worked for so many thousands of individuals.
I followed Dr. Sarno’s program of TMS recovery, which involves the following:
- Knowledge Therapy – Reading books and watching videos on TMS.
- Journaling – Writing about possible factors that could be causing repressed anger.
- Resuming Physical Activity – Slowly returning to physical exercise and not fearing or obsessing about injuring myself.
- Stopping Physical Treatments – A discontinuation of massage therapy, chiropractic adjustments, injury-specific exercises, etc.
- Thinking Psychologically – Instead of focusing on the pain all of the time (thinking physically), I started thinking psychologically (stressors in life or things I was grateful for).
I read and re-read Healing Back Pain, then went through certain parts of the book again. Along with this book, I also learned from other TMS resources.
Here are the other resources I learned from during my first go at TMS therapy:
The Mindbody Workbook was so helpful that my chronic neck pain went away after just two weeks of doing the daily writing exercises.
Here is the description of the workbook from Amazon.com:
This Workbook offers the reader a thirty-day structured journal to identify and heal from psychological issues that may be causing back pain, neck pain, fibromyalgia, irritable bowel syndrome, tension headaches, RSI, TMJ, and other disorders.”
After healing my neck pain by writing in The Mindbody Workbook while also practicing the other TMS therapeutic interventions, I really thought my pain was gone for good…
That is…until my shoulder pain came back again.
The Symptom Imperative
Do you want to know how my shoulder pain came back? I went to bed and my shoulder was fine, but when I woke up in the morning, the shoulder pain was there again, even though the neck pain was still gone.
I reasoned that I must have slept on my shoulder wrong and that’s why the pain came back.
That day, I went on this website called TMSWiki.Org, and found the following description of something called the Symptom Imperative:
When a patient makes a major TMS symptom subside by doing “the work”, the brain is no longer effectively achieving its goal of distracting attention away from emotions. To counteract this, the brain will attempt to find a new area of focus, with the result that the patient often gets a new symptom – which can become chronic if it is not recognized for what it is.
The patient can have TMS knowledge and even a strong conviction about their main symptom being TMS, but will continue to experience new symptoms if deeper emotional issues are not eventually addressed.”
I remember reading that before in one of the TMS books, but the information didn’t stick.
After doing more research on it, I was convinced that the Symptom Imperative was the reason I would get neck pain once my shoulder was better, then shoulder pain once my neck was better…and on and on!!!
Caving in and Trying Physical Therapy
But despite my belief in TMS and the Symptom Imperative, my shoulder pain persisted. It continued to remain weak, tight, and painful.
Slowly but surely, my confidence in TMS being the real cause of my shoulder pain was starting to fade away.
And I can tell you from the TMS books I’ve read, as well as from my personal experience, that you need to have 100% belief in TMS as the cause of pain to heal permanently.
This can be very hard.
At least it was for me.
Finally, after well-over a year using TMS methods to heal, I caved in and went to see the doctor for my shoulder pain.
The doctor did some tests and said I had a minor rotator cuff tear and tendonitis in the same areas as before, and he prescribed me six weeks of physical therapy.
Since it took three weeks before the doctor could see me, then another three weeks before I could get in to see the physical therapist, this was a total of six weeks of shoulder pain before I could even begin treatment.
It was very discouraging.
Luckily, the physical therapy worked very well, and within about four weeks, my shoulder was better, and I was able to resume working out at the gym and other forms of exercise.
Things were awesome for awhile, until…you guessed it…
My neck pain returned!!!
But this was it for me. This Symptom Imperative showing itself again was finally the Ultimate Proof I needed to resume my TMS healing.
The Great Pain Deception
Upon having this resurgence of neck pain after my shoulder pain disappeared (Symptom Imperative), I went on Amazon.com to find a new TMS book.
Dr. Sarno’s books and Dr. Schechter’s workbook were great, but there was still something missing for me.
Things had never really “clicked” all-the-way, and so I asked the Universe to help guide me in the right direction, hoping to find a new TMS book to read that would get me back on the path to healing.
The Universe answered my prayers.
I read the description and some reviews for a popular TMS book called The Great Pain Deception: Faulty Medical Advice is Making Us Worse, by Steven Ray Ozanich, and I ordered it right away.
When The Great Pain Deception arrived, I starting reading it, and I had high hopes based on the extraordinary Amazon reviews (4.7 out of 5 Stars).
To put it simply…
This book changed my life.
It was a real tour de force on healing chronic pain and other TMS manifestations through TMS therapy.
And most importantly, it was the book that made everything “click” for me. I was well on my way to recovery after reading just a few chapters.
My fear of exercise was gone, I knew I would soon be pain-free permanently, and I thank Steven Ray Ozanich from the bottom of my heart for dedicating 10 years of his life to researching and writing this epic masterpiece.
My TMS Diagnosis from Dr. Schechter
I admit that my first two goes at TMS healing, I wasn’t 100% confident that TMS was the only cause of my pain.
I thought it was a combination of TMS along with real physical abnormalities (rotator cuff tear, inflamed tendons, muscle tightness and instability, etc).
Once I read through The Great Pain Deception, I was 95% confident that it was only TMS responsible for my pain.
But I knew exactly what I needed to do to become 100% certain.
I made an appointment with Dr. David Schechter, a TMS Specialist that trained under Dr. Sarno decades ago, whom also suffered from pain caused by TMS.
On the day of my TMS Consultation, I drove from San Diego to Culver City (in Los Angeles County), to Dr. Schechter’s office (he also has an office in Beverly Hills).
The office was very nice, and the staff was amazing.
My TMS Consultation was 45 minutes in duration.
Rather than explain in my own words what happened, I’m going to quote Dr. Schechter directly from his TMS website, MindBodyMedicine.com.
This will explain the TMS Consultation much better than I could offer from my own memory and knowledge.
How Dr. Schechter’s TMS Consultations work:
Patients begin by coming to the office and filling out the usual forms (patient info, treatment agreement) found in any doctor’s office. There’s a pain diagram, where they graphically describe their pain, but this is typical in the pain management field. Quite atypical is a 7-item questionnaire that asks them if they can relate their pain to tension and stress, if they have ever suffered other illnesses that may be stress-related (e.g. irritable bowel syndrome, tension headaches, TMJ), and asks about personality characteristics.
Many people relate their pain purely to physical incidents or wonder if they “slept wrong”. I find that it helps to review some of these subtle issues at the end of their history. I try to help them to understand that the onset of pain may have psychological as well as physical triggers and that their psychological issues may be more important! Of course I ask about other medical problems, allergies, and medications. I also ask her to elaborate from the questionnaire about her relevant personality characteristics. I explain that the very personality characteristics (responsible, perfectionism, “hard-on-yourself”, and do-gooder) that contributed to success in their professional or personal life can carry a burden of tension with them. I also clarify any other stress-related illnesses they may have suffered from in the past and determine when they ended. It’s not unusual for a patient’s headaches to disappear at around the time their back pain started, or vice versa!
I do a careful neuro-musculo-skeletal examination including range of motion, strength testing, reflexes, sensation, and touch the areas that the patient has pain, looking for tenderness and spasm. I also carefully probe eight areas on their back and neck that help me to diagnose their condition. These spots on their trapezius (muscle between neck and shoulders), quadratus lumborum (low back above hips), gluteus (outer buttocks), and iliotibial band (outer, upper leg) are often tender in people with a mind body back condition. These locations overlap with some of the fibromyalgia tender points, of which there are 19, not eight.
For those patients who have most of the above findings (failure of multiple treatments, characteristic personality, exacerbation with tension, tender points, no localizable structural lesion, perhaps migrating pain), I diagnose and treat them for Tension Myoneural or Myositis Syndrome (TMS). The ‘tension’ refers to the emotional tension that underlies the condition and the tightness in the muscles. The ‘myositis’ or “myoneural” refers to muscles and nerves and that this is a soft tissue condition. The ‘syndrome’ refers to the fact that symptoms from TMS can be varied and variable.”
Dr. Schechter spent a lot of time with me in his office. I could tell that he really cares for his patients, which was a breath of fresh air given my experiences with previous doctors.
Towards the end of our consult, he diagnosed me as having TMS, and said there was nothing wrong with my shoulder or neck.
After that, Dr. Schechter drew me a really helpful visual aid, which explained how I had literally “wired” my brain for chronic pain.
Dr. Schechter said the pain served as a “distraction” to avoid thinking about repressed emotions such as anger, etc.
He even had a term for it: “Distraction Pain Syndrome.”
Once a person continues to focus on the pain (think physically), the “neurons that fire together, wire together,” thus wiring your brain for pain.
Dr. Schechter told me that one of the main keys to recovery was to rewire my brain by “thinking psychologically.”
In the visual aid he drew for me, it showed how to diminish the strong wiring of the pain overtime by thinking psychologically instead of thinking about my neck or shoulder pain.
Dr. Schechter informed me that it would take some time for the strong wiring of the pain to fade away, but that as long as I made this new-way-of-thinking-psychologically powerfully wired (by repetition over time), my brain could destroy old neural pathways and create new ones.
Dr. Schechter also informed me that I had a tension-generating personality (which came as no surprise to me!).
He said I was creating tension daily by putting such incredible demands upon myself, and not giving myself enough time to relax, have fun, and really enjoy life.
I was basically just achieving goals all the time and I was never satisfied. Dr. Schechter explained how these and other personality traits were leading to my tension, which were at the core of my TMS pain.
Dr. Schechter scheduled a follow-up phone call for three weeks later, and he recommended that I do therapy with a TMS Specialist.
I agreed that I would call and make an initial appointment with one of the professionals he recommended.
And before I left his office, I thanked him for helping me, and I bought his book, Think Away Your Pain: Your Brain is the Solution to Your Pain.
I highly recommend this book because it has a lot of great info on TMS, research studies that are helpful to know about, and much more.
TMS Therapy with Daniel Lyman
When I returned home to San Diego, I looked through the list of TMS Specialists from the Pain Psychology Center that Dr. Schechter recommended, and I decided to call Daniel Lyman, LCSW, to see if I could do Skype TMS therapy with him, as I lived about two hours away.
He called me back soon after I left a message, and we set up our first appointment.
I simply cannot describe in words how beneficial it was having regular Skype sessions with Daniel.
He helped me overcome chronic pain in the following ways:
- By providing education on TMS
- He helped me program my brain to think psychologically
- He was a tremendous help at assisting me to identify things that I was repressing, which were indeed causing unconscious rage.
The best thing I learned from Daniel was how to laugh at the pain and say “fuck it.”
Once I learned how to do this, the pain’s ability to distract me ended.
The pain only exists to distract an individual from the unconscious rage, thus, if you laugh in the face of pain and really just not give a shit, the pain leaves.
Daniel taught me that it can help tremendously to figure out the issues you’re repressing, but he said it’s not necessary to do so to end the pain.
You just have to think psychologically, and whenever the pain or tension comes, instead of obsessing that something structural is wrong and you need some type of physical treatment, you hold firm in your mind that you are 100% certain the pain is due to TMS, and that your shoulder/neck/back or whatever is totally fine.
The pain is from mild oxygen deprivation, which is due to the autonomic nervous system reducing blood flow to the area.
Since I had two previous shoulder injuries, this is the spot my autonomic nervous system typically “chose” to reduce blood flow in, because it served as a very good distraction from my emotions, as I would worry and obsess that I had structural damage.
My therapy with Daniel Lyman was the final piece to my TMS puzzle.
My New Pain-Free Life
After a couple of months working with Daniel Lyman, my pain ended for good. It has not been back since.
I’ve been pain-free for over two years now, and I can’t imagine what things would be like had I not had the chance conversation with my friend Jessica, who recommended that I check out Healing Back Pain by Dr. Sarno.
In Steve Jobs’ 2005 Commencement Speech at Stanford University, he said something I will never forget:
You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something – your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.”
For me to write this article, I connected all the dots looking backwards. Do you realize all of the tiny miracles that needed to happen for me to finally be pain-free after three years?
What an epic journey!
From the moment I learned of Dr. Sarno’s TMS theory and methodology, I intuitively knew that the dots would somehow connect in my future.
I’m literally crying tears of joy now as I write these words, because the chances of learning about TMS were slim.
It’s not mainstream, and it’s not accepted by modern medicine, yet thousands upon thousands of individuals have healed their chronic pain permanently using TMS therapy.
Nowadays I have no pain, I’m able to exercise any way I wish with no fear of pain, and I owe it all to the TMS specialists I wrote about in this article, along with my willingness to believe in the TMS diagnosis and do the work.
According to TMS Specialists, there are dozens of ways that TMS can manifest in the body. It’s not always a pain syndrome.
In my favorite TMS book, The Great Pain Deception, Steven Ray Ozanich has an Appendix that starts on page 341, which you might find very interesting.
The title of this Appendix is “TMS Equivalents-Serving the Same Purpose as Pain.”
While the list is too long to print in this article, I will show you which TMS equivalents I’ve experienced in my life thus far:
- Binge Drinking
- Cold Sores
- Drug Addiction
- Frequent Thirst
- Hot Flashes
- Neck Pain
- Nose Bleeds
- Panic Attacks
- Rotator Cuff Tear
- Shortness of Breath
- Teeth Grinding
This may look like a long list, but I assure you, there are dozens more in the book.
Remember how I told you about the Symptom Imperative earlier in the article?
Don’t you find it interesting that just four weeks after I quit opiates, I spent the next three years battling chronic pain?
Before I was an opiate addict, I was an alcoholic, and before that I had acne.
Since I’ve healed from chronic pain, I’ve experienced other TMS equivalents (such as teeth grinding and anxiety).
But now I know these things for what they are…a distraction from unconscious emotions (deeper anger) that my body wants to protect me against.