Communicating with Pain by Sarah Anne Shockley

In the twenty-first century, one might wish that pain were an easily treatable nonissue. It is not. Millions of doctor and emergency room visits stem from pain, and addiction to pain medications, which is rampant in the United States, and often takes root when someone in pain is attempting to manage unremitting discomfort.

In The Pain Companion: Everyday Wisdom for Living With and Moving Beyond Chronic Pain (New World Library, June 2018), author Sarah Anne Shockley, who has personally lived with chronic pain since 2007, offers fellow pain sufferers a compassionate and supportive guide for living with pain that can be used alongside their ongoing medical or therapeutic healing programs. We hope you’ll enjoy this excerpt from the book.

Once I realized that pain was not going to be leaving my body anytime soon and that I simply didn’t understand its purpose, I decided to meet it face-to-face, so to speak. I wondered what pain would look like if it appeared in front of me for the purposes of a dialogue.

This intrigued me. If pain took form, I could ask it questions. I could see the meaning it held in the form it took. I could see it as something with boundaries rather than an all-consuming reality.

From that point on, I began to dream up new avenues of dialogue with pain in order to understand how it connected with and was interwoven through both the physical and the nonphysical layers of the self. I created ways to interact with pain differently, to establish a new kind of relationship with it and, ultimately, with myself.

I began by getting quiet. I asked pain questions. I wrote letters to pain. I played with the idea of pain as a messenger, a character, a force for good. I wanted to know what pain had to do with me and how it expressed as me and through me. I turned my ideas about pain on their head.

The results were very encouraging. Pain did not leave my body all at once or even completely. But it began to get quieter, less intense. It reacted like a wounded creature that finally felt safe or an angry child soothed. It stepped down, so to speak. It relaxed.

And the most important thing I found was that I needed to allow pain to be what it was, as it was, before I could expect it to move on.

I understood that, in some strange way, it felt heard and respected. That seemed like an absolutely key understanding. Pain was something in me that, perhaps inexplicably, but in a very real way, needed a different kind of attention.

It occurred to me that pain wouldn’t leave until I recognized its purpose and said yes to whatever it needed to give me, tell me, or show me. This allowed me to see pain as something that offered me a gift, strange as it might be, and the opportunity to consciously choose to accept this gift.

I began experimenting with how I related to the pain in my body and how that relationship affected all the other relationships in my life, including my relationship with myself.

To me, pain seemed very much like a little child pulling on a pant leg and whining. You keep telling the child to stop and be quiet but they only get more upset. Finally, you take a breath, squat down, look the child in the eyes, and calmly ask, What would you like to tell me?

I’m not saying that your pain is a child stuck inside of you (or maybe that’s not so far off the mark), but something is calling to be noticed and responded to, and most of us simply try to make it stop. I discovered that when I decided to give pain all the time it needs, turn toward it, so to speak, and pay attention to it, it almost immediately began to relax and release.

I wanted to find out if the gift or the message was from pain itself, from life, from my body, or from me to me. Or maybe it didn’t matter; it was all really the same thing.

Working with these creative avenues helped me to stop trying to attack my pain and, instead, to find ways to be with my experience differently and, ultimately, more positively.

They opened the door to listening to, hearing, and responding to pain in ways that were more conducive to deep healing.


Sarah Anne Shockley is the author of The Pain Companion. In the Fall of 2007, she contracted Thoracic Outlet Syndrome (TOS), which is a collapse of the area between the clavicles and first ribs, and has lived with debilitating nerve pain ever since. She has been a regular columnist for the Pain News Network and is a regular contributor to The Mighty, a 1.5 million–member online community for those living with chronic illness and pain. Visit her online at

Excerpted from the book The Pain Companion. Copyright ©2018 by Sarah Anne Shockley. Printed with permission from New World Library —

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