A patient, I have looked after for many years, made me reflect deeply recently. Without breaching privacy, all I will say is that he is a male, who I will call Peter, with chronic regional pain syndrome which started after a traumatic injury he suffered 9 years ago. He recovered from the traumatic injury, with multiple surgeries, but not from the emotional trauma from the event which led to post-traumatic stress disorder.
He has been on all sorts of medications for pain, been given nerve blocks, tried psychotherapy and counselling and has seen in excess, at least, 40 physicians which have not been able to help. I was recently caring for him in the hospital, where he often gets admitted, to get high doses of various analgesic and sedative medications. Essentially he is trying to numb himself from the pain because nothing else works.
Over the years of looking after Peter, I have realized that Peter’s pain is, not only physiologic, but has a strong emotional component. This is because he has not processed the difficult emotions he experienced during the original trauma and has simply suppressed them. He is not willing or able to face these emotions because of the pain they cause but they often surface resulting in a pain crisis and frequent emergency department visits and hospitalizations.
What I know about Peter is that he will not heal without confronting his suppressed emotions. This brought to mind the archetypal story of the Hero’s Journey. In this story, the main character, the hero, faces a crisis which forces him to go on an adventure in which he confronts many challenges which he or she overcomes victoriously and comes back transformed.
If you look at popular culture, it is full of stories of the Hero’s Journey. Examples of this are Star Wars and Lord of the Rings. Even though the Hero’s Journey is a mythic tale that is prominent in our popular culture, it made of think of Peter. He has faced a crisis, his traumatic event, and has a greater calling, which he has not yet realized because he is not willing to learn the lessons from his trauma to move forward.
In order to do this, he must process all the negative emotions which surround the trauma and bring them to the surface. He does not do this because of all the pain they cause which he wants to suppress which is why he seeks treatment with sedative medications to numb the pain.
What he does not realize is that he is simply making his pain worse. What he also does not realize is that the traumatic event, he endured, happened for a reason which is the key to his higher calling in life. He will not be able to learn the lessons from that event until he is able to feel his emotions fully and let them pass through them.
This is his Hero’s Journey, which he must undergo, in order to come through on the other side and discover his true life’s purpose which will be his transformation. In essence, we all undergo the same journey in various aspects of our lives, whether it is health, relationships, careers, athletic competition or any other ares of our lives. However, not all of us answer the call to go on this journey, just like Peter.
I know that Peter will never be truly healed until he accepts that he is on a Hero’s Journey and answers the call with courage and conviction. I encourage you all to look at your lives and see where you are being challenged and being called to something greater than yourself and urge you to go on your own Hero’s journey.
Your life will be forever transformed as you come out on the other side in a state of joy, peace and greater wisdom about why you are here. This is the key to true fulfillment and liberation from all that keeps you shackled to any limitation or shortcoming you currently feel in your life.
Nauman Naeem MD FCCP FRCPC