Learning my ABCDE’s

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

In addition to Explain Pain, my trainer recommended that I read a book called Learned Optimism, How to Change your Mind and Your Life, by Martin E. P. Seligman, Ph.D. You can find it here. https://amzn.to/2ZEzvTz This was my first introduction to positive psychology, a fairly new science. By definition, positive psychology is “the scientific study of what makes life most worth living”, or “the scientific study of positive human functioning and flourishing on multiple levels that include the biological, personal, relational, institutional, cultural and global dimensions of life”. Another big step in my healing and growing was about to happen with the help of this book.

The biggest take away for me was learning to dispute my own beliefs and become skilled at generating alternatives. This was really important to understand given that I was afraid to do half the things that would help me get stronger and heal, for fear of hurting myself. Explain Pain says the fear of pain can be enough to prevent change, so I HAD to learn how to overcome my fears. I also had to learn how to decatastrophize. My beliefs and thoughts were stopping me from doing A LOT of basic things. As I was getting focusing on my diet, physical therapy and exercise, I cut out every doctor from my life at that time with the exception of those at the Spine Institute. I just COULD NOT handle another piece of bad news. So, if I didn’t go to the doctor, no bad news. This was my thinking. I didn’t even go to the dentist for the fear of the dental chair would hurt my neck. Also, I had a general fear of doctors because honestly, their negligence in giving me a drug combination that injured me was still on the forefront of my mind. So much fear. It was paralyzing. So, I had my fears in movements and activities AND I had a fear of learning anymore about my health for the sake of not going off the deep end completely. I didn’t get a check up, a dental cleaning, a pap smear or flu shot for four years. Yes, four years. That’s a long time.

What helped me start to make the change was a strategy I found in Learned Optimism called the ABCDE model. Standing for Adversity (what happened), Belief (how you interpret the adversity), Consequences (feelings and what you did), Disputation (argue and dispute your beliefs) and Energization (outcome or effects from redirecting your thoughts).

Here is my first attempt at using the ABCDE Model to dispute my fears. I started with what was most pressing at the moment. Remember when I said when I started my sculpt class with no weights? Well, in addition to that, I also decided for myself that dead lifts weren’t good for me and my back, as the first time I did them I had pain. This pain eventually faded, but it was enough to scare me. My first ABCDE attempt would be about this conclusion I made up for myself. It looked like this:

A (Adversity) Do a dead lift in class with weight.

B (Belief) I will hurt my back.

C (Consequence) I feel afraid and frustrated.

D (Disputation) My trainer is very skilled and would not put me in danger.

E (Energization) I tried it, had some pain, then it faded.

For the record, I do dead lifts with kettle bells on a regular basis now with NO pain. Two things happened. I got over my fear and my body got used to a new movement. It takes time. A long time. I had to be patient. I felt a little pain with dead lifts for a while, but guess what? That doesn’t happen anymore!

Here’s another attempt I did shortly after.

A (Adversity) I am afraid to get a flu shot.

B (Belief) I think something will go wrong and I will have a reaction or my body won’t take it well.

C (Consequence) I am scared and procrastinating.

D (Disputation) I have had flu shots in the past and been fine. Everyone in my family has had shots this year and they are all fine.

E (Energization) My son and I got our flu shots together. This way I had someone with me and had to be the “grown up” and not freak out. Having him there kept me calm even though he had no idea he was doing that for me. I didn’t have any kind of reaction.

Photo by Arun Thomas on Pexels.com

In my notebook, next to where I wrote this, there is a little side note that says “I did it! 10/20/18.” Small steps. It was clear that I needed to use this model and learn how to find the evidence against my beliefs and show the flaws. According to the author, the facts will be on my side most of the time. I don’t know exactly when I became so pessimistic in my thinking. Maybe just all the turmoil of what I had gone through left me that way. Seligman explains “pessimistic thinking consists of latching onto the most dire possible belief, not because the evidence supports it, but precisely because it is so dire.” This was key for me. Over the next few years I continued to use this strategy to catch up on my health. I finally went to the dentist, I got my pap smear, and lastly I went to my Internist. The one I dreaded the most and had the most fear to see. Turns out I had a clean bill of health at all of these appointments! Ok, I had one cavity.. Four years without a cleaning will do that to you.

Do you struggle with negative thinking? Try the following:

In your daily life over the next week, tune into any adversity that comes along. Listen to your thoughts. When you hear negative thoughts, dispute them! And record them in ABCDE Model.

I’d love to hear how this worked in your life. Comment and leave questions below! Thanks for being here!


The Book that Changed Everything

A few years ago, when I was still in the throws of recovery, my personal trainer suggested I read a book called “Explain Pain” by David Butler and Lorimer Moseley. I was at a point where I had gained strength, continued physical therapy, but continued to have significant pain that would send me off emotionally and also keep me from doing more of what I loved to do. Everyone had their theories as to what was going on, but the only person in my life that was up front and honest with me was my trainer. She basically told me I couldn’t “fix the pain I was feeling with exercise”. She was saying it was “in my head” which was true, but not (I explain this below). It was REAL alright and she knew it. She also told me I needed to start meditating or “go talk to someone”. Hmmm, she was telling me I needed a different kind of therapy.

No one had spoken to me this way before about my anxiety. She was brutally honest. It was jarring and I was a bit shocked. I sat there in tears. It felt like some sort of emotional breakthrough. I am FOREVER grateful for her for being this honest with me. For seeing that I needed to hear these things in a way that would wake me up. No one in my family would have ever talked to me this way and if they did I probably would have been so angry with them I wouldn’t have listened anyway. The fact that it came from someone on the outside means I could no longer hide that part of myself. It was obvious to her and she did the right thing by making me confront it.

Two things she suggested immediately was a book called Explain Pain and a meditation app (that I now use every day, religiously, starting the day after she suggested it. Upholder quality at work!) As soon as I began reading Explain Pain everything started to become clear. I was reading my story. I couldn’t believe it! Finally, I could see myself on the pages and I started to understand. Right from page two it became clear. “When pain persists and feels like it is ruining your life, it is difficult to see how it can be serving any useful purpose. But even when pain is chronic and nasty, it hurts because the brain has concluded, for some reason or another, that you are threatened and in danger and need protecting – the trick is finding out why the brain has come to this conclusion”.

I also learned that stress can make nerve pain worse and that damaged nerves become sensitive to the chemicals you produce when you are stressed. This made perfect sense to me. I was having unbelievable stress and worry at the time when my pain was spreading and getting worse and no one could tell me why. The authors also explained that “things that used to hurt, now hurt more. And things that didn’t hurt before, now hurt”. There I was, right there on the page. Exactly what I experienced. And for the first time, there was an explanation. I was so relieved to see my story in print. Someone gets it! Other identifying statements I read were “It started off so simply and now it has spread” and “No one seems to believe me”. I basically said those exact words. Something else that really hit home for me was that even the FEAR or ANTICIPATION of pain may be enough to prevent changes from returning to normal. Returning to normal was ALL I wanted! Clearly, I needed to figure out how to get over my fear of pain. It was time to take control and work out the threats or feel like this forever. So, I made a decision right then that I will do whatever is suggested to reverse what had happen to me.

Photo by Bich Tran on Pexels.com

Now I had my goals and was motivated to get started. With the understanding that the pain was coming from my brain, not the tissue/nerve damage, I now knew what I needed to work on to get my life back to as normal as possible. In the next few weeks I’m going to break down each of the goals above into what I did.

Are you dealing with chronic pain? Do you have fears of certain movements, re-injuring or making it worse? Surgery, botched surgery? Or other fears? I want to give you a few Action Steps to apply to you own life if you feel like this speaks to your situation. And then over the next few weeks we will talk about the steps above in more detail and I will share what I did in my personal situation. For this week, you could start by:

  1. Decide to take control and work out the threats. Just deciding to do this is a HUGE step. Yay!!
  2. Have a goal. What is it that you want to do more of without pain? Walking, reading, driving, playing with your kids. You decide. But I suggest picking one to start and focusing on that.
  3. Increase activity with slow exposure.

If you would like more information about the type of training I did, you can find my trainer Carrie’s website here. https://pnxsolutions.com/

That’s it for this week!! Seems simply enough, but honestly it’s a big decision and takes strength to move forward. You can do this. After you pick your goal, come back next week and we will start on the “how to’s” and I will tell you what worked for me, what didn’t and what I’m continuing to work on now :). See you then!