I remember the exact day I desperately searched for answers about my chronic back pain online and found Alan Gordon's work right at the start of my healing journey and landed on his free 21-day free Pain Recovery Course on TMS Wiki. I was in the midst of a spike/flare/pain crisis at the time and had enough of the medical runaround.
I spent a couple of days smashing through the course (shout-out to the frustrated overachievers!) learning about the brain science of chronic pain how it lands in the body. This is where I learned that our brains continue to misfire signals that are neutral when you are in a constant state of high alert. So as soon as I understood this, and really let it land, the pain subsided. I went from about a 9 to a 3 that day and continued to use these methods and teachings right through my own journey.
I am also a big fan of Curable's Tell Me About Your Pain Podcast, not only for the content but the humour too, so when I heard that Alan Gordon was writing a book with co-host Alon Ziv I was itching to get my hands on it. From my perspective it has been one of the most highly anticipated releases in this space, the news circling Gordon's work at this time is really gaining momentum also, with the Boulder Back Pain study and the many media outlets covering this approach to chronic pain recently, it's so exciting to see!
Thank you Alan for sending me a copy, I'm a little late to the party with this post but this book deserves a full-on review, so here's my thoughts and biggest takeaways...
Firstly, I'd like to address the surprisingly comforting first impression I got from starting this book. It's not one of those bible-style encyclopedias that are going to take you forever to read and overwhelm you with jargon and further confusion. Let's be real - you're in pain and overwhelmed already over here so the fact that this book is relatively short and to the point, and it is also really easy to read and so lighthearted I found to be a really comforting feature. A warm, optimistic and fun-to-read book about suffering? No really.
I had many people contact me as I was reading this book, concerned that they would be intimidated by depressing/triggering information it may contain - if that is something you struggle with - fear not. Gordon references his own struggle with chronic pain, but it doesn't drag you through subjects that may be too activating or emotional.
The book focuses squarely on Gordon's unique approach, his 'Pain Reprocessing Therapy' method, which focuses on changing your relationship to and addressing the heightened fear and fixation that surrounds chronic pain. This focus of removing the fear actually lightens the fear factor on the subject by itself, as it's presented in such a simple and practical way. It's very different from any of the other TMS / PPD / chronic pain books I've read before. It gets straight to the point, it's funny and deeply pragmatic. Three of my favourite things.
Honestly? I found this a little confusing at first, considering how Dr Sarno and many other OG TMS practitioners' focus on chronic pain recovery from a "root cause" approach.
Gordon doesn't go into detail about causes really, how your life experiences can be a contributing factor to your pain, how it could have manifested or why really. No deep dive into nervous system dysregulation, personality traits, suppressed emotions or trapped trauma in the body. It's so easy to get massively caught up in the why, digging for answers, and not addressing your current state that you are in, right in the moment because we tend to get so attached to the significance of our pain and what's caused it.
Its straightforward approach jumps right in, at the "relationship you have with your symptoms" level. It addresses a) how to face your pain, b) how to address it and release your belief that it will show up and be there forever, c) how to dial down your hypervigilance and d) how to reduce fear and therefore the intensity of symptoms.
The simplicity of this I found massively refreshing, but I can see how some people may find it very different to other materials as it is so honed-in on this one thing.
As we know, each expert in this field approaches mind-body healing from a slightly different angle, yet all sing from a similar song sheet. The Way Out really stood out to me as very different in this way. However, whether you have a lifetime of trauma and suppressed emotions to discharge or not, this information is absolutely invaluable to understanding how to change your relationship to your symptoms. How to stop believing that they will rule your life forever, how to stop fearing them and why your fear of them is fuelling the whole dumpster fire.
For me personally, a combination of this type of mindset shifting work and emotional discovery was necessary to get me all the way through my TMS journey and cure my chronic physical pain. My nervous system was stuck in a state like a volcano about to erupt and I addressed that primarily through self-inquiry and self-soothing via the JournalSpeak method and bodywork through yoga and breathwork (which I now teach to the chronic pain community - find out more about that here).
However (and this is a HUMONGOUS however) - the way I approached my pain and my mindset around my pain (ie, removing the fear and being OK with it no matter how it showed up) was ABSOLUTELY CRITICAL to my recovery. The 'final piece of the pie' so to speak. I still use it to this day when symptoms crop up, only now it's more automatic.
You can address your feelings and self-soothe all you want, but if you're petrified of your pain and flinch at every sensation or symptom that your body shows you, then it's likely you're going to be stuck in this fear > pain cycle. I hear this so often in this space, "I'm doing all the things, but my pain is worse than ever!" and most of the time, there's a huge fixation and fear factor involved.
This book is also massively helpful for people stuck in the belief phase, that need more of a scientific proof/brain science approach. Understanding how the brain creates pain and how it keeps it firing is the fundamental message in this book. No matter where that pain came from.
There are a few ways that this can occur. For example:
1. Some people may have started with an injury, then the brain learned that pain and kept it firing chronically even after the injury has healed completely.
2. Some people fear that their bodies are genetically broken or weak somewhere, perhaps like their parents, and their belief around this fact actually manifests similar pain for them, and that belief and fear keeps it firing chronically.
3. Some people's pain is simply a symptom of a dysregulated and chronically stressed nervous system, stuck in sustained fight-or-flight (coupled with fear of the pain) that keeps it all firing chronically.
Basically put, once pain exists in the body, no matter what the source, the brain can keep it firing even if nothing is physically wrong. The good news is, the brain's ability to adapt to learn pain can also be unlearned and this book shows you exactly that.
Go get it if you haven't already (links above! and also available as an audiobook read by Alan himself) there's SO much brilliant information inside. Changing the way you address your symptoms will change your life, it's as simple as that. Thank you Alan for all your incredible compassionate work, I can't wait to see how much impact Pain Reprocessing Therapy has in the future.
Check out my Online Course, my free Recovery Journey Roadmap if you would like more details about exactly how I became chronic pain-free. Check out my YOGA page for more information on what I offer to help the chronic pain community.
Healing is happening friends. Sending love and admiration always.
Dani Fagan x
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