Chronic Pain and Christmas: From Surviving to Thriving


This post is about what life was like before my Chronic Pain diagnosis, and after my Chronic Pain diagnosis, and how Christmas looks different in my life story line. Before Chronic Pain, Christmas season looked somewhat like this: chaotic and frazzled with a splash of exhaustion in the midst of arguing. A season of surviving. This year is my 2nd Christmas after living with Chronic Pain, and it is a season of thriving! A much different scene than before and I have to say that so far.

Last year was my first holiday season after being diagnosed with Chronic Pain Syndrome and a bunch of other diagnoses. In a period of 6 months I’d gotten my first diagnoses related to chronic illness and pain, frequented various doctors and clinics, missed a lot of work, disappeared off my friends’ and family’s radar and entered a chronic pain rehabilitation program. One week after my discharge from the chronic pain rehab program (better known as “pain camp”, which is what my friends from rehab and I fondly refer to it as), it was Thanksgiving and right around the corner was Christmas. My son’s birthday was within that month too. I was also returning to work. I had a lot of things on my plate. I was trapped in a conundrum of old holiday habits and my new life with chronic pain.

My biggest challenge last year at Christmas was letting go of my old holiday patterns and practicing my new tools I’d learned and moving on with grace and dignity. I moved on, I even practiced the tools I had learned. My family and friends can confirm that this was NOT done with grace and dignity.

Regardless, I moved on with life and Christmas came and went. Hey, and here it is again! Here is what I can pass along to the rest of the Pain Camp Community in the midst of my 2nd Christmas season with chronic pain.

Pain Camper Plan of Action

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[li]Sneaky Serenity Suckers[/li]Your first assignment is awareness! Watch out for these little buggers! These are our ineffective physical, emotional, mental, spiritual and relational reactions to unexpected (and sometimes expected) challenges in our life. They can suck the serenity, peace and joy right out of us…IF WE LET THEM. 

Examples of  the holiday Sneaky Serenity Suckers are:

• waiting in long lines
• lack of finances
• driving/traffic
• weather – too cold and snow
• parties that you don’t want to go to but do anyway
• dysfunctional family members and family systems
• crabby people – this includes spouses and children
• plans changing at the last minute

Examples of  ineffective reactions are:

• slacking on our self-care
• pain flares
• anger
• impatience
• fear
•unresolved grief/loss
• stinkin’ thinkin’
• dissing our Higher Power
• over-reacting to dysfunctional family behaviors
• withdrawing from our surroundings

[li]Recovery Reminders[/li]Once you’ve become more aware and mindful of those pesky lil’ Sneaky Serenity Suckers, you can start to use your tools to engage in some awesome self-care and pain management! Recovery Reminders can be things you experience through the 5 senses (touch, taste, smell, hearing, vision) or they can be thoughts or a behavior you engage in. These Recovery Reminders succeed in helping to remind us that we are now in recovery, and we’re moving on with our life! They help get us back on track if we’ve derailed. It is never to late to pick up one of these tools and start to use it.

Examples of Recovery Reminders are:

• deep breathing
• listening to some relaxing music
• carrying a stone/gem or meaningful item in your pocket
• essential oils (in hand lotion or a diffuser)
• reading and repeating positive mantras, quotes or bible verses – example: the Serenity Prayer
• smelling flowers (yup! Take time to stop and smell the roses, literally!)
• picking something from nature that is visual that every time you see it, it gives you a reminder that your Higher Power • • is in control – example: mine is the cardinal. Every time I see a cardinal, I’m reminded that my HP is in control of my life and I can relax and “let go and let God”

[li]Gratitude Gems[/li]Once you’ve become aware of those Sneaky Serenity Suckers and you’ve engaged your Recovery Reminders, you’re ready for the Gratitude Gems. These will ensure that those Sneaky Serenity Suckers stay at bay and you can enjoy your day!  By practicing gratitude we can cultivate an inner peace, strengthen our positive attitude and be more capable of managing our pain. Gratitude Gems are actions that we take to recognize things that we’re grateful for. They can also be just that: the people/things/situations that we are grateful for!

Examples of Gratitude Gems are:

• keeping a gratitude journal – write down 5 things in the morning or at night that you’re grateful for in your life that day
• write a list of things you’re grateful for about someone and give it to them as a gift
• choose one thing/person/situation that you’re grateful for and journal about all of the reasons for your gratitude
• Gratitude ABC’s – start with the letter A, then B, then C and so on.  You can make this a simple gratitude list if you’re doing it in the moment (Apples, Breathing, Cars, Dogs … Pool therapy, Relaxation, Sunshine …) OR you can make it more complex if you’re journaling (my husband’s name is Aaron, watching Birds out my window is a Recovery Reminder, I can Cast all of my anxieties onto my Higher Power … I have the best Physical Therapist, I can practice Rest and Relaxation for pain management, I love Sunshine…).


Pain Camp is a safe place to share your thoughts, experience, strength and hope.  What are your Sneaky Serenity Suckers? What Recovery Reminders do you use to help you? What is one Gratitude Gem you have today?

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