Phantom Pain Comes in Many Forms

As a therapist and in my personal relationships, I’ve heard many accounts of phantom pain. I recently became an amputee (it feels so weird for me to claim this title) and have experienced it. It is unique from anything I’ve ever felt or sensed. It feels like my mind and body betraying me.

The problem with being a seasoned therapist is that everything looks like a metaphor to me. I think about things and seek connections and a deeper understanding. I was struck when it hit me:

“It’s not there anymore, but it still hurts me!”

I found myself connecting the experience of phantom pain to the emotional pain of many things no longer there. My heart ached as a hundred memories flooded in. People, places, and things that are long gone, and yet the pain remains. Most I have let go of, yet a residual remains.

Life went on. The moment passed, the loved one left, the hurt was caused and not repaired. The conflicts I had with others were left unresolved and became internal conflicts. All of these became topics I explored in therapy. I got better. Now I have new pain to work through.

It’s all part of being a work in progress – I’m never going to be completely healed, just a little bit better every day.

I have experienced a loss that my brain has not yet accepted: My right foot, ankle, and calf are no longer with me. Each time the pain comes, I very mindfully look at the remainder of my leg and say to myself, “I no longer have a right foot, therefore I do not accept pain from my right foot.” This approach has worked well for me thus far.

No matter the origin of my pain, my heart has the option of what to accept and what not to. I cannot change a thing until I first accept it exactly as it is. Not once and for all necessarily, but at least for this moment, “It is what it is.” I then have two sets of tasks to consider:

I must separate what do I have control over and what don’t I?
I must choose what I need to let go of, what to hold on to, and what to add in order to have the life my Higher Power wants me to have.

Letting go is the hardest part. For better and for worse I am very good at holding on. It’s easy to do. Adding new things is often uncomfortable but readily done. It’s the letting go that sucks. It’s a process:

I identify it, accept it as it is currently, feel it, express it, and release it (Often this process has to be repeated many times).

To the greatest extent possible, the loss of my leg and the experience of phantom pain will not be things I hold on to. They will be things I accept and adjust to. Every other option leaves me less than whole.

Jim LaPierre

About Jim LaPierre

Jim LaPierre LCSW CCS is the Executive Director of Higher Ground Services in Brewer, Maine. He is a Recovery Ally, mental health therapist and addictions counselor. He specializes in facilitating recovery (whether from addiction, trauma, depression, anxiety, or past abuse) overcome obstacles, and improve their quality of life. Jim offers a limited amount of online therapy to those with very flexible schedules.