By Dr. Stephen F. Grinstead, LMFT, ACRPS 

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A Spiritual Warrior Journey of Hope and Healing Part Two


Hitting Bottom And Beginning My Spiritual Warrior Journey

Hitting bottom is a term people use in the recovery community, but there are also some dangerous beliefs about that really means. Sometimes people think they must lose everyone and everything they hold dear before they can start again. Others believe it’s the damage they do to their bodies or mind. And for many it’s experiencing the deep shame of failing despite their best intentions. That’s how my bottom was for me.

At twenty-nine I decided to learn how to live my life without alcohol and pain pills; what I then mistakenly believed to be the most indispensable component that helped me to maintain my armor. But I had an intense desire to stop because of my commitment to Karate and a spiritual life. So, I promised my daughter, myself and my Karate Sensei Kim that I would never drink alcohol or use pain pills again. I believed, as any good Marine would, that self-will, my Karate practice and military discipline would see me through.

It was a year later on January 22, 1981, that I experienced the second worst moment of my life – both emotionally and spiritually. I used pain pills despite my best intentions and hit my real bottom. I felt so ashamed over having failed and disappointed everyone who I made promises to.

I’ll never forget that night. I was in my living room on my knees crying and feeling intense shame and a sense of total failure when the song “Help” by the Beatles came on. I heard it in a completely different way that night. I sang along and addressed this musical prayer to my Higher Power, begging for spiritual help – and boy did I receive it! I felt inspired and reached out to my spiritual mentor the very next day. That was a significant turning point for me – I truly began the search to find the Spiritual Values, Principles and Practices that I would live the rest of my life by.

In 1982, at age thirty-two, clean and sober with a black belt in Karate, I was getting ready to leave my life as a construction electrician and open my own Dojo. A work accident led to what became my darkest hour as a Spiritual Warrior. I was injured on a job and could no longer do the work that I believed made me a real man but more importantly, to practice the Martial Art I truly loved. 

I was paralyzed from the waist down for almost two weeks and fell into a very deep depression – my pain was unrelenting and became a chronic condition. I believed my life was over; I felt hopeless, helpless and began to suffer with my pain. I experienced a place so dark that I came to call it the Chronic Pain Trance, where dying seemed to be my only choice. That was the lowest point of my life and the place where I started to let go of everything I had learned on my spiritual recovery journey. I took on aspects of my old armor again, and I almost didn’t survive. 

Fortunately, with the love of friends, caring healthcare providers, and the healthier part of me, I knew there was a better way. I was open to help and made the decision to live. This is where I began my journey of hope and healing as a true Spiritual Warrior so that I might find real freedom from my suffering. I stopped depending on the old armor and started to develop and use new Spiritual Values, Principles, and Practices. I learned how to be vulnerable, humble and teachable.  


My journey included psychotherapy with an awesome trauma therapist while at the same time working in physical therapy and hydrotherapy. I went from not being able to walk to taking 3-5-mile hikes. I was on the way now. At the same time, I also started expanding my Spiritual Journey by attending many Spiritual retreats and I spent a large amount of time at the Esalen Institute for even more Spiritual and Psychological healing. 

My journey also included working with a  Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor who discovered that I had great people skills so and encouraged me to enroll at University of California Santa Cruz (UCSC) and complete two years in Human Counseling and concurrently completing the USCS Certified Alcohol and Drug Studies Program. I had now transitioned into becoming a healthcare provider as a Certified Alcohol and Drug Counselor. 

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A Spiritual Warrior Journey of Hope and Healing Part One



My Story of Learning To Live Life Without Armor


As  I achieved 39 years in recovery from alcohol and pain pills and 38  years of living with chronic pain, I knew it was time to look back. My  hope is that this article helps others to see that no matter what  adversity or overwhelming life situations occur, we have a choice to  face and thrive despite them or feel victimized by them.

In  the early 1980’s I was dealt a major life blow that many people living  with chronic pain may be able to understand. A construction accident  left me without my livelihood and robbed me of a new career as a Karate  instructor. In my mind life was over, and I seriously considered ending  it. But I realized through the love and support of friends and several  caring healthcare professionals that I wanted more from life than just  being a chronic pain statistic. My acceptance process was just the  beginning of overcoming adversity to discover opportunities for hope and  healing.

The Early Years of My Armor Development

To  understand how I overcame adversity, it’s important to share how I  developed the self-defeating coping strategies and defenses that helped  me survive. These defenses, or what I’m calling armor, helped to protect  me from several painful realities. For the first 28 years of my life I  didn’t even realize I was “Armored Up” and I mistakenly believed this  armor would keep me safe. I was trapped, and I didn’t even know it.  Today I understand this psychological armor helped me live through  significant childhood trauma. I hope my story will help you to identify  any protective armor you might be wearing that does not serve you well  anymore. 

My  path has been one of progress, not perfection, as my old armor can  still be triggered even after almost 40 years of being on my Spiritual  Warrior Journey. The difference today is that I am much more aware,  catch it sooner and make proactive amends very quickly for any harm I  may have caused while armored up – especially because when I get defensive, I can become very offensive.

I  believe too many people in our culture are “Armored Up” and convinced  they must protect themselves. The most vulnerable and powerful aspects  of what makes them unique and beautiful are hidden from themselves and  others – they don’t have access to their empathy, compassion and  connection that makes an extraordinary quality of life possible. I have  observed many people suffering with chronic pain who are the most  armored up of all. Over the years I have learned to replace my armor and  offensive weapons of anger and violence with Spiritual Warrior Values,  Principles and Practices, and so can you!

Daddy Said Real Men Don’t Cry – But They Really Do

An  early decision I made at five years old led to my first suit of armor. I  was on an exciting fishing trip in the Colorado Rockies with my Daddy  and his buddies at a place called Pauline Creek, close to Gunnison  Colorado. As the oldest of four boys (Mom eventually had 9), this was a  very special occasion for me. I was having such a great time and finally  getting the attention from Daddy I craved. I was running and laughing  like a maniac as one of Daddy’s buddies chased me with a snowball. In my  attempt to get away, I jumped off a cliff.

I  was down at the bottom of the rock face which seemed impossibly high  for a five-year-old, crying and holding my sprained ankle. Daddy rushed  over and I felt relieved as he checked my ankle, but his next words  stunned, shamed and paralyzed me, “You’re not hurt that bad so quit  crying or I’ll give you something to cry about.” His next comment  solidified my decision about vulnerability, “In this world you have to  be tough Stevie – real men don’t cry.” 

The decision I made as a result informed all my choices: I will never ever risk sharing my pain again – physical or emotional – because I needto be a real man and make my Daddy proud.  I started to build my first suit of armor and began hiding who I was,  what I felt and what I needed. I reinforced it over the next twenty-five  years. My Armor started out as a hardened leather body suit that I  mistakenly believed was protecting me, but I didn’t see the barrier I  was building between me and other people.

I  wonder how many of you reading this can identify with similar  circumstances and the decisions I made. Situations, words, people, and  actions may be different, but most people in our society receive similar  messages from the day they are born about the need to be tough, safe  and self-resilient, not trusting anyone with the truth. Self-defeating  decisions are often made as a result of interpretations about a  perceived hostile environment. 

Let  me be very clear here; these early defenses do help us survive very  toxic situations. I would never suggest anyone drop their armor without  having something in place that will serve them in a healthier way, such  as Spiritual Values, Principles and Practices.

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Identifying and Managing Five Stuck Points In Chronic Pain


Identifying The Obstacles

When confronted with issues that get in the way of effective chronic pain management, it is important to not linger too long in any phase of the healing continuum. Over the years I’ve seen many of my patients stop making progress and not transition through the following five phases.

  • Hopeless to Hopeful
  • Demoralized to Revitalized
  • Victim to Victorious
  • Powerless to Empowered
  • Surviving to Thriving

In the sections below you will see the problem side of each transition point and the importance of moving through to a solution. Some of you may see where you have been or are currently stuck and need to move forward!

Out Of The Problem And Into The Solution

A point to remember is that the process is different for each person. Some people never experience any of these stuck points, while others may hit them all. Some of you may hit one or two or even three or four. That is why it is so important to understand the potential obstacles that can get in your way, and how, once you identify any one of them, you can then learn how to manage them by taking action and creating positive solutions.

Hopeless to Hopeful

Have you ever felt hopeless and helpless living with a chronic pain condition? If so, take yourself back to that time when you felt afraid and overwhelmed with a sense of hopelessness. Remember how that state of mind seemed to drain all of your energy along with hope for your future. 

One of my patients, Sheena, had a workplace accident. She broke several bones and discovered over a year later that she also had severe nerve damage. Her doctors tried various pain medications and physical therapy interventions that first year. She kept trying to return to work as a carpenter, but ended up in so much pain that she had to stop working completely. She finally went on total disability and was told she would have to learn to live with the pain. Unfortunately, they did not explain to her how to do that and still have a functional, good quality of life.

Eventually she was referred to a pain clinic that I was consulting with. I worked with Sheena and her doctors to find out why nothing up to then had helped her pain. As I assessed her symptoms I noticed that nine of fifteen were neuropathic. I also discovered that she never received an MRI for her back; those results showed significant nerve impingements and damage. 

Just know what was really going on was the beginning of Sheena’s transition from feeling hopeless to renewing a sense of hope for her future. Within six months she had adequate pain relief and was undergoing vocational rehabilitation in computer programming. Sheena was now very excited about her future, but without a healthy transition she would have been at high risk for getting stuck at the next transition: Demoralization.

Demoralized to Revitalized

When you get to the point of demoralization you may be at risk of wanting to quit or give up. At this point many people sink into a pit of depression that may lead to suicidal thoughts and even suicide attempts. This I what happened to one of my former patients, Jim.

Jim had been on total disability for over seven years when I first met him. He was referred to me after completing a mandated stay at a psychiatric hospital for an attempted suicide. At this point he was heavily medicated with antidepressants and other mood stabilizing psychiatric medications. His depression was still moderate to severe and he reported pain levels of 9-10 on a 0 to 10 pain scale on bad days and only 7-8 on his best days, even with his pain medication.

Our first step was for him to meet with a pain management colleague and to start on a medication that would address both his depression and pain symptoms. 

As part of the solution Jim's doctor chose  Duloxetine  due to Jim’s significant neuropathic pain symptoms. I helped Jim develop a cognitive behavioral plan and within a few months he made the transition from demoralized to revitalized and felt as though he had his life back.

When people stay too long in a demoralized state, they often move to the victim stage. In this phase people can alienate and/or burn out friends and family. They are also at high risk for shifting back into hopelessness yet again.

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