How To Rewire Your Brain To Beat Chronic Pain

You can totally heal from chronic pain!

Kelly Barber, Primal Trust™ Academy & Community member, describes just how she did it and found her primal trust in our community, which is dedicated to teaching you how to rewire your brain and balance your nervous system for optimal health and healing from a multitude of chronic conditions, including chronic pain.

Kelly’s Testimonial In a Nutshell:

“Physically, when I started this program I couldn’t walk or stand for more than 10 seconds at a time. These physical restrictions shrunk my life so dramatically. Emotionally, I felt so scared, confused, angry, and embarrassed about what was happening to me. Chronic pain had become my identity. (5 years of dealing with symptoms). Over the course of Primal Trust™ Level 1 Regulate™ Program (only a 2.5-month period!) I saw slow but steady improvements in my physical, mental, and emotional well-being. Regulate taught me how to be embodied and made me realize I’d gone my whole life dissociated from my body. I had profound, spiritual moments of healing finding my true self through embodiment.

Read on, as Kelly shares her healing story in her own words, shedding light on the transformative journey she undertook to conquer chronic pain through the potent tools of brain retraining and nervous system regulation.

You can also watch her success story interview with our CEO & Founder, Cathleen King, DPT, right here:

Kelly Barber’s 100% Healed Chronic Pain with Brain Retraining and Nervous System Regulation Interview

What did life look like before Primal Trust™?

Before Primal Trust™, I struggled with fairly severe chronic pain in my back and legs. For several years, I experienced what I considered typical lower back pain on and off now and then — nothing that caused me to think there was something seriously wrong. Occasionally, I “threw out my back” after working out and it would get better fairly quickly. That’s at least how I perceived it at the time.

However, towards the end of last year (2022), my symptoms changed and worsened in a way that I knew was not normal. For about two months, I experienced severe pain whenever I sat — in a chair, in the car, anywhere. It was impossible for me to sit at a restaurant with my boyfriend and I deeply dreaded driving 10 minutes to go the grocery store. I was also frequently in pain when I was lying down, which made sleeping difficult. I soon found myself carting around three different types of cushions everywhere I went and obsessing over social engagements, like whether I would be able to manage a flight to visit my friend’s new baby. 

I was completely blindsided with this experience, never having encountered or even hearing of something like this happening to anyone before. I thought that I must have a physical injury but I also knew there must be a deeper cause since I only experienced the pain when I was sitting or lying down, never when I was standing, walking, or even exercising. It completely baffled me that I could workout when all of this was happening (including lifting heavy weights) but that I couldn’t sit in a chair. 

Eventually, I came across a tweet where someone was talking about this book with a really impressive track record of helping people heal their back pain, in one person’s case, simply just by reading a review about the book. It was Healing Back Pain by John Sarno. I bought it and read it while I was at a meditation retreat and shockingly, my back pain went away basically instantaneously. 

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John E. Sarno, MD “Healing Back Pain: The Mind-Body Connection”

Things were great for about three and a half months after that with no symptoms. But following a trip to India in January, the pain descended on me once again. This time, in the inverse way they had presented before. Now, I experienced very intense pain throughout my entire right leg whenever I stood up or walked. When I sat, laid down, or contracted my leg, I was pain-free. Fortunately, I was able to maintain regular exercise through swimming and biking, which was a godsend at the time. 

This got significantly worse over the course of about a month. In March, I visited Mexico City with some friends. I spent this entire trip miserable and in intense pain, unable to stand or walk for more than a couple of seconds without overwhelming pain. At the end of the trip, the pain was so bad that I had to get a wheelchair at the airport to simply get back home.

The physical symptoms were terrible but the emotional and social toll was much worse. I told very few people about what I was experiencing because it felt too outlandish to explain. When I did tell people about it, their responses were always, “How’d you hurt yourself?” “Have you tried physical therapy? Acupuncture? A chiropractor?”

…but I still had my doubts and insecurities and was certainly in too much of a fragile emotional state to try to educate others about this. I was deeply embarrassed of what was happening to me and mostly kept the experience to myself because it just felt easier. 

During this time, lines were my worst enemy. If my friends said they wanted to get a coffee, my heart would sink and I would immediately scan the coffee shop to see if there was a line. I would stand on one foot, shifting my weight back and forth to minimize my pain, trying to prevent the pain from showing on my face while making small talk. When it became more than I could handle, I would strategically go to the bathroom and ask my friends to order for me so that I could sit down for a minute, breathe, and recover. 

I felt completely alone and said no to a lot of social invitations because they simply didn’t feel possible to me. My boyfriend had to take over almost all of the chores and responsibilities around the house because of how immobile I was. I went from taking my dog on three walks a day to being incapable of walking down the driveway without needing to stop to recover from the pain.

Throughout this, I stuck with meditation, journaling, exercise, and consuming as many resources as I could about different approaches to healing chronic pain. Nothing seemed to be moving the needle. My pain got worse. My foot became completely numb, I experienced the constant sensation of needle pricks up and down my entire right leg, and I grappled with frequent alternating waves of extreme dull and sharp pain. 

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Michele Palmer, Somatic Discovery teacher in the Primal Trust™ Academy & Community. Michele’s website: https://www.embodied-wisdom.health

Eventually, I signed up for another meditation retreat in hopes that it would help me the way the last one had. At the retreat, I met Michelle Palmer, who introduced me to Primal Trust™. I signed up on the spot and the rest was history. 

How long did you participate in Primal Trust™ and what were the results?

I participated in the Level 1 Regulate™ program of Primal Trust™ for almost three months. My decrease in symptoms was very gradual and consistent throughout the program but I started experiencing meaningful improvements after the first few modules. By the time I completed the last module, my pain was 100% gone. 

What did your healing journey look like?

To share what my healing journey looked like, it’s first important to paint a picture of how I was as a person before Primal Trust™. I’ve always been a pretty intense over achiever. In my mid-twenties, I drowned myself in working 70 hour weeks and doing Crossfit five days a week. I did mellow out quite a bit in my late twenties and found a lot more balance in my life, especially after moving from San Francisco to Colorado where I found a community of people whose values were more aligned with my own. 

I lived entirely in my head and only knew how to engage in a dialogue with my thoughts vs. engaging in a dialogue with my body or my spiritual intuition. I also really struggled to take in signals from the external world and instead shut them out and ignored them. When I would walk around the neighborhood, I might as well have been on Mars, given how little I observed of the sounds, smells, and sights surrounding me. 

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The Polyvagal Ladder. Being stuck in Sympathetic or Dorsal Vagal states prevents healing by keeping the body in chronic stress. As taught to you in Level 1, Regulate™.

Once I learned how to discern between dorsal vagal, sympathetic, and ventral vagal states through Primal Trust™, I realized that I had been permanently stuck in a sympathetic state. Throughout my entire life, I was plagued by frequent energy crashes from blood sugar spikes, and was constantly hungry and moody as a result. 

I had one particularly vivid experience of transformation towards the end of my Primal Trust™ experience. I was just going about my day and was actually in the middle of taking a shower. I was meditating on the power of choosing joy when, all of a sudden, I felt all of the work I had done culminate in a single instance of insight. I was flooded with an overwhelming wave of profound discovery and joy that felt like a lightning bolt throughout my whole body, causing me to feel for a moment like I was ten feet tall. From that point forward, it felt like I had tapped into a frequency I hadn’t been able to access before and this power has stayed with me ever since, albeit in a much more subtle way. This was the turning point to my healing and not long after that, I was entirely pain-free. 

What does life look like after Primal Trust™?

I have been pain-free ever since I completed Primal Trust™. When I look back on what life was like for me during that period, I feel as though it was a different person in a different life. When I go for my daily walks, I still marvel at the miracle of the lack of pain. The below video comforted me deeply when I was suffering, and it still does today.

“The Miracle of Walking on the Earth” – Thich Nhat Hanh

Right after I completed Primal Trust™, my boyfriend and I went on a road trip through the mountains of Colorado that we’d been looking forward to for over a year. On this trip, I was able to hike for the first time in months. And more importantly, my boyfriend and I got engaged. An engagement hadn’t felt possible the whole time I was struggling with chronic pain. I remember being so sad because I couldn’t even picture the proposal or our wedding because I knew I couldn’t handle the pain that would accompany standing up while he went down on one knee, or standing at the altar for our wedding ceremony. It was the best gift in the world to have that nightmare of pain behind us and to be able to focus on celebrating and building our future together. 

My relationship with my mom has also grown tremendously since my experience with chronic pain and Primal Trust™. She has suffered from debilitating migraines for much of her life since she was eight years old, often keeping her bedridden. She has been on her own journey of discovery with mindbody healing and it’s been an incredible blessing to be able to share that with her. 

I also mentioned earlier that I used to struggle with constantly being hungry. This was a defining feature of my identity for as long as I could remember, going back to when I was a small kid. Miraculously, during and following my experience with chronic pain, this hunger went away entirely. I no longer feel like I’m at the mercy of extreme hunger and energy swings, which has been incredibly liberating and is a testament to how much more regulated my nervous system is. 

What made the most impact for me from my time in Primal Trust™?

The aspect of Primal Trust™ that had the biggest impact on me was the overall messaging from Dr. Cat more so than any specific tool or practice.

The science helped increase my conviction in a mind-body diagnosis and solution and helped quiet my lingering doubts that my issue was rooted in a physical injury (it wasn’t). Hearing about Dr. Cat’s personal experience, and the experiences of everyone else in the program, helped me feel like I wasn’t alone and was on the right track (I was). And perhaps most importantly, through the program, I felt that Dr. Cat spoke to me the way my mom would speak to me. She spoke directly to the parts of me that were so afraid, tired, and needed to be heard. 

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Our “parts”, often our fragmented inner child, often inform our psyche, which sends signals of safety or threat to the limbic system.

I did use all of the tools and found them helpful in reinforcing the messages of safety I was sending my body, but more than anything else, I focused on internalizing and enacting the messages of safety and primal trust that Dr. Cat was espousing. This was what made the difference for me. 

Do I have any advice or words of encouragement for others struggling?

To speak to the first point, when I was struggling with chronic pain in my right leg, I realized that the lesson I needed to learn was that my body and spirit desperately needed a rebalancing of masculine and feminine energy. Many people, myself included, believe that the left sides of our bodies represent our feminine side and the right sides of our bodies represent our masculine side. It struck me as no coincidence that it was my right leg that was in pain, not my left leg. I had a notorious history of channeling masculine energy – constantly doing, asserting, pushing, seeking accomplishment – and repressing my feminine energy. My masculine self was crying out for a break and my feminine self was crying out to be heard.

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The other fascinating discovery with my chronic pain was that I experienced pain whenever I extended my leg, but experienced immediate relief and no symptoms whenever I contracted it. When I did yin yoga, I could not lie down with my limbs straight in shavasana (a resting pose), but I could comfortably lie in a fetal position. I couldn’t stand or walk but I could ride a bike for hours. This helped me understand that for years, I had over-extended myself in how I approached life and that I needed to embrace a season of correction focused around contraction. To be clear, there is nothing wrong with extending — expansion is a deeply important part of the human experience. But when it isn’t coupled with inward-facing moments of quiet, inaction, peace, restoration, and reflection, things become very imbalanced.

It was a profound lesson to me that my physical body was reflecting back to me (in extremely simple ways) the deep spiritual gaps that I needed to address and that the only way I was going to heal was by listening to my body and giving it what it was asking for.  

To speak to the second point, when I was in pain, my biggest fear was that I would get better but that my symptoms would come back later. Before Primal Trust™, I didn’t have the knowledge or the tools to trust my ability to self-heal. The crippling fear was by far the most difficult part of dealing with chronic pain.

That feeling of resilience and fearlessness, along with all of the ways in which my life is spiritually and physically richer now makes everything I went through worth it. 

Something I told myself a lot when I was struggling with pain was, “You’re not broken.” Too often, I think people have these narratives that people who struggle with chronic illness struggle because of their own inherent weakness. However, I’ve found that the people who struggle with chronic illness are often some of the strongest people out there, the people with the most raw power and potential, who accidentally channel this power beyond their means.

I mentioned earlier that my pain came back with a vengeance after a trip to India. I don’t think this is a coincidence. On this trip and after, I fell in love with Hinduism and Sanskrit and passionately immersed myself in a journey of learning and experiencing everything I possibly could about this complex, wild, brilliant, beautiful tradition. I later learned that Hindu thought and religious leaders caution against what can happen when one pushes beyond their spiritual limits. We each have so much power in us that if we channel this power in ways that we’re not ready to handle, it can have strange side effects on our physical bodies and minds. I’m quite certain that’s what happened to me.

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Kelly Barber, Primal Trust™ member

So if you’re struggling, I encourage you to believe in your power. You’re capable of so much more than you know. It’s just a matter of catching your body up to your spirit so that you can channel all of your potential out into the world.

– Kelly Barber

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