October 2, 2023

Chronic Pain in Relationships with Drs. Dustin and Kerry Brockberg

Upset couple at home


Episode Summary

Welcome back to another episode of The Communicate & Connect Podcast! I’m your host, Elizabeth Polinsky, and today we have a very special episode for you.

Joining us are the dynamic duo of Drs. Dustin and Kerry Brockberg, experts in the field of chronic pain. In this episode, we dive deep into the topic of chronic pain in relationships.

We often think of pain as purely physical, but it goes beyond that. The “acute pain mindset” that we’re all familiar with doesn’t apply to chronic pain, which requires ongoing interventions. In this epsiode, we expand our definition of pain to include not just physical pain, but also emotional and social pain.

Drs. Brockberg bring a wealth of knowledge and expertise to this conversation as we explore the unique challenges that military service members and veterans face when it comes to chronic pain and reintegrating into society. We also delve into strategies for chronic pain management, ranging from relaxation techniques to cognitive behavioral therapy. Towards the end of the episode, we discuss the critical role of support systems and acceptance in managing chronic pain.

So, if you’re ready to deepen your understanding of chronic pain in relationships, join us in this episode of The Communicate & Connect Podcast with Drs. Dustin and Kerry Brockberg. It’s time to challenge our perceptions and explore new ways of supporting veterans and service members who experience chronic pain. Let’s dive in!

About Drs. Dustin and Kelly Brockberg

Drs. Dustin and Kerry Brockberg are licensed psychologists who work clients around mental health concerns and chronic pain. They both work with substance use disorders, various types of pain, co-occurring disorders, and grief and loss. With their expertise, they provides comprehensive support to individuals seeking a fresh start in their journey towards healing and recovery. Make sure to check out their new book “

End Your Covert Mission: A Veteran’s Guide to Fighting Pain and Addiction“.
(Note that links used are often affiliate links)

Episode Transcript

​Elizabeth Polinsky [00:00:02]:
This podcast is sponsored by my counseling practice,  Elizabeth Polinsky Counseling, where I offer weekly marriage counseling, weekend long, marriage intensives, and therapist training in emotionally focused couple therapy. To learn more about my marriage counseling services, visit  www.elizabethpolinskycounseling.com.

Welcome back to the Communicate and Connect podcast. This is episode 43 on chronic pain and relationships with Doctors Dustin and Kerry Brockberg. So I’m really excited that we have Doctors Dustin and Kerry Brockberg here with us today to talk about chronic pain. This is not something that’s ever been covered on this podcast, but I think is really important for relationships in general, especially when someone has chronic pain. But this is such a common experience for military service members and veterans to experience chronic pain from their service. So I’m so glad you guys are here to talk about it. Please tell us a little bit about the two of.

Dr. Kerry Brockberg [00:01:17]:
Sure, sure. So. Hi. I’m Dr. Kerry Brockberg. You can call me Kerry. All my clients do. I am a licensed psychologist in Minneapolis, Minnesota, more specifically, Coon Rapids, Minnesota, working in an outpatient basis within a hospital called Alina Health, Department Courage Kenny. But I work with folks with chronic pain, spinal cord injury, brain injury, and other chronic health conditions and disabilities. I focus on quality of life and well being and trying to help folks with mind body strategies to help achieve those goals and really have come to in the last few years, spend a lot of time with folks with chronic pain. So which is a huge reason why Dustin and I came together to write this book. But I’ll let him introduce himself too.

Dr. Dustin Brockberg [00:02:14]:
Hello. My name is Dr. Dustin Brockberg. I’m also a licensed psychologist. I work in a large residential substance use treatment center called Hazeln Betty Ford Foundation. And my focus is primarily on acute stabilization of both medical and mental health related concerns around somebody who is entering into recovery from substance abuse. My specialties are primarily around bed related issues, substance use, different types of pain, cocurrent disorders, things of that nature, grief and loss as well. And I think in a lot of ways, they all have a tendency to interact with one another. It’s not just one version of pain, it’s many versions of pain. So I’m happy to be here.

Elizabeth Polinsky [00:02:59]:
Yeah, well, maybe we can use what you just said as our jumping off point, because you said there are many versions of pain. And I was just thinking that the two of you probably have lots of thoughts about pain, that most of us are just like, Ouch, that hurts. And that’s the extent of my thoughts about pain. So can you talk to us a little bit about what pain is and the types of pain and help us have an understanding of pain?

Dr. Kerry Brockberg [00:03:32]:
Absolutely. I think most people, when we first hear the word pain or try to describe what pain is, first of all, very universal experience that people jump to the physical pain, right? You hear pain and most of us think about ouch that hurts. And what we like to talk about and really frame that up as is that most of us have an acute pain mindset, meaning that something hurts and then we get some sort of treatment or procedure or intervention that makes the pain better. We see healing happen and then within a certain amount of time we feel better. Actually, I think most of us, we function often acute pain, just mindset in general, in that when we experience something that we feel like there can be a solution and then we can move forward, right? And that’s pretty common, like if you have a headache then take a tylenol, so on and so forth. Whereas pain, from Dustin and I’s perspective, we talk a little bit about acute pain, the physical pain, chronic pain, and we can even go in a little bit of difference between acute versus chronic. Chronic being the ongoing pain lasting longer past the intervention points, but continuing interventions for sure. We can dive into that in a little bit, but we actually define pain as more of a wider lens of physical pain where someone’s experiencing their body, but also social pain.

Dr. Kerry Brockberg [00:05:07]:
The different interactions we have with people, that might be painful for veterans specifically, maybe coming back and reintegrating with a family or friend or work or school environment and going through a lot of challenges and struggles. And then of course we talk about more of the emotional mental health pain that folks experience. Anxiety, depression, PTSD, trauma. So essentially our idea is we’ve got to widen that lens of what pain means and how folks are going through painful experiences all the way from physical through emotional social. Funny thing Liz though, it’s actually very refreshing to hear you say oh, the Ouch piece that comes to mind when I think of pain. As Dustin and I were putting this together and talking about veterans relationship with pain, a lot of times veterans actually do feel a little bit more comfortable talking about the physical pain at first. So from a relational standpoint, if you’re trying to interact or understand your veterans or really anyone, sometimes this is kind of a universal idea. Sometimes talking about the physical ailments is a little bit easier and more tangible for someone to talk about in comparison to the social emotional and that’s because sometimes you can see it.

Dr. Kerry Brockberg [00:06:31]:
So then it feels like we can explain it a little bit better unlike the other one other areas, but I could go on forever. I mean, not all chronic pain is visible, so that’s also a thing that a lot of folks struggle with is this invisibility that is associated with pain and why it is hard to explain to other people what that means for them.

Elizabeth Polinsky [00:06:55]:
Yeah, that is making a lot of sense to me, even though certainly I have experienced social or emotional pain. I don’t think I would have ever thought to describe it as pain. I would probably say I’ve definitely said, like, my heart hurts. I think I even said that earlier today.

Dr. Kerry Brockberg [00:07:13]:

Elizabeth Polinsky [00:07:15]:
But I have never used the label of pain for it. So that is really interesting, and I think you’re probably right, especially with military culture and so much stigma around mental health, particularly for military, that it would sometimes feel more socially accepted to talk about physical pain than social or emotional.

Dr. Dustin Brockberg [00:07:39]:
And just to add into that, I think it’s also a part of the relationship you have with pain and where you develop that. So for your example exactly, liz, in the military culture, what is the first thing that your unit does if you break your leg? What is the first thing that happens if you start crying? What is the first thing that happens if you experience a social loss or a spiritual loss or you get told that you’re losing custody of your children, whatever it might be? Right. There’s a different reaction to different types of pain. And I think we often house it into this one category of I don’t want to feel this, therefore right? And it really is much more complex than that. And I think especially the unique challenges that a lot of veteran and active duty military families and spouses and relationships interact, there’s constant levels of pain. And I think even I’m guessing even some of your listeners are hearing the word, am I always in pain? Right? In some ways, maybe, right? There’s probably some version of truth to that. But pain doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s always instinctively hurting you in that moment. It could be something that’s ailing you and it comes once in a while.

Dr. Dustin Brockberg [00:08:53]:
It could be something that’s lingering around. It’s a very complex idea.

Elizabeth Polinsky [00:09:00]:
Yeah, maybe I might always have some sort of pain, but there are different types of pain. And I thought that was so interesting, your comment around relationship with pain. And I found myself thinking, what are the types of relationships with pain? Or how might someone I’m sure I do have a relationship with pain. I don’t think I’m aware of what my relationship is or what the alternatives might be. Do you guys have any thoughts on that?

Dr. Dustin Brockberg [00:09:32]:
Well, just to quickly kind of add on to that, it’s interesting the way that you frame that, because imagine if, let’s say you’re in the military and you experience a loss that is related to somebody in your unit passing away. How that unit copes with that pain is going to be likely different than when you go home and you talk to your spouse or your kids. You’re not coping with the pain the same way, you’re not talking with the pain the same way, you’re not feeling the pain the same way. And so that’s where the relationships often are very unique and different is the context. Often changes that relationship, and that alone can explain reintegration issues for a lot of veterans. I had this barracks full of people that I could talk to, and I could do this, and we could use our humor and blah, blah, blah. And then I come home and I can’t or I don’t feel like they can handle it. Or I don’t feel like I can handle it.

Dr. Dustin Brockberg [00:10:29]:
Or this isn’t the right time or place. Or we got to give them a bath. I can’t talk about this, whatever it is. Right. And then even thinking more specifically, as you mentioned when we first got on this call, that Kerry and I recently have identical girl twins, and I recently saw this message on social media of whether or not you tell your kid when they’re in pain, you’re okay. And I’ve been thinking about that a lot of, am I sending a message that you should be okay, therefore just be fine, versus allowing the kid to just express whatever it is they’re feeling. And in the military, we get a lot of messages of keep going. Right? You don’t have time to stop, or a spouse wants to just comfort their other spouse versus understanding, well, what’s happening for you? Versus I want to make this better for you.

Dr. Dustin Brockberg [00:11:18]:
Right. So all those are different rules that are kind of convoluted, that for sure.

Dr. Kerry Brockberg [00:11:23]:
Actually want to build off a little bit in a different maybe looking at the different part of the statue for a second. So, Liz, going back to relationships and connections, this also can come not only from how Dustin’s explaining it, but more of, like, a neurobiology perspective. So pain pathways and how they work in the brain body, there are several parts of the brain that connect back to pain, that create relationships for us. So we have to think about perception, how people perceive pain in certain experiences. Memory is a huge part of this. People’s memories associated with pain and painful experiences. So that’s reminding me of what Dustin’s talking about, of even telling your kiddo they fall and scrape their knee. Oh, you’re okay, you’re okay.

Dr. Kerry Brockberg [00:12:13]:
Get up. And then we reinforce these ideas throughout life. Like, you’re supposed to get up, push through, continue going forward. So now you have this relationship that there’s these neural pathways that are like, no, I’m supposed to keep going. I’m supposed to keep doing this. Right? So perception, memory, even sensory information can bring about painful experiences, which is why we talk about trauma as well. This is a really common bridge back over to trauma. Right.

Dr. Kerry Brockberg [00:12:42]:
The sensory information we get. So from the neurobiology perspective, and I like to bring this up because I think for folks that are hearing pain and hearing different examples, they’re like, how does this all connect? And it’s like, well, actually, there are actual biological pathways that are making these things happen for you that are coming to mind, and your body and showing you, hey, you remember this? And this is why you might be reacting or responding this way right now. So that’s the relationship portion maybe from more of that NeuroBio approach as well.

Elizabeth Polinsky [00:13:18]:
Yeah. Do you guys mind if I summarize that way just so I can try to consolidate it in my mind? So we have sort of a social component of what you learn from your community about how to respond to pain that has kind of like a habits. This is what’s the social way that we do this, which could be to push past or to grieve as a group. And then those things would be hard if I had a way of dealing with pain in a social group. Like in the military, we all bond over the loss of someone important. And now I’m out of the military and I no longer have that. That would be very challenging because I don’t have this sort of new community or new script for how to deal with pain. And then this part that you’re talking about, Kerry, is that it’s not just a habit or a social script or a way that we all do this together. It’s actually in my brain. It’s how my brain has learned to learn. This is what you do with pain when you have pain. This is how kind of like an automatic response. This is what you do.

Dr. Kerry Brockberg [00:14:35]:
And I want to quickly just follow you up because I want to make sure, especially my chronic pain listeners, they will be all over that statement in a second. So it’s not all in your brain. In our book, we have this bold underlined capital letters, it’s not all in your head. Because oftentimes folks with chronic pain, they hear that from providers, friends, family. This is all in your head. This isn’t real because they can’t see it so very important to remember that there’s brain processes that are sending signals to the rest of the body and your body, the nerves are also sending those signals up to the brain through the spinal cord. So very important. Remember the mind body connection here with pain.

Dr. Kerry Brockberg [00:15:21]:
So definitely want to make sure I threw that one in there.

Elizabeth Polinsky [00:15:25]:
Yeah. Can you say a little bit more about what chronic pain is like? Maybe we could return to that for a moment and talk about how that is similar or different than these other types of pain.

Dr. Kerry Brockberg [00:15:36]:
Yeah, sure, no problem. So chronic pain is essentially oftentimes what we connect back to nerve pain. But it can start off as an acute pain issue that persists over time. Meaning like, if someone got a back injury, maybe slip disc or they have some sort of spinal cord injury or I mean, there’s so many different things that we could bring up here. Ankle injury, shoulder, I mean, anywhere that might happen. And it’s essentially that the treatment modalities the interventions in the time period of where healing should have occurred. We’re seeing longer lasting difficulties and struggles. Then we tend to see what happens is that the nerves are pretty much I think the easiest way to explain it is they’re not happy with us.

Dr. Kerry Brockberg [00:16:30]:
They’re erupting and when that happens, it’s kind of lighting up in the body and all the little nerves, they’re a part of our nervous system. They send a message of pain all the way back up to the spinal cord. And the spinal cord goes all the way up to the brain and says, hey, you’re in pain. That sounds a lot slower than actually what happens. It’s very quick. Right. But this is important because as we start to talk today about some of the interventions or things that folks can do to support others with chronic pain or maybe if you’re dealing with chronic pain yourself, the whole idea is recognizing, wait, the nervous system is sending a message up the brain. So a big part of intervention is trying to derail that message from getting up to the brain, calming down the nervous system.

Dr. Kerry Brockberg [00:17:21]:
So a lot of the relaxation strategies and this can be a gamut of actual meditation all the way through, just talking to someone can make you feel more relaxed. But the whole idea is to derail that message of pain up to the brain. So the nervous system is kind of on alert for folks with chronic pain. And here’s the stinky part for the folks that have chronic pain, it’s like a moving target. Some days they can be feeling great, some moments they can be feeling great, and then the next they’re not. And it’s this activation that just happens and it might be, wow, I could walk a mile today and I feel fine, but then tomorrow I walk zero point 25 miles and I’m like pooped. And I can’t or I can only get up every 30 minutes to make sure that I’m still moving a little bit because I’m in so much pain. So you can see there’s a wide spectrum of folks that fit under this umbrella.

Elizabeth Polinsky [00:18:22]:
Yeah, I’m following. Chronic pain sounds like often comes from an injury and then even when the injury is healed, the nerves are still something’s wrong with the nerve nerves that they’re still angry and then they just keep activating even when the actual injury is or the original injury was healed or repaired or as much as possible.

Dr. Kerry Brockberg [00:18:49]:
Yeah. And I would say sometimes it’s not repaired or healed. It’s hard it’s hard to know the exact ideology. And if the original problem was fully I don’t want to say the word fixed, but solved more so because it’s not fixed. It’s not an on and off solution with chronic pain. So I want to be careful of that. It’s really just this ongoing difficulty past the point of what recovery is supposed to be, if that makes more sense.

Elizabeth Polinsky [00:19:20]:
Yeah, that’s helpful. Sorry. If I’m asking, I hope it doesn’t feel like a silly question. I don’t really have much knowledge around this pain piece.

Dr. Kerry Brockberg [00:19:31]:
Great. I love all these questions. They’re awesome.

Elizabeth Polinsky [00:19:34]:
So we can have acute pain or chronic pain. Both, of course, hurt. And then we have also a relationship between pain and trauma. And pain could be physical, but it could also be social or emotional. And then there are also these ways that we have relationships to pain and ways of coping with pain. And then I’m assuming that’s even more important to be able to somehow cope with pain if you have chronic pain.

Dr. Kerry Brockberg [00:20:05]:

Elizabeth Polinsky [00:20:06]:
How do people cope with pain? Well, I guess you said like you could meditate or talk to somebody. But how do you guys think about how people interact with pain and ways of I guess because I’m assuming there’s like maladaptive negative ways of coping with pain and then of course, maybe more healthier ways of coping, right?

Dr. Dustin Brockberg [00:20:31]:
Yeah, I think it’s a really good question. I think that there are a myriad of different ways to cope with pain. And unfortunately, sometimes it can be kind of a trial and error period of figuring out what works. And oftentimes for a lot of people, what works initially potentially can be very unhealthy, right? So whether that be substances, for example, it can be very effective initially and then it turns very ineffective over time. Other things around, when you think of a broader scheme of mental health, of defense mechanisms, of denying that you have pain or avoiding your pain or minimizing your pain, those are all very effective strategies. What we would call them primal defense mechanisms are really good until they’re not, until you’re kind of at your endpoint of this is almost worse now versus better. And I always tell patients that. I also want to give you a lot of credit, right, that you really tried to harness this, you tried to protect yourself in that process.

Dr. Dustin Brockberg [00:21:39]:
And that’s to be we’re not here to shame that or stop that, but we got to find a new tool, a new way of kind of working with this and understanding this because our old tools are not working anymore. And that’s a big part of what we talk about in our book, is respecting the gear to which a veteran or a certain member has. And sometimes you got to turn in that gear and you got to find new gear. And that can be a process and that can be a grieving process, even. That’s one way of answering that. I also wanted to just kind of say one concept we talk about in our book is the idea around proactive versus reactive coping. And that’s an important idea to think about because in a lot of ways, similar to what Kerry says, that we have a headache or we have a pain in our body and we take a pill, that is a reaction to a stimulus, right. We feel tired, we go to sleep, we feel hungry, we eat.

Dr. Dustin Brockberg [00:22:34]:
Right? It’s a very normal reaction create that you have in your body. The downside is that we’re really good at reactive coping when we only cope when something’s wrong and we’re not so good at coping when things are actually going well or we’re having that moment where the pain is not at its height. Because for some people, when they’re at the peak of their chronic pain that day, they might not be able to move, they can’t leave the bed. Right? So the idea of me saying go take a walk is not even an option for them. So it’s really important that we understand how can we proactively cope, how can we do things regardless of whether or not we’re in pain is a really effective strategy in general of coping not only with chronic pain, but even with mental health. Don’t wait until you’re having a panic attack to go outside and go for a walk. Right. Don’t wait to talk to a therapist until things get really bad. There’s ways to look at that.

Dr. Kerry Brockberg [00:23:27]:
Yeah, in our field we call it chasing the pain. So when someone is behind the ball or chasing the pain, it means that it’s hard to catch up once the pain is feeling like it’s in control. So we talk a lot about how do you get in front of the ball, how do you stay in a more proactive stance. And the way we do that kind of conceptually. Liz, to answer your question, we talk about a lot of strategies that might involve the body or the mind and things that someone can do. Sensory information to relax the nervous system down, regulation strategies, grounding techniques. Actually, cognitive behavioral therapy is a huge one for folks with chronic pain, talking about how the mind can really impact and that our thinking patterns can really impact how we’re feeling. So there’s a lot of reworking the cognitive thinking patterns and trying to shift it into more realistic or helpful information or ways of thinking. And then aside from skill based or strategy based, I do a lot of work with folks on talking about adjustment and acceptance and sometimes folks are not ready and there yet. So I really spend a lot of time in staying in the more strategy based zone. And I think some of the biggest interventions that I do sometimes is just letting the person talk about their pain. Mostly because I hear so often the people around me, they’re tired, they don’t want to hear it anymore. They’re confused why this is still a problem, especially veterans like, oh, my injury happened back when I was serving and I still have this issue and my spouse doesn’t understand that this is still a problem for me and they’re sick of me talking about it. So oftentimes I find myself just letting someone talk to me about what’s going on for them and that’s a huge thing for someone with pain is even just finding your groups, your person that you feel like you can talk about these issues with because they change so much from day to day. So it’s really kind of meeting yourself where you’re at of what you feel like you can accomplish that day. I love that Dustin’s bringing that up of like there’s sometimes where we just we’re not going to go to the stereotypical exercise and doing all these things. And it might be laying in bed, listening to music, putting on your favorite lotion and watching some TV, trying to calm down, talking on the phone. So, yeah, hopefully that kind of pain a little bit more of a picture too.

Elizabeth Polinsky [00:26:05]:
Yeah, it does. I might repeat again so I can consolidate. I was thinking as you were talking, what a hard thing to have, especially with chronic pain and especially just it’s going to be like a lifelong thing that I’m just going to be dealing with. And to have my partner or my significant people in my life be tired of hearing about it would be so demoralizing. And also in that context of maybe most people, myself included, having this idea of acute pain and I take a headache and I take a pill, like, why haven’t you found a pill to fix your chronic pain? Or even if I have chronic pain. And I’m thinking that myself. That, again, would be so hard emotionally. So I’m seeing how that acceptance piece really relates because I have to accept that there maybe isn’t something that is just going to take this away or accept that I’m no longer able to do the things that I was able to do before and somehow find, I don’t know, like, a new identity or a new idea of who I am now that I have pain, which would bring pain and loss with that as well. So you guys do, I guess, like very here are positive coping skills that you could do to help when you have pain. But also how do we navigate accepting and finding a new way to be now that I have chronic pain. Am I following this?

Dr. Kerry Brockberg [00:27:52]:
Yes. It’s beautiful. Yeah. And I think let’s bridge this over. And Dustin, I really want you to speak to this, but how this relates to the veteran community, right? Like this processing of I think there was something you said that really triggered me to say this right now, which was the processing of the new identity and what does this mean for me and how do I work within? And that’s a big thing for a lot of veterans specifically. So we’re seeing a lot of parallels with the veteran identity, chronic pain, addiction management, recovery. I mean, a lot of things where it’s this new identity identification where you’re trying to work within a new mindset, a new lifestyle for yourself and trying to find the new me, which can just be really difficult. And I guess my biggest thing for folks when we talk about this and Dustin, be curious to hear what you have to say is but being gentle and understanding that the new me doesn’t have to be this end destination, it’s kind of this ongoing peaks and valleys of discovering yourself and being okay with, then that’s typical. That’s typical for all of us. Whatever we’re trying to deal with, there’s going to be new me. That happens because we’re all dealing with time and growth and maturity and changes throughout our life. But that identity piece, I love that you pulled that out, Liz. That’s really?

Dr. Dustin Brockberg [00:29:26]:
Yeah, yeah, absolutely. And I think one of the first examples that you made me think of, Gary, was I hear this story a lot. I’ve seen this when I was in the military of people that maybe got med boarded out because of a physical injury of some sort. And so they left the military because of that reason. The military asked them to leave. So not only are they coming home with a new perception or version of pain or identity, but the family now has to adjust to that. And I think that’s kind of where I had this strong reaction to our conversation in a good way, is whether or not yes, the person who’s experiencing the pain has to find a way or hopefully find a way to accept or understand their new identity or new relationship with their world. But the family does too. Right? And so that’s one way to have a person feel understood and being empathetic to that person. Yes. You keep talking about it, and there’s something about this I’m not accepting about those. Right. So is it I’m not accepting that the role to which I wish you had in the family system is it I wish I had my old spouse, that whatever it is, there’s something going on that we’re fighting or resisting that acceptance. And that’s a good area to explore with couples or families because that can be really heartbreaking. Right. I can think of a very specific example of an individual who lost both their legs in combat. They came home and their kid really wanted to play soccer. Okay. So the spouse is grieving this idea that I can’t kick the ball, right? The kid tries to kick the ball to the spouse. It’s a very emotional video that you’re watching. And then over the course of this documentary, you eventually figure out that A, there’s ways they change or adjust their perception of what happened, and B, you can still very much be involved in soccer. There’s ways to almost adjust your schema around it. And I think that’s such an important concept in all this, that there is a reintegration, there is an acceptance piece, there is a patience piece and a time piece, an understanding piece. And it’s hard. This is hard work. And all along with chronic. Pain. You also have grief and loss and what you wish you could do or wanted to do. And that’s something that we also spend a lot of time talking about is what we’re potentially losing or feel like we’re going to lose when this happens.

Dr. Kerry Brockberg [00:31:47]:
Great example. Love that. Yeah.

Elizabeth Polinsky [00:31:49]:
And I was glad that you brought that up. The person is grieving and working on accepting this new identity, but the family has to also. And how hard that is, like, how hard that would be even for me, trying to navigate if my husband had a serious injury or lost his legs or how would we dance? We like to dance together and we want to be like, could we dance? I’m sure maybe there’s a way we could dance. But having to adjust to those things or losing that. I’m wondering if you have more thoughts on how families can navigate or how couples can be supportive, sort of that piece of the equation.

Dr. Kerry Brockberg [00:32:42]:
One thing that I found to be really effective and a huge takeaway for some of my clients to bring back to their families is that sometimes families don’t have to understand. And what I mean by that, it’s very powerful when the conversation comes up of like, I can’t explain everything to you, but I need you to believe me and I need you to trust in me. And when there’s this feeling of acceptance and no judgment and just understanding and empathy, it just can go such a long way with someone that’s experiencing chronic pain and addiction. I mean, really. So just this idea of I can’t explain everything, you can’t see everything, but I just want you to know this is hard for me and I’m in a really difficult place and please accept me for what is going on. And I think if folks, family, significant others can really give that non judgmental open space, someone that they can come to, I mean, that’s all the support sometimes people need. It’s so funny. Oftentimes I’ll even talk to the other side where it’s not the person with chronic pain, but a family member.

Dr. Kerry Brockberg [00:34:02]:
And they’ll be like, I feel so helpless. What can I do? And I’m like, you are doing more than you think. The fact that you’re even thinking that and giving this space, that is huge. That is something that your loved one can’t even understand the full capacity of, especially when you’re there for the longevity of what’s going on for someone with pain and addiction. Right?

Dr. Dustin Brockberg [00:34:28]:
There’s a famous saying in psychology and mental health, there’s more differences within groups than between groups. Right. And we can look at somebody who has pain versus doesn’t or the spouse does, and the spouse doesn’t. And that can create a lot more almost trenches in some ways, right? And so even the idea of trying to understand what’s going on for that person or having a respect that you don’t have to understand all aspects of it. So it’s perfectly said. Kerry and I think, too, there’s a level of there’s probably an easier way to connect on what you do know. Right? You’re both frustrated, you’re both feeling helpless, you’re both feeling sad, you’re both feeling worried. All those things, that’s where you join.

Dr. Dustin Brockberg [00:35:10]:
That’s where you can connect with your spouse and focusing on what we can’t do or focusing on the things that are happening. Yes, there’s a time for that. And there’s other ways to focus on kind of the actual issue that’s happening. I also want to say, too, this is something that I’ve brought up before. It was not in her book. I should have put in her book. I’m not sure if I did it. I just can’t remember, to be honest with you.

Dr. Dustin Brockberg [00:35:31]:
And it’s this idea of codes, one of the best ways to support not only veterans, but I would argue anyone in the world, you can use this skill within your family, within your relationships. Develop a code system, a word. It could be a word as simple as, I don’t know, strawberry. And when that spouse says that word, you drop what you’re doing and you go, you don’t have to explain it. You don’t got to say why. You just know. You know what? This person’s struggling. I got your back. You don’t need to explain yourself. We’re going to be okay. And when somebody can do that, it gives so much respect of, I trust you, whatever it is, fine. Let’s make you kind of come back down. And it can be such a cool way for relationships to really feel understood.

Elizabeth Polinsky [00:36:21]:
Yeah, I really like that. I was thinking, oh, can I use that in my marriage? And I was thinking, okay, if I say strawberry, I probably want my husband to come hug me and just hold me for a moment. But I was thinking, I don’t know if that’s what my husband is going to want. If he says strawberry, he might want something different. I’ll probably have to ask him what it would mean.

Dr. Dustin Brockberg [00:36:50]:
Honestly, personally, Kerry and I use it whenever we’re out in the world and we see a patient that we know, right. So we kind of warn each other of, hey, just so you know, there’s a dynamic about to happen know, because we can’t confirm or deny how we know a person. X, Y and Z. Confidentiality reasons. And sometimes it’s appropriate for us to just walk away so that we don’t have the interaction and that’s a way for us to protect ourselves and whether it be a code word. If you walk in the door and you just know you’re having a bad day and you don’t want to go through the 18 different thousand things that went wrong, you just want to hug, right? You can define those rules for sure.

Elizabeth Polinsky [00:37:24]:
You can have multiple code words for different things is what I’m hearing. Okay, well, I just looked at the time. And I feel like I could keep picking your guys’brain for a long time about this. But do you guys have any sort of like final last thoughts or words of wisdom or things that you would want the audience to be thinking about or to know?

Dr. Kerry Brockberg [00:37:48]:
I think one thing I just like to say to this community, say to couples that might be having either individual, whether it’s your veteran that’s dealing with pain or addiction or you yourself just understanding that things take time. And to try to be patient with yourself, with your partner, with the surrounding, with whatever struggle might be happening. Not expecting yourself to just snap and everything, kind of go back to what it was or to get through whatever obstacle you’re facing. So just being patient with yourself and knowing that you are important and your time and you are a valuable person. So taking that time and having that patience is absolutely warranted because you are important. And that’s my biggest takeaway for a lot of folks dealing with these issues.

Dr. Dustin Brockberg [00:38:46]:
Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. I would say, if we didn’t already mention it, our book that recently got released is titled End Your Covert Mission a Veteran’s Guide to Fighting Pain Addiction. It is really written in a way that is a no nonsense, direct, in your face. We’re not trying to throw a bunch of theory at you. We’re trying to have a conversation similar to this and just pose a lot of unique questions around to what we talked about earlier, around your relationship with pain, things of that nature. Gives a lot of veteran voices, narratives around kind of their experience with things, topics that we’re talking about and go through different types of pain and gives a lot of really cool strategies of kind of what to do with that. And my advice, if you choose it to pick up that book, is to just that take a chance on it, right? You might get through page five and then decide, this is rough, I got to put it down.

Dr. Dustin Brockberg [00:39:34]:
Cool. Put it down. Right. Spend a whole year reflecting on it. I don’t care. I think it’s much more about if it helps you. That’s all we want. And I think, too, that we are getting a lot of feedback from our readers that a lot of non veterans are liking this book. A lot of folks that are going through just mental health, are going through just chronic pain, are going through just veteran reintegration or their active duty or they’re going through addiction issues. Right. There’s a lot of ways that this can be applicable to people, or if you know somebody going through those issues, it can be really helpful to understand what’s going on for them. So we would just say take a chance.

Elizabeth Polinsky [00:40:06]:
Yeah. Great. Thank you so much for saying the name of the book. Can you say it one more time?

Dr. Dustin Brockberg [00:40:11]:
Yep. So it’s End your Covert Mission. A Veteran’s Guide to Fighting Pain Addiction. It’s all over Amazon. Walmart, target? I was going to say Facebook. It’s probably on Facebook. Barnes and Noble. Wherever you can find a book.

Elizabeth Polinsky [00:40:25]:
Okay, great. I will include that in the Show Notes. So that way if people who are listening this, they want to get the book, there’ll be a link there that they can just go and grab it or find it easily. So, yeah, thank you both so much for being on the podcast. I really appreciate this conversation and I know for sure it’s going to be really helpful to a lot of the people listening. Awesome.

Dr. Kerry Brockberg [00:40:48]:
Yeah. Thanks for having us.

Dr. Dustin Brockberg [00:40:51]:
Thanks so much.

Elizabeth Polinsky [00:40:58]:
I hope you enjoyed today’s episode. If so, please take a second to go. Rate review and subscribe so you get all of our future episodes. Make sure to check out the show notes to sign up for our free ten week relationship email course. This email course is really designed for people who are maybe having trouble with communication or connection in their relationship and helping them develop some quick wins right away to start improving it’s. While I am a therapist, this podcast is for educational purposes only and is not considered therapy and it should also not be a replacement for therapy. If you think you need a professional of any kind, you should definitely go find one. Until next time.


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    About Author

    Elizabeth Polinsky is a Certified Emotionally Focused Couple Therapist (EFT) providing EFT marriage counseling in the states of Virginia, Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, Arkansas, and Nevada. She also provides EFT training and supervision to therapists looking to become certified in EFT Couple Therapy. As a military spouse, she has a special passion for working with military and veteran couples, and is also the host of The Communicate & Connect Podcast for Military Relationships.


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