Dr. Andrea Moore is a mom, wife and recovering health perfectionist. Her entire career path has been based on trying to fix everything she thought was wrong with her including chronic pain, post-concussive syndrome, brain fog, anxiety, depression, PMS & ADD.
It took her over 15 years to come back home to her body in a sustainable way. Along the way, she became a Doctor of Physical Therapy, a board certified orthopedic specialist, Functional Nutritional Therapist, Life Coach and patriarchy & perfectionism smasher.
It took her all of that to alleviate her suffering, and open her world back up. And the biggest lesson she learned that cost her massive amounts of time, money & suffering - was that she was fighting the wrong battle. For so long, she was fighting herself because she was convinced if she just tried harder, wasn’t so lazy, wasn’t so stupid, wasn’t so herself….she’d be able to just get over herself already and move on with her life so that I could finally live it.
And at the end of the day, it wasn't about getting further from herself, it was actually coming back to herself that allowed her to live the life she dreamed of. So now she guides other intelligent and 'successful on paper' women who are suffering from chronic pain to use their pain as a guide back to their bodies & living in a way that is aligned with the truest version of themselves.
Q: Dr. Andrea, thank you so much for meeting with us today. I'd love to know more about your pain story and how your own experience with chronic pain and healing brought you to what you do today. Could you share a little bit about that, how it worked, and how it impacted your work in the pain management field
A: Every time anyone asks me this question, I'm always like, oh gosh, which part of my story do I even share? Because I could talk about it for an hour. So I think what feels like what I most want to share is, I kept making my pain, my story about fixing myself. Like it was constantly this need, like I was broken, I have to be fixed. Like "I hurt - something is wrong with me." Like "I have all these symptoms, I have ADD, something is wrong with me." And it was always from this place of brokenness that I was looking. But what I kept running into is that I really wasn't broken enough for conventional medicine to even want to help me. I can't tell you how many doctors were like, no, there's nothing we can do. And you just have to put up with that. That just is what it is.
So I couldn't even get help when I was seeking it out. And then I was seeking it out from this place of feeling like everything was wrong with me. I ended up kind of diving full on into self development, self help and that world. While it opened up a lot for me and I learned a ton, it also actually ended up driving me further into this belief that "something was wrong with me," because so much was focused on gratitude and positivity and all of these things, I could fake it. I could fake it really well. But I never could embody it. And for a while I lived faking it and I literally thought everyone was just walking around faking it really well. I thought no one is really happy, that's ridiculous.
And then I learned that's actually not the case. I ended up reaching this breaking point where I couldn't keep faking it. It was exhausting. It was so exhausting. I was constantly in these mental battles with myself that just exhausted me even more. I finally learned that it had so much more to do with finding my own safety and healing trauma. That changed everything for me. It was when I stopped trying to fight what was wrong with me, fight my symptoms, fight the wider variety of symptoms from chronic pain to my brain working differently than others to stomach issues and anxiety and depression and all of that. Once I stopped fighting it and learned to sit with it - which was a whole process in itself I want to say because that took a lot - it was then that I just learned so much more about myself. I made a connection with myself and learned that so much of what I was facing, honestly, it wasn't even mine. It was inherited trauma. And so it was a lot of clearing of that, learning through facing it, and learning to sit with the discomfort that I could actually heal and get to a point where I came to the realization I can actually feel happy. It's not a facade. Other people really are walking around like this.
And I also just learned so much that it’s a part of being human, that nothing was ever wrong with me in the first place. My brain working differently wasn't a fault. It wasn't something I needed to change. It was something I needed to learn how to embrace and that I do think differently. And because I think differently, it allows me to help my clients in a different way than other people who might think differently than me. None of them are wrong or bad or no one needs to fix how they think, it's just fully embracing how their brain works, not trying to make themselves fit in somebody else's box that I just do not fit in.
My authentic wisdom was screaming out, trying to connect me, like this isn't right, this isn't the life you're meant to live. And the only way I would listen and start paying attention was through pain and through symptoms because nothing up until that point had gotten my attention. So your body does what it needs to do to get your attention. So once I learned to sit and listen, all of a sudden, the pain's not so scary anymore, it actually has so much wisdom in it.
Q: Something that worked for relieving your own pain is trauma release. How do you use that in your approach and how did it help your recovery?
A: Yeah. I'll talk for myself first. One of the biggest things for me and not everybody has this, well, everybody has trauma to some degree, but I have an incredible amount of ancestral, intergenerational trauma. I find this is really common in a lot of women too, is that we grow up objectively safe on paper, good childhoods. I grew up very privileged. I went to good schools. I always had food on the table. I was safe. Anyone looking from the outside would say, how could you have trauma? Your childhood was fine. And what we don't realize is how much trauma is inherited through our ancestral lineage. My parents are both immigrants and both escaped from communist rule. My grandma was in Auschwitz, my grandpa escaped from a concentration camp and that's only like part of my family.
So I have a lot of very, very direct, very recent trauma. And so for me, anytime my nervous system was trying to heal and really come into safety through love or even financial safety, my system would freak out and try to throw it all away, which is what most people would consider self sabotage or what most people call self sabotage. But it's really not. I mean, you can call it self sabotage, but it's really my nervous system being like, whoa, whoa, all we know is that at any moment, everything could be taken away. Like that is what my family, all my family knew is you could have a family, you could have all these belongings and they can just be taken away from you at any moment and you have no control over it. So my nervous system is just like, just don't get those things in the first place.
Q: So how did you help your nervous system change that story?
A: Yeah. A lot of somatic work and a mix of Dr. Valerie Rein and her partner, Jeffrey Tambor, they use like, they call it the thriving method and I'm certified in it as well now. They’ve combined so many different modalities including energy psychology, energy hygiene, soul work, ancestral healing work, inner child healing, things like that. And so a lot of it is identifying where in the nervous system it is through somatic work and then healing it.
So let me backup because I feel like this gets a little confusing. For a lot of people, let's say you think of a time where something happened, let's say you were at a job interview and something really embarrassing happened or something like that. Let's say you spilled water all over yourself and you're trying to make light of it, but really you're embarrassed and you want to cry, but you repress your emotions and rightly so, like nothing's wrong with that. Right.
All those emotions get stuck in your nervous system. They kind of just get trapped in there. And so unless you intentionally process them through, they kind of remain trapped in the body. And so for something like that, those are your emotions, you can identify that. You could literally just go home later, retell the story, cry about it, laugh about whatever, and release it all out. You're processing it through your body, you are the one experiencing the emotions.
When it's ancestral, you cannot really process it through your own body because it's not yours in the first place. So a lot of times, especially if people are really into energy work or emotional processing work, they'll find that they kind of keep getting stuck with the same patterns. They might be like, I go and cry for an hour, but it never just releases. It's because it's not yours to cry out. So there's different techniques based on what is going on, where the emotions are coming from. It gets a little bit complex, but depending on where it's coming from you have to process it in different ways.
And the good news is you can't harm yourself. If you're trying to process it one way that doesn't work, it just doesn't work. It doesn't harm anything. So there's no harm, no foul. But then if it's not releasing, you think, oh, this might not be mine or it could be a collective. It could be just through societal like messaging and all of that does need to be processed differently. So when I'm working one on one with a client, we're really getting into the nitty gritty, really figuring out how to process it. And then I'm teaching them how to do it on themselves, how to identify the different patterns so then they can go and do it on themselves too. Because once you learn it, it's actually very, very easy. And you could do it walking around. It's just intention. And even just having the intention of I'm releasing what's not mine can go a long way.
Q: How do you stop perpetuating the myth of brokenness with people if they're constantly looking for something wrong? If someone is in pain and learns about this work and thinks "Oh, well it's trauma from my ancestors and there's not really anything I can do about it." How do you help them move through that?
A: Yeah. Well, the good news is if I come across something that it's trauma from the ancestors, I'm like, yay, this is awesome. Like, this is amazing. We absolutely can do something about this. And that's what's so valuable about learning the tools and somatic work. It's funny because even in the somatic world there's a lot of vagueness. If you go try to look it up, somatic by definition is feeling it in your body and it really is something you have to feel in your body to do. And I actually even have a podcast episode that I walk people through how to do basic somatic work. You can find the link here (1)..
It's something that you can learn, but it's kind of something you have to sit and feel for yourself and experience. It really can be helpful to have a guide at first, because especially when there is trauma, especially if you are stuck in that brokenness, it can be really tough to do on your own. And I don't want to underestimate the importance of having a guide. It's equivalent to learning to drive a car for the first time without any type of guidance. That’s hard. I don't know why a lot of times we get hard on ourselves for not knowing how to do things if nobody's taught us these skills.
Not only is it learning new skills, it's unlearning skills in the process too. And unlearning that brokenness and really at the end of the day, to answer your question because I haven't yet, if somebody is willing to want a different life for themselves, that's all they need. If you're willing, if you do not want things to continue the way they are, if you're feeling like this is not what I was meant to do on this earth, then that's all you need because really what's the alternative? Either you can keep finding reasons you're broken, reasons that you can't move forward or you can see it as, hey, there's got to be a different way. So you don't have to know what the way is or even believe it yet. I'll tell my clients, you don't have to believe you're worthy, you don't have to believe you're not broken yet, but I'll hold that belief for you until you can.
Q: You’ve spoken before about being a “recovering health perfectionist.” Can you speak about perfectionism and how it impacts chronic illness?
A: So perfectionism hugely impacts chronic pain and really any chronic illness... And I'm talking about an unhealthy perfectionism so we're not talking about if you are a brain surgeon and you need to do your surgery perfect, that's healthy perfectionism. If you are putting together airplanes and are the safety person, like please be perfect in those moments. Right? There are moments where perfectionism is incredibly beneficial. Okay. So if people's lives are at stake it’s probably healthy perfectionism. If no one's going to die, even if you think it's healthy perfectionism, it's probably not. If nobody's life is on the line, as much as you might think, oh no, no, this is not okay. It's probably holding you back in some ways.
When we are going into perfectionism, it can manifest in many different ways for people. The way it manifested for me was actually by amplifying ADHD symptoms and procrastination big time. I was actually incredibly messy and unorganized and all of that because what perfectionism will do, not everyone has that tendency, but that's my tendency is it's going to make it so unless I know I can do it perfectly and uphold these ridiculous standards I have for myself that are basically unachievable, then I may as well just not do anything. I see it happen in healing, and food is a great example of this, because when I really discovered perfectionism, it was through my nutritional therapy work.
Is a mindset, right? How common is that thought of, oh, well I had a cupcake, so I may as well just screw the rest of the day. Not that anything is wrong with cupcakes, please eat all the cupcakes you want. There's no food shame here. We don't do that. But it's just that type of thinking like, oh, there's a sock on the floor, may as well just like leave the rest of the laundry on the floor.
And so it really actually amplifies a lot of self sabotaging and “behaviors” that we're considering self sabotage or procrastination. A lot of times we have this perfectionist fantasy in our head of once the kids go off to school, once the new year starts, I'll start my gym membership. Once this starts, I'll do that. We want everything to be perfectly in place before making a change. And it can actually feel really good to hold onto that. It's so easy to be like, well it's okay today because I know tomorrow, or I know in two weeks I'll be able to do this perfectly. But if you really look at track record, chances are you've been saying that for the past 10 years. And again, no shame. I did it for years and years and years. It's not a judgment thing, it's just noticing.
Perfectionism often stops us from taking action. The way it directly ties into chronic pain is because of all this we're walking around kind of stressed out all the time because we're seeing everything that's not perfect. That actually leads to cortisol release. It increases your nervous system sensitivity. For anybody who really understands chronic pain, an increased nervous system sensitivity is going to lead to chronic pain. So it just increases and heightens the sensitivity of your nervous system and that alone increases the likelihood of chronic pain.
Then of course we have the other side where people who are almost on the opposite end of the spectrum would be more like OCD behaviors and things like that, which again, kind of get in the way of living the life we want. And that's what is most important, is it getting in the way of living the life you want? Nothing's wrong with being super organized and clean. If that helps you live, be who you want to be, hell yeah. If you're really messy and it helps you be who you want to be, cool. I don't care what your house looks like. Does that feel good for you for your authentic self?
Q: As you’ve spent more time in the field, are there any challenges to helping people in pain that stand out to you? And why are you optimistic about conquering those challenges?
A: Yeah. This is a tough one. I think one of the biggest challenges or one of the things that I tend to get most frustrated about is having to undo some of the misconceptions about pain that are out there. It really does break my heart when people are coming to me and saying my doctor said I can never do this again. My doctor said I can't lift. My doctor said I can't bend over. And at this point there's so much research to show that that's honestly, I mean, that's just not true. I'm sure there are scenarios where it might be, but for the most part, it's generally just not true. I think it does make a really large hurdle for somebody reaching out for help because they've been made to think that there is nothing they can do. So if you think there's nothing you can do, then it's hard to know that you can reach out.
That being said, I am seeing so much more focus, especially in the physical therapy world that is recognizing this. Recognizing that imaging doesn't really mean much at all that just because you had a herniated disc or if it's showing one on your MRI, it really doesn't mean anything that people have really healthy functional lives even with that. There is more of an understanding of how the brain's role in pain, which is that it's completely responsible for your pain. So even at the end of the day, even if there really is a true physical limitation, you can still always do something to live. Again, if you're not living the life you want, there's always something that you can do. And sometimes that thing that you can do might just be accepting exactly where you are and just loving yourself for exactly who you are right there. You know what I mean? And the thing to do is to stop trying to be anything different other than yourself.
Q: You've also talked about pain as an invitation rather than something to run away from, could you speak more on that?
A: Yeah. Ultimately I really believe that pain's a messenger. I really think pain is your body talking to you and it so, so wants to get your attention and it just doesn't know any other way. It's probably tried in other ways and we just haven't heard the message and pain's really, really good at getting you to pay attention. If there's pain, it's something to get curious about. And again, it doesn't mean you have to change anything. Sometimes what you get curious about is like, oh, why am I sitting in this uncomfortable position? Or why am I putting up with this crappy office chair? Why don't I buy myself a better office chair? Right? Like it doesn't need to be some big complex thing. It's just listening to your body.
When we start to see it as that, it becomes a whole lot less scary because we understand it as a form of communication. I think we live our lives because we haven't been taught any other way. We live our lives to avoid discomfort and avoid uncomfortable emotions and sensations when really oftentimes the way to live life at its fullest is to fully embrace those things. Even just using stress as an example, we think we have to avoid all stressful scenarios but stress has been given such a bad name, but without it you would never meet anyone new. You would never go out and do anything new. Never even try new food at a restaurant. All of that involves a little bit of risk taking and uncomfortableness. But the point is you are taking a risk, you're doing something uncomfortable for a really big payout. And keeping our lives small and super comfortable just limits us.
Q: And meeting it with curiosity it sounds like is what you're saying. Meet it with curiosity rather than fear.
A: Yes. Yes, absolutely.
Q: When you're not working on helping people in chronic pain, what do you like to do for fun?
A: Well, right now I have a four and a half year old. So oftentimes, my husband and kiddo and I are trying to do some adventures, whether that's just going on a little hike or just exploring. We're still newer to this area so we're just trying to explore different areas, get to know our city. I really love exploring, if you put me in the middle of a street I haven't been, I just like looking around and taking in the architecture. And not that I can do this with a four year old, but like me meandering around a shop, it does not work with a four year old anymore. But things like that. I do love exercise and movement. So when I can do that, I do that. And then honestly, I nerd out a lot and I do a ton of reading and listening to podcasts and inner work and just like chatting with my friends who are all in this realm and we probably spend ridiculous amounts of time talking to each other and getting super nerdy about our brains and trauma and all of that.
Q: Where can people find out more about your work?
A: Yeah. Instagram is honestly where I hang out most. It's @drandreamoore. And you can also go to my website, www.drandreamoore.com. And I also have a podcast, The Unweaving Chronic Pain podcast and so you can listen to me there. And I'm in the process of creating a course that really dives into this work. My biggest goal for this course is that people are going to be coming out of it knowing how to do the work that I took, the very complex work that I probably spent way too much time trying to describe, knowing how to do it on themselves and recreating their relationship with pain.
So it's all going to be about stopping the mental drama, really reestablishing the relationship with your body no matter what your starting point is and learning how to look at your pain as an invitation. And that's going to involve getting deep into this trauma healing, somatic work, and you're going to have a ton of access to me. It's going to be a really big, deep dive course. That'll be in January. So just if you're following me on Instagram, you can sign up for my email list as well, and you'll see the information coming out about it.
Q: And finally, what is something that you'd love to leave anyone with pain or chronic symptoms, what's something that you would love for them to know?
A: Really that you're not alone. Whatever you're experiencing, someone else is experiencing it too and is completely valid and that you are truly whole and perfect in the good sense of perfect exactly as you are. And this work isn't about changing you at all or fixing you, it's just clearing off the layers that are preventing the true authentic you from gleaming out, but it's already there. I already know it's there.
You can get in touch with Andrea by messaging her directly on instagram: @drandreamoore or contacting her through her website: www.drandreamoore.com