The 12-Step program calls it "sick and tired of being sick and tired." Many recovering drug and alcohol addicts have told me that they could not make the choice for sobriety until things got so bad in their lives that they were motivated to change by their disgust with themselves or with how awful they felt. This happens at a different point for everyone - your rock bottom may be my half-way down - but when you get there, you know it.
To me, part of the genius of the 12-Step program is how applicable it is to other situations in life aside from the alcohol (and then drugs) for which it was created. There exist such programs now for codependence, anger, shopping, etc. I used the 12-Step program to aid in my recovery from flaming codependence, and am now using its principles - along with other methods - to help me with my chronic pain.
Wait. How does having chronic pain equate with being a drug addict or alcoholic? How does living with three or four migraines per week remind me of codependence and the need for recovery?
It's not so much about a one-to-one comparison between getting migraines and being codependent, it's about how the spirit of the 12-Steps helps me cope with a situation over which I feel powerless. There are two main ways that this happens, one of which I have blogged about before (see Befriending Pain: Part 3, 21 September), and the second of which is the topic of this post.
ONE - It helps to bring me out of victim status. TWO - It helps me envision another way to be.
ENVISIONING ANOTHER WAY TO BE
There are many ways to respond to chronic pain, and I have probably hit on all of them at one time or another: feeling victimized; depression; denial; pushing through until I am really sick; giving up and going to bed for a few days; pretending everything is all right; pretending everything is awful. Bouncing around emotionally is not conducive to the inner peace that attracts me and that I desire for myself, so there came a time when I realized I was tired of the chaos I was either creating or allowing to happen inside me.
I have called upon a variety of support systems such as faith, spirituality, yoga, accupuncture, medication, meditation, prayer and relaxation, many of which I have blogged about and each of which has helped me in its own way. What makes the 12-Steps particularly relevant to this post is that from the peace that my spirituality, its practices, the accupuncture and yoga afforded me, the 12-Steps then allowed for the vision of another kind of change.
For chronic pain, that change has to do with leaving behind the emotional roller coaster (although I do think it necessary to take a few rides on it before being willing to change), claiming an inner peace that is wonderfully present whether one is in pain or having a good day, and learning to stop allowing one's own pain to cause pain to others (in the form of impatience and anger, emotions that are all too prevalent with chronic pain).
There is another benefit: a kind of constructive energy that helps me to learn how to use the resources I have in new ways. For example, I cannot hold down a job, given the upredictable and debilitating nature of the migraines, but I can take a couple hours at a time to write a post or work on other writing. Working only a couple of hours at a time might seem lame, or even giving up, but when the alternatives are pushing through until I am thoroughly sick or lying around until I am thoroughly depressed, a couple hours at a time is a wonderful solution.
So, I am helped to see the possibilities for not only coping with the pain in better ways and for building better relationships with others, but for a life that does encompass constructive work and accomplishment. This is not about quantity at all, which, in a city that idolizes long, long work days and amount of power, is kind of a radical statement. Which is another benefit of all this: I have learned that two hours of peacefully focused work is no poor substitute for 12-hour days: it is just right for me.
Carol D. Marsh
- With a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Nonfiction degree (Goucher College, August 2014), I am looking at a new phase in my life. From 1992 to 2009, I served as Founding Executive Director of Miriam's House, a residence for homeless women living with AIDS. I left this position when Chronic Migraine Disease overtook my ability to do my job. Now I hope that a writing career will both accommodate the migraines and give me a creative, productive outlet. And soon, September 4, I will launch my Inkshares author page in a bid to hit the 1,000 pre-order goal in 90 days. The book I want to publish is "Nowhere Else I Want to Be," a memoir of ten of my years at Miriam's House.