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“…we drop any pretense and become honest with ourselves. We admit that we have been holding on to both an illusion of and a strong desire for power over our pain and illness.” Quoted from Step One, Recipe for Recovery – A Guide to the Twelve Steps of Chronic Pain Anonymous (2015)

So, it’s about being transparently honest; nothing less will do. Given my decades-long history with joint pain, given my denial and rationalization fostering the pretense of being well and appearing like everyone else, developing an honest relationship with my body is daunting. Yet, this is precisely the challenge to be embraced in partnership with Higher Power and the CPA Twelve Steps.

Parallel to this task is dealing with the mortality of my body; it’s one thing to read or talk about it, but quite another to face its indescribable losses, especially relationships of the heart. Grief, a multifaceted angst, plays into this, as well.

For almost two years into my hospice care, there was little change in my body except for weakness, shortness of breath, fatigue, and the side effects of two medications to slow down my collapsing lung sacs. Speaking was becoming rougher, almost to the level of pain. However, deep breathing and stretching exercises have kept me strong enough to show up for the next day’s routine, even post a blog.

But with all symptoms worsening the past six months, my body has dropped much of its fat, no matter how much I eat. To counter this Auschwitz-like appearance, I stand in front of the mirror and pray for acceptance. “Accepting the unacceptable,” so says Step One, even the weight loss, so disconcerting, at first. It is working, but occasionally quicksand sucks spirit from me, only to be pulled back into sanity by my CPA buddies.

Without my practice of the gentle discipline of CPA’S Recipe for Recovery, I shudder how I’d be faring with my present circumstances; they must be experienced, one day at a time, until completed.

Then, in the twinkling of an eye …

“When we accept our powerlessness, we become teachable and willing.”

This sentence from Recipe for Recovery – A Guide to the Twelve Steps of Chronic Pain Anonymous again opens my psychic depths to new freshness, despite frequent highlights and marginal notes from past insights. This is, indeed, a graced paperback composed by its anonymous members and published in 2015. To these authors slanted with chronic pain and illness I am indebted, their having found a way to live fully through the daily practice of the Twelve Steps.

Powerlessness, the central reality of my humanness, wakens me each morning to the challenge of another twenty-four hours—Foremost are my symptoms with their limits: the shrinkage of air sacs in my lungs causing shortness of breath, my deformed hands complicating simple tasks, my low energy diminishing speech, my weight loss despite good nutrition, and unsteady gait, with dependence upon cane-walking lest I fall. And the need for sleep that consumes my former free time.

With acceptance of each minuscule loss, in light of Steps I, II, and III, I’m empowered to pause, get my bearings, and reinvent my new reality. In retrospect, it’s been this way ever since joining CPA four years ago.

In these diminishments, I’m never alone: Higher Power’s presence within my CPA buddies, within daily telephone meetings, and within CPA literature continually open me to another culture with its amazing discoveries of joy and support. Such crimps the psychic space that negative thoughts used to occupy but they’re still there, and there’s always work to do.

Although the sentence, “When we accept our powerlessness, we become teachable and willing,” applies to CPA, its practice by the healthy can only ease the inevitable setbacks that come with our humanness. I wish I had known this wisdom, decades ago.

“Hi, Liz! It’s Alice. Come to check on you again—Finish your nebulizer first, though.” Her voice fills my home with morning’s brightness as she settles around my dining room table, its center resplendent with red-fringed yellow tulips. Tapered fingers unzip her case and whip out her computer, notepad, and pen as I finish my breathing treatment and adjust the nasal prongs of my oxygen.

“Good to see you again, Alice,” I say, supporting my steps with my cane and sitting opposite her. On the table was therapy putty for my hands lest my terminal illness further weaken them, and a glass of water to loosen mucus from another lung disease, prior to coughing it up in an emesis basin. “Not much new to report. My weakness, shortness of breath, and speech worsen, but imperceptibly so. Certainly, I’m not where I was one month ago, but I still get by with my helpers—Even take short walks in the sun. Still keep up my deep breathing and stretching exercises.”

Her dark eyes warm me, despite the put-off of her black mask as she takes my vital signs: all normal—they always are.

“Seems like I’m really into my old age. I never dreamed it would look like this. Often atop my bed, I pray, stillness enfolding my body and psyche; at others, grief for my intransigent stuff seeping into global darkness like raw sewerage. Here is where the mantra, ”Mercy!” comes in, cried with vehemence.” She leans toward me and listens, not wanting to miss a word. 

“Yet, each day, there’s something new to learn. Yesterday’s was critical: stop seeking answers where there are none, a waste of vital energy.” She nods and with her eyes hugs me before leaving.

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