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Since its 2004 inception in Baltimore, Maryland, Chronic Pain Anonymous has offered a heartening response to sufferers around the world who embrace the gentle discipline of 12-Step recovery. Social media and word of mouth spread this spiritual approach to the afflicted, often shunted from one doctor or health care practitioner to another. Experience subsequently led to the inclusion of chronic illness as it, too, exacerbates mental, emotional, and spiritual disorders that worsen physical pain.

Fifteen years have passed, with anonymous members reflecting upon their cumulative knowledge; from these efforts emerged Recipe for Recovery – A Guide to the Twelve Steps of Chronic Pain Anonymous. Its founder Dale L. articulated its premise to read: “…based upon faith, humility, and the ability to turn over problems of our life to a greater power, without trying to control or direct the outcome.”

This guidebook is necessarily slim to accommodate the limited energies of its readers. The recipe motif works well: a list of Ingredients (virtues) critical to working each Step opens each chapter, followed by the Description (photo of the desired product), the Directions (the work involved) followed by Questions (to be written), and What It Looks Like (members’ practice of the Step). Of necessity, the words are sparse, though not without affording a spiritual wallop.

Daily meetings, via phone, Skype, and Zoom continue forging this spiritual fellowship through which Higher Power transforms psyches: Life is still full, despite physical affliction.

A member since September 2017, I depend upon this gentle discipline, underscored by daily phone contact with my sponsor. Within each twenty-four hours, I remain largely content as I wait out my time.

 

 

Midnight—my neighborhood, bone-quiet. Yet, strident voices in my psyche rouse me from deep sleep, prodding me to get a snack. I am hungry, not having eaten sufficiently during the day. Work on the Memorial Mass had consumed me: My emotions ran high selecting suitable hymns from the St. Louis Jesuits that had inspired years of prayer at The College Church.

Four hours later, the same voices pull me from sleep, prod me to sit at my word processor, and write. It is dark, chilly in my study, the whir of the concentrator in the next room. Recall of the accompanying dream story could have specified the disorder—It must be about listening.

Three hours later, I awake to another dream: It is quiet. Outside my window crews of workmen have removed centuries-old oak trees and excavated deep holes in the ground for new foundations.

 More work still to be done—more trust and surrender to the Contractor’s plan. Again, I clamber onto the path and start out.

 

 

“And what color will your outfit be?” Dad asked of his women: Mother, my sister Martha, and me, days before our annual June vacation. Our trunks had already been shipped to their destination. Excitement mounted as last suitcases were snapped shut; as the truck from Kruse Florist rumbled up the circle drive and delivered three corsages, each with our names; as Dad beamed in the taxi taking us to Union Station and the train.

Once inside our compartment, I floated my corsage in the brass sink in hopes of preserving its beauty. As hours passed, I checked its color, its freshness, but to no avail. Even then, I had no tolerance for deterioration and death.

Why such abhorrence of death, integral to all life forms, including ours? Again, Dr. Singh addresses this question in The Grace in Dying. It has to do with life and death, the Second of the Four Dualisms that an infant confronts in the development of his/her mental ego. Rather than be swamped by the unknowability of death, he sets a critical boundary behind which life continues unfolding on a manageable scale: the size of a postage stamp, per Dr. Singh. Only when threatened by terminal illness or significant losses does death cower over us.

Thus begins the necessary dismantling of the mental ego with the dissolution of the other Dualisms: self and not-self, mind and body split, and the acceptable and unacceptable, each having served their purpose. Central to this purifying process is the Ground of Being, or God, with whom the individual is preparing to remerge, with full consciousness. Bliss follows.

 

 

 

Yet, I still feel uneasy tossing out five-day-old tulips, their blooms withered, their leaves faded, their stems meandering.

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