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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.

 

 

My dawn prayer continues.

Terminal illness feels like a run-away train hurtling down a trestle toward a narrow tunnel; its wheels spark emotional and spiritual negatives for which there are no words. Such corresponds to my experience of unmanageability noted in Step I; its angst prods me toward the solution: Step II—Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.

Yet, the dregs of the rough night still sour my faith and straightjacket my willingness to believe. I sit quietly and listen, breathing in Spirit. Minutes morph into yesterday’s CPA meeting: courage, humility, honesty threaded within the members’ sharing. I sit straight in my wingback chair. Again, it’s beginning to work: the stinking thinking in my psyche breaks apart and reveals a Power greater than I could ever imagine.

Like a persistent lover, this Power changes often as our relationship deepens. Such keeps this exercise fresh.

Then, buoyed by faith, my terminal illness comes front and center, no longer breaking up like the run-away train in the dead of night. Life on life’s terms, CPA reminds me: dying is integral to living. No exceptions.

Dr. Singh also speaks of death as an arduous process that must be passed through in order to actualize the full measure of our humanness. Practice of Step II helps allay pitfalls and restores conscious contact with Higher Power, without whom I flounder.

Then my dawn prayer moves me into Step III and deeper surrender.

 

 

 

Dawn begins with prayer in my wingback chair, my hands folded, my feet propped upon a pillow. Again, I awake to another day living with terminal illness. Silence invites participation in this mystery, urges me toward patience, and plunges me within the Unknown before whom I prostrate. My prayer is always the same: We admitted we were powerless over terminal illness—that our lives had become unmanageable: a modification of Step I as found in Alcoholics Anonymous.

The We is critical. In my imagination I seek out the terminally ill around the world and place myself among them. Dying is not unique to me and perceiving it so, hogties me within groundless fears. Not that I don’t succumb to moments of angst, but entertaining them only worsens my symptoms: fatigue and shortness of breath. So far, the little blue pill still helps me function within my home, with helpers.

Then prayer moves me within powerless. Here, I borrow CPA’s “Let go and let things be as they are.”—a humble stance in which to relinquish efforts to fix anything, manipulate outcomes, or stew over further diminishments. Such practice activates the present moment and engenders my new identity, literally a seeker bound for the true home from which I came.

And then follows terminal illness: my interstitial lung disease with rheumatoid arthritis, a slow growing disease that I’ve had for years, for which the only treatment is palliative care. Facing this disorder, in prayer, lightens its sting: It will become my way out of this existence and into exhilarating freshness.

 

 

 

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