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Images of spiritual cleansing abound, but one with a strong appeal is composting, discovered in my psychic depths through the study and practice of the Twelve Steps of Chronic Pain Anonymous.

Much of my composting stinks of long-term resentments and the many faces of anger carried from childhood. Greed, envy, and sloth have also lined the perimeter of my ditch for decades. Denial kept me prim and pretty and codependent. Seldom was fault owned, lest the thief in the night despoil me. Filled with terror, I hid from life—Safer that way.  

In the almost five years I’ve been a member of Chronic Pain Anonymous, the shrill voices of my sinfulness, past and present, red flag immediate recourse to the gentle, but trenchant, uprooting found in the principles of the Twelve Steps: honesty, hope, surrender, integrity, willingness, courage, humility, love, responsibility, discipline awareness, and service.

My adherence to them is on-going, and the results, gratifying: the very disorders I’ve discarded, with God’s help, have resulted in the development of a new sense of being that deepens with more practice. Only the death of my body will end this process.

Note: These changes only occur within the global spiritual fellowship of CPA. No one does this arduous work alone.

Like bats, their wings compressed, clinging to ceilings of caves, copper leaves pose naked upon stringy branches of my London plane tree—their indecision severe whether to hold on or to let go. Occasional whisper-breezes interrupt their pondering, their listless pirouetting of pointed toes, but still the leaves hang. Most have already dropped, with additional shriveling and tearing and dismemberment.

The lesson is obvious.

At 6 A.M., I awoke to a recovery dream:

Alone, I stand at the sink of the industrialized kitchen and scrub platters, bowls, and mugs used by our AA buddies during our pot luck dinner. Our meeting in the theater had preceded this gathering. It is quiet.

Within my psyche, I am alone, characteristic of my behavior, even now, as I prepare for my transition. A venerable priest recently likened me to a hermit mystic, a description that fits my individuation, and one that relieved the pressures of socialization, even in recovery. I was to learn other ways of relating to people, especially through writing and prayer.

My work setting, the industrialized kitchen, suggests the larger-than-life tools for daily use in my psyche: the Twelve Steps of recovery, essential for deep cleaning and restoration. The platters, bowls, and mugs symbolize containers of undigested life experiences, stored away for assimilation another time, but that time never came. In the dream, I had to scrub my psyche of scum, availing myself of Higher Power’s direction. On my own, this was impossible.

The image, pot luck dinner, suggests varied nourishment for the psyche and calls to mind the AA slogan: “Take what you need and leave the rest.” Because Twelve Step recovery is unique among members, their experience, strength, and hope differ, and teach members accordingly.

And the image, theater, speaks of venues where life-changing stories occur. That can occur in all thirty-seven recovery programs of the Twelve Steps, and eight partially patterned ones, provided willingness and honesty motivate the participants. Higher Power is always present, within and among us.

The continuing miracle in my life is adherence to the Twelve Steps of Chronic Pain Anonymous, one day at a time. It works …

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