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This morning, two dreams stirred my psyche:

At 2:15 A.M. – A very old nun whose influence touched many lives has just died in her convent infirmary. It is midnight. Crews of professionals carrying their gear climb the stairs to her room and begin working on her remains. Others sit around her writing table and compose her obituary for the newspaper; another writes for literary journals. Bright fixtures cast a garish light upon this scene.

In the wake of this dream, pain crimped my breathing. The busyness of professionals fulfilling their respective roles angered me; their chatter screened feelings toward the deceased, a venerable old nun in my perception. The lighting seemed vulgar, obliterating shadows better served for viewing the deceased in her hospital bed. Yet, the dream’s noxious attitudes revealed deeper truth about my own passing. True, I’ve been blogging my hospice experience, now in its seventh month, seemingly open to the demise of my body—In my head, perhaps so; but in my body …?

And at 5 A.M. – I’m seated in a large classroom with other students, awaiting exams on the English poet we studied, our black folders stacked upon the professor’s desk. My folder, unlike the others, bulges with additional research on this poet’s striking images and meter. I had intended to remove my material before handing it in, but forgot. As the professor begins passing the exams, I leave my desk and retrieve my material.

The next dream suggests a time for testing. Unlike an examination for completed coursework, this one scrutinizes the mettle of our flawed humanness at life’s end. In biblical language, it’s called the last judgment. Somewhere lodged in the shadows of my psyche will be its unfolding. I dread the experience, given my sensitivity. But in the dream I’ve produced more material than was prescribed by the professor—perhaps a ploy to manipulate the outcome of the test.

To all of this, I cry “Mercy!”

 

 

Step Eight of Chronic Pain Anonymous – Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.

 The fruits of having worked Steps One through Seven clarified my character defects and how I had harmed others. It was those “others” I was now to consider in CPA, small in number, given my trust issues, low energy, and penchant to live alone.

The harm I had foisted upon myself warranted writing my name at the top of the list. Since I did not appear ill with rheumatoid arthritis, save for swollen hands—long skirts and pants hid swollen knees—I feigned wellness in order to fit in, but I was always the outsider, a vapid smile creasing my dry lips, rage blistering my psyche, the weight of the world stooping my shoulders. This pretense led to my lying, embellishing stories, and frustrating whatever initiative might have crept up, unasked. Exhaustion’s field day knew no letup.

Also on my list was my deceased brother Mark who I’d harmed with unwanted comments for our mother’s end of life care. I still faulted rheumatologists and surgeons for not reviewing my diet, given many foods triggering inflammatory reactions in my body. Fog brain prevented my noting the connections. And there were others on the list.

Because Step Eight’s intent was to take responsibility for the harm I had caused others and myself, I prayed for Willingness to forgive, an alteration in my psyche only Higher Power could bring about. I could learn to live in harmony and peace with others, not just from an arm’s length, but I would have to do my part.

That would come about in Step Nine.

 

 

Step Six of Chronic Pain Anonymous – Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.

 True, a new Liz was emerging, but my character defects naggled for more work. Despite the relief of their discovery in Step Five, they were not gone, only ensconced in psychic sludge. Again, more Willingness was called upon.

On paper, my moral inventory hosed me with freezing waters, messed with my balance, and stripped me of protective defense mechanisms, ill-suited to living in recovery. I shuddered with the bedrock of whom I had become, its pretense only minimally affixed to life. The imperative of deeper honesty clanged in my psyche. It was about waking up to my new Partner’s help, even more critical because of my end time.

But the easier, softer way of my unconscious had been such a fixture in my life: it evidenced my self-will, my need to control outcomes that generated seven deadly sins and compounded my misery. But remaining in that state was untenable. I would have to change, everything. For this, Acceptance was critical.

In Prayer, another Ingredient, I reviewed my moral inventory and found the entire readiness to change. No longer would I force round pegs of health within square pegs of chronic illness—that no longer worked.

It felt like I was preparing to be born again as I moved toward Step Seven and more help.

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