Step One: Surrender
“We admitted we were powerless over chronic pain and chronic illness – that our lives had become unmanageable”
I am working the famous 12 steps. Yes the 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous. Some of you might be disappointed to know I am ‘working’ it on chronic pain/illness, not booze.
Today I am ‘working’ step one: Surrender.
AA has a history of serving those with addiction world-wide since 1935. Although there is some contention about the overall effectiveness of the program (Kaskutas 2009), it has certainly helped many. Some of the contention seems to be the ‘God’ bit. The AA literature is very clear to not prescribe any sort of religious God. It is simply some higher power of your definition. Regardless, it would seem some of the contention has built from this association. After all contention and religion are perfect bed fellows, today and throughout history.
I wonder if much of the power of AA is in the social support. Social support being linked to so many health and well-being outcomes, and even a longer life (Uchino 2006).
Either way, I feel there is enough in the AA philosophy to “give it a crack” on chronic pain/illness. However the CPA movement is in its infancy and there is not a single chapter in my city – making the social support side of it difficult.
For step one (surrender) there are a series of questions (and some ingredients) I need to address to ‘work’ the step.
The questions are very challenging. I’m going to have a crack at the most terrifying ones (see the book for rest).
Have I made a list of the specific ways I am powerless over pain and illness?
Argh …. is there any way I am not powerless?
I am powerless over my inability to plan events.
I am powerless over my fears of planned events.
I am powerless over how I will wake up feeling each day.
I am powerless over my fears about what each day or indeed night will bring.
I am powerless to control symptoms when flying.
I am powerless to control fears about flying.
I am powerless over the fears of getting worse, of cancer, of death.
I am powerless over anger pouncing on me out of the blue. Linked to which ….. I am powerless over the comments, criticisms and judgements of others (“if you just stopped being anxious you would get well, speaking of I don’t think you are actually ill, I think maybe it is just your head” (my head is p*ssing blood – really?), “what are you doing on a diet you’re skinny?”, “you just need more …”, “really less of .. is what will fix you”).
I am powerless over the number of incurable diseases and syndromes I have.
But wait! – There is always some power – right?
I can see a few argument arising, in myself and maybe you…. “but you always have power”, “you always have choice” blah blah. Sure, I can manage; my medications, my diet, my exercise, to manage or minimize symptoms. The point of the CPA process that I am ‘trying on’ is to stop the battle for a cure, the war on my sick body. To realize I am powerless, at a larger level, over being physically/mentally ill.
This does not fit with the Louise Hay world view of – you can think yourself in and out of cancer or indeed the power of attraction view. Suffice to say – I’m not really a full convert there. Although I have huge respect for the work she has done and the hope she provides many. I’d love to be a full convert….I’m desperate to be. But I just can’t quite …. yet. The moments I nearly believe – I just hate myself for failing to heal myself with love, light and four easy payments.
The world is shades of grey and I am somewhere in the middle (with science) between Louise and the opposite extreme of total mind body separation. Attitude matters hugely in health outcomes and even, it would seem, in cancer survival. Although maybe this is funny indirect thing whereby attitude is linked to going to chemo, taking meds etc. Either way the slightly better outcomes for those who have better attitudes is a little different to “believe and so you shall have”.
So yes of course I have some power, but in order to access what power I have… I need to first surrender to the larger idea that I have illness and that it isn’t my fault and that it is unmanageable i.e. give up the notion that I can just research more and work harder, and try more and … BAM – I’m all shiny nice and new, maybe my grey hairs have gone too.
Of course if you have seen any of the rest of my ‘work’, you will not be having much hope in me graduating this step. Given I have in no way let go of the holy grail of cure. Well actually I have let go of complete cure (I’m not that dumb) but I have not let go of complete transformation to a place of minor symptoms and an ‘almost’ totally normal life.
I DON’T WANT TO LET GO …………WAAAAA ….
That is me weeping and wailing ….so not yet ready to let go to my powerlessness. That is me also terrified that if I graduate this step I need to learn to believe in a higher power. WTF?
I need a chocolate doughnut (actually there is something stronger I need, but it seems bad taste to mention it in this context).
How important is Control to me?
Oh dear Lord above. Control is me, Control is my name. Control is everything to me. Just ask anyone who has ever lived with me, married me, worked with me, or is unlucky enough to be related to me.
It’s core personality.
It’s not my fault (much).
I blame my Parents (I can do that now – I lost them as soon as I had another follower and they didn’t feel they had to keep up the pretense).
I have long gone through the “I am an alcoholic” phase with my Control Problem (notice it even has capitals). However I am not sure what to do next. Maybe I need to work the 12 steps first on control.
What keeps me holding on to the illusion I can control my illnesses?
Quite simply the alternative is worse. An illusion of control versus no control, versus being totally at the whim of my illnesses. Noooooooooooooo.
What does surrender look like to me?
I have no friggin idea …. I think therein lies the root of my challenge in working this step. The good news is; I think I am allowed to keep working at it …. one day at a time and all that good stuff.
I am really not confident I will be able to ‘work these steps’ especially without a sponsor. Comments are not only welcome, but arguably desperately needed; what has worked for you?
Meanwhile – Go well in the direction of your dreams.
Yours as ever,
Uchino,B. N. (2006). “Social support and health: a review of physiological processes potentially underlying links to disease outcomes.” Journal of behavioral medicine 29(4): 377-387.