Why use 12 steps for chronic pain recovery? It doesn’t seem to make sense that I would compare addiction to dealing with chronic pain. Addiction seems to be self induced, self focused, obsessive, and destructive. We often see a visualization of a drunk homeless man begging for “food” that would go towards alcohol. We imagine the loved ones we knew who lied, stole, and rationalized their habit, while making everyone around them suffer.
The Medical Dictionary defines addiction “as a habitual psychological and physiological dependence on a substance or practice beyond one’s voluntary control.”* It doesn’t mean that a person can’t always control the use of the drug/behavior, but they continue to use more or more often of the drug/behavior in spite of consequences and/or a desire to stop. They often are compulsive and use the drug/behavior regularly as a way to cope with life’s demands.
Chronic pain has similarities with addiction. It is something that is beyond our control, can be all consuming and can drive us to do things we hadn’t thought about before. A person with an addiction will seek more and more for greater high, and a chronic pain sufferer may seek more and more for greater pain relief. We tend to have shame, may isolate, feel alone in our experience, and may focus on pain relief as the cure to all things being good again. Our thoughts and emotions can contribute to our addictive and pain tendencies and the intensity in which we experience them. Most people experience addiction tendencies and most people experience pain in their life time – the degree in which we experience them is what may make us feel unique. There are consequences with chronic pain, and it requires a mind changing (and possibly spiritual) experience to make us whole again even if we still have the physical pain. People with addictions have to learn how to live in the world in spite of cravings and/or giving up something that initially brought relief. Outsiders may look down on chronic pain sufferers as they would with people with addiction, wondering what they did to create such hardships and why they can’t make themselves well again. Those with chronic pain and addictions do not cause themselves to be this way. Certain actions, genetics, experiences and behaviors might have contributed to their vulnerability, but few would volunteer for this path.
Chronic pain in itself is not an addiction accept in cases of self induced pain like cutting. Though our body adapts to the pain we experience we do not need more pain or less in order to function. People are generally not drawn to seeking pain, and we can’t make the choice of whether we will have pain. We don’t create the habit or the compulsive activity, the pain found us. Those who take pain medication are also not automatically people with addictions. Though some of the patterns and physical need might be similar, they don’t necessarily develop the compulsion or obsession of the drug to give complete relief.
When we begin to go from a person experiencing pain to a chronic pain sufferer, something changes within us. Many people are drawn to various addictions to escape the pain, or pain relief methods gradually become addiction. We can feel discouraged because we cannot control our pain or make it go away. Often we find ourselves searching for understanding, evaluating our values and priorities and looking for something to hold on to. Looking at the 12 steps offers a way to surrender to something greater and bring inner wholeness to guide us in the path ahead. By looking into our past, our relationships, our hurts and our harms, we are able better to cope with the times of solitude and bring greater peace into our lives. I believe the 12 steps can be used as a tool for greater awareness, joy and spiritual growth, in helping chronic pain sufferers have a more fulfilled life. The 12 steps are not the only solution, the only path, or perfect in their origin. Yet, as a person with chronic pain, it has offered me hope, wisdom, light and greater purpose for the journey.
* addiction. (n.d.). The American Heritage® Stedman’s Medical Dictionary. Retrieved July 10, 2012, from Dictionary.com website: http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/addiction