Step 1 – what I can’t control about having chronic pain and fibromyalgia

September 12, 2012

A big part of step one is understanding what we can’t control, looking at our thoughts, and the losses caused by our pain.  I have created several lists that reflect on these questions.  I find that looking directly into my pain, is often the best way for me to learn to live with my losses and find hope.

There are many things I can not control about having chronic pain and fibromyalgia.  Below is my list of things I can’t completely control.  Some of these may not be directly related to chronic pain, but can impact it regardless.

  • Pain level – having pain spasms, sensitivity to touch, back pain, trigger points, myofascial pain, tingling pain
  • Fatigue level – being tired, lack of energy, not able to focus
  • Medical world – doctors, nurses, pharmacist, lab technicians, finding a cure, medication impact
  • Weather – rain, heat, humidity
  • Relationships – what others think, what others feel, how they respond to me
  • Initial thoughts and emotional triggers – overreacting, taking things personally, losses

Consequences/impact of having chronic pain and fibromyalgia.

  • Loss of number of relationships I can keep up with
  • Loss of time being physically productive
  • Loss of career options, money
  • Additional stress, harm to body because of medications
  • Intensified other problems, more difficult to manage
  • Conflict with other people who didn’t believe I had pain, or thought I caused it
  • Initially didn’t have coping skills to deal with it
  • More time in escaping behaviors
  • Loss of self-esteem and sense of value in our culture
  • Could be more self-centered in dealing with pain
  • Less stable, less predictable, harder to plan
  • Difficulty keeping up with house, young children, and responsibilities
  • More needy of others
  • Trust in prayer, impacted view of God

Destructive thoughts

  • I am not worthy
  • I caused my pain
  • People don’t care
  • God is punishing me
  • People are better without me
  • Expecting things from others they can’t or won’t give
  • There is no hope
  • I am alone
  • No one understands
  • I can’t live like this
  • I need a cure, I need an answer
  • I need to escape
  • I will do anything to get rid of my pain
  • There is no hope

Fortunately this is just the beginning.  Though it is painful to create these list, I hope it will help others recognize the struggles and losses of dealing with chronic pain.  The chronic pain may always be a part of me, but it doesn’t have to always create the destructive thoughts I have added to this list.  Though not a part of step 1 I will end with a more hopeful list.

Positive thoughts of having chronic pain

  • I can make it
  • I am valuable
  • I am stronger
  • My relationships are deeper
  • I have more compassion
  • I am kinder, more vulnerable
  • I prioritize my time better
  • I can say no when I need to
  • I have much to give to others
  • I am loved and can find the resources I need
  • I am not alone, there are many people who struggle too
  • My higher power cares and is here for me
  • I can still do what is important even if it looks different
  • I can find a new career path

Why the 12 steps for Chronic Pain

July 10, 2012

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


12 steps for chronic pain – Step 1 Powerless and unmanageable

July 10, 2012
  1. We admitted we were powerless over our chronic pain—that our lives had become  difficult to manage.

I have always found value in the 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous and many of their recovery philosophies.  There have been many situations in my own life where I found that my will and effort alone could not fix a problem.  The harder I tried, the less effective it might be.  Much of these situations had to do with my desire to stay strong and independent and not take the risk of being vulnerable to other people.  I really believed that I could make things better if I did the right research, had the right attitude and gave the right effort.  Unfortunately this isn’t always the case. In some situations and circumstances an addictive element would take over causing me to be more self-absorbed and caught in destructive patterns of behavior.  In these situations it was vital that I learn to surrender and open myself up to the guidance of my spiritual source and other people.

When I first experienced severe chronic pain and fibromyalgia symptoms my life was no longer manageable in the way I was used to.  I found it was difficult to complete daily tasks, care for my children, and deal with the daily pain that would not escape me.  I searched for ways to eliminate and understand my pain, yet nothing worked in the way I thought I needed.  The people around me had a variation of reactions to my new pain, from excessive advice, demands for specific types of treatment, and ignoring my reality to those who offered both love and practical help.  I could no longer nurture my relationships in the same way and they too seemed unmanageable.

The difficult thing with the word “powerless” is that I still have power in some areas, while other things are beyond my control.  I did not choose to have chronic pain enter my world and my will alone won’t make it go away.  I am powerless over waking up at night with pain, having pain spasm when I sit, the pins and needles, the fatigue, or the more intense pain I experience in my back and knees.  I am also limited in that I don’t know all things, what the cause of my pain is, and what specifically could make it end (if there is a cure).  Even if I did all the research in the world, I would never completely know everything about how my body works.  Fortunately I do have options of experimenting with medications, activities and adaptations that might lessen my pain.  I can choose to prioritize my activities, continue self-healing (physical, mental, spiritual), find joy in the moment and give to those around me in spite of my pain.  My attitude and ways of coping will always be something within my power.  I can choose to open up to a new way of living, that brings me down a better path than I imagined.

The beauty of recovery is that the principles will carry you forward even though the addiction/chronic pain is still a part of you.  As with addiction, I cannot live the same way I did before, as this way of living will lead me into darkness.  If I keep searching for what was, compare myself to those who seem to have it better and try to live the old way, my life will be unmanageable.  Though I will pray for complete physical healing, I believe I am receiving greater spiritual and mental healing than I could have imagined.  My pain creates a sense of vulnerability, humility and need that opens me up to something greater than myself.  Recognizing my powerlessness was the first step, the beginning of something more.

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