I am the boat
and I am the ocean.
The waves are constant, swelling, falling.
I can’t adjust my sails for they are broken.
Once they were full and beautiful,
able to catch the breeze,
free to travel.
Now they are stranded upon a vessel
lost on a troubled sea.
The tides come and go.
On the ocean I do battle.
I cannot see the land.
Living with chronic illness in recovery is very much like I described above. I entered recovery a few years ago and it really did save me from myself. At a year sober I had dreams and aspirations and felt I had the world at my feet. I was working towards those dreams – trying new things, seeing what I liked and looking into further education.
One day all that stopped.
Recently after over a year of extreme disability, and today in particular, I felt at the end of my rope so to speak. I am unable to get to face to face meetings on a regular basis, and when I do go I feel self-conscious due to involuntary movements or vocal tics. I dread taking a seizure in front of people. But mainly it’s just plain uncomfortable due to pain and my inability to concentrate on what others say. I am so extremely fatigued that I am unable to leave the house.
Chronic ill health consumes me. My body has become a prison and on days like this my head is not far behind.
Today I reached a point where I really wanted this all to end. However I recognise this is not a good way to think and if there is one thing I need now, more than ever, it is my sanity. So I decided to write this and hopefully contribute to the health of others in recovery. After all isn’t that what step 12 is all about, taking the message to other addicts?
My message might be coming from a slightly different angle, but I know I am not the only one who is suffering due to chronic illness. I have needed to use the steps differently now than when I first entered recovery – they also help me cope with daily difficulties due to illness.
Step 1- We admitted we were powerless over alcohol and that our lives had become unmanageable.
Boy was I powerless when I entered recovery and my life was on the brink of collapse, I was somehow just holding things together – absolutely unmanageable!
Today powerlessness has never been more evident. My body does not do what I want it to. Involuntary movement, seizures, vocal tics, speech issues, fatigue, pain, dystonia – it goes on and on.
However when I read step one from my 12 and 12 I realised that my life is still manageable. My family life is happier than it was while I was in active addiction. I am a more responsible person despite my difficulties. I try to accept the powerlessness over illness but take responsibility for keeping my head in the right place. This is manageable. This is grown up.
Step 2-Came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
I do believe in a higher power and am very spiritual. Do I believe that it can restore my sanity? The evidence I see leads me to say yes. Whilst it is true that living day to day with serious ill health is a pain quite literally and trying to do the very basics is really difficult, my sanity is still much better than it ever was when I was drinking – despite today being tough for mentally. I do have to examine how I cope and my faith is my anchor.
Step 3-Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood him.
My will. Oh dear. I want. I want to be well. I am not.
Acceptance is not easy when there is no end in sight and physical suffering feels like a lead weight. I often say to my sponsor that it’s like waking up with a gorilla sitting on me. How do I accept that? It makes no difference physically if I accept it or not. My condition does not change with acceptance. However if we go back to step 2, then acceptance of my condition will certainly help retain my sanity. Easy! Actually no. I do not like accepting illness. It feels like defeat – but I can accept that I’m powerless. It is in my powerlessness that I see God taking care of the other areas of my life.
Step 4 and 5 were hugely important in my recovery and taught me a lot about taking responsibility. However for the purposes of chronic illness I have not much to say.
Step 6- We were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
My character defects have become glaringly obvious due to my illness. I have noticed big shifts in my moods. I become irritable quickly and have an increased impulse to comment on things that perhaps don’t need my input. Being unable to work gives me lots of time to notice where I could be doing better. This is a two birds, one stone, step for me because it helps my recovery and helps me cope with my illness. No one likes to care for a grumpy chops.
I am trying really hard to be available for my family. They love to come into my bed in the evening and that has become a special time of day for us. Recognising where I need to give my time to them and not using illness as an excuse for bad habits has certainly been helped by step 6
Step 7- Humbly asked him to remove our short comings
Yes God you can take away my character defects, the ones that were with me during active addiction and the ones that show up in illness. DONE!
Steps 8 and 9 taught me about living amends. I do my best to not take my frustrations out on those around me, it also means I stay sober no matter what. Living amends is a daily thing.
Step 10- Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.
Who else finds that the hardest person to admit things to is yourself? I can justify anything if I really want to. Step 10 in its daily form is a new practice for me. This step really does help me keep things in good shape within the family unit. It is not always easy and I am human. Dealing with constant fatigue can leave me impatient (patience was never my strong point anyway) and snappy. I do get things wrong. But awareness is the key to change and step 10 keeps me aware. Life throws many things our way and it’s not all candy floss and rainbows. Keeping our path tidy makes for better coping skills and sets a good example to those around us.
Step 11-Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood him. Praying only for knowledge of his will for us and the power to carry that out.
This is my favourite and most upsetting step, all at the same time. It is upsetting because I want to do so much but my body just will not let me. I want so much to do the will of my Higher Power but how do I do that when I spend so much time in bed and very rarely leave the house?
That said, it is the conscious contact that is the vital life giving step for me personally. It is where I can be fully me in all my weakness and frustrations and in all my happiness and triumphs. It is where I can listen to the still small voice and see what it is that I can do. It is where I got the idea to do this article and where all my hopes and dreams go. Hopefully a small amount of me can come out and be of benefit in a world full of noise. I would not be even remotely sane without this step.
Step 12- Having had a spiritual awakening as a result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics and practice these principles in all our affairs
Where I was when I entered recovery and where I am today are so far removed from each other. I have absolutely had a spiritual awakening and I am every grateful to the steps of AA for helping me.
It is my hope that this article helps with my step 12. I love my recovery, however putting down the substance is only the beginning. None of us know what is around the corner. My life changed overnight. It is through the daily use of these steps that I am able to cope. Some days my coping skills are marginal but I am getting through this one day at a time.
If you are suffering from a chronic illness and not yet in recovery then please get in touch with your local AA or NA the steps and the fellowships will give you way more than you thought possible
If you are in recovery and life has given you a bum deal then I really hope that this has given you a little bit of hope or helped you view the steps from a slightly different perspective.
Whichever one it is you are not alone in your recovery or your illness.
I can totally relate to your story! Thank You for sharing it, our stories need to be told because people who aren’t in our predicament just don’t understand. This is one way that they may be able to relate!
My Dear Lady, I thank you from the very center of my spirit- I was diagnosed w/ Severe RA at 8 years sober, when all of my sober living was rewarding me, I did what “any alcoholic/addict would do” share my “Fear” w/ my sponsor, my home group- MANY others in Recovery had varying degrees of disabilities. I have no answer other than “Continue to HOPE, give freely of all that can be a ray of light” to many, disabilities in Recovery may seem (and are) overwhelming- but so many of us who have tasted the “serenity, shared our failure, reached out”- we never give up, we continue to find any small sense of purpose. By allowing others to help, they are being blessed, as it is written “Nothing, absolutely nothing happends in the Creator’s world by mistake” I will never know why I or most importantly- YOU, have this obstacle to live with, but we do. How shall we make the best of it? Use it as a “starting point to be someone’s HOPE”, when I am weak, my Creator never abandons me- Light and Much Love from the other side of our world (You are never alone) Thank You for being You!