By guest author, Emma R.
Decades ago, a pair of alcoholics struggling with their disease found that by sharing their mutual experience, strength, and hope — and rigorously following a 12-Step program of recovery — they could find the courage and tools to change their lives for the better, one day at a time. Today, those same principles and the 12-Step program that proved so successful for Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) are being applied in Chronic Pain Anonymous (CPA), to serve the needs of persons with chronic illness and pain of all types. From humble beginnings, the CPA movement is now rapidly growing.
Health of Mind and Spirit
What might the 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) — created by Bill Wilson and Dr. Bob Smith to deal with the disease of alcoholism — have to do with chronic pain and illness?
Dale Lehn asked himself that question in 2002. As a recovering alcoholic, Dale had experienced firsthand the beneficial impact a 12-Step recovery program can have on improving quality of life. After 6 years in AA, Dale thought the worst was behind him as he got his life put back together. Then, following two surgeries to remove a tumor growing inside his spinal cord, resulting in chronic pain and paraplegia, he found himself hitting a new low point in his life. He wasn’t sure he could find his way back this time.
In the midst of his despair he began thinking that disease is disease. With an understanding borne from his alcoholism recovery he knew it doesn’t matter how disturbing the symptoms are because the most important underlying problem is not physical, whether alcoholism or pain. It is really about the health of one’s mind and spirit. Dale realized that recovery of any kind is ultimately about how one chooses to live his or her life.
CPA Venturing Into New Territory
With this new insight Dale joined with a fellow member of AA, Barry R., who also lived with chronic pain and illness, and together they started Chronic Pain Anonymous, or CPA. Their first meeting was held in June 2004 at a restaurant in the Baltimore, Maryland area.
Soon, a local church offered space for weekly meetings, which allowed them to attract new members. Venturing into unexplored territory, this newly formed recovery group adapted the approach and 12 Steps of AA — with permission of the AA World Services organization — and applied them to living with chronic pain and illness. They quickly discovered the principles and concepts of 12-Step recovery were transferrable and effective in making a positive difference in people whose lives are filled with health challenges.
Reaching Out to Help Others
Given the success of the initial group, they decided to reach out to others and created a website for CPA at http://chronicpainanonymous.org. At this site, the drop-down menus for each tab — eg, About, Meetings, Stories, Resources — offer a great deal of information, helpful materials, and inspiration.
The Internet presence attracted people across the United States — as well as Canada, Australia, and Europe — who wanted to explore how the 12 Steps, slogans, and principles of programs such as AA and Al Anon (for families of alcoholics) could ease their suffering and bring happiness and serenity into lives overwhelmed by pain and illness. The CPA mission is expressed in the following statement at the site Home page:
CPA is a fellowship of men and women who share their experience, strength and hope with each other so that they may solve their common problem and help others recover from the disabling effects of chronic pain and chronic illness. We believe that changing attitudes can aid recovery.
The only requirement for membership is a desire to recover from the emotional and spiritual debilitation of chronic pain or chronic illness. There are no dues or fees for CPA membership. We are self-supporting through our own contributions. CPA is not allied with any sect, denomination, politics, organization or institution; does not wish to engage in any controversy, neither endorses nor opposes any causes.
Our primary purpose is to live our lives to the fullest by minimizing the effects of chronic pain and chronic illness in our lives and helping others to do the same. We do this by practicing the Twelve Steps and welcoming and giving comfort and understanding to each other.
The CPA fellowship has continued to grow at a steady pace. In 2012, CPA was officially incorporated in the state of Arizona and received IRS non-profit status.
Currently, there are 3 types of meetings: face-to-face meetings in more than a dozen cities, online/Internet meetings, and telephone meetings nearly every day of the week (see the MEETINGS tab drop-down menu at the website). Anyone can start a meeting in their own community, and there is a Meeting Manual at the website (under the RESOURCES tab) explaining how to begin. There also is a Meeting Liaison who can answer questions and help a group get started.
CPA is not a support group focused on a specific illness — although, people do find support, love, and understanding. Often people who find CPA have hit a low point in their health journey, just like Dale did. They have searched for new doctors, procedures, therapies, even seeking metaphysical solutions, sometimes for many years.
Along the way, many of these persons drained their financial resources and exhausted family and friends — yet the result was to find no relief or answers. They end up with more despair, loneliness, and hopelessness as they run out of options. This is when many of us find CPA – when we are ready to surrender.
Not Alone Anymore
Just as alcoholics experience the relief of discovering there are others like them upon entering the rooms of AA, persons living with chronic pain and chronic illness also discover that they are no longer alone and misunderstood when they attend their first CPA meeting. They may have believed for a long time that they were the only ones who feel despair, anger, grief, or numbness, but they soon learn that they do not have to explain themselves or their feelings — the group understands.
This sense of belonging and connection brings a feeling of liberation and a hope that lifts spirits. By developing true friendships with people who understand the daily struggles, we garner new support that gives us strength and renews courage. Through the trusted kinship of mutual purpose we begin to move forward in our journey, learning how changing our relationship with pain and illness changes our lives.
The 12-Step Journey
Alcoholics do not go to AA and talk about their favorite brands of bourbon, or the bars they like to frequent. Similarly, in CPA we don’t focus on the problems of specific medical conditions, the health care system, or the insurance industry.
We come into CPA knowing those problems inside and out, and that we haven’t yet found solutions. For those of us having no or few medical options for physical recovery, we need to find a solution that is not based on cure, but is based on healing our mind and spirit.
The 12 Steps take people on a journey of self-exploration, beginning with unconditional acceptance of one’s physical condition and letting go of trying to fix, change, or improve the situation. We then begin to develop a relationship with a Power beyond and greater than ourselves. This is a personal, not a religious, Higher Power. Through the experience of friends in the fellowship, one learns a new way to live — a way in which there is hope, laughter, and a sense of purpose each day.
Literature created by CPA explains how the program works and how it can make a difference, one day at a time. At our website, along with several brochures, there are One Day at a Time affirmations [here], which succinctly guide us to practical changes for each day.
For example: “One Day at a Time I will pace myself and trust my body to guide me. I will not push when my body tells me it is time to stop. I will do half of what I think I can accomplish.” We change our attitudes and our behaviors, little by little, and we find ourselves living in new ways that bring serenity and a life we never dreamed possible.
A Promising Outlook
What is the result of the journey in CPA? Just as AA has its “Promises” describing what one might expect over time by rigorously working the 12 Steps, CPA will soon be publishing their “Outlook” statement, as follows:
By working the Twelve Steps of Chronic Pain Anonymous our relationship with chronic pain and chronic illness is no longer adversarial. Each morning we wake with the joy of hope. Challenges no longer block the way. Possibilities we never dreamed of are now part of our daily existence. We relish connecting with others. We want to be around people and people want to be around us. Our life of isolation no longer exists. Fellowship, rather than loneliness, describes our life.
Self-pity is replaced by a belief our life has value and is worth living. Fear is replaced by courage, strength and faith to overcome any challenges. We even see challenges as opportunities for spiritual growth. We are compassionate and kind to ourselves, and consider the needs of others. We forgive those whom we perceive have harmed us so we can be free from the chains of the past. We have gratitude and place our attention on all that is good. Remembering progress, not perfection, we approach each day with a positive attitude, no matter what condition our body is in when we start the day.
We can feel serenity and peace, no matter what is happening physically. Our body does not determine the joy we experience in life. We can laugh and see the lighter side of situations. Our pain and illness are no longer the primary focus of our day. We value ourselves and believe we have something to give to the world. We are open to new beginnings and no longer cling to how things were in the past.
We deserve to love and be loved. Our existence has meaning and purpose. Our life is far better than we had ever imagined possible. We now have faith in a Power greater than ourselves, who can do for us what we cannot do for ourselves. This Higher Power is the foundation that supports and guides us as we move through each moment.
CPA Book Offers Stories of Hope
In October 2012, CPA published their first book, Stories of Hope: Living in Serenity with Chronic Pain and Illness [available here]. It is a book of essays, written by men and women in the fellowship who have found peace and serenity and describes clearly how they did it. For those who are unfamiliar with 12-Step programs, Stories of Hope is an excellent introduction to how the program can improve the quality of their lives.
The book starts with a discussion of fear and anger, and moves through the range of emotional states familiar to many of us, ending in acceptance and hope. There are stories serving as lessons about each of the 12 Steps, as well as how people have found their way using the CPA tools to have a life that they love, no matter what is happening with their physical circumstances.
Just as a man or woman can find the joy of sobriety by sharing with others the fruits of following the Steps of AA, the members of CPA also grow by giving away to others what they have learned and applied to their lives. Please visit the CPA website today [here] if you are curious or want more information. You also can write to firstname.lastname@example.org.
About the Author: Correspondent Emma R. is a longtime member of CPA who has chosen to maintain her anonymity in keeping with the “principles over personalities” tradition of the organization. She has lived with chronic pain and illness for many years. Before finding CPA she was often depressed, occasionally suicidal, and spent much of her time alone and staying close to home. She credits the tools of CPA and the 12 Steps to saving her life, and expanding her world beyond anything she imagined possible.
Editor’s Proviso: All observations, opinions, advice, or facts expressed above are those of the guest author, and do not necessarily reflect the positions or endorsement of Pain Treatment Topics, our staff and advisors, or our educational supporters/sponsors. Opinions, clarifications, or opposing viewpoints regarding this UPDATE article are welcomed in comments below or by separate submission for consideration of publication.
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