Step 1: We admitted we were powerless over [our chronic illness]—our lives had become unmanageable.
As Martha Cleveland wrote, "Step One asks us to admit that our chronic illness or disability causes us pain, and that we cannot control it, move away from it, or manage it" (33). I know from personal experience that focusing on my physical conditions and the limitations it imposes on my life can keep me from growing spiritually. My world begins to look rather small and I begin to feel insignificant because so many activities that others seem to be able to do without much thought cause me to get sicker. My feelings of fear can easily spiral out of control with me ending up on the `pity pot'. Or I experience anger because others don't seem to understand how their use of fragrances affects my health.
Step One does imply that I need to practice acceptance. It doesn`t mean I give up responsibility to do whatever is available for me to do. I still have to take my medicine, supplements, eat healthy, exercise, practice avoidance of chemicals and visit my doctor. It does mean I can give up any self-flagellation for having MCS (Multiple Chemical Sensitivities) or simply endure criticism from others, however well-meaning, who believe my disorder is something stemming from some form of mental illness. I admit I'm powerless to change other people, as well. I can inform them of how toxic the various chemicals they choose to use are, but I can't make them stop using them. I`m powerless to change their opinion of me, as well. Trying to change others surely leads to unmanageability.
Acceptance also doesn't mean I have to like having MCS! It means I practice "surrendering to win." I give up fighting against something I cannot change. Powerlessness doesn't necessarily feel good, but the pursuit of control can hold me in a vicious cycle of denial and grasping, increasing my stress, which inevitably increases my illness. "In our surrender to powerlessness, we find energy for the powerful emotions that can lead us to spiritual health," Martha encourages (37). She also shares some questions to explore Step One, one of which is:
When you look back on your life, how important has control been to you in relation to your chronic illness or disability?
- All quotes taken from: Living Well: A Twelve-Step Response to Chronic Illness and Disability .
- The Happiness Trap
- Radical Acceptance