More Than My Disease
I work with many people who are struggling in the face of great adversity and like many of us – I have my own history with survival as well. What frequently comes up whether I am working with a stage three cancer patient or a mother battling with addiction to opiates is a desperate need for a redefinition of how we see ourselves in the face of our disease. I find that at least initially, when people come to the point of accepting that they have a disease – they often see themselves as defined by it: “I am a guy with cancer”, “I am a mom who is an addict”, and so on. Rationally, they are aware that this is not the limit of who they are – but the emotive part of us is very powerful and not so rational.
At Live Better Live Now we have a saying, “Survival is science, living is art”. Doctors, hospitals, medicine, treatment, etc – these are all here for your survival. But life is more than that – more than just survival. Living, and I mean truly living is a way of being; the creative expression of our existence. In as much as survival is the biology part of the equation, living is the philosophy of it.
Now I know some folks will take issue with me discussing cancer and addiction in the same breath – so be it. I am a strong believer of the “disease model” of addiction and in my experience there is a great deal of similarity in the path that all of us travel when we face down a disease. Having cancer or addiction can arguably be said to be not up to choice. Genetics, lifestyle, whatever plays into it – no one asks for the suffering disease brings. However, choice plays a very big role in what I do once I realize what I am faced with. A stage three cancer patient can opt for aggressive chemotherapy and radiation treatments, try a new experimental approach, make drastic changes to diet and health regimen, choose nothing and live out whatever time they may have and so on. They have choices. The mom in recovery from opiate addiction can get a jump start at a residential treatment facility, go to 12 Step meetings or other community support group, work with a physician / addictionologist and a therapist who specializes in addiction and so on. They have choices. In both cases and many others, we may not choose the disease we face – but how we address it is ultimately up to us; our choice. 12 step has a saying that fits well here; “You are not responsible for your disease, but you are responsible for your behavior.”
How I define myself is also my choice. I’m not just arguing for a paradigm shift in cognitive definition. The way I live is how I am defined in the world. If I see myself as the guy or gal with the disease – and live as such – then in many ways I am the limit of my ailment. I strongly encourage my clients to get out and get into the world – this is as important as many other aspects of their treatment. Beyond the community and support that is there for those faced with similar disease (cancer survivor groups, addiction recovery groups, etc) – it is so important to be actively engaged in positive communities that revolve around living life fully in – in this moment. There are so many options – the sky is the limit. Some of my clients are more physically challenged so they opt for joining book clubs, pairing up with others to go walking, setting up a weekly breakfast at a local diner. Those that have the physical capacity I encourage to join a gym with a friend, set up a group to bike rides, a weekly basketball game and so on. You can usually find local groups on the web. But let’s not forget one of the best options that anyone can find; volunteer. There is always someone out there who has it worse than we do and helping them to find joy for a moment ineveitably does the same for us. No matter how small your town or how limiting your physical health – there is surely a need you can fill.
Yes, sometimes is can feel like “pulling teeth”, like it takes everything you have to force yourself up and out – keep at it. Patterns become habits and that, in a simple sense is what you are creating; a positive habit. Remember, our personal integrity is the harmony between what we believe (thoughts) and how we behave (actions). There is a very powerful and freeing feeling that comes with living in integrity. You know you are not only your disease – so don’t live like you are. Life is not linear, but a path. “Survival is science, living is art.” Get going !
Thanks for visiting. I hope you come back again.
(PS – one of the best examples of living fully in each moment and not being limited by the mechanics of his survival is Reggie Bibbs. You can learn a lot about what it means to persevere and revel daily in what is most precious from his story. Check out his mission in action witht he foundation he created; JustAsk).
Ben Carrettin – More Than My Disease