More Than My Disease

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


Survival Is Science, Living is Art

Survival Is Science, Living is Art

What do a long-time abused spouse, a depressed adult child of an alcoholic, a widower and father of three, a caregiver of a partner with Alzheimer’s and a trauma nurse addicted to pain pills likely have in common? They have all learned to survive. In fact, many of us who have come through tragedy or crisis get pretty darn good at it. Survival is not about what is healthy, safe or even makes sense. It is what we do in despair, out of necessity, to maintain our existence. Emotive/psychological survival is driven by desperation and the driving force behind it is in our biology. It can be hard, unforgiving, painful, self-destructive and appear to be an eternal and inescapable state of suffering. Yet we feel bound to defend it. But survival is never enough.

Surviving and living are not the same. At Live Better Live Now we often say, “Survival is science, living is art“. The meaning of this is a bit more than may initially be clear.  Yes, the biology and science involved are pretty obvious. But there is more. Survival, whether physical or emotional is an exact and fixed measure; you do survive or you do not survive. Survival is also a linear condition; you continue to survive until some point at which you no longer do. Many would refer to the the will to survive as being neurologically sourced from our “old brain” – a primal, or base, instinct. But this is not living.

In as much as survival is biology, living is spiritual philosophy. As survival is fixed and measured, living is expressive and unbound. How we live is an art. Our expression. One of my clients referred to it as the way in which she painted the days of her life in each and every day. Living is a way of being – and it bears a freedom of choice. Our choice. The addict in recovery can choose not to reach out to reconnect and repair with her family – or she can choose to try. Even if they are not ready or able to accept her amends, she can reach out into her recovery community and be active and connected with others. The young man with stage three brain cancer can define himself as “that guy with the cancer” and live in that way each day – or he can defy that label and extend himself fully into living as fully as he can in each day – seeking to absorb the preciousness of each moment for it’s own sake; engaging fully in “normal” life. The victim of abuse can be silent and go on without sharing her pain with anyone, fearful and ashamed or she can join a support group, reach out for help from a close friend or relative and carve a new life for herself going forward.

No, it’s not fast and by all means it’s not easy – but it is fulfilling beyond anything else imaginable and it is what it means to truly be alive. Changing our perspective, our personal philosophy, takes time and it is a process. It does not happen in a single point (it is not fixed or linear) – but over a series of experiences. While survival seeks to delay our ending – living seeks to embrace life-in-action right now, for it’s own sake.

By nature we are communal creatures – one of the most direct ways to start living again is to surround yourself with positive community. Family, friends, faith tradition, colleagues and peers – not just one, I suggest several small engagements a week with different, positive and supportive, communities. Counseling and some forms of coaching/consulting can help as well. Support groups and faith groups can also be a resource. Joining a club or volunteer organization. I have even sent clients out to talk with religious leaders of other faiths then their own – to talk about pain, forgiveness, compassion and joy. Other views can often help us rekindle and strengthen our own.

We all deserve to experience the wonder and beauty of each moment. You deserve this. When surviving is no longer enough, we must return to living. If you have hit that point, or know someone who has, reach out. When I take action to cultivate happiness in the lives of others, I find it for myself as well. Community can heal us all.

Thanks for reading. I hope you will visit again.

Pace’ Tutti –

Live Better Live Now – Survival Is Science, Living Is Art.