Five years ago, I had the privilege of attending Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) meetings with a friend who was struggling with addiction. I listened carefully to The Twelve Steps, hoping to learn how to help spare my friend years of physical pain and heartache. I was arrogant enough to think that I could “cure” her, but it was in these barren rooms inside of churches and addiction centers where I was first introduced to the concept of powerlessness and the importance of giving back.
1. We admit we’re powerless over our disease.
When I was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease, I thought I could “cure” myself. I honestly believed that Crohn’s disease would be a tiny asterisk beside an even smaller footnote of my life. I had no idea that there were varying degrees of the disease, and that mine would quickly take a wrong turn down the dangerous streets of IBD town. I tried every diet in the book and blamed myself for every failure and flare. I spent hours angry at myself when I woke up sick, running down the lists of the things that I ate the night before. Soon, I found that it didn’t matter if I had a piece of dry toast or a chocolate cupcake–food was not the determining factor in my disease.
It’s taken me almost six years to admit that I’m “powerless” over my disease. I didn’t do anything to myself to make my immune system decide to chew on my intestines like my dogs chew on rawhide. I can’t change who I am and I can’t change the fact that a gluten-free diet helps others but it doesn’t help me. I am a responsible patient and take my medication and meet regularly with my doctor; but I know, now, that it’s not my fault that I am sick. By letting that go, I have given away the stress and shame that comes with this disease.
2. We carry this message to others suffering from chronic pain or disease.
When I first became sick, I Googled the crap out of my disease [excuse the pun]. I was pretty sure that I not only had IBD, but bowel and pancreatic cancer, too. If Google told me I was going to die, then who was I to argue? There is so much information on the Web, including medical sites that appear to be run by preschoolers. Conventional treatments are expensive, and adding alternative therapies like acupuncture and massage can break the bank. How do you know if floating in a pod of salt water will help your achy joints without spending a hundred bucks to try it?
That, my friends, is the beauty of the Crohn’s writer. It wasn’t until I connected with Crohn’s disease forums and blogs before I began to breathe easier. I found out that if I got a paper cut while on Remicade or Humira, I wouldn’t end up an amputee. Our disease is a tricky one and no two symptoms are alike. I am but a small fish in the Crohn’s disease pond, but it’s my obligation and privilege to share my experiences with those who are facing some of the scariest moments of their lives. Crohn’s and chronic disease writers have taught me that through writing, comes understanding; and through sharing, comes the gift of giving back.