It is both frustrating and frightening when our bodies lose their resilience. Sometimes this process unfolds naturally over decades, but other times we may feel blind-sided by the sudden on-set of a debilitating affliction or an accident. Practicing the following strategies with some measure of consistency will help you restore a sense of control and well-being.
1. Embrace mystery.
In an effort to gain control over the fact of illness you may ask yourself questions. Why did this happen? Why did this happen to me? Did I do something to deserve or cause it? It is normal to wonder if you are culpable when bad things happen. It is, of course, important to make adjustments in your life style and habits if they strain and undermine your immune system. But illness remains one of the greatest mysteries of life; in many cases there are no clear answers.
At first, it is completely natural to feel at the mercy of your illness—to fear or, even, hate it. But when you continue to identify illness as an “enemy,” you set yourself up for ceaseless inner conflict. Holding tension within the body does not support the healing process, which requires compassion, understanding, patience, and acceptance.
3. Change perspectives.
Redefine your relationship with your illness from one in which the two of you are adversaries to one in which you are allies. To create a partnership with your illness, you are required to take an entirely different view of what is occurring, replacing counter-productive attitudes and victim consciousness with the idea that your illness may also involve some unrecognized aspect of your being that needs to communicate with you.
4. Take responsibility.
For healing to take place, it is imperative that you own whatever is happening in your life and body right now. By taking responsibility, you can step into your own power and begin the process of healing. Taking responsibility is different from self-blame. This is not the time for harsh recriminations. No matter how it happened, keep your focus on those aspects of the healing process you can now control.
5. Define yourself as a creator.
See yourself as a creator in a struggle to express who you are. Even if there are clear medical issues beyond your control, identifying yourself as a creator will activate your intuition and empower actions that support your healing process.
There are a number of traditional and non-traditional treatment modalities that can be effective for chronic pain and illness. The question to ask yourself is this: Are they effective for me? Research and experiment with a variety of approaches until you find the combination of treatments and lifestyle changes that work best for you.
7. Embrace learning and self-discovery.
Healing asks us to live closer to ourselves. We must learn about who we are, where we came from, what we need, and where our wounds lie. Self-intimacy becomes an indispensable aspect of the healing process.
8. Pay attention.
We must learn to pay attention in ways that we normally don’t allow time for in our headlong rush to meet the demands of each day. Illness interrupts this mindless cycle of doing. In the process, it teaches us much about opening to so-called negative states in order to deepen our capacity to love. Viewed from an inclusive perspective, illness can become a pathway to compassion and intimacy as well as a vehicle for discovering hidden strengths. As I frequently tell my clients, “There is always a gift. You have not been abandoned.”
9. Surrender the pursuit of perfection.
To acknowledge what cannot be cured is to recognize imperfection as life’s essential sorrow. As the healing process moves us closer and closer to wholeness, it asks that we surrender control again and again. It is normal to experience great sadness over the loss of former strengths and competencies, but we can also discover new depths of joy and tenderness as illness guides us towards a path of spiritual growth and wisdom.
10. Respect fertile limits.
When we develop chronic disease, the reality of limits is brought home in no uncertain terms. In life, as in our aging bodies, there are things that cannot be cured, but there is power in learning how to live with and, ultimately, beyond these challenges—beyond things that can’t be overcome.
11. Grieve and refocus.
Grieving what has been lost is an essential aspect of the healing process. At some point, you will need to reclaim your life. Focus on what remains to be lived rather than what has been lost.
12. Rediscover your life.
Once you embrace the reality of limitation, you may discover, to your surprise and delight, that your illness has become a great and compassionate teacher that can inspire you to live a better life than you did before you became ill. Not necessarily a life you had imagined or planned; not necessarily an easier life, but one that can be infinitely richer in soul and spirit. What worlds in and around you await your discovery?
13. Go with the flow.
When we experience chronic physical or psychological imbalance, periods of anguish and anger cycle into periods of acceptance and joy. Be patient with the flow of your emotional responses. Keep a journal or try intuitive painting as a way to communicate the rich intensity of your experience.
14. Mother yourself.
If you had supportive caretakers while growing up then this step will come naturally. For those of you who did not, try to remember the kind of care you longed for as a child. Now is the time to deliver this care to yourself. Rest, get a massage, take a hot bath, write a loving note to yourself, curl up in a chair with a good book, or simply take a day off and just be.
15. Take the pressure off.
Tear-up that ever-present to-do list. Adjust your expectations of yourself. Above all, educate friends and family so they can adjust their expectations as well. Stick to accomplishing the basics. Ask for help if you begin to feel too overwhelmed. Remember, your health and well-being matter more than anything else right now.
16. Consider the paradox of pain.
Pain can be emotional or physical or both. Pain is a problem. But making war on your body or numbing-out may not be a sustainable solution to the problem of pain. The power of awareness, acceptance, and deep listening allows pain to gradually shift of its own accord. It is human to resist what hurts or threatens us, but consider this: When it comes to pain, what threatens us may also love us.