I’m continuously inspired by the stories I’m honored to bear witness to regarding how you’re living your life with a chronic or other life-altering illness. I’ve heard countless stories of courage, perseverance, and faith. What I realized this morning is that I’ve spent my entire career working in arenas where community is key. I’ve worked in drug and alcohol outpatient social model programs. I’ve worked at The Wellness Community where the word “community” is the optimal word. Community is how we get through the ups and downs of living with a chronic or other life-altering illness.
I remember one of the questions that Oprah Winfrey used to ask her guests was, “What do you know for sure?” This morning it really hit me. I know for sure that we can’t live in isolation. The diagnosis of a health challenge often inflicts the feeling of isolation upon us because we believe the struggle is ours and ours alone. I’m a firm believer in support groups because they get us out of the idea of being “terminally unique”. The notion that we are going through this ordeal and no one has ever done this before. Support groups break through that myth and put you in the midst or in some cases a sea of others facing the same challenge(s).
We’re social creatures. We thrive in community. So think of this…if we thrive in community and we focus on thrive don’t you think your body, your cells, will thrive in community? The mind, body, spirit connection is strong so building one part of the triad up helps build the others. Support and nurturance give your body the physical, emotional, and spiritual nutrients it needs to thrive. Having others who you can rely on and who rely upon you makes you feel nurtured and needed. You belong to something larger than yourself.
I believe in community so much and obviously so do many others because entire movements have been established to create community. Think of the Susan G. Komen Foundation. Their “Race for the Cure” and the Avon Breast Cancer Walk gets thousands of people together in one place, engaging in one activity, for a common cause. It’s why walk-a-thons have become so popular for fundraising by nonprofits serving those with a chronic or life-threatening illness…it builds community.
I hope you find your community, your tribe. I believe it will reduce stress, help you make better decisions about your health, and keep you connected to others. I’m prescribing lots of connection on your journey to wellness.
As usual I’m reading a few books at the same time trying to quench my thirst for wisdom or at least knowledge. Those who have overcome difficult times often refer to “the dark night of the soul”. It has become a euphemism and is not, at least according to experts, what those who coined the idea intended when they shared their thoughts. St. John of the Cross is the person we can credit with the phrase “dark night of the soul”. However, he didn’t intend for it to mean sitting on a bathroom floor, crying for hours and feeling an internal sense of desperation as described by Elizabeth Gilbert in “Eat, Pray, Love”. Instead he truly looked at “the dark night of the soul” as viewing something obscure, difficult to see but not devastating to life.
Once I read about St. Teresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross I wanted to view a modern interpretation of “dark night of the soul” and found a book by Gerald May by that title. One line caught my attention, “Liberation, whether experienced pleasurably or painfully, always involves relinquishment, some kind of loss” (p. 70). I’ve argued this point for years. I believe that our path of grieving begins the moment we’re born and leave the warmth, protection and isolation of the womb. Throughout our lives we will continue to suffer loss and it becomes cumulative over our lifetimes.
When diagnosed with an illness loss is a key ingredient in life’s recipe. I don’t care how minuscule the loss, there is a change from how life was lived before the diagnosis. Maybe it won’t have a huge impact on your life, but it will have an impact. The shift may be conscious or unconscious but it will be made. It’s crucial that we honor our losses. When we honor the changes we’re able to live without pretending. The hope is that it shifts your priorities. I think a lot about Tim McGraw’s song “Live like you were dying”. Imagine if we were really able to understand the meaning of the song. What if we truly lived each day as if it were a precious gift and not simply as something to get through.
Honoring a loss is liberating because it releases the binding power of the diagnosis. It creates opportunities, and for some it creates community. Have you ever been to a Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure? Thousands of women, men and children congregate to raise funds and awareness for breast cancer research and services.
The question becomes what will it take or how will you liberate yourself? What does liberation in the face of illness mean to you? What will you do with that liberation?