Goals and the 12 Steps

As a child, I was spoiled rotten.

 I always set goals, even going as far back as I can remember. The main goal was to own possessions, toys mostly, LP records, "45's" and books. Lots and lots of books.

 I would bring my completed order form in to school on book-buying day and I'd have chosen probably fifteen or twenty books. Only one other kid would have as many as me, and that was "the brain" of the class, Something Goldstein. Perhaps, I, too, was the brain of the class. The other kids would gaggle and gaff, and sometimes gasp, as I carried my twenty books back to my little desk. I don't know why, but I guess I was different, I just know I loved to read, and started reading at age four according to reports from the folks.

 Christmas and birthdays, the goal-setting would begin several weeks in advance. I would draft a lengthy list, something like you'd see Santa Claus reviewing in a holiday storybook or cartoon. I'd give the list to Mom and Dad, and Christmas morning (or birthday morning), I'd receive each and every gift I'd put on my little goal-setter list.

 I had other goals, too. How to stay home from school (a school-phobe, and "sickly" my whole life), was the main one.

 Into the teens and approaching adulthood, the goals became loftier: get the job, buy a car, get the guy, break up with the guy, get married to someone else (did that), get divorced (did that, too), have a baby (a goal, sadly, never reached and probably due to my health situation), start college (late), graduate college with a 4.0 GPA, get the better job, get a raise, get a promotion, buy a house, buy another house. Each goal, with the exception (sadly) of having a kid and marrying my darling Gil, I have achieved with ease and success.

 Sobriety needs to get an honorable mention.

 And of course, adopting and raising my wonderful dogs and cats.

 After I ticked all the large and lofty goals off my list, there were, and have always been, the daily goals. From exercise triumphs to the pile of papers on my desk, to a load of laundry, and grocery shopping. I set goals every single day, and I generally stick to them and achieve them.

 I've always been a high-achiever, and this more or less comes naturally to me.

 Most fibromyalgics are high-achievers. But some fibromytes may have to work on goal-setting.

 How to do it? Well, these days I personally do it all in my head, occasionally leaning on a piece of paper for help on a particularly fibro-fog-ridden day, or sending myself an email or two from home which I'd later receive at work, prompting me to remember to pay this bill or that.

 But those who aren't experienced at setting goals, or who've never tried it before, should revert to the childhood method of making a list, and checking it twice.

 Carry it around with you in your purse or pocket. Set up a list in your cell phone or PDA. Once the list is drawn (and you can add to it or subtract from it depending upon what life throws at you later in the day), start doing the things on it and cross them off as you go. By the end of a so-called perfect day, you should have no items on your list.

 Beginners should go slow. Don't shoot for the moon, and remember this is not a "to do" list. This is a list of things you want to do today, followed by a list of things you have to do today (unfortunately, we all have obligations). You can formulate a "to do" list, too if you'd like, but that's a separate agenda from what we're discussing here.

 Again, no shooting for the moon, the stars and the sky. Keep it simple. If you have one goal, perhaps that's taking a shower, then that's your goal for the day. If and when you complete the shower, check it off your list. You're done with your goal-setting for that day. If you're in a particularly bad patch with your fibromyalgia, these kinds of days may happen more often than not. And that's ok. Less is more. One day at a time, sometimes one hour, sometimes one minute at a time.

 Now, you may have noticed that I like to use a lot of cliche phrases. "Keep it simple" "Less is more" "Shooting for the moon" "One day at a time". In my past, I spent a lot of time in 12-Step programs (AA, Al-Anon, Co-Dependents Anonymous). It's been about a decade and a half since I attended those programs and meetings, but I still apply the principles of the 12 Steps (originally created by two men who founded AA nearly sixty years ago! wow!), in my life.

 "Practice these principles in all of our affairs" was drilled into our heads during our early months of sobriety in AA. And I still do it today, even though I haven't attended an AA meeting in more than 15 years. I truly believe that the 12 Steps and their accompanying "slogans" apply to everything and anything.

 If you are familiar with the 12 Steps yourself, try applying some of them to your fibromyalgia, and use the slogans often (not just in dealing with fibro, but in every aspect of your life).

 Now, obviously, Step 1 "We admitted we were powerless over [alcohol] and that our lives had become unmanageable" can certainly be modified slightly to apply to fibromyalgia: "We admitted we were powerless over fibromyalgia, and that our lives may have become unmanageable". I would be hard-pressed to suggest that anyone with fibromyalgia definitely has an unmanageable life like someone with alcoholism, but certainly it's possible that our life has become unmanageable enough to warrant recognition of this fact.

 That's all Step 1 is: recognizing that there's a problem, and you're powerless over it.

 As I've said before, Fibromyalgia Just Is. It exists, and you can control it sometimes, but basically you have no real power over it. It'll crop up whenever it feels like and turn your day upside-down, just when you thought you had it licked.

 Steps 2 and 3 deal with the "higher power" or as they say in AA "turning it over". Whether that power is "God" in whatever form you believe in God, the universe, or something/someone else. Perhaps a deceased relative whom you still feel a special and spiritual connection with, your doctor maybe, or even your dog (after all "dog" spelled backwards....). Or, in the case of good ol' AA, a group of people (in AA they say "Group Of Drunks" = G.O.D.). However you want to do it, turn your pain and fatigue, your sleepless nights and your IBS and other symptoms over to something greater than yourself in a spiritual act of release and liberation. It will feel liberating, I promise you. Just think, you no longer have to worry about fibromyalgia... another will take care of it. By the way, this act of releasing and liberating can be done every day, or 10,000 times a day -- as often as you need it. Like I said, one day at a time, or sometimes one hour at a time, or even one minute at a time. Do it over and over again, until it becomes repetitive and second-nature.

 I recommend another similar method called "Creative Visualization", a technique mastered by Shakti Gawain and outlined in her book of the same title. You can get this book in bookstores everywhere, and I tell as many people as possible to get this book and practice the visualizations and meditations. They are quick, easy, and can be done just about anywhere, any time.

 Gawain's technique of visualizing your problem inside of a balloon and letting the balloon go up into the heavens as a means of "letting go" is so powerful and simple, it is nothing short of sublime.

 And that brings me to the slogans of the various 12-Step programs. They are so cliche it is almost laughable, but you know what? They are true to life and again can be used every day for almost every situation.

 "Live and Let Live" "Let Go" (and let God, if you wish) "Keep It Simple" are some of my favorites. You're going to see these mentioned a lot in the pages on this web site, and in my writings in general. So keep it real, keep it simple, live your life and let others live theirs, and let go of resentment and despair and you will relieve yourself of some of the burdens we fibromyalgics face in our struggle to feel better, one day at a time.

 The remaining steps 4 through 12 deal with taking formal inventory of ourselves and our character defects, sharing those insights with at least one other human being, making amends and apologies, practicing prayer and meditation, having a spiritual awakening as a result of going through these steps, and finally sharing the message with others.

 Some of this is challenging to apply to fibromyalgia, after all, didn't I just say that fibromyalgia just is and we didn't do anything wrong to be saddled with this disorder? Yes, and I mean that. However, I strongly believe that the 12-Step "inventories" are valuable in all facets of life, and can be modified to fit any situation.

 Sometimes I'll even do a rapid-fire 12-Step inventory if something unpleasant happens at work, and I can figure out a lot of answers, and a lot about other people and myself, by doing so.

 The most important parts are the last two steps: having a spiritual awakening (your spirituality is an important feature of rehabilitation in fibromyalgia -- body, mind and spirit -- this is not just your body betraying you, it's a whole-person syndrome) and finally sharing the message with others.

 Why would you need to share the message with others? For one thing, there's power in numbers. And, knowledge is power. You may learn something from another person with fibromyalgia that you didn't know before, and/or they may learn something from you.

 Support groups do work. Many of us are too exhausted to drive to an in-person meeting place. Thankfully, these days hundreds upon thousands of support groups are available on the internet at sites like Yahoo, myspace, Google, WebMd and countless others. All you need do is type "fibromyalgia support group" in any search engine, and you'll be overwhelmed.

 Sharing information and support, "carrying the message" as they say in the 12 Steps, is vital and crucial to your rehabilitation and management of fibromyalgia.

 Now what's all this AA-speak got to do with goal-setting? Quite a lot, actually. By clearing yourself of the brain-clutter associated with living with a chronic illness, and using modified 12-Steps to do so, you open yourself to be able to prioritize and make your life manageable once again.

 Setting goals is the first "step" towards managing your life.

 We'll talk about modifying our habits and lifestyle a little bit later, but for now, setting goals each day, even if it's just one goal (walk to the mailbox and back, ask the boss for a new chair, spend two minutes meditating, take your medication) set that goal and tick it off your list when you're done. 

Tomorrow's another day, and you get to start all over again.  Isn't life great?