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5 Ways I Find Emotional and Physical Relief With Chronic Illness

I’ve decided to write a wee bit about some of the habit shifts I am attempting to achieve, through a diligent effort to improve my quality of life. My name is Joe, and I am an alcoholic, who lives with Crohn’s disease, depression, anxiety, chronic pain and a serious case of the “I’m not good enough.”

Fortunately, I am not alone. Turns out there are thousands, if not tens or hundreds of thousands of worthy humans who struggle with the same maladies as I do. Also, there are solutions. Lots of them. I spent most of my childhood, adolescence, and adult life (until the age of 29) floundering in my impending doom and terminal uniqueness.

“If you lived my life, you’d be like this too!” was a popular belief for most my life. I learned how to fashion many masks, habits and emotional coping mechanisms, which would hide how I really felt, and allow me to carry on my façade of grandiosity. Turns out, for lack of better terms, almost my entire life was bullsh*t. The way I presented myself did not reflect how I really felt. My actions and my words all too often did not reflect my intrinsic core values. The company I kept did not reflect the company I longed for. All of this, along side and contributing to my being an addict, persisted these issues to a point of suicidal demoralization.

Now, lets add an incurable chronic illness to the mix and we’ve got ourselves one hell of a victim role, and the mentality to go with it. But here’s the thing – through the help of lots of support, programs, and one hell of an effort on my part, I’ve begun to recover. My spirit is beginning to come alive, and in seven short months, one day at a time, I feel I have been put on a trajectory to at least standing a chance at a happy and fulfilling life, despite my circumstances. I’d like to share with you five things that I practice daily, without fail, that really help me. I am not including diet, as there is too much variance on this subject, and too many opinions. I would also like to state the importance of meditation, as I only have five things, it will have to wait.

Now don’t get me wrong, I feel often like I am faking it till I make it, but that’s not important. What is important is that I do these things anyway. A significant difference in my physical, and emotional health, as well as my behaviors and internal dialogue have been the result of practicing these five things consistently on my own time:

1. Writing. Whether it be journaling, memoir, fiction or affirmations, I write as often as my scatter brain will allow me. For me, it is very therapeutic, it takes me out of myself and gives me a break from my often-negative headspace. I can write to escape, to feel, to come to terms, sometimes to realize. Writing skill is irrelevant here – often I am just writing for myself, and it helps me.

2. Reading. The television rarely gets turned on anymore. I used to be an avid gamer, but that wasn’t helping me. Through reading I have found a deep passion for learning. The views of others in self-help books help me shift my point of view, and help me to learn. I frequently say, “My thoughts, beliefs, opinions, and faith are subject to change, without notice.” I say this because it is glaringly obvious that the way I was living my life was ineffective, and so were my beliefs. I am in emotional and spiritual infancy. I can not afford to set my beliefs or opinions in stone just yet. I have also grown a love for fantasy fiction, which is just awesome.

3. Gratitude prayer and/or affirmations. You don’t need a god or a religion for this life changing practice to start shifting the way you perceive your circumstances. No, I can not pray a Ferrari into my driveway, but what I can do is tell myself that, “Great things are happening, my pain is healing, and my soul is aligned with higher frequency of being. I love myself and others, I am able to practice forbearance, and for today I am sober.” Affirmations such as these are a huge part of my life today. It helps my subconscious go, “Wait a minute, what the hell is that? Gratitude? Hmm… I kind of like how that feels.”

4. Exercise. Yes, I know, it is all too easy to shove this one off. I am in pain, I am sick, I have brain fog and severe fatigue, the list goes on. Exercise doesn’t have to mean a new personal record for bench press. To me, sometimes it means going for a short walk, stretch, do yoga, 10 minutes of cardio on the bike, or when I happen to be feeling rather well and ambitious – lifting some weights and fantasizing bout getting jacked. It is so important for anyone living with an illness to get some exercise and get moving daily so our bodies can help us along, and do what they’re supposed to, to the best of their ability.

5. Abstinence. Currently, I am abstinent from drugs, alcohol, and sex. These are not easy, and until I began to experience a bit of actual evidence of the benefits, I needed to rely almost entirely on external support to do so. I still reach out on a regular basis, participate in 12 steps, and go to lots of meetings. This is because I am an addict. I need this. If you are not, but you struggle with emotional trauma, chronic illness, or both, I can tell you from my experience that allowing my body to reach a solid baseline both physically and emotionally by focusing on the nourishment of my own self without the use of mood altering substances and unsavory impulses helps me to learn about myself on an emotional level, and to begin growing on a spiritual level.

Getty Image by francescoch