The Spoon Theory

The Spoon Theory Metaphor for Chronic Illness is a way for people who live with chronic pain to express how health issues impact their ability to complete everyday tasks and activities. It goes something like this: You start each day with a set number of proverbial spoons, each one representing the physical and mental energy it takes to complete a daily task or activity. Smaller tasks, like showering or getting dressed, may cost only one spoon, while larger tasks, like cooking or vacuuming, may take 3 or 4 spoons. On days with increased pain, even the smaller tasks may take multiple spoons.

This theory is a self-pacing strategy that emphasizes the need for chronic pain sufferers to work to a certain quota. They learn to be economical in how they spread their spoons in their daily activities.

I suffer with chronic pain (although I never wanted to admit it) from the back injury I sustained at 13, which led to a lifelong struggle with low back, neck and joint issues. I have used this theory a number of times in dealing with my pain. On days I would wake up in a lot of pain, I would tell myself that I don’t have a lot of spoons today, so I need to be extra careful not to overdue things. Being mindful of my spoon quantity helped me better manage my days. And, also, on days when my pain was higher, I was able to use that as an excuse to decline doing things for or with other people that might cause an increase in my pain.

This theory just popped up in my mind the other day and how it could be relatable to alcohol use. I think especially for turning down a drink or when a craving might pop up. For example, if we’re having an extra stressful day, a day where in our past we would’ve turned to the drink, we say to ourselves “I have fewer spoons today, so I really need to pay attention to this and turn to my toolbox in order to preserve the few spoons I have”. Again, turning to the basics of this theory “using a self-pacing strategy that emphasizes the need *insert drink here* to work to a certain quota (in this case, the quota being ZERO alcohol)”. Also, it might be helpful when turning down a drink. “I can’t go have a drink with you today, I don’t have enough spoons left!” 🤣🤣 Because, you know taking that one drink (using your last spoon of the day), could easily lead to another, and by then you’ve spent all your spoons!

So many tools, theories, methods to use. It’s amazing how so many of them used for mental health, working with my patients, dealing with pain (in this case) can be relatable to remaining AF. Another tool added to my toolbox!!

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