Five Minutes Before the Miracle

By Sylvia Hawthorn-Deppen

We have a saying in the rooms of 12-step recovery, “Don’t give up five minutes before the miracle.” Only 11 years ago I use to think that even if there were such a thing as a miracle, I would not deserve one—wow, was I wrong. The miracle I looked for was a way to live with nearly a lifetime of chronic pain. It stemmed from an accident I had as a 6-year old child growing up in south central Pennsylvania. The irony was, for 45 years I could not even recall what had happened. I flip-flopped through life struggling to do things I know today injured me over-and over. I grew up with the image of myself as a nurse and, if you have ever indulged in the profession or know someone who has, you know the sometimes monumentally difficult tasks nurses face.

After marrying in 1978, I thought I would enjoy having a husband and family. However, this was simply not to be. Yes, my husband stayed true to me these last 35 years. We even had a daughter who has become a delight. But happiness evaded me because of the misery of chronic pain. For 45 years I could not recall any trauma that would cause upper spine pain. My tongue dragged to the side and my head rang the bells of St. Peter’s. I would go to physician after physician with these vague complaints. Worst of all, I had short term memory loss that caused me to work even harder. I was horribly uncoordinated.

Shortly after our daughter was born I began drinking. At first it was just a few beers on the weekends. This progressed to cases of beer. I was ashamed of my drinking and would hide the beer in suitcases. I progressed to mixed drinks that I could hide in orange juice or soda. This went on for fourteen years. Finally, in 1994, I almost hit a woman while driving drunk! Overnight I simply stopped drinking. By this time I had been in therapy with a psychiatrist for fourteen years. I wanted to prove to myself, really, that it was just in my head. Surely a shrink could do this for me. Well, I had no sooner stopped drinking when he put me on a narcotic tranquilizer. This was like going from the frying pan into the fire. Typically, I fell all over the place, even down the basement stairs twice. I would take too much of it. Then, in 1998, something happened that would eventually change my life forever.

I had been in the psych ward over and over, and a neurologist followed me those years. He and the psychiatrist were baffled by my mysterious symptoms. Right before discharge, this time, the neurologist said to me, “Sylvia, you remind me of someone who may have fallen and hit her head.” I had no recollection of such an incident. But I went home from the hospital with this thought. As was typical I would awaken around two in the morning with my head ringing and hurting. However, that first morning home I did something different: I went out to our study next to the dining room and cried out, “God, what happened to me? Why am I like this?” Just the act of calling out to Him was an enigma, because I had lost all concept of a God. In fact,  and this is terrible to say, but I had slowly begun to put the psychiatrist in His place—who else would listen to me for 50 and not say a word? By this time in my sorry state of confusion and complete dependency on my husband to think for me, I had attempted suicide six times. It was only by God’s grace that I was even alive. Then, two months after asking, I got my answer.

I again woke early in the morning, but this time in a detailed dream I relived falling head first into a nine-foot stairwell. When I shared this with the psychiatrist, I don’t think he knew what to think. Nor did I believed it at first. Then I revisited the stairwell where we grew up on Allison Hill in Harrisburg. It was real! But now the question was, how do to get my life back. I was weary of the trips to the psych ward, the calls to a local help line and the eventual arrival of ambulances. I wanted out of my body! One miserable day just grew into the next. I had been severely depressed from age ten and up. How does one learn to live with pain? The suffering was driving me to an early grave if I did not do something! By this time the psychiatrist also had me on strong narcotic pain medicine, of which I always took too much—it was not working. The anxiety and stress were building inside. I could not go on living this way. But what was I to do?

Finally, four years later, I had had enough. I found the rooms of recovery and the 12 steps. The 11th step, meditation, taught me how to live with pain and not suffer. Now, I have a book out there to help others who suffer from chronic pain. It is called WHEEL A Recovery from Chronic Pain and Discovery of New Energy by Sylvia Hawthorn-Deppen (Balboa Press, 2012).


About the Author

Sylvia Hawthorn-Deppen, a licensed practical nurse, has struggled with chronic pain since childhood. An active member of Chronic Pain Anonymous, she volunteers as a speaker and peer support in behavioral health at a hospital in Camp Hill, Pa. Today she is active and well, living with pain but without suffering. For more information, visit her website at