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PAIN

There are two things I know about pain. One is that no matter how long it takes, it demands to be felt. The other is that to know pain is to want it to end.

I was born a pain. A. Paine, technically, but definitely a pain, too. But only towards people who abused their authority. Like the nuns at my Catholic elementary school and high school, or the adults that ran the United Church of Christ Christian summer camp that I attended for all of July and August every year from the age of seven until I stopped attending in my late teens.

In the eyes of the nuns, I guess I was never a good enough Catholic, so I was often made an example of by way of humiliation. As for the adults running the Protestant UCC Christian camp, I would never be good enough for them precisely because I was a Catholic. They resented the fact that as a family, we were allowed to attend in the first place, so they often took it out on my siblings and me.

Over the course of many years, the cumulative effect of both situations made me feel small and weak and inherently worthless. And being that I was still a child, I was powerless to do much about it.

I still have the scars to prove it; you just can’t see them. And I know that I’m not unique in that regard.

We all carry invisible scars from hard-fought battles inflicted by demons that don’t always make themselves known to us, at least not right away.

That is the nature of pain.

Emotional pain is almost always invisible to others. If someone breaks their leg and needs the aid of crutches to get around, just looking at them allows us to feel empathy for them. We can imagine how much pain they must have felt the moment their limb snapped in two.

But our emotional pain may only become visible to outsiders when we no longer care who sees us using other kinds of crutches. When we keep eating even though we’re full or we no longer care who sees us drinking every day.

Whatever it is, we don’t want to feel it. We want to be numb.

That’s pretty much how I felt every day by the time I graduated from high school.

Graduation night, age seventeen, drinking champagne straight from the bottle. I wasn’t thrown a party, so I partied with friends, polishing off an entire bottle of Kahlúa that night on my own.

I was already drinking most weekends at the start of my junior year. I was fifteen years old. I was beyond painfully shy throughout my entire childhood. I had one best friend, so I was known and referred to as her shadow. Everything and everyone around me was a perceived threat to my wellbeing, so I did my best to hide.

Over time, I discovered that drinking took the edge off during certain situations where I felt like I was walking around without skin. Over time, it became my pain medicine.

I had more than one close call with alcohol. The first was at a graduation beach party in late spring of my junior year. I was now sixteen and was drinking vodka – by the end of the night, straight from the bottle. I woke up the next morning, the sun hot on my face, covered in sand, my head resting on a frisbee. I have no recollection of how I ended up there.

The second happened later that same summer when my girlfriend and I were partying and decided it would be great fun to run down the street in our underwear. I was close to polishing off a whole bottle of vodka by this time, so not surprisingly I only made it about a hundred feet down the street before I came crashing down on my face. (Thankfully I had not taken any of my clothes off yet.) I was too drunk to brace my fall, so the pavement split my upper lip open. I was carried inside and put to bed. I have only a vague memory of people later dragging me into the bathtub and turning the shower on me to wash away the vomit. I was lucky not to have choked on it. I remember very little of any of this. Major gaps needed filling in. I do, however, remember waking up the next morning with someone else’s (thankfully) clean clothes on, an ugly, purple, swollen upper lip and several of my teeth being loose.

My parents were oblivious to my drinking. If I’m wrong about that and they had any inclining, then they remained silent about it.

There would be other close calls but thankfully none quite as bad. It wasn’t until I was forced to move out at seventeen and find an apartment and a full-time job, that I began to sense I had a problem with the way I managed my pain.

There are times I still reach for that particular form of liquid painkiller, times that have nothing to do with just wanting to relax and celebrate with friends. Old habits are hard to break even when there’s nothing you try harder at. Maybe I should try harder to be kinder to myself instead.

The only time I can remember being able to kill the pain with kindness instead of alcohol was after each time I miscarried. My husband took time off from work and never left my side. His kindness and love was what saw me through the roller coaster of emotional and physical pain I felt in every square inch of my body and my soul every moment of every day.

But when my mémère died on my birthday, and after my sister died unexpectedly at the age of forty-seven, there was no amount of alcohol that could take away that kind of pain. I know because I tried.

In the days following my sister’s death the only thing that moved the needle in the pain department was laughter.

Somehow, as a family, we would all be sobbing uncontrollably one minute, and without warning, a funny memory of her would spontaneously trigger someone’s laughter and instantly ripple through us, providing us with a brief moment of exquisite relief from the pain.

“With the grand perspective real pain is never far from real laughter – at ourself or for another watching that self – laughter at the predicament or the physical absurdity that has become a daily experience.” – David Whyte Consolations

We’ve all been in that situation before. We witness someone hurting themselves, wait a couple of seconds (if we can control ourselves) to make sure they’re alright, then burst out in a fit of uncontrollable laughter.

I once walked straight into a tree while vacationing with my family in Aruba.

My husband and kids were walking in front of me, and I asked them to stop and pose for a picture in front of a divi-divi tree. After I had taken it, I paused to look at it in my camera as I began walking again. When I looked up – a moment too late – I walked smack into the same tree I had just photographed.

My family thought this was hilarious. As we continued walking (to the liquor store go figure) my daughter could not contain herself. By the time we got there I had blood dripping from a gash in my forehead which only made her laugh even harder.

I was standing there in a good amount of pain and serious embarrassment, but her laughter was so contagious before I could stop myself I was laughing at myself right along with her. Her laughter eased my pain to the degree that I even posed for the above picture afterward to prove I could be a good sport about it.

Other times when I’ve been more seriously injured I’ve had a hard time finding anything to laugh about.

Second and third degree burns on my chest, arm, and leg, as a result of a boiling pot of water tipping onto me. A car accident that sent my head crashing into the windshield, shattering it. Another, a rollover, sprained my neck, did a number on my back and kept me out of work for a year. A bone bruise to the shin after being kicked by a horse, required two types of crutches: six weeks of hobbling around on the wooden ones along with a new addiction to Percocet thanks to a very liberally prescribing doctor.

Years later I would be thrown from my horse when he started bucking and rearing while at a full gallop, which landed me in the hospital for a week. Broken ribs and torn muscles in my back resulted in my not being able to move my legs. When the physical therapist that was assigned to me became impatient and picked them up roughly, swinging them back up on the hospital bed after I told her I couldn’t move them, the pain was so intense that my mother still remembers the way I screamed to this day.

Thankfully during that stay, I was given morphine at the push of a button. Unfortunately, I was not allowed to take it home with me. I was also not allowed any Percocet to take home with me since, upon arrival at the hospital by ambulance and thinking I might die, apparently I instructed them not to give me any, explaining to them how I’d been had addicted to it in the past.

The only time I ever laughed (which made it hurt even more when I did) was when I attempted to sleep in my own bed for the first time after sleeping on a futon in our living room for more than a week. My husband had to prop me up with so many pillows in our bed that night in an attempt to alleviate my pain, that once I was finally settled in we realized we could no longer see each other which was really quite comical.

Having to ask for help every time I was in pain was almost as painful as the injury that caused the pain in the first place. Each time all I had to give back was my gratitude.

“Pain’s beautiful humiliations make us naturally humble and force us to put aside the guise of pretense. In real pain we have no other choice but to learn to ask for help and on a daily basis. Pain tells us we belong and cannot live forever alone or in isolation.” – David Whyte Consolations

Physical pain demands that we ask for help when we need it. Emotional pain not so much.

With emotional pain, we develop coping mechanisms like I did. We find ways to numb our pain and sadly, we may spend our entire lives doing everything in our power not to feel it. Instead, we bury it. And when you bury something that’s still alive you will be haunted by it your entire life and every single time it haunts you, you will feel that pain and when you feel that pain you will do whatever it takes not to feel that pain. Not to feel, period. It’s a vicious cycle.

But, “Pain is the doorway to the here and now….pain is a way in.” – David Whyte Consolations

As excruciating as that may be, the only way out is in.

I wrote (almost all) of this post in one sitting. As I typed each word, I could feel the long-buried pain rising to the surface demanding to be felt. It hurt like hell and had me questioning whether or not to publish it. Although I was still a child when I first began drinking, it’s humiliating to tell those stories now. But throughout my life no matter how painful my experiences have been, whether physical or emotional, I am always reminded that someone, somewhere, is in much greater pain than I am. Knowing this makes me appreciate my otherwise healthy life that much more.

Bearing witness to the events of my life that shaped me into who I am is often times painful, but like the Soloflex poster I had above my bed when I was a teenager states: “No pain, no gain.”

NEXT WEEK: PARALLELS

About Amy

I am many things to many people. Daughter, sister, wife, mother, aunt, friend. I am a worshiper of nature on a journey inward, rewriting my story one word at a time.

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