Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The Return Of Pollyanna

I continue to explore this strange, new world. I wasn't sure if this new state of acceptance was going to stick, as this journey of chronic pain has been fraught with so many hills and valleys. But it seems it has, as each morning I'm waking up in a calmer state.

What's troubling, though, is that I haven't given up the painkillers, and I wish I could. I went most of the day without them today, but by the time I got home from afternoon errands (including a 12-step meeting), my face hurt just so bad, and it was all I could think of. I ordered a refill from the pharmacy, took two Vicodin, then fell promptly asleep for the rest of the afternoon.

This is what bugs me about painkillers. They rob me of precious hours of my life. I suppose I was hoping that a new state of acceptance would somehow make me so emotionally strong that I could withstand physical pain, but that hasn't been the case, and I'm wondering now how this is all going to play out.

What I love about pain medication is that, even if it does nothing for the pain, it helps me to escape it for a short while, at the end of which I usually take more to keep the escape going. But what I hate about it is that I no longer experience the natural highs of making art or music. I no longer experience those magical moments of truth where "art happens," and I'm left dumbfounded by what I've been able to channel.

I miss these experiences...a lot.

And as I sit here, I sip on a glass of wine and smoke a cigarette, which, combined with pain medication, makes me feel like a total degenerate. I must be the picture of the classic tortured artist. I can think of friends from the past who found these images of themselves romantic, but trust me, they're not. They're sad, and I feel weak and stupid until I catch myself and just accept that this is tough road I'm walking and will therefore be fraught with mistakes.

Some of my recovery pals like to think that this pain is just a manifestation of my secret desire "to use," and I do try to keep an open mind to their opinions. But as I sit here, my face fucking hurts. It's as real as this tasty Pinot Noir and Camel Light.

Decisions, decisions.

What's been interesting is that in this new state of acceptance, I can see just how angry, bitter, guilt-ridden and jealous I've been towards those who have such healthy and pain-free bodies. I wasn't even aware that I was feeling such things until I decided to stop fighting the pain so hard.

I was even jealous of my two- and four-year-old nieces, who are so innocent and pure, so healthy, so joyous, and live in such a love-filled life. I couldn't look at them at not feel some twinge of sadness and regret, as if all of the good things of life had passed me by, and one of my only real uses now as a human being was to help them grow into strong healthy adults. In such a state of pain and addiction, my life was beginning to feel over.

It was a horrible state to be in, and only now do I see just how destructive it was to my psyche. But acceptance has changed all that. I accept now that these awful things have happened to me in my life, and it's all okay. I can deal with it. I can make something with it; I can give it all meaning, and who knows? Maybe these very writings will be the biggest thing I will ever offer my fellow human beings, which means that every twist and turn won't be wasted, provided I can stay honest and true about every detail (which tonight is the issue of alcohol and nicotine).

I read an article recently by Scott Kiloby about something called "non-duality," which is the name of what I've been experiencing, apparently. We've exchanged a couple of emails about the topic, and he closed one by saying this: "What is, is what is. And a full surrender into that brings a peace of mind totally unknown to most people. I also experience it as unconditional love."

It occurs to me that had I not gone through this terrible ordeal, I might not have stumbled upon this insight, which indeed fills me with unconditional love.

When I played with my nieces this Christmas, I was filled with such light and such joy at watching them tear open their gifts. And instead of feeling any kind of jealousy or resentment, I felt deep compassion for them, as they go through their own trials and tribulations in their growth experience. And I was happy for them that they have a family who loves them so dearly.

Everything seems poignant to me right now, although I think I'm starting with the flu. Although I hate feeling these symptoms, I can even see the bright spot in having a nasty cold in that I don't smoke when I'm sick, and this will be a good break from it for a few days...an opportunity to break the habit for good, hopefully.

I'm feeling a little like Pollyanna again, which has always been an aspect of my character and has been missing for years now. I've always felt it's been a slightly corny part of me, but how I welcome her return. I don't know if she'll be here tomorrow, but she's here right now, and I'm grateful.

Friday, December 19, 2008

The Spoils Of Acceptance

I've been walking in a strange and unexpected state. Something happened in the last few days, and I've been trying to retrace my thoughts to see how I got here.

I've been feeling profoundly more peaceful for some reason, and all I can come up with is that I'm finally in a state of acceptance.

I do remember the other night feeling at the absolute limit of my endurance, and I said, "God, I'm just turning everything over to you. Everything. I surrender. I can't fight this anymore."

I'd like to say that some divine miracle happened at that moment, but what ensued was curiously un-spiritual, which ironically led to a soothing of the soul.

As I lied on the couch thinking these words, I suddenly realized that no miracle, no matter how wished for or prayed for, was going to happen, not because I wasn't deserving of one, but because if there really was a supreme loving being, it simply wouldn't be fair to bestow a miracle on me and not on any of the other six billion souls on this earth, many of whom are in dire circumstances themselves.

I suddenly realized that the clouds above me weren't going to part with angels playing trumpets, simply because there are physical laws governing our universe, and accepting them and the havoc they can create in the human condition is perhaps one of the bravest things any human being will ever do.

To admit that at the end of the day, we really have no control over anything that happens to us is terrifying, and to trick ourselves into thinking we do or that any great "creator" is looking out for our well-being is just, well, magical thinking--a way to feel safe in a dangerous world, and a serious set-up for disappointment should things go tragically awry.

There are the obvious things we can control, of course. We can look both ways when we cross a street, we can dress appropriately for the weather, we can wear our safety belts when we drive, but beyond that, life is a pull on a Vegas slot machine, and the sooner we can get with that, the better.

Unlike animals, humans have a curious habit of asking why horrible things can happen to them, whereas animals just experience the suffering itself, without all the baggage of consciousness. When we look at animals and their troubles, do we ever ask the why of anything? Do we think that deer wasn't "visualizing" a positive outcome hard enough when it crossed the road and got hit by a car?

I'm thinking along these lines because I was recently engaged in an online group debate about the validity of the Law of Attraction, which has been so cleverly packaged and marketed as the bestseller The Secret (even though the concept has been around for ages). It's the theory that everything that happens to us basically isn't an accident, and that all things, positive or negative, come to us because we attract them with our thoughts or "vibrations."

I used to be a huge fan of the Law of Attraction, and while I still think the concept has validity (I even still practice it), I was clearly mistaken in thinking it a law, because as much as we don't want to see it head-on, bad things happen to good people all the time, and they did absolutely nothing to deserve it. The truth is that life is profoundly random, which also makes it profoundly terrifying, and that's a tough thing to get with indeed.

But as in all cases where the truth is faced, there is freedom, and in my own, I'm somehow now freed from so many of the fears I've been attaching to this pain. But I didn't even see those fears until I made the decision to accept every single thing in my life exactly as it is and not as I want it to be. That's not to say I won't keep trying to seek out relief and a more joyful existence, but for today, whatever is going on with me is what I accept, fully. And with that, I'm in pain and at peace, right now anyway. Go figure.

As odd as it sounds, far from being scary, this new notion of randomness actually gives me comfort, because it means that no one deserves to suffer, and those who do simply drew the low card. There is no other meaning to it than that. Tomorrow, things could change.

As my friend Janet recently pointed out in an email, I'm not guilty of anything (a suspicion that has been brewing in my subconscious), just the brunt of a bad break. Ascribing any more meaning to it than that--that maybe God is punishing me for something--is, as she says, "a way of framing the world [that] makes our lives needlessly painful; or I should say, needlessly more painful, because there are no answers, and it’s a terrible, cruel ruse to try to get us to believe there are."

That said, we can create meaning out of our suffering. We can use it to deepen our compassion and to give voice to an experience (such as my own here in this blog) that hopefully others will connect with, so that they don't feel so alone in their own harrowing journey, be they so unfortunate as to have one as grueling as mine.

If we can accept that life is random, we hold onto each other tighter, we laugh and cry harder, we are more grateful for what we do have, and we are more appreciative of the good times, because we know the bad can be just a car accident away. While no one would ever argue with the power of positive thinking, if you don't also accept life's randomness, you rob yourself of the experience of how fleeting, how beautiful and how poignant life actually is.

In closing, Janet said, "There is no god to condemn you to suffering or to save you from suffering. Once we can let go of that dream, that fantasy, things are easier to accept. God is IN YOU, god IS YOU. All the answers lie within yourself."

Amen, sister. Amen.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

The Limits Of Everything

It's Saturday now. It's taken me two days to absorb the consultation at the Hackensack Pain Clinic, where after a long discussion about the details of my health history, I was told I would most likely be in pain for the rest of my life.

While I was told about treatments that might help--a change in medications, injection therapy (which most likely wouldn't work as this has gone on too long), and a type of brain surgery where a device is implanted to re-route the pain signals--the words that echo are the ones that sounded so final. This condition will never heal on its own, as what I'm experiencing now is something akin to phantom limb pain. The source of the pain is long gone; what is firing now are essentially memories of it.

The pain has been worsening in the last month or two, which has made me careless, as I've been smoking again, albeit one or two here and there. Still, it doesn't help matters any.

The doctor I saw was perhaps the most empathetic doctor I've ever seen. He gave me the bad news first and let me cry in a fit of shock at hearing words I wasn't expecting. I might have had an easier time hearing I was going to die than hearing I would be feeling this pain for the remaining decades of my life.

He actually made that point to me--that I was still a relatively young person who had a lot of life yet to live, and therefore something like this motor cortex stimulation (the brain...er...procedure) should be something seriously considered.

I woke up feeling just so sick this morning from all the pills I've been taking, and just so sad, as if a grey mist was circling my entire room. Of course, it might have been the dust build-up, as I can't bring myself to clean anything right now. My poor cat is acting as the dust mop. As she rolls around the floor, her fur picks up all kinds of debris. She knows something is up.

My friends in recovery are so concerned about the effect of this news on my addiction, but addiction right now seems like the least of my concerns. Whatever it takes to get me through the day is what I'll take, addiction be damned.

I'm trying my hardest to move forward. I saw a chiropractor yesterday, and will continue to see him for trigger point therapy; I've made an appointment with my old acupuncturist for Monday; and I've made an appointment with the neurosurgeon recommended by the pain doctor for Wednesday.

It's all a bit overwhelming to find myself at this level of pain again, and at this point of despondency. I suppose the question I'm grappling with now is not how much suffering one person can take, but how many times can they take it?

I'm trying to push myself out the door to work on my Christmas card project down at my studio, but I'd so much rather watch television and escape into lives and stories where things always work out.

I'm also trying hard not to feel sorry for myself, but all this trying in every direction is eroding me to the bone.

I just can't go to the recovery rooms anymore. While I'm happy for everyone that God is working in their lives, as many have truly found peace and contentment, I just can't be there right now and listen to it. Instead of finding understanding and fellowship there, I'm finding, well, nothing.

That said, I'm still working with my sponsor, who I love, as I do enjoy the Twelve Steps. But that's about as far as I can go with the recovery folks right now.

While these other therapies the pain doctor spoke of do present some hope, I just can't feel it for some reason. I'm so used to everything going wrong at every turn that I dare not get my hopes up for anything. While I said in a recent post that disappointment hasn't killed me yet, I fear there IS a limit as to how much one can bear.

Just like there are no absolute truths, there are limits to everything, and I've hit the limit of just about everything I can currently think of.

Getting out of this mess will be a miracle indeed.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Hope Springs Until Thursday

It's been a tough week and I haven't posted anything. I suppose I don't want to sound like a broken records of complaints and thoughts that the universe has diabolical plans for my existence.

But it's also been an interesting week. Over the weekend, I was surprisingly in a very low amount of pain and was faced strictly with the issues of addiction. When I'm alone in those very private moments, pill-free and pain-free (my version of pain-free anyway), I'm faced with the curious facts of my life and my history, and I find myself perplexed.

To be brief, I'm aware that I really don't know who I am without all the drama that accompanies the health and addiction issues. When things are quiet, I'm suddenly faced with, well...me. I have this wonderful life set up for myself, which I'm thankful for as I've been able to forge one despite the complications. But when the path before me is clear, I'm lost, as ironic as that sounds. I'm so used to pain and illness (physical or mental) that I'm actually frightened when things suddenly aren't so dramatic--when life beckons with potential.

Part of me fears that without drama, life will be boring, and it does make me wonder if my subconscious somehow creates problems in order to continue the pattern that has been so familiar to me since childhood.

Then again, it's hard to fathom how the subconscious could dig so deeply into biological pathologies--into my bone marrow fer chrissakes--and create such havoc.

Still, it's not lost on me that I expect disappointment in life, particularly when things are going well. Disappointment and betrayal have been constant themes, and the betrayal of my own body has been the unkindest cut of all.

I wrote at length in my journal this weekend, seeing so very clearly the sequence of events that continue to play themselves out in a way that's almost scripted; the players and circumstances change, but the results are always the same: I'm felled and crippled back to square one, constantly starting over only to be disappointed and restricted yet again by some new catastrophe.

I suppose this isn't anything extraordinary. People repititiously get into abusive relationships all the time; drugs and alcohol can be a constant theme for someone for decades; workaholics never see their folly until they're on their deathbeds. Clearly, I fall into a similar category, only my story is slightly different; I ride high with great expectations until something hits me so hard that I'm KO'd in that championship fight where I'm the odds-on favorite. This happens over and over and over.

Even though I've technically been a painkiller addict for four and a half years, I've buried my deepest self and escaped in other ways that have been just as profound, and just as damaging, throughout my adult life.

Physically, something was terribly wrong with my health starting in my late 20s and through my 30s (not diagnosed until my 40s), but that was the side story to my workaholism, which manifested as a music career. I was addicted to it wholeheartedly. I defined who I was by it, and I had no other life other than music for years. While I've never regretted, not even once, any song I've ever written (they seemed to come through me to the extent I almost don't feel responsible for them), being the singer/songwriter was extremely stressful for me as I just didn't feel worthy of the success that I knew the music could bring.

It was as though my own work was bigger than me, and I didn't have the self-esteem it took to shepherd my songs and performances to the success they deserved. But I sacrificed myself for them completely out of pure ambition, and that's the affliction any addict will tell you they identify with.

Despite discovering these new insights, I woke up yesterday morning with that familiar plaguing pain, which again so deeply disappointed me. Surely, when I had these insights the night before, I thought for sure they would be curative. But they weren't, and I'm now back on the pills.

The Pain Center at Hackensack Medical Center has agreed to offer me a consultation on Thursday. As I don't have PNH (talked about in an earlier email), I feel like this is my last hope for relief.

Earlier this evening, my spirits were descending into the logical place where most chronic pain patients with my condition find themselves--that the only logical place left to go is to check out for good, which would be the ultimate painkiller.

As soon as I had that thought (almost to the second), the Pain Center called saying they had an opening Thursday. It's not the first time something like this has happened--that some kind of intervention happened at exactly the moment I needed it, offering some glimmer of hope to keep me going for a few more days. It's like my guardian angel puts in an emergency report to God, saying, "We've got to do something or we're going to lose her."

I've no idea what to expect Thursday. While tonight hope might not be springing eternal, it's at least springing until Thursday.