Some people prefer the light. Others are afraid of the dark. Some find simple enjoyment in Christmas, while some go all-in glittery on November 1st. There are fans and super fans. There are crushes and true loves. There are levels and layers of everything. Levels of hurt. Layers of love. Layers of pain. Levels of fear. Layers of unknown.
Today is one of those days where I stare down a word that has caused me grief and ecstasy, freedom and chains: pain. This summer, in an attempt to find the cause of daily headaches, I went on a fact-finding mission that led to a discovery. I am the proud owner of multiple bone growths in my head. The largest, and the one that currently is causing the least problems, was the one that grabbed the immediate attention. Finding a quarter size osteoma (that’s just a fancy doctor name for a benign bony tumor) on you skull is a bit terrifying. But after investigation, that monster has a welcome home on the back of my head for the time being.
It was in the imaging for that tender protrusion, that a scan of my sinuses showed the probable cause of the headaches. I have spent much of my adult life visiting the offices of allergists and ENT’s. I’ve done the shots and all of the antibiotics, sprays and washes. I have even mastered sleeping while holding the right side of face away from my nose to create an air pathway. I need some interior re-design work in my sinuses, so I am having surgery tomorrow morning. By the time that many of you read this, I will be laying in pre-op, IV in my arm ready for what I hope will be a new season of life whereby I can breathe a little better and wake up without a headache.
Regular, everyday people have concerns and worries about medical procedures. You don’t have to be hysterical or drastic to dread surgery. Finding joy in cutting and recovery is not something that most people call a good time. I am certainly one who is inconvenienced by medical issues in my best moments and bothered to alarm in my worst. Sure, getting stuck and tubed and stitched is not enjoyable, but for me there is a layer to this procedure that is unique to those of us who find ourselves in love with a good drug.
I have had a few surgical procedures in sobriety. With a decade of time comes a decade of aging. And with each little adventure, I have tried to prepare my soul and mind for what I know is coming. I am going to like (nope, love) the moment that I feel that sedative hit my vein. Its coming. I also know that bone removal and rebuilding my nose and turbinate reconstruction and blowing up balloons in my sinuses to make tiny cracks in my facial bones is going to produce soreness. There will be a reasonable need for pain medicine. I’m no idiot. I’m not going to do the next week on Tylenol alone.
But let me tell you about a side of this journey that may be educational for those that have not found themselves in the trenches of addiction. For me, a day like tomorrow scares the shit out of me because I know that I am walking the ultimate tight rope.
- I don’t want to want a drug.
- I don’t want to hurt more than I have to.
- As much as they try, unless they have walked this road, medical professionals don’t get it. And even when they mean well, many times the comments are painful.
I have leaned deeply on the journey of my fellow recovery friends as I learn to navigate medicine. It is tricky. It is deeply personal. For many of us, it is something that we will have to deal with, either now or in the future. Staying sober is not a life sentence of physical pain. If I have a headache, I take an Advil (which is a miracle considering that there was a time that a Hydrocodone was the go-to). When I had my hysterectomy, I managed pain responsibly by allowing someone else to hold my meds. There are also things that I have done throughout the years to prevent taking anything that is mind or mood altering. For instance, I have a terrible back. Knowing that it is not getting better with age, I have chosen things like steroid shots and yoga and chiropractic work and massage so as not to need a pill to control pain. It is a slippery slope when my mind has to determine that I am “bad enough” for medicine.
But there is also a very real fear of very real pain. And for anyone that has recovered from surgery or had an injury, putting stopgaps in place to responsibly take narcotics is no easy task. You want your doctor to help you prevent unnecessary pain and yet you know that if you tell a physician that you have abused meds in the past, they are likely to see your ‘8’ on the pain scale as a begging addict’s play for more.
And there is the flip side of the medical dance. The times that I, in great vulnerability and worry, have opened my life and history to a provider only to realize that they have no idea the severity or implications of my love affair with a good high. Sadly, this has been more of my experience that not. While waiting in pre-op and nervously dreading the entrance of the anesthesiologist, my bedside curtain opened to a jovial doctor saying, “Your bartender is here! What’s your order?” Please don’t get me wrong, I know this was an attempt to lighten the mood by someone who had no idea of my struggle, but oh, did that one sting. And then there was the time recently when I was honestly proactive and the response was, “Oh, don’t worry, this is not one of the really good drugs,” as I received a prescription for a big bottle of Tylenol with Codeine.
If you are still reading this post, something has your attention. Perhaps it is a love for me. Maybe you are fascinated with my insane stories. But maybe, there is something in this post that has you thinking. Perhaps, about the way that you joke about alcohol or pills to someone in your life that you know has a past. Maybe it is the way that you make assumptions about addicts and have to remind yourself that just because things seem so much better now, it’s not over. Ever.
And maybe, just maybe, there is someone reading this that is a caregiver or family member or doctor of someone who has vulnerably invited you into their sobriety. Can I ask a favor? Carry their life with the honor and reverence and gift that it is. Don’t assume to get it. Ask questions and then actively listen. Treat their story with the care and respect that they are offering to you in sharing one of the hardest and scariest and most painful layers in their life. Should you be gifted with the invitation to walk through a medical procedure or treatment with a friend in recovery, you don’t need to ask – just trust me – there is a unique layer to their fear. They will doubt themselves and their decisions and maybe even their doctors and nurses. That is our junk to own, but it is also very freaking real.
So tomorrow, I will have things cut and molded and reconstructed. With grace and rest, this surgery will not be that painful. But unfortunately this round of fun is not over. I get to go back to surgery in November to have a grape sized boney tumor removed from my jaw. Once again, I will go through similar highs and lows in preparation and recovery. In case you have not made this connection, you never know what is going on in someone’s life. You never know the doubts that plague them or the memories that haunt them. May this be a reminder that we are called to be gift bearers of peace and hope to each other in the midst of the mud and the muck of this messy, messy life.