© 2014 David's Harp and Pen
DISCLAIMERS: This blog is based, in part, upon actual events and people. Certain actions and characters have been dramatized and fictionalized, but are inspired by true events and real people. Certain other characters, events, and names used herein are entirely fictitious. Any similarity of those fictional characters or events to the name, attributes, or background of any real person, living or dead, or to any actual events is coincidental and unintentional…or maybe not. Just because I was on Vicodin doesn’t mean I didn’t really see the Death Star.
Many years ago, I went for my first ride on a motorcycle. All went well until my friend and I returned to my church parking lot. I didn’t feel anything as I dismounted his bike, but was taken aback when I found my right leg stuck to the tailpipe. (*WORD OF CAUTION TO READERS* When riding a motorcycle, always wear long pants!)
I tore my leg away from the miniature incinerator, and with it a sizable chunk of skin. I went into the church, grabbed the first aid kit, and covered my wound with burn cream and gauze.
About an hour later, I unwrapped the gauze to see how the burn was doing. Without going into the gory details, it looked a bit like a bubbling cauldron.
A friend took me to an urgent care clinic. The doctor gave a shot to me of something to anesthetize the burn in order to clean and dress it. Whatever he gave me made loopier than a Slinky.
The next day, my friend took me to the burn unit of the local hospital. I was given a prescription for some industrial strength painkillers and was ordered to return every day or so to have my burn examined and bandages changed.
I have a bunch of allergies and also get quite spaced out on painkillers, so there’s not a lot I can take. What they gave me for the burn took me for quite the ride.
I became easily spooked. I had trouble remembering things. I called everyone by the name of a Star Wars character. While at a friend’s house, I ran screaming from her vacuum cleaner because I was convinced it was the Death Star.
On a return trip to the burn unit, I was asked when I’d had my last tetanus booster. Had I been in my right mind, I would’ve told them I was allergic to it. In a moment of terrible lack of forethought, at least in my opinion, the burn doctor decided to give me one. The injection site on my arm blew up to mammoth proportions and I itched like a mad woman for several days following.
Four days after I had gotten the burn, I had been scheduled to give a deposition in court. The friend with whom I was staying didn’t want me to be spacey for my court date, so without telling me, (not that it would have helped) he gave me aspirin instead of the prescription
tranquilizer painkiller. Did I
mention I am allergic to aspirin? So,
I had an allergic reaction to the aspirin on top of the allergic reaction to
the tetanus booster on top the small supernova that was occurring on my leg.
Upon my return to the burn unit the next day, I told the doctor my tale of woe, and he took me off all the painkillers. Since everything I had taken either made me sick or made me discombobulated, he said I would just have to deal with the pain.
For anyone who has had to deal with an injury, there are times when we have to “grin and bear” it because the side effects of some analgesics can be more harmful than the pain itself. This is often true of figurative painkillers, too.
In today’s world, and dare I say today’s church, pain and grief are dirty words. Though none of us would think of telling someone who had broken a bone to not think about it and get back into the physical rigors of life right away, we often tell others (and ourselves) that emotional pain shouldn’t bother us. In Christian circles, it is quite common, upon someone expressing feelings of loss, to be told he shouldn’t feel that way, that God has a plan, blah, blah, blah.
When I was dealing with the physical pain of a burned leg, no amount of telling myself that the wound would eventually heal would make the pain go away. A broken heart isn’t much different. However, because the misconception that we should be able to turn painful emotions off like a light switch, most of us learned to develop quite elaborate emotional painkillers which we hope will set us on a fast track to the mental state we had before the loss occurred. The only hitch is these anodynes often cause more problems than they solve.
In my travels, I have seen emotional pill-popping of all kinds: the woman who goes from one abusive relationship to another to numb the pain of being abandoned by her father, the kid who turns to drugs to assuage the pain of rejection from his peers, the divorcé who uses blame and ridicule of his ex to kill the pain the guilt he feels for not doing his part to make the marriage work, or the single who goes from relationship to relationship without any downtime in between to deal with the pain of being alone. I have even seen and experienced blaming oneself as a painkiller, because thinking we could have done better anesthetizes the pain of the knowledge that some losses are completely out of our control.
I experienced a loss that also served as a wake up call for me, teaching me that if we don’t let pain run its own course and grief do its work, we will become someone neither we nor those we love will recognize.
I had a gentleman friend. He was my boss at a temporary job, and we stayed friends after my assignment ended. He was the kind of dude a girl would want to take home to meet her dad. He was smart, strong, humble, and had a huge heart. He had been quite kind to me, and I had learned a lot from him.
He started dating a girl who wasn’t what she appeared to be. Long story short, she took him for a ride emotionally and financially. When she got what she wanted from him, she dumped him, but it didn’t stop there. She treated him terribly in public and forced their mutual friends to choose between him and her. For reasons I won’t divulge, they chose her.
I don’t know if you’ve ever witnessed a good man get taken out, but I have, and watching someone’s heart die is excruciating. He started retreating into himself. He stopped doing things he used to love. He stopped dreaming and fell into the rut so many men do of trying to become successful in business at the expense of his soul and his relationships. Worst of all, he began to hang out in different crowds. The deep conversations I used to enjoy with him came to an end, and he would become irritated even with me asking him, “How are you?”
His painkiller was to surround himself with people who would never inquire to the condition of his heart, and to keep his heart under lock and key and open to no one. He terminated our friendship in short order, and it is a loss I still feel to this day.
One of the biggest problems with trying to kill our pain in dishonest and unhealthy ways is it almost always ends up inflicting pain on those we love. Think about it. Our addictions cause us to break trust with those we love. Running from relationships for fear of getting hurt robs those around us of the blessing of our presence and personhood. Not dealing with the anger we have towards those who have wounded us turns into rage against those around us who haven’t. The list goes on and on.
Seeing what happened to my gentleman friend opened my eyes to the direction I was heading. I had not really allowed myself to grieve anything. I let others dictate to me what I should and shouldn’t feel. As particular losses piled up, I realized if I didn’t take time out to heal, the emotional and spiritual damage would be irreversible.
I think letting ourselves feel pain scares us because it shows us how little control we have in life. Sometimes losses hit us even with the greatest of precautions taken. Sometimes those we love change for the worse, and there is nothing we can do to stop it. God doesn’t ask us to turn off our hearts and avoid pain at all costs. After all, there was pain from which God didn’t even shield Himself.
I started this process of being authentic and allowing myself to literally count my losses about a year ago. (I don’t recommend stockpiling forty years worth of grief to anyone.) It has been hard. Letting myself cry and feel angry and show vulnerability to trusted friends has been unchartered territory for me. Telling God what I actually feel instead of what I think He wants to hear has proved the most challenging discipline of all. However, as I continue to be real about it, I am beginning to see the fruit of it, and the fruit is both sweet to the taste and nourishing to the heart.
I have abandoned the Great Pill-Popping, and I encourage all of you, my readers, to do the same. The upside of grieving honestly is that we don’t do it alone. The Man of Sorrows, who isn’t unable of sympathizing with us in our weaknesses, not only feels our pain, but chooses to bear it with us.