Monday, May 12, 2008

The Alphabet Backwards: P is for Pain and Pretty

I guess even though I am feeling much better after my week and a half of being miserable, my mind is still veering toward the dark side so when I realized that today's letter was "P," I immediately thought of pain. It's something we all deal with in one way or another and to one degree or another. Pain is such a personal thing. Nobody else can know our unique experience of it, even if they have had their own and can have empathy. We all have different level of tolerance for pain. Lucky for me, mine is pretty high, since I live with pretty chronic physical pain. I guess my tolerance for emotional pain is pretty high too or I wouldn't have survived being my brother's sister, wouldn't have survived as much craziness as I did in my life. Of course since I'm holed up in my house and never go outside, whether I survived it or not may be open to considerable debate.

In terms of physical pain, although I think of myself as a wimp, I am pretty tolerant. Dentists used to marvel at my ability to remain still and unflinching as they poked and drilled. There is a downside to this. The experience during which I hurt my legs was one of agonizing pain. I was at a workshop to learn a healing technique. Since I was overweight and not in the best shape I had made it a point to talk to the man running the workshop before signing up. "You should be able to handle it fine," he said. "Everything is self-paced." What a LIE! There were 14 of us, as I recall. All of them were quite fit. Three of them had done the workshop once before. SEVEN of them were professional dancers. And self-paced? We were driven like military recruits. And being me, I tried to keep up. Because of my upbringing where I was always accused of being a baby or making illnesses up, I of course, accused myself of being weak and pathetic even as my body started screaming in pain and continued trying to keep pace with these mostly professional athletes. By the second day I could barely move and was in so much pain that I was literally seeing stars when I moved too much. Even the athletes were in pain, so they just heard my complaints as whining. (Nothing like revisiting your childhood with a bunch of unsympathetic strangers.) In the end, I think I had sprained or pulled every muscle in both legs and my hips and back. I was in such agony that I literally saw stars when I lay down at night to sleep and when I stood up. This happens when your neurological system is overwhelmed (or so I have been told). I could literally barely walk. Although I had traveled to the workshop by bus, the leaders had promised me a ride home. They decided it was inconvenient at the end so I was forced to travel home by bus - arriving in Grand Central Station, NYC late at night in agony and barely able to walk. These 5 days of hell - which also, oddly, introduced me to reiki, something that would become a huge and wonderful part of my life - left me permanently physically damaged and locked my already strong penchant for agoraphobia into the place of control it now holds over me.

I'm not sure why I have told the story above. A friend of mine who grew up around great physical as well as emotional violence also has a profoundly high tolerance for pain. I suspect many of us who have grown up around abuse do. There are studies which indicate that child abuse/neglect rewires our brains. I absolutely believe this. What does that have to do with pain? I personally think that may be one of the areas impacted. Both our capacity to deal with physical and emotional pain.

Oddly, I think it gives us an abnormal tolerance on the one hand, in our early years. I was in many ways a wonder of the world in my capacity to deal with both physical and emotional stress. The problem is that when I eventually hit the breaking point, the mechanisms to repair what was broken seem to not be there, particularly on the emotional plane. Physical pain I endure. After all, what choice is there? And my physical pain is not that intense, just a touch too relentless for my taste. But I can still walk to get around the house at least, so what's to complain about. I think pain scares me more than it used to. These days I'm more prone to go to "what if," places. But I'm still standing and most days I'm relatively "what if" free.

I'm just wandering around here without much direction. I apologize for that, but I'm going to let myself do it and not look back. One of the odd things about pain is that even though we all experience it we all experience it so differently that it's hard at times to communicate it to others, particularly when we have confusion ourselves. Back to when I injured my legs. It was a devastating time. Because I myself had such confusion and judgment about my pain ("you're just being a big baby") friends and others didn't really seem to understand. How could they? I didn't. I was giving very mixed messages. Even if I hadn't been, though, I'm not sure that we ever really are capable of comprending another's pain, especially because the physical - as in this case - often also carries an emotional component. Everyone around me, myself included - was re-enacting a childhood wound. I was surrounded by younger, newer versions of my mother, all discounting the reality of my literal physical agony. But of course, I was too. Thank God for my therapist. He looked at me as I hobbled into his office and saw how much pain I was in. He listened. He helped me work through my own denial. He sent me to the doctor. That wasn't such a success, but I've never had much luck with doctors. This one talked to me about being fat and said there was no way to figure out what was wrong with my legs. If I had been smarter I would have argued with him or gone to another doctor. But I wasn't.

Oddly, my therapist called just as I was typing that paragraph. He said it wasn't hard for him to see the kind of agony I was in. Strange how others couldn't see it. I'm so grateful he was there to help me through that and to help me process the psychological pain, which was, if possible, worse than the physical.

But I don't mean to turn this into a whining session. Pain is such a universal experience - even though we experience it differently and relate to it differently - that it puzzles me sometimes how we can as a species be so willing to ignore or negate others' suffering, whether it be personal pain or psychological/spiritual suffering. If the Israelis and the Palestinians could take a deep breath and connect to one another's pain, maybe they would stop killing each other. If Republicans (sorry, my bias is showing) could stop worrying about big government and their own wallets for a few minutes and look at the pain their policies are causing, maybe we would have better medical care, less poverty and better housing and education.

I wish for all of us that we have at least one - hopefully more than one - person like my therapist who can look at us and see and acknowledge our pain. I don't know that we need anybody to fix it for us, just to recognize it. Maybe that is a way of fixing it.

There's so much more to be said about this subject, but this is already kind of long, so I'll leave it here for now and move on to happier things.

I thought maybe pain should have a counter part, so I'm adding a couple of pictures that I think are pretty, just to ease the pain, so to speak. I know the top of the little bird's head is out of frame, but I still think he's pretty. And I love spring flowers.

Happy Monday.


Shrijnana said...

What a moving story. I could feel the pain in your back and legs as I read it. I am speechless and am not sure how to respond except to say I am sorry all that happened. I hope the people who ran the program are no longer in business.

Raven said...

Hi! Thank you so much for commenting. I was feeling all sad that nobody read this post... and thank you for seeing/feeling my pain. I have come to think that everything in life has a purpose. I'm not always sure what that purpose is, but I think/hope there is one.

As for the guy who led that workshop - I have googled him from time to time. Last time I found him he was in Europe someplace. His name was Ronayne Loderis (I think that's how it's spelled.) He was marketing himself as a "certified" Hawaiian shaman but after the workshop I learned that he had not been given permission to teach what he was teaching - had in fact been told NOT to. Had I never gone to that workshop, I wouldn't have discovered reiki, though, and reiki has been a huge gift in my life.

Thank you so much for your kind post. I feel the tender generosity of it. When there were no comments, I thought to myself at one point - once again that pain goes unseen. You have seen it. That's a profound gift to me. Thank you.

tt said...

I'm a bit late in reading blogs this wee ;(
Oh my. I was tearing up when I read this. You my dear one, are a very tenacious and gracious lady! I applaud you and your courage to find answers to things that seem unexplanable.
I think I've told you before, but in case I haven't , and only thought it...your spirit shines!

Raven said...

tt - how very kind you are. Thank you.

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