Pain


I couldn’t tolerate the Demerol (I think it would have killed me), and Vicodin, Percocet, and Norco all stop working long before I can take another dose. To feel such pain five weeks after surgery makes me think something must be wrong. That would mean a second operation on my right shoulder followed by the one on my left shoulder, followed, perhaps, by surgery on my left knee. This is clearly a time to find value in my life apart from what I can accomplish with my body.

This morning, someone asked how I was, and I said fine. Then I remembered that I spent last night—like every night—in a recliner, an ice pack on my shoulder, a toothguard in my mouth, a sleep apnea mask on my face, often awake, the pain like ice picks; and that my shoulders were still afire. I corrected myself, “Actually, I feel like shit, but I guess I’m getting used to it.” I had transcended the pain, at least for a while.

After a year of significant pain, I’ll tell you what I have learned, what the secret is to surviving it with dignity, at least some of the time. The secret is a heart that is open and loving. Anger is a deep and fiery pit. Self-pity is a black and clammy hole. Love is a cloud that floats above pain, and anger, and self-pity. Love even makes the world look different, almost numinous. I was reminded of this when I wrote about Peggy (April 20). I had forgotten how our marriage felt in the early days when the sweetness was almost unbearable. Writing brought it back. I became aglow with love, joy, and poignancy. I didn’t just feel the way I felt 37 years ago; I felt even happier because then there was uncertainty. I had wanted to get married quickly, before Peggy could change her mind.

Now, I don’t worry about losing her love. I worry about her getting sick or dying (fears I didn’t have when we were young), but I’ve grown confident in her love. Like my love for her, other feelings might crowd it out like weeds, but that is only on the surface; the big roots are still very much alive. Well, to be completely honest, I sometimes forget even this. There is a part of me that is ever empty, but that part has grown smaller over the years until it is now like an occasional pothole in a road that is mostly solid.

An ancient truism holds that it’s not the events of our lives that make us happy or unhappy but how we feel about those events. Thanks to chronic pain and disability, I am being forced to accept this at a deep level. Otherwise, I would become overwhelmed. Think of it this way. If chronic pain and disability have the power to make me miserable, then I have no choice but to be miserable. It is only when love makes all things—literally, all things—dance and shimmer before my eyes that I am able to rise above the pain; and even pain itself can appear numinous. When I love, I dance with creation. When I don’t love, I struggle, and as soon I think I have severed one Hydra’s head, five more appear. I can never overcome struggle through struggle. I can never make the world, or even my own body, the way I want it to be.

Early one morning when I was in my early thirties, I watched trees dance in the Louisiana Delta. I had smoked marijuana the night before and seen reptilian monsters in the darkness. They leaped out at me from a glass globe that contained a burning candle. Every time I turned the globe a little to escape one monster, another appeared. I would have walked away, but I was in a country place that was strange to me, and I had nowhere to walk to. The other people in the circle saw that I was struggling, but some I didn’t know, and the others I didn’t trust. They stared at me in silence and uncertainty.

The terror of having been a child who stuttered and who couldn’t pronounce three of the letters in his own name once again settled over me, and I couldn’t form words. I tried to smile, and I tried to raise my hand to wave them away, but I was as rigid as a statue. The dominant person in the group decided to pretend that nothing was amiss, and everyone followed his lead. Everyone that is but my drunken mother who, with cigarette held high, drawled, “Why, boy, I think that stuff has affected your brain.” Everyone laughed, confirming my belief that I was with people I couldn’t trust. Later, I somehow made it to bed where I was flooded by the most beautiful shapes and colors I had ever seen. They moved before my eyes in the darkness all night long like an endlessly changing kaleidoscope.

I got up early, and sat atop the cab of a truck to watch the sun rise beyond a row of ancient live oaks. As these trees awakened with the dawn, they began to pulsate. Their limbs waved gracefully as if to music, and the thought left me that I was a member of a species that was superior to other species. I became absorbed into the whole, life within life, matter within matter, energy within energy. It was among the most memorable experiences of my life. You might dismiss it by pointing out that I was in a suggestible, if not a psychotic, state and that what I saw was simply branches moved by the wind. You are right; I saw branches moved by the wind. But is it not conceivable that being emotionally raw and defenseless might have also made me open to a whole new facet of reality?

But there is only one reality.

Here is the way I see it. If you go to an astronomy website, you will find photos of the heavens that were made with different filters. One filter might show heat and cold. Another might show different kinds of radiation. Yet another might show the colors given off by a particular element. Now, which filter shows reality? I believe I saw truth on that morning long ago, but the truth that I saw was not the truth that I usually see. I was, as it were, looking at the world through a different filter.

Pain, I am learning, is like a drug trip. It can show me monsters if I emotionally resist its reality in my life, but if I relax before it (even though I continue to take practical steps to overcome it), there is the possibility that it might show me worlds of unimagined beauty. It might even take me to a place that surpasses anything I have previously known, a place of pure love and pure compassion, a place in which I can no longer be something, I can only BE.

29 comments:

Pantheist Mom said...

Thank you for this. On a purely selfish note, today was a day I really needed to hear this.
Beautiful.

I hope you can curl up in your place of peace and soak it in.

Peggy is a lovely person. You are both lucky.

Diane Vogel Ferri said...

This is a great post . I too have struggled with chronic pain and it challenges every part of you.

soulbrush said...

this is a very touching post, as well as being expressive and enduring. i 'feel' your pain as i have had surgery on both shoulders, both trigger thumbs and both carpal tunnels, as well as disc surgery (7 in 4 years!)...grrrr this getting old is 'for the birds'...i like seeing you on the net as snowbrush, it goes well with soulbrush!

nollyposh said...

Many 'spiritual minds' have described this very same experience... You i believe experienced the very essence of life here on this planet, the truth that we are all connected in a very real way... That there is a beautiful energy in all living things, that most of the time 'we' turn our blinkers to... Perhaps in this case the drug was simply the means to let down your barriers? (Not that i would recommend it lol!) And Snowbrush it is truly inspirational how you embrace pain as a way of learning more about yourself... You have such a rich beauty to your writing that weaves the complex tapestry of your life... Really beautiful X:-)

Natalie said...

Yes, I agree with Vicki Posh. that is exactly what I would have written.
Love to you, in your quest for peace.

Gaston Studio said...

I, too, agree with nollyposh, but I'm wondering... is this pain from the shoulder surgery? Because if that's the case, there's a couple of things on my mind:

1) I just learned recently about the correct way to take pain meds (and I'm 68!) from my nurse friend. She said they have to taken as prescribed, i.e., 1/2/whatever every so many hours... in order for the meds to get and keep the pain under control.

I was having tremendous pain from a knee operation and was only taking them 'as needed'. She said that would never work, and when I began taking them regularly, viola!

2) Perhaps your doctor should be consulted about the dosage or type of meds.

Personally, I have a very high tolerance for pain, ergo, ordinary meds and dosages simply don't work for me. Once I convince a doc that I'm not a drug addict and get prescribed correctly, I don't have a problem.

Something to think about Snow.
Jane

crone51 said...

Well said! I had a similar experience years ago and worked with the concept of choosing how to respond to the pain I was feeling in a similar way.. Difficult but eye opening.

Winifred said...

Thanks for this posting. It was very moving and you write beautifully.

I hope you get sorted with your medication soon and get that pain reduced.

khelsaoe said...

I love the images you chose to post with this writing. I also remember how differently I saw the sun rise on the morning of my best friend's death, a day I was emotionally raw and defenseless, and I will never forget that experience. Thank you for sharing.

3rdEyeMuse said...

thank you for sharing this so honestly. may your pains go the way of the winds.

Snowbrush said...

Pantheist Mom "On a purely selfish note, today was a day I really needed to hear this."

The praise that touches me the deepest is when I'm told that someone was able to relate something I wrote to her own life. Thank you.

Diane "I too have struggled with chronic pain and it challenges every part of you."

I guess it comes to all of us if we live long enough. It came into my life so fast though. I had always been physically strong, and so I took my strength for granted. Now, my arms are like pencils.

Soulbrush "i like seeing you on the net as snowbrush, it goes well with soulbrush!"

Yes, I agree. I have written to you about that, but if you responded, I somehow missed it, so I am happy to know how you feel.

Soulbrush " i have had surgery on both shoulders"

My problem is impingement and torn tendons. What was yours?

Nollyposh "you have such a rich beauty to your writing"

Thank you, Ms Posh, and since she said what you would have said had she not already sad it, you too, Natalie.

About pain, Jane (and I hope others will read this). It is true that pain pills are more effective if you take them before the pain gets really bad. It is even true that wounds heal faster if you aren't in pain, because pain inhibits the processes that occur during healing. What's more, your body "remembers" pain, and so people sometimes feel pain even after they've healed. By taking pain pills regularly, you can prevent this residual pain. However, you do build up a tolerance for pain meds, and I've already been on them for over a month, plus I took a lot of them last year for three previous surgeries and for chronic pain as well. I think it good to take them at night, but I don't think it would be good to keep taking them around the clock, so I'm trying to get by on either nothing or OTC meds during the day. I don't tough out pain simply for the sake of being macho though, so I will take narcotics during the day if it's clear that I'm going to be miserable without them. Often, during the day, the pain will suddenly get really bad for a short time, but then fade away almost as suddenly. Go figure.

Crone51 "I had a similar experience years ago and worked with the concept of choosing how to respond to the pain I was feeling in a similar way."

It can sure get your attention, making it clear that you've got to do something different if you're not going to lose your mind. At least, this is how it strikes me.

Winifred "you write beautifully."

Thank you very much, dear Winifred.

Khelasoe " I also remember how differently I saw the sun rise on the morning of my best friend's death, a day I was emotionally raw and defenseless, and I will never forget that experience."

Thank you for sharing this. I also remember a sunset that I watched from a plane circling Mt. Rainier after my mother died. I felt as if I were on the wings of an angel.

3rdEyeMuse " may your pains go the way of the winds."

I'll vote for that. It's funny how we can regard an experience as rich and meaningful yet not want to prolong it a moment more than we have to.

His kajirah said...

Greetings Snow

You're post caused a tear to drip down my face, and I tasted the salt as it reached the crease of my mouth, my head inclined to reflect on your words and my own never ending pain.

Having been in an irreversible stage of this illness for years now, many of my days and nights are gloomy. I try hard to push past the pain to feel life, love and give love.

There's no chance for me to ever get better, only managed. I fear the worse is yet to come, that day when I will be in the back bedroom of the house waiting to be fed or watered. I imagine calling out for help, but no one is home to help me.

~shakes those thoughts away

I hope this program I'm about to start will help me, at least mentally and emotionally so that I can learn better to cope and survive chronic pain.

When you mentioned ice picks and fire in your shoulder it concerned me.

I have a website that might help you
www.CRPSAdvisory.com

I did all the research on my own, I've dedicated the last 8 years to helping others in pain as well as myself.

While the site mainly explains Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy/Complex Regional Pain Syndrome it also discusses other pain. There's a really good page called "The Universal Disorder".

I think of you often and worry about the pain continuing instead of easing.

Sincerely,
~cali

Mim said...

What I like about this post is the part about the filters and showing "reality". I often wonder if others see what I see - in terms of colors and shapes. Do I have my own visual filters on? Does everyone/anyone see a tree as a blob shape when I see it as a string shape?
Obviously I don't worry about this overmuch but it crosses my mind when I think about reactions to situations, and people. I wonder and worry about what filter I have on when I meet someone. Do I see light when others might see dark. Which one of us is "right". It's puzzling

Sonia ;) said...

Hi Snow,
Thank you for sharing those feelings....I wish for your pain to subside or atleast as you said "BE".....hugs

Smiles,
Sonia ;)

All Consuming said...

'The secret is a heart that is open and loving. Anger is a deep and fiery pit. Self-pity is a black and clammy hole. Love is a cloud that floats above pain, and anger, and self-pity. Love even makes the world look different, almost numinous.' - understand this completely, sometimes I have thought it's almost been worth the pain to learn that, you see the world so differently with that knowledge. Great pictures that work with the post really well. I hope you get some relief soon. x

Lille Diane said...

I went to bed thinking about you last night.... ummm I realize that may have sounded inappropriate. I understand chronic pain and went through major addictions to Demerol, and other prescribed meds. In '93 they cauterized my pancreas duct, bile duct and another duct together by mistake because they thought they hit a major artery. Big Ouch. It caused chronic pancreatitis and pain I had never endured or experienced before. 8 surgeries total that year. Now I am at a place I can smile and say, "All my ducts are not in a row..." I enjoy the silliness of saying it, and knowing I am still here to say it.

Last year's auto accident left me with mental scars, and pain physically as well as emotionally. Plus 2 surgeries this year. I felt your hug by what you wrote, and feel blessed to have had a hug from you.

Go check out the album I posted this morning. The entire time I was shooting it, I thought how it would make you, Snowbrush, smile....and say, "Awwwww." It's a happy pill I'm sending you. Take as needed. And as often as needed.... :-)

Carolynn said...

Very provocative. I like it. I was going to say that I'm sorry it derives from pain, however, I realized in the moment of my thought process, that this too is an example of the good that is present always, if one chooses to focus in on that aspect of an experience.

I also answer truthfully when asked the "How are you" question. Most people are a little surprised when my answer isn't the rote "Fine" that the vast majority utter without thought.

I wish Peace for you today.
Carolynn

Snowbrush said...

Mim "Does everyone/anyone see a tree as a blob shape when I see it as a string shape?"

And what a difference language can make in the way we see things. Spanish speakers see bridges as having masculine characteristics; French speakers as feminine. This is due to the word being masculine in one language and feminine in another.

Sonia "Thank you for sharing those feelings..."

And thank you for coming here, Sonia.

All Consuming " Great pictures that work with the post really well."

You are the first to comment on them. I thought they were pretty near perfect. The first is a fractal.

Lille Diane " ummm I realize that may have sounded inappropriate."

Not at all. Indeed, I am honored. I am also inspired by how much you have gone through and yet persevered.

Carolynn "this too is an example of the good that is present always"

Yes. I too try to remember that there always CAN be something good to focus upon.

Carolynn "this too is an example of the good that is present always"

I have tried that, but the problem I found is that a brief answer won't do sometimes, yet the person isn't usually in a situation where a complete answer is appropriate or even wanted. For example, if a friend has died, I might say I am sad, but that is so inadequate. I end up wishing that people didn't ask questions, the answers to which they can't entertain, yet they do ask them, and I don't know how to respond.

Deb said...

I am touched by your courage. My heart connects to yours post in ways unimaginable. I send comfort and healing to you today.

Deb

Beth Niquette said...

That is profound. There are tears in my eyes. I am not one to cry.

Stephen Baird said...

wow. beautiful art!
nikonsniper

julie mitchell said...

Your writing is wonderful….
this is an amazing postpost ...you write so movingly of your love for Peggy and how that place of emptiness in your heart has grown smaller as the rest fills with love…and my heart hurts for you because of the pain your experiencing, so sorry, I hope it ends soon……

I went for a walk the other day and your comments about pain, and love & struggle, and becoming one with the Universe were floating in my head. I looked in the index of the book I had with me under pain and this is what I read....

”Make yourself alike in pleasure and pain. Even if you fight with all your might, the ego will always win, you will always die again, the cycle of birth and death will go on and on, unless you succeed in being alike in pain and pleasure.”……

”When you get the firm resolve not to die, when there is no price you are not prepared to pay in order to transcend death, then you have the unfailing motivation for carrying out this great discipline of being alike in pleasure and pain…Eknath Easwaran.

“It might even take me to a place that surpasses anything I have previously known, a place of pure love and pure compassion, a place in which I can no longer be something, I can only BE….Snowbrush…

Pretty profound stuff here…thank you for sharing...
namaste

Reasons to be Cheerful 1,2,3 said...

I relate to what you say here Snowbrush. Opening our hearts is one of the ways to help cope with chronic pain. There are many changes for the worse, when we are dealt these cards, but this part is for the better and reaps wonderful rewards sometimes.

The book I read refered to in post
http://joanne-helpinghands.blogspot.com/2009/03/sick-of-being-sick.html
demonstrates this well I think. How through adversity it is sometimes possible to connect to something which can lift us - sometimes it's the intensity of enjoyments from the fleeting moments that are OK, happy. I could go on and on, but you've already said it so well, and I understand completely what you say.

Matawheeze said...

Sublime and well said, dear sir. All of life is seen through those filters you describe. And truth? Whose? When?

I wish you freedom from the pain but not freedom from the wisdom it may confer.

~M.

Renee said...

Wow. And I don't mean wow from a psychedelic trip.

Another absolutely fantastic post.

When you said you couldn't trust half the people in the circle and your mother made a joke at your expense, I felt like crying.

This is amazing snowbrush. You really write so beautifully. Maybe poignantly is a better word.

Beautiful, and touched me deeply.

Love Renee xoxo

Snowbrush said...

Deb " My heart connects to yours post in ways unimaginable"

What a very sweet thing to say. Thank you, Deb. Thank you.

Nikonsniper "wow. beautiful art!"

I really liked it too. In fact, I was escstatic about it.

Julie "”Make yourself alike in pleasure and pain...."

I will definitely look the author up. Almost word for word, he reflects the belief of the ancient Stoics about suffering. Are your familiar with them?

Reasons to be Cheerful, I will visit that site you referenced. Thank you.

Indeed, Matawheeze, freedom from pain without loss of wisdom.

Renee, thank you, my dear, for your support and kindness. I would that you be well. I would that I could make it so.

Lisa said...

Hi Snowbrush,

Firstly, let me just say that you are a very brave to expose your sould and heart the way you do. I love those graphics, did you do those? You are right, love and openness and being in the NOW will help a lot. Do you know about any other healing modalities? Do you know about Reiki? You can go to HeatMath.org and find the little emWave unit. It's great. The minute you becaome heart focused, the unit responds with a little beep. When you become more heart focused, and are in what is called a 'coherent" state, it beeps in a lower pitch. The second your thoughts waver, you hear silence and the little light goes red. (Blue for better, green for best)
Granted, I have not thrown away my meds just yet and I doubt I will be able to, but I am learning to chill and be in the NOW, filtered through my heart, as much as possible.

I was in a car accident this past March, I was rear ended while braking to avoid hitting a squirrel. Mr. Squirrlie made it home to his family, but now I am left with a bad back. Some days it is excrutiating. I never had pain before. I actually took pride in the face that I made it to 45 without back pain because it seems so pervasive. Now I have joined the club. Anyway, when I am laying on my vibrating mat and have the warm pad under my back and just let go, it feels better, the pain melts away the more I let it go.

LOVE those pgraphics. Did you do them?

Lisa

Snowbrush said...

Lisa, I was pleased to hear more of your story. Time will heal many things--or at least help them--and I hope this will be true for you. One also adjusts to new normalcies. Having been without a right arm, practically speaking, for six weeks, the thought of having one already seems like a luxury rather than a necessity.

As for alternative healing, I tried acupuncture, herbs, and massage. I know of Reiki, and I took a class in therapeutic touch, but I have no confidence in the rearrangement of energy fields. I'm more a hard science guy in a lot of ways. Something has to make sense to me logically before I am willing to put money into it (much money anyway), but I'm definitely interested in the emWave.

Snowbrush said...

P.S. The graphics came from Wikipedia. I never create my own, but it's something to think about if I continue to be physically limited.