Every part of me wanted to run screaming from that place. I was more scared than I had ever been, and I didn’t know what was waiting for me. My beloved offered to take me away, to figure out another way, but I knew I had to stay. I knew the heavy spiral of guilt and fear had to end, and that the only way for this to happen was for me to move through the pain. I also knew this was something I had to face alone.
Fifteen years before, I had begun a dance with grueling pain, the kind of pain that catapults you to the ceiling and has you begging to make it stop. It appeared one night when I was six months pregnant with my baby girl. My pancreas had decided to start digesting itself. Surgery wasn’t an option because I was pregnant, so they kept me hospitalized until, thank God, I delivered a perfectly healthy and amazing child. After this, I had surgery right away, but the months of waiting had taken their toll and I was left with pain as my new constant companion. After visits with many concerned doctors, it was determined that there was nothing they could do to fix the problem. I would just need to live with it.
The pain was so intense that I couldn’t see beyond making it stop. I couldn’t predict the years it would take or the damage the drugs used to control it would do to my physical body. So I “lived” with it. I medicated myself with the heaviest painkillers they manufacture and did my best to live as a shadow of a person. I dutifully went to my doctor’s each month to receive my temporary lifeline and sought out specialists to provide documentation to support my need for the ever-increasing amount of medication. I convinced myself that to live a life half asleep was okay. It certainly was better than what I believed to be the only other option: a life of unbearable pain.
At different points along the journey, the doctors and I tried to reduce or remove the drugs altogether. Every attempt was met with my resistance. I was so afraid to feel the pain again and, through the years, grew increasingly fearful of the toll that the withdrawal would take on me. It seemed easier to stay on the merry-go-round than to risk jumping off.
What brought me to my moment of truth was a profound feeling of frustration and an overwhelming acceptance of defeat. I was tired of being tethered to an anchor—an anchor that would continually drag me under the surface. The path to this moment began about a year before. I had yet again started the process of decreasing my medication intake, because my dosage was incredibly dangerous and my medical team was concerned. Each month, as we chipped off a little bit more, I would joke that “one of these days, I’m just going to be done with all of this.” I’m not sure if my doctor believed me, but we would each have a chuckle as he wrote out the current month’s helping.
As the dosage became lower and lower, I struggled. I did my best to cope, but I was quickly drowning in the pain. Perhaps this is when I should have told the doctors that I was struggling but I kept trying to stay with the already-failing plan, figuring that I’d sort it out as I went.
Except I wasn’t sorting it out. Some days I was able to cope with the reduced amount and other days I would use a little extra, figuring I would make it up on a stronger day. This “worked” for a few months.
Despite my attempt to keep everything under control and to manage my pain, my plan blew up quickly—and with spectacular results. I was about to run out of meds. The fear that hit me with this realization brought me to my knees. My brain dashed through all of the possible ways of “fixing” it, and I was paralyzed. I was also tired. I needed to get off this merry-go-round once and for all. I needed to believe I could get my life back. So I pulled myself together, summoned all the nerve I didn’t believe I actually had, and told my husband, “I need help.”
Over the next couple days, we found a private detox clinic that agreed to take me immediately, as an in-patient, but it wasn’t going to be cheap. The types and dosages of medications that I was on made me a special case, and I didn’t fit their normal detoxification models. I expected a fight from my husband but got none; in fact, he didn’t flinch at the costs involved. He helped me pack my bags, explain to our teenage children that I needed to leave for a while, and then drove me the five hours to the facility. I can only imagine how terrifying it must have been for him to leave me there, all alone with these people we had never met. My gratitude for his faith in me is greater than any words I could ever use to describe it.
Throughout the next few months, I fought my way out of hell. I wrestled with my own body to regain control. Every nerve that had been asleep suddenly awoke and jumped into high gear. The pain that had been silenced had again found its voice and resumed its shrill scream, demanding my attention. I heard its call, but this time, unlike the others, I dug my heels in and told it “no.” I took control and began the long process of learning a different way to be.
The lasting physical effects of my time on these drugs are significant, and I will carry their impact with me forever. I have forgotten much of what happened during my sleeping years, a fact that pains me greatly. A year ago, when my husband and I were visiting the power plants at Niagara Falls, I marveled at how cool they were. I told him how happy I was to finally see them. He then told me that we had been there before with our children, that I had already expressed awe at their power and their size. I was heartbroken, and cried over the loss of that earlier memory. To this day, I also get routinely excited about seeing a movie for the first time…only to be informed that I’ve already seen it. There is a silver lining to this. Sometimes, I remember the story as it unfolds, and other times I am given the pleasure of seeing it for the first time…again.
It’s taken me years to fully appreciate why this moment was so pivotal in my journey. I had a choice to run. I had a choice to give in to the fear that was consuming me—but I stood there, albeit on weakened knees, and faced my moment of truth. Now, whenever I feel resistant to something because of fear, I take that as a cue. I hold that fear close, thank it for being there, and then face whatever it’s attempting to stop me from doing. I will no longer let fear keep me down. I remember that I stood there and learned just how strong and brave my true self really is.