Browsing Tag

pain

chronic pain, Guest Posts, Hope

The Shame of Pain

October 24, 2019
pain

By Francesca Louise Grossman

I have tried 46 different times to launch myself out of chronic pain. I know this because every time I try something, I write down what I have done, what it feels like, what it costs, whether it’s covered and how worth it is in a small purple book. No one knows I do this. I scribble in it like I’m confessing to my sixth grade diary. In it is the same kind of anxiety about the future that I had in sixth grade, just not about Andy Apstein and whether he was going to kiss me or ignore me. Instead, it is about the treatment or therapy I try, and whether this one will be the one to finally help.

I opened the book the other day to pen a possible 47th.

The book is chronological, of course, but I put it in alphabetical order for clarity. I flipped through.

It starts:

Acupressure: December 2010 – Feb 2010 – dull pressure, not much change, $120/hr not covered – not worth it

Acupuncture – July 2002 (on and off) until March 2018 – sometimes painful, usually calming, blood flow, lasts less than a day but is relief $75/15 mins – sometimes covered – worth it but has to be ongoing

Acetaminophen – When needed – does nothing – over the counter – $9.89 a bottle of extra strength – not worth it

Bioelectric Therapy – October 2016-April 2016 – possibly dulls pain a little – for about an hour $165/hr at office – not covered by insurance

Cupping – February 2014 – one time, hurt like hell, not worth it. $85/30 mins – not covered by insurance.

Codeine – March 2009 – April 2009 – numb, good, not a long term option – covered by insurance $20 copay

Craniosacral Therapy – September 2000 – October 2001 – When in conjunction with other body work  – Myofascial etc – decent relief but dizzy – lasts a couple of days maybe $200/session – sometimes covered by insurance

Cryotherapy – June 2018-October 2018 – feels great right after, like putting ice on a knee. Lasts a couple of hours, heart races. $60/3 min session. Not covered by insurance

And on and on—and on.

The book is 24 years old. The same age as my chronic pain, more than half my lifetime, all of my adulthood, eons.

This book exists because all this time I have had a continuous faith that there is a valve for this pain; that I can escape it, or, more accurately, it can escape me. For all these years I have I known this to be true. I will find it. I will heal. I am a warrior, a survivor; tough, strong, and able. People have told me that pain is weakness leaving the body in all different scenarios, with all different motivations. I don’t have this recorded as studiously but I wish I did.

I have other lists I don’t love revisiting, but help to explain the pain. In my twenties I was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease, an illness of the intestines that leads to violent pain and an urgent need to empty your bowels. I developed Colitis later, a more general type of the disease that bloats my stomach to look four months pregnant. I have had surgeries for my stomach, some of which were determined later to be unnecessary. I had thyroid cancer through out my twenties, finally treated when the tumor on my neck was the size of a ping-pong ball. I developed arthritis along the way, both as a peripheral malady and also it’s own disease. My body is gouged from piles of polyps removed from my insides, and (usually) benign tumors removed from my outsides. My neck doesn’t turn all the way to the right. My hips need forty-five minutes before letting me walk in the morning. I have an unidentified liver problem that swells without notice and bends me in two. If the saying is to be believed, there’s a lot of weakness in there, and it seems to be stuck.

*

When I was twenty-nine, I had surgery to remove my thyroid. The overnight nurse was a doozie of a lady.  Opera singer large, big calloused hands that vice-gripped onto my shoulders. Thighs thick as trunks that she used to pin me against the side of the bed so she could administer my catheter without “so much squirming.” She was brutal and brutish. A small silver peace sign sunk deep into her cleavage, drowning in flesh.

She had a hard time getting the catheter in, and as she struggled, she noticed my twisted face.

Pain is weakness leaving the body, my love, she said, repeating it over and over like a command until I could actually pee.

This is an extreme example, but at least once a year, often as much as once a month, this phrase earworms into my psyche. Related to illness and chronic pain or not, this saying has appeared like a subtitle again and again at the bottom of the screen of my life. When I was a weak child? A coach. A teenager who could not stomach even occasional beers? A boyfriend. A young woman unable to go to a bar without scoping out the bathroom situation ahead of time? A roommate. A thyroid cancer patient: a nurse. Doctors, PA’s, med techs. Physical therapists, friends, masseuses, acupuncturists, pharmacists, bosses, guy on the street.

*

I went to the doctor a few weeks ago and a delicate med tech took my vitals. She asked the normal questions, made the normal small talk, took the normal introductory tests. Her thin fingers flew across the keyboard, recording my responses. She asked me if I had any pain.

I wasn’t sure I heard her correctly.

“You mean right now?”

“Yes,” she smiled softly.

“Nothing acute,” I said.

“So no pain?”

“No. I mean, yes, I have pain, the same pain I have all the time.”

“What would you rate it, 1-10?”

How do you rate pain on a scale made for people with no pain?

“I don’t know, 4?”

She nodded and her hands took off. That was the wrong answer. I knew this, I knew that anything under 5 wasn’t worth her noting, that saying 4 was like saying I had a dull headache, or a splinter in my toe. But what should I have said? 7? Wouldn’t that be alarmist? Especially when that pain had been a relative constant for over twenty years? Especially when I knew from decades of experience that the litany of potential remedies for that pain were not going to help?

*

My husband stepped on a quarter inch wire sticking out of the ground near the beach in Fire Island this summer. The metal went a good inch into his flesh, and when he pulled it out blood sprayed mercilessly all over the sand and sidewalk. He howled. He made noises that I have never heard him make before and I have been with him through a lot of painful things. He was pale and sweaty, teeth gritting, eyes rolling back, that kind of pain.

Later that night, his foot gauzed up and iced, still throbbing, he looked at me and said “I’m so sorry you are in pain all the time.”

I didn’t know how to respond. This wasn’t about me, he was the one in pain, and yet a part of me felt smug at his discomfort. Now you know how I feel, was a momentary thought, I’ll admit it, and not one I’m not proud of.

But it got me thinking about pain and the way people relate to it. It is very hard to relate to pain if you aren’t in pain. Which is why I have such a hard time with the 1-10 scale.

Instead, for chronic pain patients, they should ask what kind of sharp thing is in your foot. Splinter? Pushpin? Nail? Quarter inch wire? Razor blade? Glass shard? Burning glass shard?

Nail. I would have said. Occasionally glass shard.

But instead I said 4 and she smiled.

*

I have fought against my pain and weakness for a very long time. I have tried, often unsuccessfully, to be like my friends. In my twenties I tried to stay out all night, I tried to ski, I tried to walk down the street without doubling over. I worked, I played, I drank, I sat as still as I could so that no one would notice the aftershocks. In my thirties I had children, pregnancy an event that paused my pain for a while so that when it came back it felt like a tsunami. Like many mothers of babies I didn’t sleep and then I had severe postpartum depression; I found having small children so physically demanding I came undone. I’m forty-one now and I am very often a prisoner in my house. My stomach bleeds, my liver pulsates, my head spins. Not all the time, but enough.

From my teens until today, this minute, and all those in the foreseeable future, there is pain. At least nail in foot pain. Sometimes glass shard. Never pushpin. A splinter would be welcome. In fact, when I think back on my childhood and that which was difficult – most sports, endurance, gym class, partying, anything else that required my body to function – I think it’s possible that I have been in pain all my life. Back then I never considered that my resting state was anything less than normal, but now I know better. Most people do not live with nails in their feet.

I hurt. I hurt in the morning when I turn over to get up. When I walk, when I carry groceries, when I turn my head to the right to reverse in the car. My stomach burns, my joints swell, my liver rejects everything I eat and drink.

I don’t talk about pain very often. I tell myself it is because people don’t want to hear me complain but it is more than that, I can admit that. I’m ashamed of my pain. I’m ashamed of my weakness.

What is it about pain that is so shameful?

We live in a culture in which wellness equals strength. People my age do cross fit and triathlons, women have babies without drugs, are lauded for their tight abs, their thick skin, their ability to play tough. I have never been strong like this. I have tried, but I have failed. I was never scrappy. I don’t think I will ever be. I am soft. My belly, the place of much of my pain, is squishy. Distended, bloated, doughy, depending on the day. I’m sensitive. I cry at pop songs.

Our society’s greatest hero story is about overcoming obstacles. We love a fighter. We love an underdog who comes out on top. We love triumph and happily ever endings. We love to fix a hoarder, intervene and send someone to rehab, remodel a decrepit house. We love treatment. We love survival. We love hope.

But hope is complicated. After all of these tries, this list of 46 different treatments and therapies, I no longer have hope that things will get better. I have hope that things will not get worse, which is not the same thing. I have a hope that feels a lot more like mercy than it does like faith.

When I ask myself this question about weakness and shame I hear a quiet hum suggesting a better question: why am I fighting so hard?

In my experience, pain is not weakness leaving the body. I realize this is a trope, and any mantra is nothing more than a slogan. But slogans have power. They convince. And I’ll admit I have always believed this – that the suffering I endure might one day let me free.

When I was pregnant and exhausted, a friend of mine told me that of course I was tired, I was making a person in there. Though not the same, pain sometimes feels like that too. Of course I’m tired, I’m fighting against myself all the time, trying to quell the pain so that I can live my otherwise fortunate life.

I’m not delusional about this. I know I live a charmed life in almost every way. I am educated, from a family that loves me – even when I behave idiotically. I am not from a country ravaged by war. I have a husband who cares for me, does not abuse me, even dotes on me sometimes. I have two healthy children whom I adore. I am from a privileged minority, I have more than I deserve. I can walk, breathe and think to exist in my daily life. I can afford therapy, eastern medicine, treatment outside of insurance sometimes, to do part time work. I can try 46 things. In short; I’m lucky. Unfairly so. And yet.

Here’s the whole list, abbreviated to just the titles:

Acupuncture, acupressure, acetaminophen, alcohol, aleve, aromatherapy, bioelectric, CBD creams and oils, cupping, chiropractic, chanting, codeine, cranial sacral therapy, cryotherapy, dairy free, hallucinations, gluten free, guided breathing, fasting, fentanyl, flotation, ibuprofen, oxycontin, marijuana, massage, meditation, myofascial, quell, reflexology, radiation, salt baths, saunas, steroids, sugar free, sodium free, sound bathing, surgery, swimming, percocet, physical therapy, psychotherapy, psychiatry, praying, vicodin, xanax, yoga.

Everything helps a little. Nothing helps enough to be worth the life altering work and piles of money it takes to keep it up.

Here’s a truth: the things that actually take the pain away feel a lot like addiction. They don’t remove the pain, that’s the trick. They numb. And they are delicious. But they don’t last and they unleash other pain, often more severe that the original. It’s never worth doubling the pain tomorrow to have numbness today, no matter how attractive the reprieve.

So the pain is there. It’s always there and most likely it will always be there. I don’t know how it got in. Maybe the pain was waiting for me when I came into this world. Maybe it comes from my ancestors, my DNA, my parents’ tragedies, my childhood bullies, or little or big assaults. Maybe I am sensitive to the world for some reason, and it simply hurts to be here. As woo-wooey as that sounds, that’s the one that feels the most accurate, the most likely.

I think it’s actually softness that makes us strong. It’s not skin made of iron. It’s showing the underbelly. It’s not bracing for the storm, it’s putting a kite up in the wind. It’s the willingness to see the world as a series of experiences some of which are going to hurt like crazy and the ability to just keep going anyway. It’s vulnerability. It’s asking for forgiveness. From ourselves as much as from others. It’s mercy.

Mercy is an open palm. It’s the meaty bit. Curling your hand so that your knuckles face the world is so much easier. But a fist to heart feels quite a lot different from a palm to heart, resting square on your breastbone, staying there, the heel of it pulsing the same rhythm as the heartbeat on your chest, marching your body along in a long trek to some sort of quiet absolution.

My husband’s foot healed in a few days. He stopped limping. The knowledge that he would get better permeated and defined the experience – the faith that this would be over soon.

Therein lies the difference between acute and chronic pain, of course: in how we define hope.

So what kind of hope can I have? What if I looked at my years and piles of pain and perceived weakness not as a failure but as a step towards becoming who I am? What if I forgave myself the years of fighting myself and sank into the deep cool water of acceptance? How would it feel down there?

I do not mean that I should give up. I’ll try things if they look promising. 47, 48, that’s fine. But what if instead of fighting so hard I allowed the pain to be part of me? What if, for a while, instead of the restrictive eating and the therapy and the medicine and the exercise and the planning and the trying (and the failing), what if I just stopped? Even if it hurt? Even if the pain never left? Could I recalibrate to “0”? Could I see that as the most radical act? Doing nothing at all?

For now I’ll put the little purple book in the drawer. I’ll cap the pen and sit quietly. I’ll let what’s in me stay put. I’ll put my feet up, expecting and accepting the pulse of the nail that might be forever lodged there.

Francesca Louise Grossman is a writer and writing instructor based in Newton, MA. Her work includes contributions to The New York Times, Brain, Child Magazine, Word Riot, Drunken Boat Literary Magazine, xojane, Kids in the House, Ed Week/Teacher among others. She is currently working on a memoir and a novel. 

 

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Guest Posts, No Bullshit Motherhood, parenting

When Mommy Hurts

June 23, 2017
pain

By Carrie Kempisty

I sit draped in a thin, blue sheet. Waiting. Chill bumps cover my bare legs and feet dangling from the crinkle-papered exam table. The tests have been run; I’ve been poked and prodded. My brain spins in circles of anticipation, like an airplane without clearance to land. The sudden, mysterious, physical pain that has been slowly crippling my body may, after today, have a name. Up to now, I’d mentally escaped inside a self-protecting, impenetrable bubble that’s been relentlessly bombarded on all sides. Fears, potential disaster, over reaction, denial, and sadness have all threatened to burst through the protective barrier.

My two young children used to ask me if I could play. Now they ask if I hurt, which I vehemently deny. This seemingly overnight change in my physical well-being has been frightening for all of us. I am an active, fit, energetic stay-at-home mom. I don’t often skip days of going to the gym to lift weights, run, or swim laps. In recent years, I’ve enjoyed a healthy dose of competition in running, biking, and swimming events. I was a personal fitness trainer for over ten years before I became a mother. It was hard enough to admit my pain to my athletic husband. How can I admit to my children that their mother has suddenly become less than the energized, non-stop, cheer and activity leader they’ve always known? Where’s the line between protecting them from witnessing my pain and outright lying to them? Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, No Bullshit Motherhood, parenting

The Lesson Leaving Taught. (No Bullshit Motherhood Series.)

October 8, 2016

Note from Founder Jen Pastiloff: This is part of my new series called No Bullshit Motherhood. Raw, real, 100% bullshit free. If you have something to submit click the submissions tab at the top. You can follow us online at @NoBullshitMotherhood on Instagram and @NoBSMotherhood on Twitter. Search #NoBullshitMotherhood online for more.

By Chris J. Rice

My ten-year-old son stood beside his father in the front yard of my now empty house. My son had a scowl on his face. Looked away from my packed car, down at the ground.

Dark-eyed boy with a skeptical furrowed brow.

“Come here,” I said. Called him over to my driver-side window.

He stuck his head in for a kiss, and I whispered in his ear: “You’re going to miss me. And that’s okay. It’s okay to have a dream. Never forget that.”

He nodded as if he understood. “Bye,” he said, then turned around and ran back to stand with his father.

I put my Datsun in reverse and took off. Moved to Los Angeles to attend graduate school. And I didn’t take my child along. I left him with his dad for the duration. I told them both it would only be a few years, though I knew it would be more.

I sensed it would be forever.

A formal acceptance letter came in the mail and I made a decision. Put my books in the post, my paint box in the trunk of my yellow Datsun B210, and drove headlong into whatever came next. Sold most of my stuff in a big yard sale: the vintage clothes I thought I’d never wear again, the leather couch and chair I’d bought dirt cheap off a moving neighbor.

I didn’t have much left after the divorce.

I said it. My ex said it too. I love you. But he didn’t mean it. And for the longest time I didn’t get that. Just picked up the slack. Made things happen. That’s how it was. Okay. Just okay. He would get angry. Couldn’t seem to manage. Fury popped up like every other emotion. Yelling. Disparaging—things like that.

I missed my son like mad. We talked by phone regularly. I flew back on holidays. He came to visit on spring break, and for a few weeks every summer.

Seven years passed. Continue Reading…

courage, Guest Posts

To Be Beautiful You Have to Suffer

August 21, 2016
dance

By Liane Kupferberg Carter

I was dragged to Ruth Skaller’s Ballet Studio for Girls the year I was seven. I had never expressed any interest in dancing. But earlier that year, I’d had surgery on my eyes, and someone suggested that dancing might help my coordination.

Ruth Skaller was a tall, olive-skinned woman of indeterminate age, whose classes were filled with giggling girls she whipped into line with the snap of her voice. Through a series of barre exercises, we would sweep our Capezio slippers over the polished pale wood floors, plié, rond de jambe, relèvé, to the strains of haunting, melancholy piano music on the Victrola that only years later would I recognize as Chopin. Mrs. Skaller would stand before the mirror, lower face cupped thoughtfully in her hand, humming as she turned out muscled legs beneath her skirt drapery until she had choreographed our next steps. We would line up, and then, like drifting dandelion fluff — or lumbering elephants — cross the room on the diagonal, spinning and spotting, pirouetting our way dizzily across the studio.

Often the next class would arrive while we were in progress. Taller, lankier girls would perch on the painted radiators, or sweep into the dressing room behind the studio, a gray affair of cubbies and wrought iron bars over narrow dusty windows that faced an unpaved alley. Swinging rectangular black plastic ballet boxes with pink Barbie-faced ballerinas painted on the front, they would click open the vinyl snaps to remove leotard and tights, then open cunning spaces at the bottom which concealed the soft shoes, or, for the lucky ones, pale pink satin toe shoes with wooden toe blocks. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, Health, Women

Endo

June 21, 2016
pain

By Janet Frishberg

Age 12: In the afternoons when I’m bleeding, I double over as I stagger home up the hill. I hold onto a telephone pole on the way to the white-walled apartment where my mom and I live, where I can sit on the toilet and cry, trying to imagine myself out of my body, writhing on the carpeted floor, wanting to find a place of comfort. I slouch at the computer console, my feet resting on its grey plastic side, crying and playing games to distract me from the pain. It feels like my insides are a room and someone is peeling off the wallpaper very slowly, with a straight-edge razor. In the quiet apartment, alone, I know I can scream or groan as loud as I want; everyone is at work. My mom and I go to doctors, more than two, less than five. They say, “That’s part of being a woman.” And, “Sometimes menstruation is painful. You’ll get used to it.”

The pain overwrites the past. It becomes difficult to remember my body from before my body is in pain. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, Surviving

What The Body Remembers

April 17, 2016
rape

Trigger Warning: This essay discusses abuse and rape.

By Claudia Smith

For Meihua, my daughter

When I was small, Jesus was more than love, more than an important figure to me.  He was the soul of everything. I could not imagine my world without him any more than I could envision a world without rain, sun, clouds, or earth.

A picture of Jesus hung over my grandmother’s dresser; he wore a cream robe falling in a way that only suggested a body, light shooting from his barbed valentine heart. He was so very beautiful; his hair was light brown, his beard split into a small heart as well. It was difficult to read the expression in his eyes and over the years, I saw many feelings in them. Gentle forgiveness, calm resignation, even lust. If he was in pain, he seemed to have transcended.I preferred this image to the crucifix that hung in church. I can’t say when I began to understand that suffering was his love, or at least the proof that was needed for me to understand the depths of his love.

Years later, when I was no longer Catholic, when I wasn’t sure if I was anything, I still prayed when I was afraid. I would say the Act of Contrition, Hail Mary, and whatever else I could remember, even after my understanding of Jesus had complicated and when asked, would call myself a “lapsed Catholic.” I liked that. It left things open. When I prayed, I imagined the eyes of the Jesus in that classic Sacred Heart picture, not the Jesus nailed to a cross. That image sort of pissed me off. Why should I trust him more because he was tortured? Wasn’t his love infinite? What was the torture for anyway? Continue Reading…

cancer, Guest Posts

The Shape of Legs and Love

March 30, 2016
cancer

By Isabel Abbott

This is what we do now. It is late, and I am in bed, and the lights have long been flicked off along with the day’s clothes which pile in the chair or a trail from front door to white sheets. I am in bed, and I am listening to the sounds outside, locating each one and giving it a name.  (Feral cat, two cars passing, a back screen door banging, a low hum of talking while a cigarette is smoked.)

I am listening and I am naming.
I am wanting to sleep.
I am hurting.

There is the slight adjustment, the shift from one side to the next, my left hip a glaring road sign pointing toward the placement of origin for pain. And so this is what we, me and my legs, do now. We lay here, in bed, and at night, unable to sleep, I begin to envision the bones inside, the lock and socket, the strong and soft, the words I imagine are engraved on them, transcribed from all the years I’ve spent walking through the world and street and unmarked alley. All the skin and muscle and bone, the extension and the wrapping around her, the running and running through the woods and the cuts into skin that bled out poison and suffering, the tethering to this earth and the curve of calf when feet slip inside shoes that take me home. Continue Reading…

chronic pain, Guest Posts, Surviving

My Moveable Feast

March 14, 2016
pain

If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast.  —Ernest Hemingway

By Vicki Gundrum

A Moveable Feast is the only book of Hemingway’s I’ve read, and I’m nourished by the idea of memories. I know it’s more than Paris—it’s driving the ambulance in the Spanish Civil War, catching swordfish in the Gulf of Mexico, gazing on the Snows of Kilimanjaro, swimming in your Key West pool with your gay friend Tennessee.

I’ve lived a life like that, moving up, around and through the world like a hawk on an updraft. It was good and scary, and I collected three concussions.

***

My neurologist watched my face change into a Picasso. An eye shrunk and moved, a puzzle piece that should no longer fit, but face tectonic plates shifted to accommodate. My left eye teared. My doctor stared. She said, I’m watching you have a cluster headache. It’s not hemiplegic is it?

I told her I felt the pain behind my left eye but that the headache would become full bore on all parts of my head and face. She said she’d never before watched a cluster headache form. I didn’t say congratulations but I could tell she was excited. She grabbed me by my shoulders and led me to a room with a mirror in it so I could also see the transformation in my face, a reflection of the cluster in bloom. There, do you see your tiny eye there? Or was it my pupil that fascinated.

She rendered her diagnosis with the pride of competence: You are having both transformed cluster headache and transformed migraine, chronic and daily. I asked what transformed meant.

It means you don’t need a trigger.

Oh, I thought my trigger list was merely huge and unavoidable.

My doctor injected nerve blocks behind each eye and prescribed prednisone to break the cluster of clusters—for I’d had a Spring of them. I made another appointment with her but it never happened because she quit the HMO for private practice. Continue Reading…

Anxiety, Guest Posts, healing, The Body

Lick ‘em On

October 24, 2015

By Jane Ratcliffe

I reached toward my bowl of oatmeal.  Before me, I noticed a pair of hands.  Faintly red with raised blue veins, they floated in the shallow morning light.  I drew a sharp breath.  I lived alone.  The doors were locked.  Who could be in my house?  Unnerved, I kept watching the hands.  The colors glowed, the skin like the bark of a young tree.  Then I recognized the ring: an oval diamond set amidst tiny dots of turquoise and topped with a bright ruby.  My ring.  Therefore, my hands.

It was March, 2008.  These were my first moments of brain injury, although I didn’t yet know this was what was happening.  It was like watching my life on a high definition television screen. I was in my body.  Everything around me was vibrant and precise.  We were just in two separate worlds.

***

Exactly a decade earlier, on March 9th, 1998, I was temping in a furniture showroom in New York City, helping the owner with some office work.  A huge wooden tabletop hung over the manager’s desk.  I was there for a week and each day I said to her, “Aren’t you afraid that’s going to fall on you?”  She laughed.

Nevertheless, I wouldn’t go near her desk.  Until the end of the week, when I daringly strode over to get a stamp and, bam, the rope snapped and the tabletop fell on my head.

“A tabletop fell on my head,” I said, laughing so hard tears rolled down my face.

“A tabletop fell on my head,” I said again, as my vision shut off, then returned.

“A tabletop fell on my head,” I repeated, as now my hearing went, then returned. Continue Reading…

Abuse, courage, Guest Posts, healing

Crying Turned Me Into A Real Girl

October 17, 2015

By Janine Canty

Living with a cruel man for seventeen years teaches you that tears only bring more pain. Tears on habitually bruised and torn skin stings. Tears only feed a fire you can’t control and don’t understand. At first you might try crying in the shower or  over the sound of the washer. He watches in the shower. He’s deaf in one ear, but he hears over the washer.

He knows your hiding places and what your voice sounds like when it’s trying not to cry. He can see your tears before they form. He anticipates them before they fall. They are Mardi gras and Christmas rolled into one for him. Proof that he is right and you are crazy. Your wet eyes and begging give him fuel.. Pass him his manhood with your ravaged face. Slumped shoulders. Downcast eyes. A cup of black coffee. Extra sugar and shaking hands. I hate coffee. I taught this body not to cry in order to survive.

Numb is good. Numb is quiet. Numb is nirvana among the shattered green plates and ripped shirts. I kneel on broken glass with bloody knees. I hold a piece of glass in my palm. I wonder what it would feel like to open my wrist. To see my life flowing out onto the floor. Among the glass and cat hair. Turning the couple of cheerios the dustpan missed, red. My hair is tangled. Dirty and in my eyes. My face is aching  and dry. I wonder what my casket might look like. I wonder if my Mother will cry. I envy her if she still can.

***

I’ve become my own memory at 31. Have I stored up enough numb to end me like a broken sentence?  Pull the glass down my wrist. Let someone else clean my stain and non tears. Wipe the flesh that used to be a girl named Janine, away. The baby coughs once, then again, from a jenny lind crib. He’s had that cough a day too long. The house is chilly.

I touch the back of his head lightly with the hand not still holding a piece of glass. Like an admonishment. A reminder. A warning. I pick up a doll my daughter has kicked out of bed. I chuck it towards a cracked toy box. I’m cradling the glass in my hand gently, the way I once cradled them. I don’t cry when I sweep up the mess. I  wrap the glass carefully so none of the kids cut themselves. I’m not satisfied.

I slip my feet into the monsters slippers. I carry the bag to the shed behind the house. I push the lid down firmly on my non tears. My non-suicide.  My non-self. I get in the shower while he’s not there to see.

I don’t cry. Continue Reading…

beauty, courage, Guest Posts, healing, Inspiration

This Space

October 5, 2015

By Sarah Miller Freehauf

I once filled this space, this body, this dispensable cavity with food—rows of black and white cookies & TV & bedtime. I once filled this space, this body, this dispensable cavity with pills & space where no food was allowed to touch. I once ran on a treadmill for three miles in this space, this body, this dispensable cavity. I moved 200 pounds of this space, that body. After—a man came to me with a smile and asked how many miles did you just run? A man came to me with disbelief and asked how many miles I just carried that big space, that big body, that big dispensable cavity.

My mother used to say you better watch it. My father used to tap and smack our bellies and call us belly-women and I hated him in that moment though loved him deeply every other. My brother used the toothbrush more often than I did. My brother used to feel the praise of coaches and mother and father on how he was trim and good and how that boy body was all Midwestern man. My brother was worse off than I. He ate salad, he dispensed it, he ate salad, he moved his large baby fat ridden teen body until some man at the gym said something to him in disbelief—something that sounded like you are good.

I kept running and moving that space of mine and eating things of the earth and everyone in disbelief said how many miles did you just run? How many pounds did you manage to rid? Everyone in disbelief including the man at the gym and our father and my brother—skinny and in shape and everyone proud of him—everyone in disbelief asked how many miles and pounds did that space, that body, that dispensable cavity rid?

And then because that space is dispensable, because of shame, because of fat stored in a place that it is supposed to be, because everyone in their disbelief—I cut my chest. I let a man cut my chest, I let a man remove, in his disbelief, eleven pounds of fat. I let everyone say in disbelief—your body looks better, looks good, looks healthy, looks small. And this body still has the anchor scars and the cookie scars and rotted esophagus to prove that all the disbelief was believable.

And now I run and men watch. And now I run and my mother says good. And now I eat things of the earth and others say how.

Now—I run. I move my body, my space, my figure, my form and most days it is still not enough. But my body moves and that is good. The moving is mostly enough.

Freehauf-headshot

Sarah Miller Freehauf is the Founding Editor of Teenage Wasteland Review–a literary journal just for teens, Editorial Assistant for Divedapper, a reader for [PANK], former Managing Editor for Lunch Ticket, and recently received her MFA in Poetry from Antioch University, Los Angeles. More importantly, she teaches high school English and Creative Writing in the Midwest. Her most recent creative work can be found in Stone Highway Review & Poemeleon.

 

 

Join Jen Pastiloff at one of her Girl Power Workshops or On being Human Workshops by clicking here.

Join Jen Pastiloff at one of her Girl Power Workshops or On being Human Workshops by clicking here.

Ring in New Years 2016 with Jen Pastiloff at her annual Ojai retreat. It's magic! It sells out quickly so book early. No yoga experience required. Just be a human being. With a sense of humor. Email barbara@jenniferpastiloff.com with questions or click photo to book. NO yoga experience needed. Just be a human being.

Ring in New Years 2016 with Jen Pastiloff at her annual Ojai retreat. It’s magic! It sells out quickly so book early. No yoga experience required. Just be a human being. With a sense of humor. Email barbara@jenniferpastiloff.com with questions or click photo to book. NO yoga experience needed. Just be a human being.

 

Addiction, Fatherhood, Guest Posts

There’s A Bus Waiting

August 17, 2015

By David Lintvedt

We called him “Satellite Mike”, but I never knew his real name.  I heard that at one time he had a family, house and a good job, but all of that was taken away by alcohol and drugs.  For many years he’d struggled with his addictions, and had been in and out of AA, rehabs and detoxes.  By the time I met him the abuse had left him with brain damage, what we in ‘the rooms’ refer to as a wet brain, which is almost like a perpetual state of drunkenness.  This condition robbed him of his ability to think clearly and this left him unpredictable: it was a little scary, but could be interesting.

I would occasionally give Mike rides to and from meetings…and although this meant that we had to ride with the windows open (as personal hygiene was not high on his list)  I enjoyed talking with him, hearing stories of his drunken adventures, and the fantasies created by his sodden mind.  Yet these talks also left me feeling very sad, as I could see flashes of the man he once was…before the addictions took him away.

Satellite Mike had been trying to find long term sobriety for years, but every time he would get a few weeks or months of clean time together, he would feel better and decide that his problems were not that bad, and he would go on another bender.  Once he told me that he regretted not taking advantage of those opportunities to find sobriety early on, when he still had a chance; but when I knew him, he was so far gone it was hard to tell whether he was drunk or not.

We put up with Mike in the program, understanding that when he disrupted a meeting, or flipped over a table at the diner, it was because his brain was pumping out bad chemicals.  As a reward for accepting Mike, we learned a lot from him as Mike was a true power of example…a warning of what was waiting for us, if we became complacent, or let our guard down…if we ever came to believe we could handle (or even deserve) our next drink or drug.

When he was going to meetings and in treatment, Mike lived in transitional housing provided by a non-profit group called Project Hospitality, whose goal it was to help people who were struggling with addiction. When he was not sticking to his program Mike would just disappear; sometimes he’d be in a hospital, once he was locked up in jail for a short stretch, other times he was just off on a bender, perhaps sleeping in the Ferry Terminal or on the streets of Manhattan.  Eventually however, he would come back to the meetings, looking sheepish, asking for rides, food, cigarettes and forgiveness.  He came back because he knew that there was nowhere else for him to go.

Satellite Mike was living in one of these transitional housing units when he went on his final drunk.  I never learned how much of what happened was due to the amount of drugs and alcohol in his system, and how much was due to the damage already done to his brain…and in the end it really did not matter, the damage was done.

One cool and damp spring night, after being kicked out of a bar, Mike began roaming the streets of Staten Island, yelling at cars, and accosting passersby.  Finally, he got it into his head to play “bull fighter” with city buses, out on Victory Boulevard; he waved his coat like a cape, and was heard yelling “Toro, Toro!”  Several buses missed him, but as he leaped out of the way of one bus, he landed in the path of another bus, going the other way, and he was gone!

In the years since he died, I have often wondered if Mike meant to get hit by the bus that night, if that was the only way he saw to end the misery caused by his damaged brain, and the horror of not being able to drink without pain, while not being able to get sober either.

 

Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, Young Voices

Becoming

July 21, 2015

By Melissa Black

You can find out a lot about yourself when you pay attention to what makes you cry.

Sometimes I’ll see something or hear someone say something that literally hits me so hard I break down right there, with no warning and no immediate explanation. I just start to heave, tears pouring down faster than I can make them. I start sobbing because something in me has been recognized, something that I’ve probably been ignoring or swishing away with my hand.

I watch and listen to a lot of interviews. There’s something almost addictive about listening to other people talk about life and how they live it; I want to know how people overcome themselves and learn to be alive without driving themselves crazy. Other people, particularly older and wiser women, seem to be infinitely capable of handing me pieces of myself that I didn’t know I’d lost. During one interview, the first I can remember that made me sob fiercely and unexpectedly, a phenomenally successful women shared with the audience what she would’ve shared with her sixteen-year-old-self if she had had the chance: Don’t worry, I’ve got this. You’re too young to be worrying about how it’s all going to pan out. Go have fun, go live, be carefree. I’ve got you. A powerful sadness erupted from me. I’d wished in that moment that someone would say that to me and mean it.

In a different interview, another woman expressed the most significant thing she had yet learned, she shared with us what she would have shared with her younger self in all of those years of searching: That voice in your head that tells you you’ve not done enough, you’re not good enough, you’re not enough of this or that, isn’t God. It isn’t Divine. It’s the critic in your head that never can tell when things are good and when a possibility of peace and self-compassion exists. I covered my eyes with my hands and I wept.

The most recent incident regarding this intense and sudden emotional outburst wasn’t from an interview, but from a lecture. This woman is so inspiring to me that she’s become intimidating – she’s like a phantom of a personal guru, always there to kick my ass into shape when I’m off chasing the tails of my fears. She spoke about forgiveness, belonging, home. My eyes are welling up at the mere thought of these words, the inner movement upon me before my fingers finished typing them out. Continue Reading…

Eating Disorders/Healing, Guest Posts

I Am Trapped Inside My Body.

June 17, 2015

beauty-hunting-jen-logo-black1-300x88By Amanda Redhead

I am trapped inside a body that I loathe. Drowning in the doughy, white excess of flesh.

I have always struggled with my appearance, riding the roller-coaster of weight before my age was even double digits. I look back at the pictures of myself as a teenager- thin, lithe, strong- and wish I could have that body back. I cannot imagine how I thought that body was overweight, unattractive. However, I am secure in the knowledge that I will never look back upon my body as it is today and want to live inside it again. I am housed inside the body that I have always feared I would I have.

When I was seventeen I was in a group therapy program for fellow teenagers. I was deep in the bowels of a great depression and sat daily in a circle with bored, slack-jawed teenagers whose parents decided, as mine had, that this group therapy would be the answers to all of our ills. We sat in silence while the therapist moderating the group chirped cheerfully at us and nearly begged us to share. There was little sharing, but there was much staring and gawking at the doorway in the corner of the room where a similar group of teenagers met. That group was for fellow teenagers struggling with anorexia. They also sat in stony silence, one by one being led over to be weighed in the corner. Every time a weight was announced outloud, everyone in both groups could hear it.  I would surreptitiously place my hand underneath the back of my shirt and pinch myself painfully at the sound of each number, pinching the fat on my hips until it sometime bled.

The staggeringly low numbers should have saddened me, as should have the appearance of many of the girls- bearing their clavicles proudly to the world, all hard edges of bone and sharp angles. Most of the weights called out were well under one hundred pounds. Some of the girls looked directly from a movie about the concentration camps during the Holocaust- devoid of every bit of fat.  They draped themselves in clothing and blankets, perpetually cold.  I admired the persistence of these girls. I felt shame at my own thick skin. I sickeningly wished that my depression had manifested itself as anorexia instead of the slow-moving, perpetually tired melancholy sickness that had taken over my world.  This thick, molasses slowness felt even more of a failure than it had before in comparison to the persistent, dedicated illness that I saw in those girls. Every pound of flesh on my body felt heavier upon leaving. I wondered if those girls thought of me when purging their food after the therapy sessions. I imagined their disgust. Continue Reading…

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