Worlds of Pain: Immaterial

Just yesterday I realized that I am grieving.

The thing about immaterial pain is that it can lie in waiting for many years before it is ever felt. Events that transpired a lifetime ago can yield fresh wounds when we least expect them. I have perhaps suffered more immaterial wounds and pains than material ones. I could write about a lot of things – from my childhood, from my first marriage, from my experiences with people broadly over the course of my life.

I feel too tired to go into much detail about most of that. For now I would simply say, speaking from my desire to highlight the MOST IMPORTANT lesson I’ve learned, that I’ve found NO source of pain greater than the wounds I’ve inflicted on myself, through my own choices and actions.

That’s not to say, though, that the choices and actions of others have not hurt me; they have.

It’s a common trope that American girls all have “Daddy Issues.” Well – not me. I mean, I thought I did, for a long time – because my mother told me I did – and, furthermore, that i should.

But let’s get real: my father was and is far from perfect – but how many girls end up with “Daddy Issues” because their father was too involved in their upbringing? Because their father was too protective? Because their father held them to too high a standard? And whose fathers did all this, and more, by way of leading by example?

The wise among you will not be surprised by my declaration that NO – I do not have “Daddy Issues.” I have “MOMMY Issues” – and it SHOWS.

I could write so much about that, but I will cut to the chase:

I found out nearly three years ago, the last time I saw my mother, that she had an abortion when she got pregnant again shortly after I was born. She has rationalized this in two primary ways, by saying that:

  1. it was “too soon.”
  2. that her relationship with my father was not good, she was not happy, he was bad.

Yet history also tells us that:

  1. she had the easiest pregnancies and deliveries any woman could hope for.
  2. she stayed with my father for several more years and had another child with him anyway.

My mother killed one of my siblings, for no greater reason than personal benefit and convenience.

Suddenly, I understood so much more about my relationship with my mother, and my relationship with WOMEN (namely, that they are awful).

I understand my mother’s chronic guilt – and I understand why she comes to me, alternately to tell me all about what a bad person my father is – and to beg ME for absolution for all the sins she’s never confessed in any proper capacity.

I also understand better some of the “dreams” or “visions” I had as a young child. I understand why, when I told my mother out of the blue one day, that I “always felt like I was supposed to have a little sister,” she seemed to get almost angry with me, and dismissed the idea with an uncomfortable mixture of wistfulness and disdain.

And I have come to understand that I am grieving – for a loss long and anxiously anticipated, but which I never knew, before, had ALREADY HAPPENED.

I like to believe that if my mother had truly understood the PRICE of that choice, she would not have MADE that choice. But I cannot say that this is true, necessarily.

This is the absolute center of my immaterial pain – and it is not just the grief for the loss of a sister I never knew I had – or the loss of the daughter I somehow always knew I would never have –  it is the Principle Pain of the choice, the decision, to be infected with the Jezebel Spirit, to cast down the mantle of Eve and take up instead the mantle of Lilith.

The wages of sin are DEATH. In our lives we may at any time stand and proclaim – “I am alive and well; therefore I have not sinned!” – but what folly and what hubris, to think that the death sentence would be OURS – rather than the LIFE sentence – of thinking on and atoning for the deaths which we have sown.

This is the pain of realizing that I’ve made so many of the same wrong choices – in principle, if not detail – that my mother did; out of blindness, and ignorance, and PRIDE. It is not the most acute pain I have felt – but it is the deepest, the saddest, the most “full circle.” The most tied-or-intrinsic to every other invisible, immaterial pain I have suffered.

In so many ways, it is the very principle pain of the choice of Original Sin. In so many ways, it is the pain that brought me to the comprehension of the TRUTH OF Original Sin (the passing down of which, generationally, is a concept that was staunchly denied in my “religious education” as a child and young adult).

I must now choose differently than my mother chose for herself. I must choose differently than what she would choose for me. I must RENOUNCE the path that she would set before my feet, and the world she would build for my children.

And so I am also grieving the loss of my mother – although she still lives. Having a “peaceful” relationship with my mother has always required that I entertain and respect all of her ideas and never contradict or oppose them. This is no longer possible for me.

Jesus talked about how he came to sow division – and I begin to understand this better as well.

Choosing to walk this path which I have chosen may mean not having much of a relationship with my mother at all. It may mean giving up my attachments to many people I care for. I hope and I pray that this is not the case; but I will not, shall not, allow my fear (that it IS the case) to change my mind about doing what I believe is right.

Maybe that’s what all this pain is for.

Narcissists like to threaten to take themselves away from you if you don’t fall in line with their program. They threaten you with the pain of the loss of their (disordered) attachment. My ex-husband did this.

My mother does this.

I used to fear that pain.

Now I do not.

Worlds of Pain: Material

I have a high tolerance for pain.

I have learned this by experiencing a great deal of pain over the course of my life.

It’s hard to draw comparisons, having (obviously) never actually felt anyone’s pain aside from my own – but doctors, dentists, nurses, midwives, and plenty of other folks have looked at me with alternating skepticism and astonishment:

“You’re obviously not in that much pain, or you’d be crying like a baby.”

or

“I know how much that hurts. I can’t believe you’re smiling and laughing right now.”

When I was a very young girl (toddler years), I experienced something I’ve never fully comprehended in any explicit sort of way. I remember it almost as though it were a dream. Thirty years later, I’m coming to grips with the fact that this could very well be the vague memory of a sexual assault – something I’ve always suspected happened to me, but have never really talked about. In fact, I spent nearly thirty years denying it to myself, coming up with all sorts of reasons why that would be “impossible” – reasons which have all fallen apart under the clarity and scrutiny of hindsight.

The thing I DO remember – clearly, starkly – is the futility of trying to fight “the monster” away, and then the PAIN. How it exploded into me, shooting through my entire body all at once, completely incongruous with the things I thought I was seeing and experiencing. It took my breath away, it paralyzed me, and my entire world dissolved, along with my frantic tears, into darkness – resolving eventually, slowly, into a haze of real and familiar surroundings.

It’s the only “dream” I’ve ever had where “the monster got me.” It’s the only “dream” I don’t remember falling asleep before slipping into. It’s the only “dream” I don’t recall waking up from. It’s the “dream” that precipitated countless other nightmares and night terrors. Nightmares wherein “monsters” would leap toward me as if to pounce on me and devour me – and in every such dream thereafter, I would wrench myself out of it at the last possible moment, sitting bolt upright in my bed – heart racing, shaking, unable and unwilling to return to sleep. Terrified of experiencing that all-consuming pain again.

I suffered from awful stomach aches for years as a young girl, on a regular basis – and I remember the thing that made me cry wasn’t so much the pain itself, but the fact that nobody believed me when I told them I was in pain – because I was too calm about it. I was accused of making it all up to get out of doing things.

I still cried, as a young girl, when I’d fall and skin my knees – or when I’d accidentally cut myself on something. Or when I took a significant and sudden impact while playing outside, or rough-housing with my brother. This was usually more because I was startled – or because seeing my own blood dripping out of my body was still novel in a scary way. The tears never lasted long – the pain was (relatively) so brief and so small.

When I was seven years old, I fell and fractured my wrist. It was a sharp, searing pain – but even that was “small” by comparison. I cried for a little while, but was quiet by the time we got to the emergency room. That was my first experience having a doctor tell me that I must be “fine” because I didn’t APPEAR to be in significant pain (even though I told him it hurt quite a bit). He seemed genuinely surprised when he saw the x-ray. I had to wear a cast for weeks.

I’ve had many a rolled/sprained ankle, pulled muscled, contusions, and all manner of lumps and bumps which hardly gave me pause.

My first taste of REAL pain since that horrible “dream” (I still think of it as a dream in spite of my suspicions to the contrary, simply because I have no actual proof that it was anything more than that – and I’m not sure I’d want such proof if it exists) was when I was 14 or 15 years old. I was bitten by a black widow spider – unknown to me at the time, but revealed later when the bite mark was discovered.

That pain was other-worldly. It began as a sensation almost as though someone was applying a vice to my shoulder, and over the course of a few hours it spread along my spine and through my entire body, intensifying until it crackled and burned like a fire being stoked, like a jolt of electricity, like a giant sheet of thick glass cracking in half inside me if I dared to move or breathe. I remember lying in bed for days, all but paralyzed by it. Eventually drifting into exhausted sleep – only to be jolted awake by the pain that exploded from my spine when I shifted.

But I didn’t cry.

As it turns out, I have some kind of genetic condition which seems to cause tooth enamel problems – which means I’ve had a lot of fillings and dental work since I was a kid. The same condition ALSO seems to impart a hefty tolerance for anesthetics and analgesics – and pretty much anything that’s commonly used to numb or dull pain.

As a child, I didn’t understand why dentists didn’t believe me when I said something hurt. They’d give me nitrous oxide through a little nose piece because they thought I was scared. Because I was calmly objecting instead of screaming in pain. (P.S. the nitrous did NOTHING for me.)

As an adult, I’ve had my wisdom teeth pulled one by one (three down, one left to go) as they’ve become abscessed and infected. That’s another special variety of all-consuming pain. The pain of having the teeth pulled while the anesthetic was already wearing off, and the pain of recovery both almost felt GOOD by comparison.

I’ve also had two root canals, and each time I’ve had to make them stop and give me more anesthetic – and both times the endodontist looked at me in disbelief and basically said “I can’t believe you can actually feel that and you aren’t screaming right now.”

Childbirth was another variety of all-encompassing pain, but perhaps the easiest to bear. It was productive and purposeful pain.

None of the doctors, nurses, or midwives involved in either of my two births believed me when I told them I was about to have a baby – based on the fact that I was smiling and laughing all the way through transition, only getting down to the “guttural roaring” business when I was actually in the process of pushing them out.

When my first son was born, the doctor tried to tell me there was no way I was dilated enough yet (“you wouldn’t be able to talk like this, you’d be in too much pain”) – until she actually checked me, and proclaimed that – wouldn’t you know it – yes I was. Then she gawked at me in disbelief as I quickly sprang up, unaided, assumed the all-fours birthing position, and squeezed out a baby in two pushes.

I seem to experience pain differently than most people. I definitely have learned to handle and process pain differently than most people. And, stubbornly, the more other people dismiss or deny my pain on the grounds that I don’t react to it strongly enough for it to be real – the more committed I become to suffering in stoic silence.

In the Summer of 2017, I was bitten by a tick, which I didn’t find for several days, and also didn’t remove properly. I fell ill almost immediately (actually, I started getting sick before I found the stupid little thing) with a whole host of bewildering symptoms. And, much more quickly than is normal, it seems, the infection made its way into my nervous system – and I found myself reliving the same kind of crackling, burning, searing pain that I experienced after my spider bite all those years ago; like a white-hot poker; like someone blowing on smoldering coals deep inside me, and feeling them pop and explode. Sometimes like an electrical shock. Sometimes like being latched onto by a small but merciless set of razor-sharp teeth.

This is pain that settles in and lasts for days or weeks at a time, slowly fading away only to pop up somewhere else along my spine, radiating into my hips, my legs, my arms, my neck.

It eases up a little over the course of the day as I force myself to move around – but I can only sleep for about five hours before I wake up to crackling pain again; too much pain to sleep. Too much pain to even keep lying in bed.

This is the only physical pain I’ve experienced, since that “dream” nearly my entire lifetime ago, that has left me sobbing helplessly because there was nothing I could do to escape from it. No position that alleviates it. No drug that dulls it (that I’m willing to take, anyway).

I was treated with antibiotics, and it went away – but came back. I’ve repeated that cycle four times now. Each time I’ve had a longer reprieve between episodes – but it always comes back, along with a handful of other symptoms.

It came back about a week ago.

I haven’t cried this time. A lot of people probably don’t even know I’m in pain. If I told them, they would be surprised. They might not believe me.

But it’s REAL. It’s so very real. It’s excruciating. It’s exhausting.

Today, my husband – who suffered a back injury once upon a time which left him with some very similar pain (which also comes back in episodes, albeit for different reasons – point is, he understands) – held my face in his hands after he kissed me good morning, and said: “It’s amazing that you’re smiling right now.”

I laughed.

And as I laughed, tendrils of white-hot lightning licked their way down my neck and spine and into my ribs.

I smiled again and went back to making coffee.

I don’t know WHY it is that I bear pain so well. It’s certainly not that I don’t feel it.

I also don’t wonder “why” very often.

What I wonder – as with so many things – is “WHAT FOR?”

What is all this pain FOR? What is the purpose of this suffering?

Or maybe: to what purpose can I direct it?

The older I get, the more comfortable I become with the sorts of ideas that would seem kooky – even fanatical – to my secular/atheist friends and family.

Such as: God is preparing me for something – and that something is going to hurt. I don’t know if it will hurt me materially, physically; or if it will be an immaterial/non-physical kind of pain. Both are very real. I’ve learned a lot about bearing immaterial pain over the years by experiencing and bearing material pain – and vice versa.

Or, perhaps, this pain is simply my penance.

Perhaps it’s a little of both.

Contemplating Mortality

I’ve never been afraid of death. It’s been on my mind since I was quite young. Not that I particularly WANT to die – not until I’m good and old, anyway. But it’s not scary.

The scary thing is realizing that I’ve wasted a lot of my time. The scary thing is realizing that I could have done a lot more by now – if I had made better choices.

This has all been driven home for me recently. In the Summer of 2017 I was bitten by a tick and contracted a form  of Lyme Disease that aggressively attacked my nervous system (neuroborreliosis). I’ve taken several courses of antibiotics since then, but it seems like nothing has killed it entirely yet.

When I first developed symptoms, they were sudden and horrific. Each time they’ve returned (they start creeping in several months after treatment), it’s been milder and more manageable – though it can still be somewhat debilitating for several weeks at a stretch, it’s not as bad as it was.

The next step is likely IV antibiotics – but I’m not quite willing to “go there” just yet. My understanding is that this bacteria is fairly persistent, and may need to be strategically defeated rather than just bombed with antibiotics which will also compromise the balance of other bodily systems. The good news is that it almost never kills people!

… Except by suicide. But I don’t think that will ever be my cup of tea.

Now there’s this whole COVID-19 Pandemic going on. I don’t even know what to think about that. On the one hand, we’re due for a good pandemic. On the other hand – it’s an election year. *shrug* Just saying.

I have no idea if I’d be considered “high risk” for this disease or not. I’ve read and heard and been told by doctors an awful lot that Lyme Disease suppresses the immune system – and I’ve definitely noticed a few little indications of that – things like my hair and nails growing more slowly, cuts and scratches taking longer to heal, easier bruising, stuff like that. But who knows! I’ve been around an awful lot of sick people and not gotten sick in spite of that. I like to think I’d pull through this virus like a champ, were to catch it.

But having been ill for so long already has left me feeling a bit… delicate, shall we say.

I’m a “better safe than sorry” kinda gal anyway – and to be frank with you: I like a good conspiracy theory. So the way it shakes out for me is that I’m buckling up for this to be something pretty big.

My family operates on some pretty tight margins (lol peasants). We can’t jet off to a tropical island or retreat to our home in the rural countryside. So for me, preparedness is all about buying time. Just enough time – to survive and to adapt to whatever it is that life is about to throw our way.

And it really struck me over the last few days, that that’s all I’m really doing, when you boil it down. That’s what life is: buying TIME.

Time for WHAT, though?

That’s the thought that kept running through my mind as I was stocking up over the last couple of weeks.

I’m no stranger to buying in bulk. Fun story about me: when I was 13 years old or so, my mother sent me to the store for “some ketchup.” She gave me five dollars. I walked the half mile or so home from the store toting a paper bag with no fewer than SEVEN bottles of ketchup in it. Because that was a darned good price, and I knew it would get used before it went bad. And I had a $5 ketchup budget. The folks at the local foodservice and wholesale places know me pretty well by now.

Buying enough of everything to last at least a couple weeks is second nature to me. I just bought a little extra this time. I had a lot of opportunity to take in the “vibe” of the stores where I usually shop in the few days leading up to the panic-buying-in-earnest. It was eerie. There weren’t very many people out and about. Some were stocking up on huge quantities of staple items. Some were only picking up one or two things. Everyone seemed to be “testing the atmosphere.” Fear and anxiety seemed to be literally IN the air.

And I just kept wondering: what is this time FOR? What is any of it FOR?

In my last post, I touched a little bit on the sorts of dreams and aspirations I had as a little girl that gave me my sense of purpose: I wanted to be a wife, mother, and homemaker. And eventually a grandmother. And a great-grandmother, and a great-great-grandmother… etc.

I didn’t think much beyond that. When people have asked me “don’t you want to be MORE than just a wife and mother?” I look at them like they are CA-RAY-ZAY insane. Nutso. What sort of other endeavor could I possibly come up with that would be more worthwhile than THAT? Do they really think that motherhood is a part-time undertaking? What in the heck?

I’m reminded of a quote I read somewhere, which is apparently from an out-of-print book I’ve always wanted to get my hands on and never have: “No other success can compensate for failure in the home.” (Home: the Savior of Civilization, James Edward McCulloch)

I recall thinking when I was younger that having children young would afford me time in my middle-age-and-older years to “have fun” or “make money.” I would achieve success in the home – and THEN I would achieve success in the world!

But these days I’ve discovered that I don’t like fun OR money. I find them disingenuous.

These days I see that there truly IS no logical end to this undertaking of motherhood.

What I have been searching for is the answer to the wrong question: the question of “what THEN?”

The correct question is “WHAT FOR?”

And as soon as I asked THAT question, I realized I’ve had THAT answer all along. I’ve just been a little bit afraid to come out and say it:

For GOD.

I’ve learned to keep really quiet about my faith over the years.

I even spent a long period of time actively denying my faith – to suppress the cognitive dissonance of living wrongly for the purpose of seeking the approval of MEN. I chose to put a man before God, and I have paid dearly for it.

In all my wounded stumblings back towards God, I have effectively lost people I love dearly; people who could not reconcile my love for them with the fact that I believe differently and choose to live differently than they do. I never preached to them; I never judged them. I gave of myself to these people freely and selflessly – time, money, labor, attention and kind words. I do not hold very MANY people dear, and it pains me to wonder if there might have been something that I could have said to any or all of those people, to somehow make them understand that my beliefs and the things I choose to propagate in the world are not a condemnation.

But I cannot continue to make the same mistake of seeking approval from my fellow humans before seeking approval from God.

It occurs to me that I have even still continued to effectively DENY God for the purpose of not ruffling feathers. I mean, I’ll tell anyone who directly asks that I believe in God – but how many times have slunk away from a conversation, for fear of potentially “triggering” someone by offering ANY kind of non-secular perspective?

And that’s all kinds of silly, isn’t it?

There are so many things in this world that could kill me, nevermind this stupid virus. I could be dead tomorrow for a hundred different reasons. And the same goes for every single tomorrow after that.

So, what’s it all for?

For GOD, dammit.

Goddammit.