pain

Lessons in Epic Smackdowns

“I crashed down on the crossbar, and the pain was enough to make a shy, bald Buddhist reflect and plan a mass murder.”  ~The Smiths

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Slimy Steps of Despair in Connecticut

A little over a month ago, my youngest sister called to let me know life had dealt her an epic smackdown. She was reeling. I was reeling along with her. And so I packed a bag just barely under the 50-pound limit, said goodbye to my husband and teenage sons, boarded a flight to Hartford, and settled into her home for an extended 5-week stay, presumably to offer comfort and make her life a smidgen easier.

A little over a week into my stay, however, the Universe decided one epic smackdown was not enough. On an unusually rainy day in the midst of an unusually rainy week, I grabbed Julie’s jumbo umbrella and headed out to collect a package UPS had left in the wet driveway. I walked out the back door and was descending the wooden steps from the back patio when my flip-flops betrayed me. With unbelievable flourish and zero panache, I caught serious air in a feels-like-slow-motion wipeout that would have won the day on America’s Funniest Home Videos if I had been unfortunate enough to be caught on camera. I landed butt-side down on the unforgiving edge of a step, one arm wrenching backwards and loosening the umbrella from my grasp, the other slamming onto the step beside me. From there, I proceeded to slide down three more stairs on my already tender tush because, well, I’m just that good.

I gave birth to two sons through induced labor. I suffered through seven years with gallstone pain before finally acquiescing to surgery. I had an emergency appendectomy. I am familiar with pain. When I at last came to a halt on those wicked stairs, the pain was exquisite enough to take my breath away. I began to sob a pathetic whimpering cry reminiscent of The Man in Black after Count Rugen ratchets his torture device up in The Princess Bride. I sat for a couple minutes while my tears disappeared in the soaking rain and tried to determine if I dared to move. I wasn’t sure if I had broken anything. I was afraid if I shifted in any way I would feel worse.

A couple hours afterward, already sporting impressive swelling and dark bruising, I found myself lightheaded, nauseous, and experiencing cold sweats. I had my sister drive me to Urgent Care. After examining me, the PA told me I had only a severe bruise and significant hematoma. The fainting spells were likely vasovagal syncope responses to the trauma. The numbness I felt in my hands was due to swelling and the whiplash I sustained in the fall. All of this was good news. I simply had a severe minor injury, which was still nothing more than a minor injury. Sure, I blacked out again during the car ride home, sending my sister into a near panic, and later I had to crawl up the stairs to bed after another fainting episode, but it could have been much worse. I lucked out.

I’ve had a plethora of time resting my backside on ice and heat since then to reflect on my mishap. I keep coming back to the first Buddhist Noble Truth. In each life, sickness, loss, and death occur. They are inevitable. The Universe, God, the Flying Spaghetti Monster, insert your higher power here, doesn’t play favorites. The human condition is the great equalizer. No matter who you are, no matter what type of life you lead, you will suffer. I arrived in Connecticut on my high horse, prepared to sweep in, full of sunshine and light, to help my sister deal with the unwelcome unexpected. I ended up on my sorry ass at Urgent Care with my own unwelcome unexpected.

It’s not what happens to us but how we handle what happens to us that matters. I can’t avoid suffering, but I can reframe it and refuse to let it define me. Two weeks have passed since my digger on the stairs. I am still bruised. I have what appears to be a permanent dent in my hindquarters. It doesn’t matter. It’s part of my experience. It’s not what I envisioned, but any time I spend railing against what is wastes my time here.

Epic smackdowns are growth opportunities. They are an elbowing nudge from the Universe imploring us to open our eyes. I’m awake now.

 

Under Construction

Still on the merry-go-round and working on my exit

Still on the merry-go-round and dreaming up a great dismount

I haven’t felt like writing much lately, so I haven’t. I’m in the midst of some unsettling discoveries, which aren’t as much discoveries as admissions about myself. There are things that I haven’t liked for a long time. I knew they needed to change, but I was so paralyzed by the thought of admitting my weaknesses and so adept at focusing on other parts of my life that I kept pretending these negatives were invisible. They weren’t. Other people saw them. And I still knew they were there. They were like the mess you shove in a spare room right before guests arrive. You think you’re fooling everyone by having everything in order, but deep down you know what lurks just behind the closed door. And you remember it with nausea when someone asks you, “what’s in this room?”  You are vulnerable and imperfect and mere seconds away from someone discovering what a pretender you really are. It’s a terrifying place to live.

Human nature reacts strongly against what it sees in others that it suspects and fears in itself. It’s a predictable pattern. We chastise others for lack of compassion while we ignore that it’s our lack of compassion that allows us to criticize them. We accuse others of being selfish when it’s our own self that feels neglected enough to point out that we’re not getting enough attention. The thing that most deeply annoys me about others is the victim mentality…people who whine about the bad things in life, as if bad things only happen to them and not to others, and who stay stuck in their quagmire because it’s easier to be the victim than it is to leave that role behind and go forward boldly and change. I know many people who suffer from this affliction, so it’s something that makes me shudder regularly.

As I’ve been navigating this bumpy and unsettling road to Future Me, I’ve paid particular attention to how vehemently I react towards particular failings in others, knowing that my reactions towards them likely hold a mirror squarely back on me. So I’ve been sitting with that thought for a while, letting it bubble its way to the surface while I was able to grow in acknowledgment of it. With some introspection, I’ve had to accept that as much as I despise victims, I’ve quietly lived as one among them for years. The only difference between me and the victims who get under my skin lies in their honesty about their misery. They’re more in touch with their emotions, so they complain about it readily. Me? I’m an emotional stuffer. I’ve sat quietly while layers of shame and self-loathing accumulated like sediment at the bottom of a slowly dying river. Now I realize I’m too filled up to function as I have in the past. It’s time to have my own Frozen moment, dredge up the muck in my way, and let it go.

They say the only way out is through, so I’ve been going through. And through. I’ve been sitting, thinking, and crying in some sort of rinse and repeat cycle for weeks. And it sucks. What will suck more, though, is if I squander my ephemeral time on this lovely planet without finding a way to love myself for who I am, emotions, weakness, messy rooms, and all. I need to live with my whole heart free and my mind open and aware. I can’t forgive others their failings if I can’t forgive myself for my own. Pain happens. We grow up with the hand we are dealt, but where we ultimately land is our own responsibility. And while complaints and ignorance are strategic coping mechanisms, they are not useful to us in the long run. This is where the victim becomes the victor. I need to put in the hard work. Do my time. Eventually, I will be improved for my effort. In the meantime, when I’m not here, please know that I’m under construction. As with most construction projects, it will probably take longer than the first-promised deliverable date. I’ll be back and better than ever in time. I can’t wait for my grand reopening.