Last year at this time I had the New Year’s resolution of organization. I started a systematic purge of all cabinets and cupboards. I celebrated each bag I dropped at the Goodwill donation center. I worked my way through the kitchen and then arrived at the bathroom. I dug to the back of the cabinets to discover the items I never use anymore. My cleaning spree ground to a halt.
About nine years ago, I took a trip to the emergency room due to intense intolerable pain. This began an almost two year span of constant physical pain.
After each major surgery, I used prescription pain relief according to the surgeon’s instructions. I was careful to taper them off as soon as possible to avoid dependency. And I did. But then I was left with the constant agony. Sitting, standing, reclining, walking, it would not relent. At times it was background noise, like a neighbor’s dog incessantly barking. At times it was intense, like an inconsolable baby screaming in my eardrum.
I tried to block it out. I took up knitting. I read stacks of tween novels. I binged on Netflix until the death of my favorite character took me through the five stages of grief. In stretches when the baby screaming swelled to fire alarm levels, when I thought about dying, I had one way to bring the pain down to barking dog level for a few miraculous moments. This technique involved a few easily obtainable medical supplies and a draw from my limited energy store. But, oh, the relief when I could get out my crayons and pretend the pain was not there. Tears of relief slowly trickled down my strained face onto the page. Then I would lean my cheek against the back of the sofa and sleep. Blessed sleep.
Seven years after the pain stopped, I sit on the bathroom floor clutching my medical supplies, my lifesaver, my crutch. Marie Condo, Peter Walsh, and Martha Stewart all chant in my ear, “You haven’t used them in seven years, be free.”
But what if I need these?
You aren’t sick anymore.
But what if I do get sick again?
You can buy them again.
Can I live without them?
You have for seven years.
But I always knew they would be there for me.
But you don’t need them.
I tried to logic my way out of my feelings. Why is this so hard? These supplies did not heal me or fix anything. They only dulled the pain enough that I could ignore it.
All my life I have wondered about addicts. I have deep compassion. I have not been on their journey. But why will amazing, talented, intelligent, kind people cling to something that destroys their lives with no hope that it will reverse the cause or free them from the sorrow, the shame, the hurt, the fear, the loss. How can drugs, alcohol, pornography, eating disorders, thrills, money, or perfection solve anything?
Addicts don’t expect them to.
The screaming baby reaches the fire alarm volume and they have to bring it down to dog barking level or think about dying.
Now I understand.
I sat on the couch and sobbed. I texted a friend. I took some deep breaths, walked out to the trash bin, and cast off my old companion, Medical Supplies. For three days I resisted the urge to dig them out and stash them safely in the back of the cupboard, just in case. The garbage truck came. I wondered for a week if I made the right decision.
It took me almost a year to be able to write about it.
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