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Thursday, August 19, 2010

"You should stand up for your right to feel your pain." ~Jim Morrison

Today I feel displaced, somehow, as though I belong somewhere else. I've lived here more than half my life and for all but one year of my marriage. I know the best places to run, to eat out, to find solitude, to meet friends. I feel safe here, but I have never felt that I was home.

Therapist believes I might always feel this way. He says it's typical of those who live with hyper-awareness--they are always ready to move, run, hide, if necessary. They never quite relax. I think I'm understanding what he means. There are moments, usually when I'm with someone I trust, when for just a moment I feel I can stop anticipating what might go wrong, what might hurt, or what might cause me stress. Occasionally, in those moments, I even sleep, which isn't the nicest thing to do socially, but there are times when I'm too tired to care. Even in my home--in the place I've lived for years--I still lock myself in, and I never answer the door if it's not someone I know. I suppose these would be considered common sense and appropriate safety precautions if I lived in a place with a high crime rate. I don't.

Therapist says there are some things about me that will change, partly because I work for and desire that, and partly because change comes about naturally, but there might be some parts of my life which will be forever affected by the things I experienced in my childhood and teenage years. He says as long as I'm not bothered by those things, probably it's okay if I have unusual quirks or habits designed to keep me safe even where there is no threat of danger.

I'm okay with that, I guess. I can live with a certain amount of hyper-vigilance. Therapist has agreed to work with me on small things I'd like to change as long as I continue to get adequate rest and take breaks from work, and as long as I have valid reasons for working on those things. So--this week we began.

I chose to work on learning to acknowledge pain. I know I feel it--it just doesn't register as pain. I've been known, more than once, to reach into the oven without potholders to remove a tray of cookies or some other baked good. My response is to place the pan on top of the stove, then remark, "Well, that wasn't smart," and continue with whatever I'm doing. I still receive the burns and blisters--they just don't hurt. Darrin has seen me cut myself countless times while preparing dinner. He doesn't understand why I don't flinch, I just quickly wash and bandage the cut so I'm not bleeding on our food, and carry on. Nor does he understand that the cut doesn't feel painful.

I showed Therapist some road rash on my arm from my most recent encounter with the pavement while running last Saturday. The scrape is about three inches wide and six inches long, it bleeds and seeps frequently, and right now it's developed a thick scab which wants to peel off each time I shower. Underneath the scab is angry red skin. It should hurt--a lot. It doesn't.

I told Therapist I think it's dangerous for me to not recognize pain. I could harm myself and not get necessary help. He agreed. So we talked of ways I can try to remain in the moment when I hurt myself. Not that I'm planning to get hurt just to try it out, but I'm fairly certain it won't be long before I have the opportunity. Most of the people I know say, "Ouch!" at least once a day. I'm guessing, if I pay attention, I'll find a few times throughout the day when and "ouch" is appropriate.

I know. This seems sort of silly. Most people would love to not have to experience pain. But pain serves a purpose. It lets us know when our physical bodies are in some sort of danger and allows us to learn to avoid circumstances which hurt us. I need to know how to do that before the pain becomes so extreme I can no longer suppress or ignore it. Dealing with small pain might help me avoid a root canal, for example, or stop cutting my finger before it needs stitches (yes, I've had problems with both these things--I know--sort of disgusting). Let's face it, as uncomfortable as pain is, it's normal and necessary and I need to feel and acknowledge it when it begins.

The last thing Therapist told me about this was that it will take time--perhaps a year or two. And I might find success for awhile, only to relapse when stress increases. There is something inside of me that tells me pain is unnecessary and time consuming and I don't have any extra time for it, hence, the edict that in order for us to work on this, I need adequate rest and sleep. I'm not good at waiting, nor at relapsing, nor at tiny increments of progress. But I've been thinking about this for a long time, and I think I can do it.

There is a connection between this physical work and an emotional payoff. I believe when I can feel physical pain in the moment, when I don't separate myself or suppress it, I'll be modeling a process I can use when I find myself running, emotionally, from people I care about. This need to place space between another person and myself happens when I feel I love more than I should, or begin to feel trust, or when I'm certain the deep bonds I'm forming are one-sided and unwanted by the other party. Rather than discussing my fears, I retreat behind humor or silence. At least, that's my perception.

Therapist disagrees with me. He believes I'm very good at talking about the emotional parts of my relationships which make me feel stressed or uncomfortable. And I do talk about them, but only because if I don't, my anxiety increases to the point that I can't interact within that relationship anymore. Therapist has been monitoring a couple of my friendships. He believes the level of emotional honesty within those relationships (on my part), while not perfect, still surpasses that experienced in most friendships.

I don't know if I agree with Therapist. His perception is definitely not mine. But I do believe if I can find parallels between management of my physical and emotional self, this whole process will be much easier. I'd like to do something a little easier for awhile.

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