Tuesday, August 4, 2009

What the Body Remembers

There's nothing that can disrupt a week or two like an emergency root canal.

On the whole I have a very good life. It does not seem like any type of extreme life to me, perhaps because I live it.

When it's time to listen to the stories of others, who lived lives that haunt their every move, I have always felt that my stories are little. They are nothing. They were survivable and I have survived.

The one thing I have noticed is that the tellers of their own tales, the haunted ones, share a common ingredient. A lack of being loved.

I have never had that happen to me. So perhaps I feel like their stories have more weight than mine. I have never suffered the need to be loved by someone who withholds love from me, or lived with someone legally required to love me who did not. It never occurs to me that perhaps, the act of surviving is not quite the free pass it seems like in my head.

Along with the lack of love theory, I acquired the idea that telling the stories of things you survived was a method of trying to get acceptance, love, community, connection. But I saw that it was a circle. The people who told the stories found others with similar stories and the idea that those stories were the norm sets in. The drama begins in the new community, because they've normalized it - just this time with love.

A terrible cycle, especially when people do not know how to let themselves be loved. Epic, mythic, tragedies played out on smaller stages than Euripedes, but just as painful. Brains trapped in patterns, bodies waiting for pain.

And I do know that the body remembers.

Bodies, apparently when acting with minimal assistance from the brain have difficulty understanding time.

Which is why with all the stories of this week gone by I will tell the story of my needing a root canal. It should be a little story but in so many ways it is not.

I am horribly dental phobic, the honest to goodness form, odontophobia. This is not "Oh I hate the dentist", or "The sound of the drill makes my skin crawl" This is crying at the shot of the animated dental tools in "Finding Nemo" and trying to hide it from the family and friends I went to see the movie with. Lets not even talk about the scene towards the end with the "bad girl and the dentist". It is shaking uncontrollably when the scent of the material they use for filling wafts down the hall in an office building when I'm there for a business meeting elsewhere in the building.

I do not hate dentists. I feel terribly sorry for them as I shake, or blubber or hear my voice crack. I can handle the sound of a drill in the woodshop or the manicurist. The pitch of a dental drill is different. I can tell, someone in my sound engineering class thought it would be cute . . . I would just like to remind that person that I remember. Poor dentists who did nothing to me to deserve this. I have survived much worse than going to the dentist . . . . and yet. . . . .

Most fears are things that are self feeding - the fight or flight response kicks in. You are sure it is justified and if there is no personal or social cost you do little to change it. Afraid of spiders? Scream a bit, some one will fix it. People may joke, but no one will really make you get over it unless you see spiders that aren't there.

Many fears or anxiety reactions are justified - PTSD, recovery from abuse, recovery from injury. Sometimes you are concerned it will happen again or you haven't found a way to prevent it, the fear of living through something again comes with thought processes, sometimes separated in time. Sometimes you feel like you are experiencing the stressor in the NOW. Even though it's not there. That is PTSD.

My dental phobia unfortunately is not that. I have been through flavors of all of that. At this age I can recognize when the past threatens to overwrite the present. Knowing that is happening is the battle. Controlling it so it cannot is what wins the war.

I am loved in my life, but I will not lie. I'm a veteran of the war.

I won the goddamned war.

So I have no patience with myself for not controlling this. I have passed on dental work that would have allowed me a better chance to pursue a career, I have allowed pain to increase to the point where I have needed to be hospitalized rather than go to the dentist. I am banned from bringing my own offspring to the dentist because

1. I do not want what I know is an irrational fear to infect my children.

2. No one should see me like that. It's beyond embarrassing, it's truly shameful.

When I was in the thick of battle, what I would not do for myself, I did for others. I fought the fears enough for some cosmetic dentistry in order to not have my teeth count against me in hiring when I had to support my children.

That's when I learned that no matter how much you dislike unnecessary medication, medication helps. But the dentist proscribes A LOT of valium so I can get in the door.

For a consult.

With a dentist I like and and am grateful to.

I take the meds, I bring in years of experienced meditation. I recite the Warrior's Koan. I play tricks on myself. I have friends make loud music mixes for me of new music and play them in my sound engineering headphones instead of the regulars ones.

And I can do it. Keeping still while terrified so that you don't upset the very nice men and women trying to fix you requires intense concentration and deliberate muscle control. But it costs, my body is spent physically afterwards if I do it without the valium (and sometimes I do, because sometimes I have to.) Like I just got off the Tour de France but never trained for it.

I know why. It's "direct experience." I have a little monolouge I recite when I meet the dentist or the hygenist to warn them that I'm very sorry that I'm a weak crazy lady who can't make the fear stop:

-This is what happened
-These are all the things that make me know it can never happen again
-You're a very nice person and I'm so sorry that I'm about to make you feel bad
-These are the physical reactions that I might have - I will try to warn you if I can first
-These are the things I will do to try not to do those things if they are OK with you and don't get in your way.

I am the most clinically exact phobic they usually meet. They are not surprised by the phobia, or the physicallity of it, they are surprised at how much I do to manage it when they can see for themselves how severe it is.

But this time, I wasn't prepared for a simple thing. Before I could launch into my careful clinical monologue, the endodondist looked at the chart and asked, "What happened?"

So I started to describe the symptoms ( and the admission that I've been walking around with a cracked open tooth for 6 months) and he stopped me.

"No, what happened that caused the phobia?" and I told him, slightly shocked, because it moved me off my script. And he asked specific questions, and I answered and he looked at me.

"No, you're really not going to get over it. It's OK. We'll do what we need to, your body is just not going to forget."

No one had ever asked me first.

I have always offered it up apologetically, in shorthand.

How very off-putting.

So he told me to explain what I used to get through and I showed him the chime balls I used to keep from gripping down and the sound engineering headphones that encase me in the loud music that protects me from the auditory triggers and finally I showed him my newest strategy and introduced him to the Poppets to ask if I could have the Impeccable Doctor Brown take a picture with the Xray.

He not only placed the Doctor for me, he asked if I'd like to have them stay out for the procedure. Like a focal point.

I was amused, I was friendly, I was anesthetized, and I said yes.

But my hands shook too hard to move the poppets myself. Knowing and being known was not enough.

Even now, with magic words, powerful potions and ritual components, my body would not forget.

And secretly, even knowing that no one expects me to do more than I have done, I do not forgive myself for that. Because in the face of nothing but kindness and compassion, in my bones I am still threatened and there is nothing they or I can do.

The books and stories and miracle TV shows, where someone asks the question for the first time, or the memory is suddenly revealed, is the stuff that dreams are made of. Sometimes the dreams are true and just the act of uncovering solves things.

But sometimes the body remembers without you and you cannot reason your way out. And for some the body's remembrance drives the reason out.

The only thing I can do is work through and try not to judge myself.

But it needs to be said. If you can survive everything else and be mostly OK, it doesn't mean everything is all right.

If you come back from a real war, your family needs to know your body will remember, your government needs to admit it sent your body someplace for it to learn.

The abused, the injured, the victimized, those who have survived both the little and the large things that imprint themselves. Sometimes their bodies will remember and mocking them or bullying them to go on does no good.

But knowing it helps.

And I suspect, that being loved while you know it helps more.

It's a little thing in the world really, my body just won't let go. I try to keep in mind, not the bigger things I have moved past, but this little thing that stays when I read/hear about others. It helps keep me humble and reminds me not to judge too harshly.

But I am still ashamed my hands shook.

I am going back for the follow up treatment today


DataGoddess said...

Think of the poppets, and of Fiends holding your hands. Do what you can to get through it, and know that it's okay that you need that support, you're not weak.


Kelly said...

Drinne- I love you and I will be emailing you. This was an amazing post. I love reading your writing.

Stacey said...

Drinne, I'll be thinking of you. You're very strong to know you have this fear, but go anyways. My husband brushes obsessively because he is so afraid of the dentist. Since we married (10 years ago,) he has been once, and only because he was in pain. He went to one of those sedation dentistry places.

Jessie said...

Man oh man. I havent been to the dentist in 10 years and you hit the nail right on the head here as to why. Money is no issue, they have that Care Credit I can apply for, but here I sit with five broken and rotting teeth, one of which is currently throbbing out of my face at the moment.

I'm fucking scared and as it gets worse I'm getting worse. I dont know what will happen and I'm afraid the dentist will yell at me. That's what I'm ashamed of. Being asked "why didnt you come see me sooner?"

I just dont know how to deal. I dont even think poppets will help. I dont even know why I'm afraid.

All I know is the last time I went I was gassed, but then he had to send me to a specialist and the specialist didnt have gas and he ripped out my root and showed it to me. He was a very mean man.

I'm going to die, but I'm so glad that you wont. You found the magic dentist and you are ever so lucky.

Drinne said...

Thank you all, I wasn't even sure I was going to mention this. Yesterday went well - not as well as with the endodontist, there are apparently two more parts that have to be done.

Yesterday did not require anesthetics, so health wise I'm doing well, psych wise I'm not doing great but will try harder next time. New Little Old Lady Receptionist thought I had brought my entire set of office electronics with me.

DataGoddess - the Fiends holding my hands actually worked - Possibly because I thought of them as tiny little Steve Jobs in black jeans and turtlenecks - so at least my hands didn't shake, I brought an Iphone.

Stacey and Jessie- let me tell you the really good thing about going to the dentist after you haven't for a decade - They changed EVERYTHING.It's like time travel. Until recently I would drop in under extremis every 5-7 years. The technology is far less invasive - even the xrays. The methods of numbing and anesthesia are way more specific with fewer side effects.

The chairs are very soft and they have reduced many of the odors that went with the materials. (Not enough though - I'm thinking of seeing what happens if I just put a drop of tea rose extract right above my upper lip).

If they advertise that they work with phobics or the anxious there are all sorts of special training programs now.

They do not say " you should have come in sooner" if you are phobic - they do encourage you not to go so long again.

The thing that makes my phobia so incredibly stupid is that I did not find 1 magic dentist - all of my dental experiences in the last decade and a half, which have included about 6 different dentists and specialists have been positive and it just doesn't seem to outweigh the bad.

But honestly - as someone who used to cry when I reached the parking lot of the building, Jessie - If you have your husband call them first and tell them you are REALLY phobic because of past abuse( make it up if it's not true, something abused you to make you hang out with damaged teeth) and that he has to make the phone call becasue you can't even say the word dentist without crying, no one there will say "you should have seen me sooner."

I can send you a copy of my "I'm sorry I'm such a screw up"monologue. It preempts them.

Also I have now learned that all Dentists prefer that you take Advil (Ibuprofen) for OTC treatment for dental pain - apparently it works the best and has the best mode of action for Jaws and teeth.

An untreated dental infection is really dangerous - you should go Jessie - I'll make you a mix of gypsy punk songs and send you a poppet if you do.