The dentist

My parents took me to a dentist when I was very young and the experience traumatized me. The effects of that are still with me today.

I believe that he didn’t knowingly traumatize me. He thought he was a very good dentist. It turns out he wasn’t as good as he thought and in many ways he wasn’t a very good person. If he’d really thought about what he was doing then none of this would have happened.

He caused me immeasurable pain and terror because he didn’t use anesthesia when he worked on my teeth. He thought he could be very gentle and delicate and that he didn’t have to give me anything. He also thought that simply seeing the needle (needles for dentists are very large) would frighten me.

Ideally, he would have given me a shot anyway and explained the benefits of it. Ignorance leads to fear which leads to pain. Seeing the needle could be frightening sure, but that is when you explain why it is long (to reach inside your mouth) and how it will help (to make sure you don’t feel any pain).

Without a shot, I was in fact in pain. But also, I was in terror, because I knew that if I moved I could be very hurt. One wrong slip with that drill and he’d be drilling my cheek and not my tooth.

Strangely, he didn’t even have an assistant. So there was no one else in the room to look in my eyes and see the terror and suffering, both physical and mental.

Because my parents took me to him, I thought this was normal. I thought this was part of going to the dentist. I thought surely they wouldn’t make me go through this terror and pain for no reason.

People don’t really understand how traumatizing this is, that this authority figure caused me pain and my parents, other authority figures, took me to him. This means that what he’s doing to me is accepted and okay and normal and in fact, they’re paying him to do it.

No one warned me what was going to happen. That just adds to the pain. Any time something new is going to happen to anyone – but especially a child, explaining it beforehand is a kindness. It is all about thinking about the other person and their emotional needs. They don’t know what is going to happen. They don’t even know what to ask. It is the medical professional’s duty to remember that even though s/he has performed that procedure a thousand times, this is the first time for this patient. Not only is “informed consent” important, it is also simply kind and humane and compassionate to make sure they know what to expect.

I’m so grateful that I’m realizing all of this. I’m embarrassed that I didn’t have the strength at the time to stand up and say “No you can’t do this to me.” or “You have to tell me what you are going to do to me before you do it.” But at least now I’ve noticed it and I can start to make changes. If I didn’t notice it then it would mean that I would continue to suffer and say nothing.

Hopefully by my writing about this, you will gain strength too and learn to ask for what is going to happen before it does if your doctor doesn’t think to tell you. Hopefully you might start to understand the root of some of your distress as well. Uncovering this root has really helped me in understanding some of my behavior and attitudes. This early experience badly affected how I related to and experienced the world. Now that I’ve uncovered it, I can heal myself from that point onwards.

Poem – becoming sober

Becoming sober is like
doing surgery
on yourself.
Everything hurts,
because the things that you used
to run away
from the pain
are the very things
you know
you can’t do
So you have to sit down
with yourself
and dig deep
and uncover
all the pain
that you ran away from,
no matter how long ago,
no matter how it happened,
with no anesthesia.

Nobody can do this work for you.
Nobody gives you the tools.
You can watch others
with their struggles
and pick up an idea or three
of what might work for you,
but you’ll only know what works
when you try.
It might work that week,
but not next year.
You’re a different person then.

When we drink or smoke
or do drugs or overeat or
blame others or make excuses
we put up walls
around ourselves
so we don’t have to feel.
We become divorced
from our bodies,
from our lives.
We become immune
to the day to day feelings
of being alive.

Being sober
isn’t just about
stopping using
whatever it was that you used
as a shield,
as a crutch,
as anesthesia.
Being sober isn’t about
the past or
the pain either.
Being sober is about
being alive,
and facing your past
and present reality
with courage
and love.

It isn’t about the money.

I got my Christmas bonus last week. Of course, it isn’t called a Christmas bonus. This is a government job. It is a “longevity” check. But we get it around Christmas, and not on the anniversary of our hire date.

Every employee who has worked for Metro for at least five years gets this check. It is a tiny thing at the beginning, and a little more each year. There were years where the budget was tight and we didn’t get it at all. Things are better now, and it is a nice thing to have back.

I noticed my reaction to it this year. I have this reaction every year, but this time I noticed. I’m trying to observe myself from the outside. I’m trying to see what I do out of habit and instinct and ask myself why. I want to see if that reaction or course of action is still useful. Sometimes we outgrow our actions, but we still do them because we haven’t thought about them.

I saw this money and wanted to spend it right away. I didn’t even think about buying presents for others. I didn’t think about sending some of it to a charity. I wanted to spend all of it on myself.

I wanted a treat, or a toy. I didn’t want to buy anything I needed. I wanted to buy something I wanted. I don’t even have anything in mind. I just wanted to spend this money, and spend it fast.

This is why for many years I didn’t have much of anything in my savings account.

I’ve gotten over that feeling for the most part. For the most part I’m sane. For the most part I save money and pay extra towards the principal for the house and car notes. But right now the desire to burn through that money shone like a torch.

I didn’t. I thought about it. I saw that feeling as the outsider it is. I saw it as a symptom. I saw it as being not really from me, not the real me.

I started to think about what that feeling meant. At first I thought that I was going on survival mode. If I convert that money into something physical, I can see it. I can keep it with me. Just like wandering tribal people who move their camps with their flocks, I wanted to convert that wealth into portable currency. Money is better if you can wear it as baubles on your coat, you know.

But where does that feeling come from? I’m not planning on escaping. I’m not foreseeing any need to bug out any time soon. Even if the zombie apocalypse does happen, I don’t see that bartering with beads is going to be the mode of commerce. But who knows? It worked for the Dutch when they bought Manhattan.

So I dug deeper. There had to be more to this feeling.

It is all about comfort and self soothing. This past month has been hard. Financially, materially, it has been fine. Emotionally, not so much. There’s been a lot of upheaval in my family recently. Too much drama and not enough sense.

When bad things happened I used to soothe myself with eating sugar and carbs, or smoking, either pot or clove cigarettes. I used to soothe myself in the same way that many people soothe themselves – to do everything possible to not actually address the situation itself. Sadly, a lot of our soothing methods result in even more problems.

I’ve gotten past a lot of those soothing methods, but apparently I’ve not purged myself from the “need” to spend money to cheer myself up. I’m glad I saw it as the craving it is, and didn’t succumb to it.

We can all learn from our cravings. They teach us what we really are searching for. I didn’t really want to spend all that money. I wanted what the money could buy. And really, I didn’t even want that. I wanted what it represents.

In this case I was searching for security and stability. I was trying to retreat into primitive ways of coping, rather than dealing with the problem at hand. Part of the solution is to stick with the feeling. I’ve spent so long trying to run away from my feelings that I’m not sure how to have them sometimes.

If you use crutches all the time, then you never develop the strength in your legs to stand on your own. Losing the crutches doesn’t mean that you suddenly have the ability to run, much less stand up straight. And it hurts, these first few unassisted steps. You want to grab the crutches back, or find something else to hold on to.

This is why a lot of people at AA meetings are chain smokers. They just traded one addiction for another. The problem hasn’t been addressed. It has just been transformed into something a little more socially acceptable, and a little less likely to result in legal problems.

I’m stripping away my crutches and my props, one by one, and it is hard. But it is essential. Sometimes I’m tired of all this growth I’ve done and I want to sit back and take a break. I don’t, well, not often, and not for long. I’ve learned that if I take a break, the break morphs into a full stop, and then I have to get started all over again.