This is the new puppy I adopted two weeks ago. Her name is Flo. She’s 10 weeks old. You want to talk about unconditional love—there’s nothing like curling up and having a nap with a puppy. I’d never experienced it before. It’s different somehow from napping with a cat.
So last week I had an emergency D&C because I was basically bleeding to death. I had been scheduled to have one this week, tomorrow in fact, but my GYN called last Thursday morning and scheduled it immediately: my hemoglobin was so low that I was on the verge of needing a transfusion.
Question: How could an intelligent woman with two degrees and an IQ north of 130 possibly let her health descend to that state? How could I allow myself to bleed to death and not take care of myself?
Answer: Self-care has nothing to do with intelligence. Neither does addiction.
Here’s a story for you. My mother had a hysterectomy at my very age: 47. I remember being on the phone with her from my office at my first reporting job: she had been having horrible long periods, basically bleeding to death, and she hadn’t had a pelvic exam in seven years. SEVEN YEARS.
In the Al-Anon books it asks us: are we taking care of ourselves? Are we going to the doctor, the dentist, are we getting haircuts?
I go to the doctor. I sometimes put off the dentist. I get haircuts every other month. But do I really pay attention to my body? Is it a place where I actually live?
A lot of the time, it isn’t. A lot of the time, I’m living in some alternative reality I’ve created in my mind. I was, after all, raised by a woman who ignored her body so effectively that she made it seven middle-aged years without a pelvic exam and had to have a hysterectomy because of the grapefruit-sized fibroid tumors that grew inside her in the interim. All the while, the rhetoric that came out of her mouth was this Catholic stuff about the body being “the temple of the Holy Spirit.” Some temple: the curtain in hers was rent, the cornerstone broken, by the time she was 58.
This was my model for being a grown-up woman.
And my dad: I won’t even get into how well my dad ignored his body.
Physical exercise helps me pay attention to my body. But still: I was bleeding for three weeks! I just told myself it’ll stop sometime it has to stop sometime just be patient just wait it out i don’t have time to deal with this so IT MUST NOT BE HAPPENING, and in the interim my hemoglobin dropped to 8.5 (the low-normal level is 11.5; the standard level for transfusion is 8.0) and I was feeling “a little bit tired.” Yeah. I believe this is called something like psychosis: refusal to acknowledge reality.
So I go in for the operation and they tell me it’ll be conscious sedation and I know what conscious sedation is, because G is a person who knows her drugs: conscious sedation (also known as “twilight sleep”) is Versed (the drug that makes you forget what’s going on) and Propofol (strong sedative: Michael Jackson’s favorite candy) and fentanyl (the drug I was on—on? I was as tall as the fucking Empire State Building on fentanyl in August 2008). I had to have these drugs because it’s surgery and they were going to open the hood and scrape me out, and I didn’t want to have these drugs because I hadn’t taken drugs in more than two years.
My sponsor said, “Sometimes we have to do things we don’t want to do.” If the alternative is bleeding to death, I guess she’s right.
I was scared because I’d had two surgeries while I was un-sober. The first was an appendectomy that was torture because they couldn’t control the pain, they wouldn’t give me the shitload of drugs I’d have needed to control abdominal laparascopic post-surgical pain, so I just put up with it. It was horrible. And then I broke and dislocated my elbow in a bike-fall in 2006, and during the conscious sedation to put the bones back into the socket the ortho guy told my husband he’d never shot so much fentanyl into one person in his life. So I was afraid I’d be in pain.
But of course I was in no pain, because I’m now what physicians and pharmacists call “opioid-naïve.” I woke up in post-op feeling as though God’s own sunlight was shining on my face, feeling sheer gratitude to all the nurses, telling all the staff how thankful I was for their willingness to take care of me. The surgery had gone well and I had no pain. And I was sent home with a couple doses of Vicodin, which I took because later when the fentanyl wore off, I had shooting needly pains below my navel.
And for a day after, I had a headache. My body getting rid of the drug metabolites.
And then on Monday it occurred to me: I had felt so good, so grateful, because I was high. I was high. Why do the drugs have to make me feel so goddam good?
“Every feeling passes,” my sponsor says. “All the ‘good’ feelings, all the ‘bad’ ones—they all pass.”
And this morning my husband goes to the dentist because he has pain in his tooth and the dentist X-rays his jaw and discovers an abscess, he prescribes Vicodin, my very favorite beloved awesomest drug on the face of the planet, especially since I’m “opioid-naive.” I just had drugs in my body last week, I can remember in my body how niiiice they made me feel.
David Foster Wallace once said, You think you’re an atheist, you think you don’t worship anything?—let me tell you, everyone worships something. Listen to the way I talk about Vicodin.
So I call my sponsor and tell her: I don’t want to use the Vicodin that is now living in my house. She says, You know what you have to do. I say, Yes, I know.
Part of that is writing it here. The truth.
The truth is, if I listen to my body, what it really wants is not drugs.
What it wants is love.