As the morphine wore off, I frantically pressed the nurse's buzzer. `I need...more...please...', I managed with tears welling up as the pain again threatened to rip me in half. The doctor approached. `I don't want to give you anymore, but...'. He hesitated. `The pain...', I choked. The Emergency Room was busy that night. He had no time to negotiate.
The man next door was found frozen on a park bench, a bottle stuck to his hand. The woman next to me repeatedly fell out of bed, crying out about how no one cared. Their voices faded within minutes as the IV worked its magic. Their moans melted into soothing whispers as I felt nothing except more alone than ever.
As I floated into a fabricated calm, the haze gave way to one clear thought: I don't want to be here ever again. I drifted off further, aware of the absence of love and meaning in my life. Though designed to numb all pain, the morphine was no match for my consciousness, which was gnawing from within and screaming to get out. This was not where I was supposed to be.
When I left hospital the next day, I knew that if I continued to live as I was my entire life would be shaped by the threat of unbearable pain and loneliness. I had lived with Crohn's disease for almost nine years--a chronic illness characterised, in my case, by inflammation of the small intestine resulting in abdominal pain and exhaustion. I had had scary episodes before, but this hospitalisation was the first clear sign that I had to make some changes. I did not know what that would entail nor did I understand that Crohn's (more than physical symptoms) has everything to do with chronic negative emotional patterns. Patterns of numbing both emotional and physical pain--such as anorexic behaviour, substance abuse and simply denying all feelings--were making and keeping me sick.
A friend introduced me to the concept of mind/body medicine and encouraged me to see a naturopath. It took me four months to muster up the courage to go, but after the first session I felt new hope. The naturopath told me that I was not responsible for my illness but that I had to become responsible to my illness. In other words, I had to learn to listen to my body and respond to its needs. She explained that illness and pain are teachers, with lessons to offer on how to take better care of ourselves. She also said that healing is largely about finding the courage to look deep within and to learn to love all parts of ourselves, even those parts which make us afraid, ashamed or enraged.
Months of work followed. Aviator and poet Ann Morrow Lindburgh, said, `It's not for the moment you are stuck that you need courage, but for the long uphill climb back to sanity and faith'. Those words echoed through me day after day as I struggled to change. I had remained stuck in the pattern of victim for many years, but the real battle began with the admission that I did not want to continue so disconnected from myself.
I discovered a new story line, a new character to play--one who could create her own health. However, new roles require undoing previous ways of being, shattering one's sense of self. It's as if you are on stage when suddenly you are stripped of your costume and expected to carry on, in character. For someone like me, regarded as strong, confident and completely in control, letting go of who I thought I was, was terrifying. Learning to surrender and find faith in the process was extremely challenging but proved the most freeing.
It is two years since my visit to the Emergency Room and I have found the courage to continue the uphill climb. I am learning how to cook and about the principles of healing through food; I have given up smoking, alcohol and caffeine--torturous to an inflamed intestine!; I have quit my fast-paced job as a hospital social worker; and I am seeking a more balanced life. Most importantly, I continue to face my emotional demons: fears, vulnerabilities, and all the parts of myself that I could never accept. I am learning to love all of me, even the diseased part I had previously labelled `weak' and `undesirable'. Our deepest sources of vulnerability call upon us to develop compassion where previously we may have turned away from ourselves.
Ironically, the morphine woke me up to the fact that I had been drugging myself in all sorts of ways, from over-work to suppressing emotion, to avoid looking at what was inside. The pain spoke to me for months after, begging me to stop, listen and address its needs, my needs.
Slowly, I am un-learning my conditioning to be a `pleaser', to put everyone else's needs before my own. I am un-learning negative beliefs about my lack of self-worth and I am also learning to respond not only to my pain but to all of me. Consequently, my pain has been transformed from an unfair burden to the voice that guides me towards healing and growth. Finally, I am learning to listen to the voice within, to give it space and to find the courage to change in a way that honours its message.
Alyssa Kuzmarov, Canada