I’ve forgotten how much I need friends in my life. For various reasons, I have not had any friends close by for the past 8 years. Well, I do know why. My pain got so bad and when it did, my world became smaller and smaller.
If you have never suffered from prolonged pain, and I’m not sure which word to emphasize there. . . suffer, prolonged, pain. . . then you might not know or understand that the person in pain can develop tunnel vision. You see, my life became a horrible ritual. I got up every morning, exhausted, in pain from head to foot, angry, frustrated, hurt, sad, jealous, and crushed. I went to a job that was not congruent with any part of my life, except possibly my purse and even that was questionable. I prayed throughout the day for the day to speed by but instead, by the end, each moment ticked by in agonizing slowness. Every experience chipped away at my soul and every encounter hurt — someone’s voice being too loud, someone’s stale cigar smoke and body odor was overwhelming strong, someone’s laugh bore right into my bones, or someone’s criticism or demands on me sent my spirit crashing because I had no energy to give to anything or anyone.
The other thing that I found is that nothing seemed to fill the voids. Sleep didn’t solve exhaustion. Medications didn’t relax muscles or take away anxiety like their names promised. And it wasn’t just one medication, it was egg cartons of them. Ok, that is an exaggeration. But at one time, I probably took a total of 10 pills a day and still had horrible pain more than half of any given week or month. I prayed a lot. For sleep to come quickly. For the hours of 5:30-10:30pm to speed up so that I did not have hours of pain after work that would be filled with sitting in a dark living room, just staring. And it would start again the next day. Every weekend, I spent time at my family’s house, checking in on my elderly parents, and trying to act semi-social and not let my pain ruin those relationships.
But, yes, other people meant pain or pain triggers. I had no control over sights, smells, energy levels, etc. And pain or pain triggers? Heck, I had enough of them in my life, why would I want other people to contribute to that? I remember saying to someone, “No, I’m not going to lunch. I don’t like that person enough to possibly end up in a situation where I’d have pain because of them.” When the pain was bad, things like going to the grocery store was a nightmare. Yes, I had to gone down the aisle with all the scented products, that was bad enough. But then there were food triggers I had to avoid and when you are tired, in pain, trying to avoid more pain, and just wanting to go home and cease to exist, every food seems scary and a pain threat potential.
So there was no room for people, places, and things. That’s not an excuse, that’s just what life became and I had no one to talk to about this. No one to say, take a deep breath, and let’s figure out a way to live with your chronic pain. Instead, my world became just me. I had an incredible send off at my last job. So much love and so many well-wishes. I got lovely cards and clients who were so sad to see me go. At that point, I was still good at hiding my pain from just about everyone. It was so nice. And many of my colleagues were just as sweet, some very good friends. And I pushed them all away after I left. I didn’t answer phone calls or cards. I didn’t have the energy to drive an hour to have lunch or visit with them. And they were all people whom I loved. What if they wanted to go out for Asian food? What if they had on cologne or fabric softener? What if they laughed too loud or god, what if they wanted or expected something from me when I was now running for years on empty. So, I pushed everyone away. I even pushed long distance friends away.
I’m away from that life now. And I’m rebuilding. I’m revising my healing plan, dealing with my chronic illness in new ways, stretching my spiritual self, trying to eat healthier, do yoga, exercise, search, pray or chant, meditate, do biofeedback, journal, blog, write poetry, listen to books, read when not in pain, take up hobbies again, etc, etc, etc. But somethings been missing and I have had a hard time putting my finger on it.
And then tonight, I got a call from an old friend, someone who knows me from decades ago, before the pain issues, in a different world. We reconnected because of a post on facebook and when we talked tonight, it was like being in college again, or shortly thereafter. It was someone who didn’t laugh at my accent or question my choice of words. This person loves me and my story, my her-story and I felt so blessed. This is one of my very favorite people and despite our lives going in very different ways and our temperaments being very different, this person is genuinely and honestly dear from the inside out. What I noticed as she spoke was such a gentleness of spirit and a tender-heartedness. I was so glad that we had reached out to one another and I made sure before we hung up that we planned to be in touch again.
What our call reminded me of was that I had been so one’s friend in the past. I had people who I cared about and who cared about me. There was a time when people weren’t scary or associated with pain or potential pain. I knew that she wouldn’t judge me for not wearing make up or being or for being in a foul mood. She knows me. She’d probably laugh, tell me to take a nap, and call her when I felt better or she’d just say that she knew I was hurting and wished it wasn’t so. Ah, how I miss having people around who could say that. “I’m sorry it sucks and when you’re up for it, I’m here”.
If you know someone who has chronic pain, please don’t feel bad if they disappear and re-emerge. Don’t be put off if they cancel plans or aren’t always there. We never know what someone else is going through and most people don’t tell you what they are going through, even when you are super close. But don’t turn away as it could be just when you don’t close the door that you save someone’s life.
To my friend, thank you from the bottom of my heart for being there and sharing your story. The greatest gift you have ever given me has been that you have shared your heart and your spirit with me.
For everyone else, I wish you a peaceful evening.
As a reflection for tonight:
Think about the people or person that makes you feel like no one else can. Imagine that person’s smile, either a time in your life when you shared laughter or that person gave you a smile, letting you know that everything would be okay. Remember the laugh lines near the mouth, or the way the light bounced off their eyes. Remember the way they tossed their hair or held their head. Remember the moments you shared silently, not having to say a word but understanding that there was a deep un-ending compassion and complete unconditional regard and love between you. Remember that moment when you feel alone or when you are in your darkest time. Remember that look at 2am when you can’t reach out or 1000 miles away when you can’t feel that person’s hug. Remember that part of a cultivated and lasting friendship is that that person touches within you the deepest, greatest, and best part of you and you do the same for that person. If you feel alone, allow yourself to get in touch with that part of you that was fostered in relation to that person.
May you rise tomorrow to light and warmth. May you be at ease and be free from lasting suffering.
May you remember that this moment is the only moment that matters and that it is fleeting so pay attention to it and know that if your mind labels it bad or off or wrong, it will be over before you know it.
May you always know that things change and don’t last. For better and for worse, nothing lasts, except for true uncensored love.
May you find freedom in your relationships, comfort in each other’s words, solace in each other’s smile, and delight in each other’s triumphs.
May you never go to sleep without saying I’m sorry or forgive me.
May you feel your connection to everything in the world and remember that you and I are made of the stuff of stars.
May you allow yourself to simply be.