Life

The Process of De-Medicating: A Meager List of Remedies

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It happens in this way – that one day, you come to realize your hand is rested casually upon the burner of a hot stove, and it’s difficult to determine which tipped you off first – the pain, or the noisome aroma of burning flesh. Life is like that sometimes. Everything gets to moving so fast, you fail to notice the massive, red-hot appliance that’s been coupled to you and the fact that your very own body has become a slab of meat, to be cooked and consumed by the hellish machine we’ve all served to assemble. How do you enjoy your human, Mr. Machine? Medium-rare? Well done? We aim to please here, in the once Wild West!

I’m not sure any of us are exempt from this process. Look into the eyes of a person – any person you know, or better, someone you do not know, for familiarity breeds blindness – look into the eyes, and you’ll see the most universal of human traits – pain.

The choice, it appears, is whether or not to feel the pain, or more aptly – whether to numb it – to forget the pain even exists.

How does one forget pain? The methods are plenty. Inebriation is a time-tested painkiller, but it lasts only a few hours and the more responsible among us – those with Puritanic priorities to maintain – might choose temperance over forgetfulness. There are, of course, other indulgences. In America, we love food, and many of us have the swollen waistlines to prove it. What does it say of us that we can go to our favorite restaurant, mow down a veritable feast of “free” appetizers, and before the entrees are served, we’ve already loosened our belts a notch? Be sure’n save room for dessert! I’ll tell you what it says of us: knowing or unknowing, we ourselves are being consumed, even as we seek to consume everything within our reach.

Consumption: the method most of us have chosen to distract ourselves from the pain.

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The beautiful thing about humanity is that we’ve become fairly adept at solving our own problems. Once upon a time in America, they figured out that people would endure all sorts of hardship if, in exchange, they were afforded the opportunity to buy stuff, and so the Sears catalog was invented. The concept of the catalog graduated to the radio, which offered glorious hours of entertainment to be consumed, interspersed with ads, offering more stuff that could be sought after, to be consumed. The radio became television, became smart phones, which are now being linked to articles of clothing and now we have the ultimate answer to our pain problem, do we not? Feel some pain? Extract that glorious device from your pocket and fix your gaze. Instant pain relief, my friend. Instant consumption.

Next stop: cranial implants; they will eliminate the painstaking process of carrying that device, keeping it charged, pulling it out, etc. Just blink, and BAM!; you’re in consumer heaven.

Some years ago, a part of my brain broke. I don’t know if there’s a biological label assigned to the chunk of brain I’m referring to, but I’m talking about the part responsible for transferring the act of consumption to the ability to ignore the pain.

Some years ago, a part of my brain broke, and I began to feel the pain.

Don’t get me wrong; I do still try. I still try to rely on that broken part of me. I love to watch football, and sometimes it helps me forget about the pain, but as anesthetics go, football is a most fickle one, because it loses potency any time the Seahawks lose.
I also attempt to enjoy my share of media-generating tech.

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At some point, I’ll get that cool new iPhone that just came out; I’ll extract it from its cardboard prison, turn it on, and the cool new iPhone will reach out with its invisible tendrils of 1s and 0s; it will reach out to that broken part of my brain, but its thinking wheel will spin and spin, and eventually it will say in its femininica voice, “I’m sorry, something’s wrong. I can’t relieve your pain right now. Please try again later, when your brain’s no longer broken.” This sort of thing happens to me a lot. All this media – all the pretty, all the dazzle, all the consumable wonders – to me, they become noise. All the world is awash in clamorous noise.

Some time ago, a doctor offered me medicine that was meant to fix my brain, and out of desperation, I accepted this medicine. I thought it might change things, and for a time, it appeared to, but eventually I realized the medicine didn’t fix the broken part of me; it only made it less apparent, working as something of a second layer of skin – a cold, unfeeling layer that obscured the trouble beneath.

The problem with medicine that dulls pain is that it dulls the rest of you as well.

When you take medicine long enough – when you learn to rely on it – it begins to do your living for you. You learn to live on medicated autopilot. One day, you might pause to look around and find that you have no idea how you got to where you are, and who this person is – this one who’s been walking around, wearing your identity like a suit, making decisions in your name.

Lately, I’ve been wondering if my brain is really so broken after all. Maybe I’m supposed to feel the pain. I decided to test my theory, and I started working on a de-medication process. I’m nearly four months along, and it’s still not complete. Sometimes I feel like I’m being smacked repeatedly in the face by a glove full of gravel, and of course, there is that deeper, besetting, universal pain that I now feel much of the time – a stunning pain, both in its constance and its acuity.

So what do I do? What do I do when medicine is intolerable, and consumption transfers only to noise? What do I do about the pain?

A meager list of remedies:
– I eat pizza with a friend. Pizza can be enjoyed with one hand, leaving the other free for gesturing, which aids with cathartic conversation.
– I use a pretend-sun light in the morning. I place it inches from my face, and I close my eyes, and I pretend I’m on the beach in New Zealand.
– I smoke a cigar, preferably with a friend. I like cigars that are really long, so they take forty-five minutes or more to smoke, which gives me forty-five minutes when the world seems less noisy.
– I write sentences to Someone, and I write sentences to you. This remedy works the best. If I could do this all the time, it may prove to be the best remedy of all – something like removing my charred hand from the stovetop of this infernal machine and unplugging it from my world entirely.
That is, of course, a silly thought. Silly indeed.

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12 replies »

  1. Medication for the pain, plus insistent eating of something, anything. I am there with you. I, too, try to cut back on the NSAIDS, try to discipline the eating, then suddenly the urge to eat is gnawing again. My solutions are binge-watching soft television shows (Grey’s Anatomy), attempting to exercise, reading, gardening. Nothing works but grandchildren, and seeing the world through their vision. I enjoy your essays, and identify with many of them. I hope you find a peaceful resting place for the pain.

  2. I love to read what you write. It is so funny how you an think you know someone and really not know much, I did not know you had such a profound writing voice!

    That being said, I am sending this reply from my new iPhone 6…

  3. Luke, Your post is very profound (thought provoking) mixed with a light hearted sense of humor. For some reason, we believe we should be happy all times, keeping our feet moving through darkness, fleeing from pain like we would from a hot fire. I’ve learned so much can be learned in darkness (about letting go). It gives way to personal and spiritual growth (inner peace). Through practice we can learn to be grateful, for all those painful moments. For they hold an oppotunity for a greater spiritual awareness. It is extremely difficult to dull life’s noise! It is a daily practice for me.

  4. I love this post, Lucas. I chuckle when I think of my grandparents’ generation and how they coped with pain. I can picture my granddad saying something like, “Suck it up and get back to work. We’ve got mouths to feed.” Personally, I’m glad that I don’t have to worry about growing/hunting every meal but it does leave a lot of time for self-introspection that past generations didn’t have time for. I’ve spent a lifetime trying to fill my emptiness with consumables. Is it Anne Lamott that calls it a “God sized hole”? It’s only in the last few years that I’ve thrown myself into feeling everything, which amazingly, includes joy. We tend to think that if we let ourselves feel, it’ll only be pain but I know that I kept myself in neutral territory for so long, not allowing myself to be too happy or too sad, that I forgot how to feel anything at all. I guess my point is that when we stop trying to fill the God sized hole, we open ourselves up to surprises.

  5. I wish you well in the de-medication process, Lucas. Me, I am weaker, and therefore apt to settle for whatever medication will transport me to happier realms. Sometimes it is as simple as installing a $40 shelf in the kitchen to make it more functional. Other times, it takes a martini. But as long as these things are kept it check, it all seems to balance out. I do agree with you – we are supposed to feel the pain. And the joy that comes with it, too. I saw this excerpt of a documentary with a philosopher who believes the pursuit of happiness is an illusion, and that it is the striving for it that creates meaning, not the thing itself. Anyway, a cigar, a fine single malt whiskey, a woodfired pizza with a friend would do me just fine for now. Take care 🙂

    • Thanks for the thoughtful words, dear lady. I do not think you’re weak at all. When I was younger, I used to look down upon people I thought were “high maintenance”, and I abhorred the mere thought of ever being considered so myself. Now, I know enough to know that, to be human is to be high maintenance. To put off that sort of necessary maintenance for the sake of getting things done or not being a bother to others, is a truly self-destructive thing.
      I’m doing my best to come to terms with all the “maintenance” I need.

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