Nov 08, 2009
Nine weeks and one day. How much time is that? Not much in the big scheme of things. But still, to me, it might as well be an eternity.
Sixty-four days. 1,536 hours. 92,160 minutes. Going on forever.
In comparison with the amount of time I was taking tramadol, it’s not much. Fred once related his success to failure ratio and this reminds me of it. I might as well have been born yesterday.
In a way, I sort of was.
Just read an incredibly important book called Necessary Losses (by Judith Viorst). The book considers the human lifespan and human development in terms of stages, during which we have to “give up” something – sometimes Some Things – in order to get to something else, something we really need. In order to grow and be well. And I know this to be true from my own life: we are constantly having to relinquish our attachment to something. That never ends. Way before we are ready sometimes. But we have to if we are to grow, to thrive. Even when it hurts.
I lost a lot of my life to tramadol, and now seems like a time to reflect on that. On why. Not because I want to beat myself up because I definitely do not want that. No point at all in excessive self-reproach. Rather, because I do not care to repeat my past mistakes even one more time. And looking back on my life, I have done that so many times. I have made huge mistakes, terrible judgments, and I have learned something from it – and still managed to do it again at the next opportunity. I am smarter than that, but I have done it. I suspect I am not the only one. Invincibility fable, perhaps. Or maybe I tried to do it again believing I could somehow change the outcome, even though I knew I couldn’t.
We get so many chances in life and we blow and awful lot of them, and usually we learn important lessons through those lost chances. We learn to value the better opportunities that come later, if nothing else. To be less cavalier and more careful, more aware and thankful and present in our lives. To not take things for granted. Part of this lesson, for me, involves understanding – Really Understanding – that nothing is forever. That everything we cherish in life can be lost, and ultimately, we are bounded on every side by time, finiteness. And so we should be careful to not lose even a moment that remains in our grasp.
The Tramadol Lessons are still presenting themselves, sort of materializing as the dust and smoke clear away and things settle, and as my own eyes adjust to their new clarity. I never realized until now how much I failed to see, or notice, during the tramadol years. I believed, as many of my fellow warriors did, that the drug helped me live better. That it repaired my brokenness. But of course, it didn’t. It obscured my ability to accept my brokenness even as it kept inflicting more damage emotionally and physically. Breaking me down further, and further still, until I was sure I had been reduced to a heap of wreckage that was simply irreparable. A total loss. Fully lost human potential. The saddest tragedy in the world.
That was then, though. This is now. Everything has changed. I have a new Self, and everything is made new again.
Some of my fellow Warriors have talked about how music helps get us through the hardest hard times. Music has always been my native tongue, my language when words are just miserably insufficient, as they so often are. I have played guitar and piano since I was old enough to reach the frets or the keys. Playing songs, writing songs, singing songs and dreaming about songs. Nothing could ever replace music in my soul, but tramadol made quite a run at it. For weeks at a time I wouldn’t get my guitar out of the case, forgetting as I did the joys associated with anything but the poisonous fog that I kept running back to each day, each hour. Every time something hurt, every time I felt sad, every time I felt overwhelmed or scared or happy or needed to jumpstart myself. I turned away from people, away from myself, and away from God. I turned to the one thing that was killing me slowly, cell by cell, pill by pill. I committed slow suicide, guaranteeing my destruction even as I tried with all my might to patch the holes in myself. I filled my body with poison. How could I have expected to be anything other than a toxic wasteland?
There is a fine line between feeling healthy guilt for what I have done, for the price of that refusal to love and respect myself, and I need to find that line and stay on the healthy side. There are definitely moments when I know I have crossed it – moments when I feel far too much anger at myself, when I think about how there’s no way I can ever get those years back and no way I can repair all the damage I did to myself physically. The pains are poignant reminders of that. I’ll never forget, even if my legs never hurt again. Even if I sleep every night for the rest of my life. The reminders will be there when I look at the people I love and see that they have aged since I last looked, really looked at them. When I recall four years ago, beginning a new job, a new life, and wonder who it was that rose to those challenges while I was AWOL. When I realize that I was three courses short of finishing my doctorate before I got too sick to keep going and had to stop and get better. When someone asks me how old I am now, and I have to think about it before answering. Where did those years go? They are my Lost Years. Necessary Losses. What we have to give up in order to move forward, to grow, to thrive.
Three CDs are playing right now in my stereo. David Gray, Lost Songs and Brandi Carlile, The Story and Give Up The Ghost. I have them set to repeat, and I will listen until morning, or until I fall asleep. The music has healing in it.
Another installment in the Life After Tramadol Chronicles. Some losses are definitely necessary losses. I am humbled by that knowledge. I am stronger for learning to hold things, look at them, turn them over, feel them and memorize them, and then let them go.
And I am so incredibly glad to know I am not alone out here.