Controlled substance

Fizzy Purple Grape Soda by D Sharon Pruitt on Flickr, licensed under Creative Commons

It’s 4:20 in the morning. In the night. A time I have become well-reacquainted with in the past weeks. I become aware now that I have been limiting my window for this period of unpleasantness to two weeks, a moving two-week window of hell, because I keep thinking back to the beginning and realizing, Oh, that? That wasn’t NEARLY as bad as it got.

The actual fact is I’ve now been robbed of three full weeks. And there are certain habits, dependencies, which settle in after that period of time, which may be hard to break.

I spend my day in bed. I do not aspire to leave my bed, because leaving it has generally meant rushing to the bathroom, and an hours-long cycle of pain and relief and more pain filling in where the relief tried. When I am feeling at all better, I get back in bed. Standing up is hard when you have not eaten much, and my height makes it feel like even more of a challenge.

The bedroom has become my fortress. I wonder if I’ll ever continue this blog from anywhere but there, hunkered down with my smartphone.

When a cycle of cramps starts I assume a certain position for self-soothing, rub my belly in a way that does help, fire up my ancient heating pad (it belonged to my grandparents, and when it reaches its full temperature evokes the smell of their old apartment, which is soothing).

What I’ve noticed is that I do this now even when the “pain” is actually a minor gurgle of digestion. This means I’ve downgraded my pain standards. Which had been quite high before. I birthed two boys weighing over nine pounds without much more than some Advil and stitches after. Yes, it goddamn hurt. But there was ample payback there, in oxytocin.

The pain I have been in recently affords no such glory. I haven’t even been able to talk about specifically what the pain is all that much (except here), because it turns out that nausea and vomiting is a lot more socially acceptable to speak about and suggest remedies for than chronic diarrhea. (This seems like a socioeconomic discovery, somehow. Only in a society with ample access to safe drinking water can we afford ourselves the luxury of distancing diarrhea to the furthest corners of conversation.)

Before going to bed last night (nervously, without the second dose of steroids I’ve become accustomed to), I held court for Mom and J and told them feverishly about my hopes and dreams for my digestion. “It’s a whole new world out there,” I was saying. “How often do you actually get a chance to start your gut over again? Maybe I should make some changes,” I said. “This is an opportunity. There have been so many discoveries about how food works. And my metabolism had slowed to a halt anyway.” I spoke of caffeine, and other ills and other promises.

Mom and J sat there nodding and bemused, enabling my rant but not encouraging it. I hadn’t chosen the right audience for this sermon. My father, a long sufferer in matters of digestion, would have engaged me immediately in matters of science and nutrition. There are scores of friends on Facebook standing by with advice for me. But I don’t know that I’m looking for a conversation just now (except by phone, in the morning, with the nutritionist at the cancer center, because I am afraid to face the weekend without her guidance).

I’m not looking for a plan yet. I’m not looking for strictures yet – there are more than enough of those. I don’t want to find a forum or self-identify with any group.

I suppose what I want is to return to how and who I was, but with the knowledge of my present suffering never far from me when I decide to eat something. Eating for me has long been a tool of anesthesia, a tool for distancing pain. I know that isn’t healthy, but it’s something I learned long ago from Mom (who has herself been on a long journey in this regard, and is currently in triumph and is my hero for it). When I’ve been really sad in recent days I’ve tried a meditation of walking through my neighborhood and stopping in each place that sells good things to eat (and there are, of course, many) and imagining myself tasting each thing for the first time. It was satisfying… until it wasn’t. (And I kept going back again and again to the place with the Brussels sprouts.)

Somehow I have managed to raise kids who have a much greater sense of balance and proportion when it comes to good and bad eating than I ever had in my little finger. They hauled in an enormous bag of candy in an hour on Halloween afternoon. There was intense interest in it for exactly 36 hours. It has since sat in a bulging shopping bag on a high shelf, untouched and unrequested and possibly even unremembered. Halloween was the very start of my troubles, and as is my way, now that I write about it I want to feel guilty that my pain eclipsed the presence of all that candy. But that’s not it at all! Young J drinks green juice because of the broccoli content. Young A snarfs cherry tomatoes and edamame like candy. These are healthy eaters and yes, they like their sugary treats, but they have their heads on straight about it all.

Which is the most I can hope for myself, and soon please.

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