“If I had a dollar for every person who suggested acupuncture to me, I wouldn’t have to work,” I hissed, as soon as the young woman had walked far enough up the driveway to be out of earshot.
“Girl, you have got to chill,” my friend responded quietly from the passenger seat. The weather has turned a little cooler, but that night it was still soft and pleasant, and the windows of my car were open. We spoke under our breaths to avoid being heard by the acquaintance I’d just dropped off. I waited until she unlocked her front door and stepped inside before pulling back out on to the street, a habit drilled into me by my parents in an age before cell phones rendered such niceties obsolete.
We pulled up at a red light and I continued, “Listen, it’s fake, OK? They’ve done thousands of studies and all of them have shown it’s just a placebo. There is no underlying basis or mechanism by which it could work. And it’s not some ancient practice, either. It’s nothing like what acupuncture actually was; it used to involve actual blood-letting. What people now call acupuncture was created by Chairman Mao in the fifties-“
My friend cut me off, “Well, I believe that it works.”
“It’s not real! Someone just made it up! It’s not based on anything!”
She wasn’t arguing with me. Her tone was calm as she tapped on her smart phone; some pressing matter at work had divided her attention.
I sighed. “It’s insulting.”
“It is not insulting.”
“Listen, I’ve been in pain every day – every fucking day – for almost a year. Does anyone really think that there is anything, anything at all that I haven’t tried?”
“You have got to stop getting this angry at people who are just trying to help you.”
“I didn’t get angry. Well, not then, anyway.”
“Well, I’m sure I could have been a bit nicer-”
“You got pretty defensive.”
I know I did. And I did get angry, and was still angry, despite managing to button it up until after we dropped the girl off. But it poisoned the rest of what had been a fun night of frozen yogurt and a stroll around downtown with some friends. Or at least, for me it did. And here it is, days later, and I’m still upset. Because I do have a right to be angry. Just not at her.
I thought I had accepted this. Well, to be fair, I have accepted it. I’m not trying to pretend I can make it go away just by the wanting any more. This is my new life. I get it. But what I realized in the car that night is that I am still deeply, enormously angry about it, a pot on a low boil that emits a rush of burning steam onto the face of anyone who dares peek under the lid. After the woman got out of my car, I lifted that lid myself to vent some of that steam, and what exploded out surprised me with its virility. I didn’t realize I still had so much anger. I didn’t realize that I still have such a long way to go.
Whether or not I am ready, whether or not I should be ready yet, I’ve started the process of working through that anger (and trying to locate my lost faith) with my therapist and another woman who has been my life-changing-injury survivor mentor. It was my idea, no less. But a blockade of dread has sprung up that threatens to derail the process before it begins. I do not want to turn my life back over to God’s protection and care. I have not felt protected or cared for at any time during the last eleven months.
Until a few years ago, I had convinced myself that I was an atheist. Believing in God was for suckers, I decided, and I didn’t want to be one of those suckers. But once I took an honest look at my so-called atheism, I discovered that I’d been paying lip service to it; I’d never really given up on God. And so it wasn’t all that difficult accept the idea that there was some force at work in the universe that I couldn’t entirely understand or explain, and that that force could be trusted to make everything OK.
But these past eleven months have done more damage to that idea than the all of the years of intellectual posturing that preceded it. The only God I could possibly believe in right now would be a malevolent one. I do not want to “move on.” I want to punish someone. Like God, for starters. Yes, I have to admit that things in my life have settled down and that I am able to get back to certain things like part-time work, the occasional evening outing, and a couple of classes. But it’s not because I’m in any less pain; it’s just because I’m used to it. It’s not because of anything that God did or didn’t do. I changed. God, if there even is one, didn’t.
Where was God when I was lying awake in my bed in the middle of the night, unable to sleep for the pain knifing down my back and up into my ears, contemplating surgery that would result in a near-total loss of function in order to make the pain go away?
Where was God that afternoon so many weeks ago when I stood at the door of the mall, twenty yards away from my car, with a 25 pound box of litter and no way to get it and myself back to my vehicle?
Where was God when I was lying on my back in that beach apartment, strapped to an ice gel and waiting, breath by agonizing breath, for the pain medication to start working and take the edge off so I could sit upright, while the rest of my family was reclining under umbrellas on the warm summer sand?
And where is God right now, with my “good” shoulder having caused me so much pain over the last five days that I allowed a new doctor to perform two trigger point injections directly into the source, injections which have so far had a rather less-than-impressive effect?
God doesn’t live here; of that I am quite certain. I’ve been abandoned to a hellish existence only infrequently punctuated by brief respites from otherwise relentless and belligerent pain. That pain has become my God. And I am not going to forgive it, or anyone else, for the wreck that it’s made of me. I used to have faith. I used to have hope. I used to think that things always worked out OK, because up until recently, they always had.
But now, all I have is resignation. Things are not always OK. Whatever force
is might be out there, it doesn’t give a crap about me or anyone else. And I’m not grateful for even the few small things that have started going my way; I perceive them as only natural, a product of the inherent randomness of a sample size that has finally grown large enough for the normal distribution to become apparent. It’s not that “God” is finally taking better care of me. It’s just that I’ve finally flipped the coin enough times for the numbers of heads and tails to start evening out.
I recognize that I’m not going to get any better until I deal with these feelings; that this anger and resentment will spread out into and embitter every facet of my life. But I’m just not ready to let them go. Right now, every fiber of my being rebels against placing my faith in anything other than the sheer cruelty of the universe.
I have been abused, and I refuse to go and bow my head to the abuser. I was doing the right things, before this happened. Certainly, I wasn’t hurting anyone. And this horrific thing happened anyway, and it’s ruined me and everything I had built around myself, all of my pastimes, all of my pleasures, my kindness, my gentleness, my solicitude. They’re all gone, the inspiration for them spilled out of a broken vessel only capable of generating those behaviors through muscle memory.
And sometimes not even then, as my experience last weekend illuminated. I’m still in too much pain, too much of all kinds of pain, to be anything other than surreptitiously (or obviously) angry, all of the time. I feel bad about the collateral damage, but never for very long. My anger ensures that I have little sympathy for those around me learning the hard way that unsolicited medical advice is rude and unwelcome. If I don’t get to learn things the easy way, then neither do you. Suck it up.
I’m like that dog that bit me in the elevator. Your fault, for getting too close to a strange and nervous dog. So you got bit. Poor you. Maybe you’ll know better next time.
I’m going to get a t-shirt that says “beware of dog.” Maybe people will get it. Probably not, but I can always hope.