Making amends is an important part of recovery. Masochism is not.
I’ve mentioned how lucky I am that the surgeon got to my appendix before it ruptured, and how fortunate I am that being clean caused me to go to the hospital instead of self-medicating. What I haven’t admitted is that, looking back at that awful night of pain, I can see I probably waited at least six hours longer than I should have. The results could have been very bad indeed.
Why did I do that? Why did I hide in the bathroom of our hotel room, and rock back and forth with pain, and use the shower spray to try to ease my pain like a woman in labor might do, while my family slept? I know I wanted them to get some sleep, but I think there was also some baggage behind my actions.
I did it because I have so much shame about being a burden to my family in the past. About being a semi-invalid sometimes; about being the one who has to go to the hospital. Being the one who talks a lot about pain and illness and stays home from family outings. Near the end of my last relapse, my physical and mental health had reached such a low ebb that I could keel over, or be constantly nauseated, or talk of suicide without causing my husband a great deal of alarm. It had become normal.
In recovery, I’ve tried really hard to take better care of myself and get out of that semi-invalid role I was in. I can do so much more now, and I’ve slowly improved my health in important ways. But when there is something wrong–when, despite my efforts, I need help–I feel like the girl who cried wolf. For so long I exaggerated symptoms or weakness, even to myself, that it’s hard for me to take myself seriously when I hurt or to believe that others will take me seriously.
When the doctor in the ER told us that it was appendicitis, there was a tiny corner of my mind that was relieved. Not only because it meant there was a solution, but because that little girl who cried wolf actually had a wolf to show for it this time! I had been dreading the feelings I would have if they sent me away with a diagnosis of gas pains and the knowledge that I’d messed up our vacation for nothing.
When it was all over, that same part of my mind hoped that the experience would help to show that I wasn’t the person I had been when it comes to pain anymore. That I don’t seek help or attention lightly anymore. Perhaps I thought this would heal some of the frustration I must have caused.
I don’t know. What is clear to me is that I must deal with this baggage and reach a place of balance around getting medical help when I need it. It’s not okay for me to endanger my health or neglect an injury out of some need for atonement! Right now I am having trouble with my shoulder; the physical therapy has not helped and it has worsened considerably in the past month. I have finally gone back to my doctor to get some imaging done–and I feel guilty about it.
There is no need for this. This is destructive. Showing a lack of love and care for my body will not wipe out one iota of the past. I need to balance duty to myself and to others. Balance the need to make amends for past behavior with the humility to know how much I can do without making things worse again.
Balance, balance, balance! Will this quest for balance in recovery ever end?
(Spoiler alert: NO.)
(Well, technically yes, but the rest of life also ends then.)