In the dark hours, pacing up and down the worn wooden floor of the upstairs room in my 1922 bungalow, complaint could come easy.
You know me: you read my words, you dance in and out of the days of my life. The losses of the last two-and-a-half years have been chronicled over coffee, tea, pakora, telephone lines. I do not need to recite them here. I spent 2014 denying those losses. I filled the craters in my life with tears and nearly drowned in them. When 2015 dawned, I wrapped myself in good intentions, letting its gauze soak away the seepage of my wounds.
But now a new year has come to offer me a chance for a new perspective, to sit in another chair and see the room from another viewpoint. In the days and weeks of this third year of my journey, I can focus on the gains instead of the losses.
And one gain stands out today, perhaps underscored by my twilight battle with the burning waves of jagged neuro-transmission that kept me awake most of this past night.
I’m so proud that I have gained what I call ‘sobriety’: complete freedom from dependence on prescription “painkillers”. I use quotation marks with apologies to Strunk & White. Anyone who has resorted to narcotics for any length of time knows they neither kill nor relieve pain. They detach you from all feeling. They latch their insidious hold on the user, even the user who stays within the confines of the doctor’s order for the drug’s use. One who skates just the other side of the allowed dosage, as I did, fares much worse.
Ironically, the doctor who first gave me a narcotic drug for pain also misdiagnosed my mother’s uterine cancer as “female troubles” and prescribed Premarin, a known aggravant of uterine cancer. He hastened her death. He gave me Darvon for menstrual cramps at age 12, setting me on the slippery slope to drug dependence. Well-meaning neurologists, orthopedic surgeons, and family doctors treated my neurological pain with Valium, muscle relaxants, Percoset, and Vicodin. I spent forty-five years numbing myself. I have been clean for twenty-six months, every day of the journey you have taken with me, this “year” which seems to never end.
At 6:30 a.m. tomorrow, 24 February 2016, I board a plan for northern California. I have scheduled five days of retreat, first in Marin County and then in the second place on this planet at which I have felt completely at peace, Pigeon Point on the coast just south of Pescadero. I have Catherine Kenyon to thank for introducing me to the beautiful, serene hostel at which I will spend three days and two nights this week. My soul seems to reach a state of complete quietude on the shores of the Pacific, in the soothing air with its tinge of sea salt.
In those five days, I hope to prepare myself to move forward in this journey. If my healing has stages, this year might be the most intense because I have embraced the direction in which I travel. I have had gains; I have had losses. My balance sheet sits before me, a Venn diagram of my strengths and weaknesses; my successes and my monumental failures.
I will not crumble it and toss it into the ocean, nor light it afire to waft through the clean air to be borne to my ancestors. Instead, I will put that balance sheet in a file folder, and the folder in a drawer, and I will slowly close that drawer. Ten months from now, when I tally the accounts for 2016, I can revisit that balance sheet for the last two years. I expect to have made a profit, though one measured by my own standards.
It’s the twenty-third day of the twenty-sixth month of My Year Without Complaining. I might not write again until I am settled somewhere with a soothing cup of tea or a bracing fruit smoothie at hand. But know that life continues.