Morning arrives and with it, my toothache awakens. I went to the dentist yesterday. I am terrified of dentists -- well not actually the dentists but rather the feeling of the machinery on my teeth. Just having them cleaned is a nerve wracking experience -- I need drugs to get through it!
Going to the dentist is one of those life taking care of thingies I have avoided. You know, the things you need to do to be effective in your life and avoid -- and because I forget that avoidance strengthens fear, I put off doing the things I need to do to go through my days with peace of mind.
I've developed a new technique, however, to help me get over my avoidance -- I make a list of all the things I need to do, and then beside each I write out why I'm avoiding them. What I find is that generally, I'll have three of four excuses for not doing it -- and one of them is always connected to my fear of being reprimanded.
Where does that come from?
In writing about it in my journal, I believe it comes from long ago. One of those childhood beliefs that was cemented when the adults around me behaved a certain way, and I translated that to mean something much deeper, more damaging, more limiting than their intent.
I hated making mistakes. I also hated taking risks that left me at risk of being ridiculed. So, I buried my longings, my feelings, my fears beneath a belief that if I just don't think about it, it will go away.
"It" never goes away. Just like my toothache. It's an abscess under a gold crown on one of my molars that was put on years ago. I've had the abscess for years too. Just kept ignoring it. I had been scheduled to get it repaired when I was still with Conrad -- when it was first beginning to hurt. This was just towards the end of the relationship when there was no money to pay for such a delicate surgery -- and wouldn't you know it, that was my fault, of course.
I've had dental coverage since, but I've still avoided getting that tooth looked at. I'd apply balm to it every time it hurt and when someone told me a story about someone dying from an abscess, I'd laugh and say, how silly. You don't die from an abscessed tooth.
For me, avoiding the reality of an abscessed tooth was a way of avoiding having to deal with a painful situation -- not the physical pain, but rather the mental angst of dealing with something that is connected to Conrad.
And the memory of that date with the dentist returns. I'm sitting in the car outside the mall where the dentist's office is. Conrad is yelling at me to get out and go in. I know he hasn't got the money to pay. I know he's lied to the dentist who happens to be a friend of his. I don't want to go in. I don't want to face people who know him and will now know I am with him. I don't want to say anything to him about my fears -- If I doubt him, he'll just yell at me more.
It's really cold out. Freezing. I hear footsteps crunching on the snow and Conrad is at the passenger door of the car, pounding on the window. He yanks the door open and drags me out. "Don't be so ridiculous," he screams. "I made this appointment for you. Don't make me look stupid in front of my friend."
I go in. I pretend that I'm okay. I want to cry. They make an appointment for me to go to a specialist to get the abscess fixed. I cancel it. It's too expensive. Whenever my tooth hurts after that, Conrad reminds me of how he had everything set up for me to get my tooth fixed and I refused to go get the work done. I am so stupid. Such a coward. So dumb.
I breathe. That was then. This is now.
Yesterday, I went to the dentist and had a check-up. The dentist didn't yell at me. He didn't scold me for not having it looked at earlier. He poked and prodded. Carefully examined all my teeth and made recommendations. I have no cavities. I'm scheduled for a cleaning. I have an appointment with a specialist to get the abscess taken care of, and I can afford to pay for it myself. I have insurance.
The fear in my head was greater than the reality. Bigger than the truth. The fear of touching that memory from the past kept me entrenched in unhealthy behaviour. Like the sore spot in my mouth, every time I touched on the idea of getting it fixed, I awoke my fear of those memories burning at the back of my mind like tears pushing out from the back of my eyes. And so, I buried myself deeper and deeper beneath my fear of those memories. And with every avoidance of getting it done, I strengthened my fear of looking at what I feared and avoided going to get it done.
I breathe again. Strongly. Purely. Today, my tooth hurts. In a few weeks, I'll have it fixed and the pain will be gone -- and the memory will have floated away on the healing grace of breathing into the angst of what was in the there and then, troubling me in the here and now.
The question is: Where does memory from the there and then hold you back from doing what you need to do in the here and now to take care of you? Where does avoidance strengthen your fear of doing what it takes to live a peaceful life today?