What started as a tooth extraction turned into a gremlin smack-down

See, there was this tooth. A molar, actually, and whole bunch of pain. It’s a long story but the punch line was spending last Thursday with a dentist and then an endodontist and then an oral surgeon and finishing the day with one less molar. Hey presto – gone.

Like so many cures, it’s not a straight path from pain to relief. Instead, there’s the middle step of the pain of healing and, sometimes, that’s no more fun than the original pain. This is one of those times.

At some point on Friday, I felt a surge of pain intense enough to curl me into a ball in my sweetheart’s arms, crying and then sobbing. And then at some point after that, I realized that the prescription-grade ibuprofen had knocked the sharpest of the pain’s edges off and that my continued sobbing was no longer for physical pain but, rather, the emotional brand.

I have another gremlin voice, one I haven’t mentioned before because I hadn’t quite named it as such until Friday, one who arises when I’m sick or in pain to the point that it really shows. Unlike my other voices, which are mixed tapes of people and norms and the like, this gremlin is one specific person from my childhood, a person who shamed me for a variety of things, one of which was showing pain.

Lying there with that gremlin voice mocking me mercilessly, I realized I was crying because of the shame I felt for showing my pain so bluntly to Theresa. I was crying because I couldn’t not show that pain, no matter how stoic I tried to be.

It’s really tempting to blame the woman from my past for the shame she dished out. After all, my child self knew no better than to gulp it down.

Except, I can’t blame her anymore. I’m a 40-year-old woman who cut ties with that destructive force nearly a decade ago. This one is entirely on me now.

Accepting that responsibility, though, and working with it, is a process. In recent years, I’ve begun to offer myself reminders when I notice anger and blame arising – I remind myself that she was enacting her own pain when she behaved so poorly; I remind myself that she was doing the best she could with the internal resources, perspective, and baggage with which she was working.

These are the same beliefs I try to apply to all behavior I find problematic, including my own.

On Friday, I took the vulnerable step of sharing my realization with Theresa, and I really listened when she reiterated that she loves all of me, and that she sees no shame in tears. Not fighting her kindness in the midst of a gremlin smack-down was a big deal for me, friends.

I’m cautious on the always and never talk so I’ll just say that I find it highly unlikely that the woman who gave ammo to that gremlin voice will be a part of my life in the future. Even if she were to be, though, even if she were to come back with sincere apologies and a new her all shiny with kindness and compassion, she still wouldn’t have the power to undo the damage from the past.

It would still be up to me, and me alone, to let go of my own pain and anger.

Thing is, I think we tend to see forgiveness as a gift to the other person. That’s certainly how it’s portrayed in heartwarming movies.

But, really, forgiveness is the ultimate gift to ourselves. Rather than condoning bad behavior, it’s a way of giving ourselves permission to release the anger and bitterness, to dump that weight right off our shoulders and create more space for the warm, fuzzy, feel-goods like love and compassion.

I know it’s not that easy. Anger isn’t an overstuffed bookbag that we can just slough off. It’s more like one of those rigs that the battery people in the Matrix are hooked up to. It can take a lot of time and inner work to choose the red pill that leads to the reality of our responsibility and the imperfection of it all. That blue pill and its promise of the status quo is mighty tempting, and far less fulfilling. Be as gentle and patient with yourself as you can in the meantime.

I’ll be over here doing the same.