The Broken Tooth

In 2018, one of my molars cracked. After a number of weeks of increasing pain, just a week and a half before my scheduled dental appointment, I found myself rushing from dentist to endodontist to the oral surgeon who took that baby right out. Back at home, I swished too hard during a salt-water rinse which, turns out, led to dry socket which, turns out, is extraordinarily painful. Like, the most physical pain that I can recall ever having experienced before. And I’ve had a partially collapsed lung.

I turned toward numbing. I pumped myself full of pain meds on a meticulously-tracked schedule. I did more streaming that week than the rest of the year combined. I cried. And yet the pain was unrelenting.

One night, awoken yet again by the throbbing, I left my bed and went to the couch where I sat cross legged, spine straight, hands palm up and open in a gesture of willingness, openness, readiness. I stopped numbing (an old, long-standing habit) and turned toward new tools, collected in the years since I had become a coach. I stopped numbing and turned toward the pain with intensity and focus.

I stopped numbing and instead practiced accepting the existence of the pain.

I focused all of my attention on the pain, allowing myself to notice that it all emanated from this one tiny corner of my mouth while the rest of my body continued to be pain-free.

I listened to the gremlins that were emboldened by the pain, the one that said I should have treated the tooth sooner, the one that said I should be ashamed of letting the pain show, that I should be more stoic.

I practiced accepting the existence of the gremlins, too.

As I engaged with these practices, these newer tools in my life skills kit, I noticed the pain shrink. Not disappear, but shrink significantly; not for good, but for long, relieving moments. As it did, I noticed my awareness expand, bringing clarity that there was a time before this excruciating pain and there would be a time after it. The panic that accompanied the pain ebbed as the awareness grew.

By using the tools, my experience of this profound pain transformed from something that was happening to me into something that I was experiencing, something I could learn from, something I could use in pragmatic ways. I had learned to be more responsive to tooth pain, sure, and I had learned more about the Gremlins of Stoicism and Gremlins of Self-Denigration that had long been quietly chipping away at my sense of well-being. Both of those learnings were actionable.

So, why oh why am I talking dentistry on my About page? Because after 30+ years of mostly shrinking into shadows and actively avoiding engaging too deeply in life – after 30+ years of imagining that I could find enough fulfillment in life by avoiding discomfort and taking the meager opportunities that remained – everything transformed as I gathered these tools and started turning toward pain, discomfort, fear and doubt.

And here’s the biggest surprise, to me, at least: While laughter has always been a big part of my life, the more I turn toward pain, discomfort, fear and doubt, the more access I have to joy and pleasure and love, for myself and others. The more space and presence I allow the pain, the more space and presence appears for the play and silliness and connection.

It will be the same for you. I can show you the way.

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