Two months ago, I stopped drinking alcohol. No more delicious sip of Petite Syrah, no refreshing mouthful of Herradura margarita. At the same moment, I surrendered caffeine to Holy Mother Durga and her 8-armed, weapon-wielding, demon-slaying ferocity.
I needed every bit of her.
But it’s not the lack of brain-altering that pairs so nicely with a glass of 2007 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, nor the absence of the resplendent neurological buzz that comes with that first smile of morning coffee that is so difficult to bear. It is the staying in each moment without reprieve that really has my lizard mind yanking at its leash. Before February 15, whether I actually ended up popping a cork and enjoying the very ritual that is so romantically fulfilling when drinking wine, I could escape painful, boring or confrontational moments throughout the day by the mere envisioning of that first sip of tannic respite massaging my taste buds.
“Just get through this day,” I would say to myself. “There’s a comfy chair in front of the TV, next to the liquor cabinet, waiting for you at home and a more-than-decent Dutcher Crossing 2005 Proprieter’s Reserve inside.” The thought of it, even still, transports me.
I’d try to accelerate time, pushing through to the next moment, the hopefully better moment, with a cup of dark roast organic, single-origin coffee. Lurching and jumping through the day like a monkey across a river with erratically placed stepping stones.
So why now deny myself of what I had come to view as some of “life’s pleasures”? The story goes back, again, to the Big Bang of my becoming a Type 1 diabetic, that explosion of time and space into smithereens from which my life seems to have begun.
The day after I woke from a diabetic coma, at age 14, 42 years ago, a nurse came into my room in the hospital with a syringe, a vial of saline solution and an orange.
“This is it,” I thought to myself. “This is where I learn to give myself shots for the rest of my life.”
(I’ve always had a penchant for dramatic self-conscious narration.)
“We’re going to practice giving shots to this orange,” said Nurse Betsy. “It’s pretty close to what your actual subcutaneous layer of skin feels like.” I knew what “subcutaneous” meant from diligently reading my “So, you have juvenile diabetes” cartoon book.
I obediently pulled back the plunger of the syringe, filled it with the fake insulin and followed Nurse Betty’s instructions like a good little juvenile diabetic as I filled the syringe then tapped it to bring any bubbles to the top, and pushed them out the end of the needle.
No bubbles, all clear, 15 units. Check, check, check.
“A big bubble can kill you if it gets into your blood stream and makes its way to your heart,” she said. “But most bubbles are too small for that and you are also going to aspirate before injecting the insulin to make sure you haven’t hit a vein. Remember, what kind of injection are you giving yourself?”
“Subcutaneous,” I said. My tone was “like…no duh!” I might have been a recovered coma patient but I had not lost my teenage know-it-all attitude.
Nurse Betsy frowned a bit, then quickly prepared another syringe, her dexterous fingers nimbly expressing her competency as it seemed to be locked and loaded in a second or two.
“Now, watch carefully,” she said, as she jabbed the half inch needle into the orange. “You can pinch up some fat to inject into if you need.”
She gave me the nurse once-over, her brown eyes peeking over her plastic-rimmed reading glasses.
“And you WILL need. Now, I’m pulling back on the plunger…just a little bit…to see if there is any blood. No blood, see? Just clear. That means it’s safe to inject. Just a steady push, not too fast or slow and…see! It’s over.”
She must have looked at me for my reaction but I was lost in my head, my heart beating, tears welling up in my eyes.
This? This every day, 3 to 4 or 5 or more times a day? For the rest of my life? How could I possibly do this? What had I possibly done to deserve this?
No, please, please, I’ll be good. I promise, I’ll be good! Just please not this. My mind recalled getting into trouble for being involved in a building block war with my brother and me versus our babysitter. Mom and Dad coming home to little specks of color all over the hallway walls. As soon as I saw their faces, full of shock, disbelief and anger, I ran up to my room, holding my butt with both hands and shut the door, pleading as I went, “no spanking, no spanking, no spanking!”
That’s what I felt like now, about to give myself my first shot.
But my bargaining, my pleading, my begging “no, please, no”, was unheard. God had already passed his judgement. It was done. If I wanted to keep on living in this body, in this life, on this planet, this was the way it had to be.
My sentence. My karma. My fate.
I halfheartedly stuck the syringe into the orange, aspirated and pushed in the saline.
“Do you want to try again?” asked Nurse Betsy.
“Yes,” I said. “But on my thigh, for real.”
Moments later, I am staring at the spot on my leg where I am about to plunge in the needle that will deliver 15 units of Regular mixed with 20 of NPH insulin, a combination of fast acting, to work on the hospital breakfast I am about to eat and slow-release insulin to keep my blood sugar down over the next 4-8 hours.
I hold the syringe above that target on my leg.
Nurse Betsy has already shown me again how fill the syringe, wipe the injection area with an alcohol swab, and pinch some skin, ready to pierce at an a 45 degree angle to get to that subcutaneous sweet spot.
Now, all I have to do is jab it in.
One of those time-frozen moments when everything stops and will must overcome inertia. Like diving off a cliff.
A voice in my head says, “Pretend it’s not you.”
But it is me, it is me, it is me, I think. And I’m about to pay the price for whatever I did to deserve this my having to jab a needle into my leg, or die.
Maybe I could get rich and pay a nurse to live with me and give me shots. I think. I am 14, my mom is broke, my dad is working 4 jobs to try and keep up.
Maybe later on that idea.
My leg is still there. The needle still poised.
“Just pretend!” The now-louder voice implores.
And that’s exactly what I do. I pretend my leg is not me, as I poke the needle through this object in front of me that I hold in my fingers, that I see with my eyes, safely walled up from the vantage point of my head.
The voice says, “see, I told you!” As I pull the plunger back to make sure I have not hit a vein then inject the cloudy liquid into my thigh.
I pull out the syringe.
The nurse and the voice in my head say in unison, “that wasn’t so bad, was it?”
Nurse Betsy pats me on the shoulder and adds, “you’re so brave!”
Not a bad reward, getting to keep on living and being acknowledged for my bravery.
It is a workable strategy for living and getting love: pretend I’m not in my body.
The doctor with whom I work now, in my 56-year-old body, is a “medical intuitive”. The consultation she gave me the day I stopped drinking alcohol and caffeine shook me to my core with the truth she told me.
I am not well. I have been a Type 1 diabetic for 42 years and the ravages of that disease, combined with the choices in lifestyle I had made had wreaked havoc on my body. And this tactic of escaping my body had not started that moment when I gave myself my first shot. It had been a strategy since shortly after my birth, when I nearly left the planet at just a few weeks old, needing a complete blood transfusion to be kept alive due to “hyperbilirubinemia“.
“You have always had one foot out the door,” she said. “If things got too painful, too difficult, or even just hard to handle, you could always just return to the other side.”
My mind flashed to all the times in my life I have brushed with death. Although not always pleasant, each visit to the threshold of mortality had been transformational, and felt like a viable alternative to whatever pain I was suffering at the time.
My diabetic coma. Blacking out on the way home from a bar at 3 in the morning and waking up with my car about to pummel into a Carl’s Jr., swerving away only to hit the median on the street, park my car in the parking lot and walk home in the rain. Falling asleep with low blood sugar and being resuscitated by Rachelle as I plummeted to a bg of 24. That episode, only a few months ago was the night my mother died, a full moon shone out our window and I felt the pull of it, and what surely was my mother, even though I had not yet received the news from Uncle Dennis of her passing. Rachelle, her Taurus, earth-goddess energy and soul said, “No”. She held onto my spirit, spoon-fed me honey and refused to let me go.
That night, I experienced the peace of the final moments before death. I really don’t know what happens afterwards but I can say, unequivocally, clearly remembering it even now, that the moment of death itself is so beautiful, so peaceful and so full of love that, although my ego still wants to go on surviving, my soul is always ready.
And therein lies my conundrum. I am in love with death, or at least the possibility of it as a valid means of escape.
My empathic, functional MD, was now telling me, “The result of your strategy is that you have left your body. And the outcome of that is your current health.”
I wanted to say, “but I’m a diabetic, it’s not my fault.” But I didn’t because I knew what she was saying was true. I had spent years denying my body, doing the best I could to live with it but not be in it, always ready to escape it should it should whatever I was feeling become too difficult. My easy out had been outed.
“What do I do now?” I asked, ready to hear anything.
“This is not going to be easy,” she said. “Think of it like renovating a home that has not been inhabited for many years. The results of neglect, weather, the ravages of time, have taken their toll. It’s not just a matter of new paint and dusting. You are going to have to get back to the foundation and rebuild yourself.”
She gave me a list of supplements, dietary advice, and then the edict about caffeine and alcohol, along with the familiar, “one day at a time” motto that I previously might have mocked but now hold onto like a life jacket.
Our call ended with me in tears, thankful that I could be told, and tell, the truth about how I had been living for all these years. It was not guilt or shame I felt. It was letting go of hiding shame I experienced.
And now, as I consider what is true right now, and whether I might have a sip of coffee this morning, or a glass of wine this weekend, I feel into my body, my grateful body. I am indeed rebuilding, healing. Each positive food choice is another layer of concrete. Each time I exercise is a stronger beam set in. Each time I feel the wind on my face, the sun on my back or the rain in my hair, it is my body feeling the world–and in the feelings of joy, sadness, contentment or fear, the rebuilding slowly, steadily occurs.
I am moving back in.
Death might bring the eternal ecstasy of bliss. But along with feeling my body, I am also feeling the world through it. It is a good place. And sometimes, when I am fully present, here and now, it feels like where I’ve wanted to be all along.
It feels like heaven.