Tattoos and How They Relate to Chronic Pain

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20181204_210738I never imaged myself as someone who would ever a tattoo. I had nothing against tattoos; I didn’t see them as something I would do. The most significant reason being I use to be a total wimp about pain. It’s why my ears are only pierced once. It was fashionable to have your ears double pierced when I was a teenager, but I never could bring myself to do it. I was too afraid of the pain piercing would cause. If it hadn’t been for the fact that my ears were pierced when I was an infant, I probably wouldn’t have pierced ears. That wimpiness about pain is why I figured I would never have a tattoo done, no matter how gorgeous expression of individuality they were.

The joke was on me. It turns out; I had to get over my wimpiness where pain was concerned. I’ve come a long way since and I am a far cry from the girl, who use to freak out of the pain of getting a shot or blood drawn. Pain is now my constant companion. It’s been my bosom buddy for going on almost a decade. I have so many pain issues when I go into the doctor’s office; I have to break down my pain score by body part. “Well ma’am, my nerve pain is at eight on the pain scale today. However, my lower back pain is doing pretty well. It’s at a five.” I have learned how to live and thrive despite the pain. I take medication daily and utilize a whole host of therapies to help manage my chronic pain.

Dr. M, my beloved pain management doctor, who gave me my life back use to tell me that I had one of the most pragmatic outlooks concerning pain that he had ever come across in a patient. I accept that I will never be 100% pain-free. I recognize that no doctor is going to be able to cure me. I don’t want a cure or a miracle. All I want is for my pain to be manageable, to be bearable and still allow me to be a functioning mom and wife. I want to still be me.

I had lost myself in the two years between William’s birth and meeting Doc M.  My pain had gotten so bad that I didn’t feel like a functioning person. I didn’t feel like I could be a good mom or wife. I didn’t feel like I could keep going. I had lost hope. Then in August of 2016, I meet Doc M for the first time. He changed my life. He gave me my life back in May of 2017 when he put me on Belbuca. Belbuca was the miracle I needed. My pain is better managed than ever before. I spend a great deal of my time sitting at a three or four on the pain scale. For someone, who spent many years living at a seven or higher, that is amazing.

In September for my thirty-first birthday, I decided to get my first (and only) tattoo. I wanted a reminder that I was more than just my pain. I wanted something to remind me on my worst pain days that the choices which played a role in my health failing were worth it.  So I had my first tattoo done in gorgeous script on my left forearm. It reads, “Even after the pain & heartbreak, I’d make the same choice.

20181207_211054About halfway through having the tattoo done, I knew I had been wrong. It wasn’t going to be my only tattoo. I am not sure if I have adequate words to express the headiness that comes with having a tattoo done. It wasn’t overly painful (though I might not be the best judge of that.) and the endorphin high is spectacular. However, it was more than just that.  Having my tattoo done was therapeutic.

One could ask, “Why would I want to do something that was even remotely painful given that I live with constant pain.” But that is just it. I live in constant pain which I have no control over. Every night when I go to bed, I know there is a chance I will wake up in the morning in a flare. My pain will have climbed throughout the night and not respond well to my medication in the morning. I never know when I will be hit with a flare. Yes to a certain extent I can predict when one will come on, but I can’t predict how severe or how long it will last. Not only is there the uncertainty concerning flare-ups, but there is also always the fear I will wake up one day and not respond to my mediation; the chance that my body will grow tolerant and they will stop working. It’s happened before and likely will happen again.

But a tattoo? That is a pain I have total control over. If the discomfort (which is how I would describe the “pain”) gets to be too much, then I tell my artist, “Hey, I need a break.” and we take a break. I control how much it hurts by choosing the placement of the tattoo. I decide how long I sit for a tattoo. I control it all, and for someone, who doesn’t have any real control over her chronic pain, that is a powerful sense of ownership. Add in the endorphin high which comes with getting a tattoo done and it’s a surreal experience. I have spoken to several friends, who also suffer from chronic pain and have tattoos. They have all said the same thing that getting a tattoo is therapeutic for them.

I went to a get tattoo which would remind I was more than my pain. I came out having experienced control over pain for the first time. I learned something about myself sitting in that tattoo parlor. I learned of another way to look at my pain. I found an experience which was therapeutic. It allowed me to wrestle my pain in an entirely new manner. For the few hours, I was sitting for that tattoo, I pushed my chronic pain out of my mind and dealt with a pain I could control. The explanation seems so inadequate, but I lack the words to give justice to the experience. Despite the lack of words, I can say that getting a tattoo changed how I relate to my chronic pain at a fundamental level.

Earlier this week, I went in and had two new tattoos done. I had a memorial tattoo for my daddy put on my upper arm. Then behind my left ear, I had the Harry Potter chapter stars done in Ravenclaw blue. I don’t know what my next tattoo will be or when it will be done. However, I do know that there will most definitely be more tattoos in my future because as strange as it may sound there is something oddly therapeutic and satisfying about having control over pain even if it is just a temporary control.

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The Secret

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Family quarrels are bitter things.  They don’t go by any rules.  They’re not like aches or wounds; they’re more like splits in the skin that won’t heal because there’s not enough material.  ~F. Scott Fitzgerald

I have sat and debated on writing this post for longer then I care to admit. My therapist suggested that speaking writing about this could be helpful. Do I start at the point of who I am? The daughter of drug addicts and alcoholics; who has spent her life trying to run away from that trying to leave the bitter cycle of drugs, mental illness and addiction behind her. I would like to think I managed to succeed in that. I worked my entire life to be able to walk away from it- have something more.

However, my definition of leaving it behind wasn’t quite right. I figured as long as I was out of their house and living my own life I could keep them in my life. I figured that by living away from them I could keep their habits and unhealthy addictions from spilling into my world- from affect my children, husband and I. I thought I could keep them close but not their habits. I thought when I moved out and married I was leaving those habits behind. I thought I could be just a daughter and not the daughter enabling addicts by not speaking up. I was wrong. I was so terribly wrong and it took me five years to get that.

I was 8 years old when I became aware of my parents drug use. The knowledge came from the death of my regular babysitter. She was the oldest sister of a friend of mine. Her death was the first real defining moment of my life. She died in a car accident. They had drunk a couple beers and shared a joint beforehand. He ran a stop sign and they were hit by a van full of drunks. She died at the scene of the accident.

In the days that followed I heard the word marijuana mentioned several times and picked up that my parents smoked it and that it was different than the regular cigarettes they bought at the store. I wondered what it was but something told me it wasn’t something to ask about. So, I went to the library and learned all about it there.

I knew it had to stay a secret and that no one could know. I guard that secret for years- well into adulthood. I didn’t tell my parents that I knew about the drug use till I called my mother out on it when I was pregnant with Thomas. As I grew older I picked up on the fact that while marijuana was my parents’ drug of choice it was not the only drug they did.

At first the secret wasn’t hard to keep. It became much more difficult to keep as I got older and went to junior high and high school. At that point just about all my peers knew about drugs, knew what they smelled liked, looked like and what people looked like when they were high. It was at this point that I started inviting my friends over to my house less and less. I preferred to go over to their houses. It was less stressful for me because I didn’t have to worry about my parents’ secret getting out.

By the time I was in high school the only person; who stayed over regularly was my best friend Caitlin. I have known her practically my whole life. Until, I meet Mark she was the only person I ever told about my parents’ drug use. I can still remember telling her. When I get to the end of my confusion of the secret I had kept for so long she looked at me and simple shrugged and said, “I know. I’ve known for years.” and that was it.

I am a lot more open now about my parents’ lifestyle but in some ways I still feel like I am betraying them whenever I speak of it; like I have a responsibility to keep their secret. For so long I kept it- took on a responsibility that no child should ever have to take on. That it ended up defining me more than I would have ever guessed when I was 8 years old.