Embracing Emotions

A cloud settles over Wind Mountain, near Home Valley , Washington. Photo by Tim Graves
A cloud settles over Wind Mountain, near Home Valley , Washington. Photo by Tim Graves

I found myself with multiple feelings on the three-month anniversary of my surgery.

As I journeyed home from climbing Wind Mountain in the Columbia River Gorge, I felt a sense of accomplishment. I have made remarkable progress in the three months following the removal of my right colon. My body is not only healing, I am getting back into shape. Two and one-half weeks ago before climbing Wind Mountain, I thought I might collapse before the first switchback in my attempt to climb Dog Mountain (See Perseverance.)

Unexpectedly my thoughts turned to those-days in the hospital and recuperating at home. The surgery. The pain. The weakness. The sense of vulnerability. My feelings of confidence and accomplishment were gone and I felt, I felt…

I felt panic! It was a guttural, involuntary response to my experiences of surgery.

I lived in those feelings for awhile. I allowed myself to be immersed in my feelings. Then, like the comforting fog and damp drizzle I’d hiked in on Wind Mountain, my feelings of confidence settled on my skin, clouded my eyeglasses, and seeped into my bones again.

Fog hangs over Wind Mountain in the Columbia River Gorge. Photo by Tim Graves
Fog hangs over Wind Mountain in the Columbia River Gorge. Photo by Tim Graves

Both my feelings of those-days and my feelings of accomplishment are mine. I own those feelings. They are me. They are mine. They are legitimate. I choose to embrace them for my emotions are God-given.

Our core emotions are of divine origin. Created in the image of God, our emotions tell us something about the nature of the Divine. It is in our passion that the Holy Spirit teaches, nudging us to grow and become more honest with self and the one I call God.

Just as climbing Wind Mountain — a mountain once used by native peoples for Spirit Quests — strengthens my muscles, being present with all my emotions bolsters me spiritually and emotionally. It builds self-awareness, spiritual-awareness, and empathy for others. And so I allow the Spirit to do the Spirit’s work in me.

I choose to grow.

___

This is the ninth of multiple posts about my experiences of surgery and recovery following a colonoscopy.

Related Posts

God Hides God’s Face From Me! May 20, 2014
Unnatural May 21, 2014
Out of Chaos May 27, 2014
No Big Deal May 29, 2014
Mortality June 3, 2014
Wiped Memories June 6, 2014
Perseverance June 10, 2014
Scars June 19, 2014
Embracing Emotions July 4, 2014

Why do I write about this topic?

Following my surgery I had a myriad of feelings. A myriad of web searches to find the stories of others, perhaps to validate my own emotions, left me empty handed. And, so, I write these posts to process my very real feelings and in the hopes that someone else finds them useful following their surgery and recovery.

Wiped Memories

Horror.

Like a science fiction storyline, my memories were wiped from my brain. All I can do is feel a sense of disgust and fright.

Apparently, it wasn’t enough that the strange hands had moved inside the walls of my abdominal cavity or that things were placed into every orifice of my body while I was drugged. They — those I’d feared in my narcotic painkiller-induced paranoia —  had shaved parts of my body that should not be shaved. Even slicing my very body open and removing part of a vital organ was not enough of a violation of my person.

My very thoughts have been taken from me. I cannot trust my own memories. Photo by Tim Graves
My very thoughts have been taken from me. I cannot trust my own memories. Photo by Tim Graves

My very thoughts have been taken from me. I cannot trust my own memories.

***

Weeks after the surgery in which my right colon was removed, I had an epiphany during a discussion with my wife. In a moment, I realized I had been conflating my experience of the surgical suite before my colonoscopy with another surgical suite before my two-day later colectomy.

Horror descended.

Try as I might, I could not pull up those memories. I’d been doing a mashup of two events in my head, believing them to be accurate memories, for nearly three weeks. Ten-weeks post-op, I still cannot find those memories.

They are gone.

This is not the kind of memory loss that can be jarred by others who were present. It doesn’t feel the same as walking into the next room and forgetting why you went into the room. When I walk into another room, I immediately know that I’ve forgotten. I do not replace a lost thought with another.

I imagine a cavernous space in my head.

In a typical reaction to certain kinds of anesthesia, surgical patients often lose memories before and after administration of the necessary medicine. All this was explained to me by the anesthesiologist before I left pre-op. Or so my wife assures me.

My knowledge that I’ve endured this type of memory loss frolics with doubts about trusting my own mind. It holds hands with my other feelings of personal violation following major surgery. It’s not that I’d have wanted to have my belly cut open with a local, but…

But it is unnerving to have lost a memory so fully and completely. My humanity has been violated.

***

I thought again yesterday about the nature of memory. Memory is a subjective view of an experience. It is fickle. Trying to catch a memory can be as elusive as the butterfly that flits from bloom to bloom.

As I struggled to climb Dog Mountain, I was reminded a little late of the trail’s steepness. Dog Mountain is a popular Washington State hiking destination along the Columbia River just west of Hood River, Oregon. The difficulty of this trail flooded back into my consciousness through straining muscles and heavy breathing. Either I was in better shape when I last climbed Dog Mountain or I’d forgotten the challenge of the ascent. Both are distinct possibilities.

Photo by Tim Graves
Much too close to the trailhead, I found a rock to catch my breath upon. Photo by Tim Graves

Much too close to the trailhead, I found a rock to catch my breath upon. I pulled out the small book in which I jot down notes and thoughts when hiking.  Turning through the pages I read what I’d written when I last hiked this path.

“No vistas [yet]. Just heavy breathing and ears filling up,” I wrote.

In a moment, memories of that hike returned. Yes, I was in better shape last time but even in better shape, I remembered. I recognized the pilgrimage as “challenging.”

Though memory can be fickle, a few written words and my thoughts returned. Details of that particular journey were fresh.

I thought about other times when I remembered forgotten things. Sometimes, the re-membering is triggered by a place, a smell, a song, or a similar experience.

Journeying to the promise of wildflowers at the mountain’s peak, I will learn to embrace this ambiguity. Photo by Tim Graves
Journeying to the promise of wildflowers at the mountain’s peak, I will learn to embrace this ambiguity. Photo by Tim Graves

Often re-membering comes about in the midst of relationship. We need one another to maintain our memories and stories. Our stories are prompted when another begins to talk about that-time-when. Usually, we each recall only a part or single perspective. Together two of more folks piece together the most complete memory.

I typically find comfort in re-membering. Even remembering difficult times holds some comfort as the distance of time allows a kind of self-reflection from which I can learn and grow. I never know which memories will hold potential for enlightenment. The tiniest of memories sometimes hold significant revelations.

***

The memories removed from my mind by anesthesia will not return. I have been robbed of any potential learning and growth from those moments.

The horror of wiped memories is real.

As I mark the ten-week anniversary of my surgery, feelings of violation and being out-of-control of my own thoughts remains. Lurking just beneath the surface, tears of loss and invasion of my body and mind threaten to burst forth when I think about it.

Still.

Still, time has lessened the intensity of the trauma. The rawness of my shock has become its own memory. The memory that something is missing which was intimately mine, my very thoughts, has begun to open itself up to more than emotional outrage.

In my own personal science fiction drama no cure that miraculously returns my memories will be found. This is my reality. Though my body and mind were violated, I owe my health and, in the long term, even my life to the removal of my right colon.

Photo by Tim Graves
As the rawness of shock continues to fade, I will continue to put one foot in front of the other as I climb up the mountain. Photo by Tim Graves

The feelings of loss, dismay, and violation are mine now. The ambiguity of not-knowing — of not remembering — belongs to my life journey.

As the rawness of shock continues to fade, I will continue to put one foot in front of the other as I climb up the mountain. Climbing the steep trail, my muscles may ache and I may wonder. Journeying to the promise of wildflowers at the mountain’s peak, I will learn to embrace this ambiguity.

It is mine.

My heart pounds in my chest  because death’s terrors have reached me. Fear and trembling have come upon me; I’m shaking all over. Psalm 55:4-5 CEB 

___

This is the sixth of multiple posts about my experiences of surgery and recovery following a colonoscopy.

Related Posts

God Hides God’s Face From Me! May 20, 2014
Unnatural May 21, 2014
Out of Chaos May 27, 2014
No Big Deal May 29, 2014
Mortality June 3, 2014
Wiped Memories June 6, 2014
Perseverance June 10, 2014
Scars June 19, 2014

Why do I write about this topic?

Following my surgery I had a myriad of feelings. A myriad of web searches to find the stories of others, perhaps to validate my own emotions, left me empty handed. And, so, I write these posts to process my very real feelings and in the hopes that someone else finds them useful following their surgery and recovery.

 

No Big Deal

“It’s no big deal,” I said.

My first colonoscopy was performed on a Wednesday. The doctor was concerned enough with the results that he scheduled a colectomy — an invasive abdominal surgery — two days later. No big deal, I said. I even objected when my wife suggested that I would have to cancel an eye exam the following week. “I can make it,” I said.

Several things were happening when I denied the seriousness of the news the

This is a photo in my pre-op room the Friday morning before my right colon was removed. Photo by Maggie Sebastian
In the pre-op room the Friday morning before my right colon was removed, I still did not exhibit (or feel) intense anxiety. Looking at the photo now, however, I feel some anxiety. Sometimes not-knowing is bliss. Photo by Maggie Sebastian

doctor gave me following my colonoscopy. One, I was starving. My mind was not at its peak. At that point in time I had not had solid food beyond clear liquids for three days. I was functioning on about 500 calories a day; there are only so many cups of vegetable broth you can stomach.

Second, I think I knew at some level. I heard the words the doctor said. I even heard and intellectually accepted the seriousness of abdominal surgery of any kind. With a day-after-tomorrow surgery appointment, I did not have much time to process what was happening. Though, my wife and I talked some about the possibility that the biopsy following surgery would indicate cancer, we had very little time to discuss it. I had life-routines to reschedule and bow out of before surgery.

There were a few quiet tears that Wednesday evening as my wife and I pondered the unknown. It was my son Isaac, having flown in from Oakland to be with us, who raised the question most directly with me the next day. His pastoral tone was reassuring. He allowed me to entertain and discuss as much as I was comfortable with discussing. So, while I did not totally ignore the possibilities, I did not yet have time to explore in depth the magnitude of what I was facing.

I think my mind was protecting me. Human psychology sometimes builds up our acceptance of reality in small bits over time in much the way physical exercise gradually builds up muscle tone. Just as I had an unexpressed just-beneath-the-surface expectation that the colonoscopy would find a problem, I had an expectation that all would be well. Though it is irrational, I trusted my instinct that there was no cancer.

Finally, I think our life-lens matters. That is, the lens through which we view events in our lives colors what those events mean to us. My life lens is colored in hope and love. Even if the worst were to happen there are several things I knew:

  • The Divine would never leave me. My experience of the one that I call God is pure love, is non-coercive, never throws “tests” in our path, or punishes sins with health problems or hurricanes. God is always with us. God feels our pains, our joys, and all that we experience with a depth. Process theologian Monica A. Coleman describes God as, “knowing us from the inside out.”
  • I am beloved. My wife of nearly thirty-five years is my Imzadi, my soul-mate, and my other half. Whatever I would learn about my health in the coming weeks I knew to the marrow of my bones that she and I would face it together.
  • My son, who I told, “you don’t have to come” loves me. He would not only take care of me but he would ground his mother, my wife, by his mere presence. Whatever was to come, his love is of divine origin even should I be diagnosed with cancer and face chemotherapy.
  • My daughter Jessie, who also rallied round us with the advent of this no-big-deal event, would make me laugh. My beloved first-born, Jessie, “gets me” in a way that Isaac and Maggie do not. Perhaps this is because our core personalities have many similarities. Not only did I anticipate her skillful use of humor when it was needed, I knew that she and I would have deep conversations when we were ready. I also knew that she would motivate me. (She was the first one to motivate me to take a significant walk in the hospital hallway post-operatively.)

My life lens and these fundamental knowings, gave me the luxury to slowly come to terms with the fears, anxieties, and significance of the surgery I awaited. These knowings allowed me to lament that God Hides God’s Face From Me without fear of retribution. My family’s loving presence, their patience with my denial, my perception of the divine, and my psychology allowed me to come to terms with my reality on, well, on my own terms.

___

This is the fourth of multiple posts about my experiences of surgery and recovery following a colonoscopy.

Related Posts

God Hides God’s Face From Me! May 20, 2014
Unnatural May 21, 2014
Out of Chaos May 27, 2014
No Big Deal May 29, 2014
Mortality June 3, 2014
Wiped Memories June 6, 2014
Perseverance June 10, 2014
Scars June 19, 2014

Why do I write about this topic?

Following my surgery I had a myriad of feelings. A myriad of web searches to find the stories of others, perhaps to validate my own emotions, left me empty handed. And, so, I write these posts to process my very real feelings and in the hopes that someone else finds them useful following their surgery and recovery.

Unnatural

Unnatural
Photo by Tim Graves
Cottonwood Canyon State Park, Condon, Oregon. Photo by Tim Graves

There is a feeling that comes over me when I’m hiking. Even in the extremely short post-operative shuffles that I’ve been taking each of the last three weeks.

I feel connected. I feel literally grounded to creation and the creator that flows through each of us — butterfly, blade of grass, snake, and human. Sometimes I pause in my hiking and just sit for a while and take in the sounds, smells, and images around me.

I feel a part of nature. I experience the divine around me and within me. I sense connections between myself and the tiny bug crawling on the flower.

As I hiked through Cottonwood Canyon yesterday, that feeling of connectedness came over me. The warmth of the sun and exercise — no matter that my pace was still slow — resulted in feeling overdressed. I slipped off my hoody, tying it around my waist. I untucked my t-shirt and flapped it so a cool breeze touched my sweat moist skin.

Bam! That pesky feeling consumed me.

I felt tainted and unnatural. Looking at my incision site, I felt distant from nature. With the neat scar, with its train track motif above my belly button, and the still-scabby area (the result of infection) below, I felt different than that which surrounded me. I felt unnatural.

I feel unnatural.

Photo by Tim Graves
Cottonwood Canyon State Park, Condon, Oregon. Photo by Tim Graves

That feeling remains and twists itself into a spiral with feelings of bodily violation. I am still grappling with what it means to have foreign hands within me removing my right colon. I perceive and imagine a cavernous emptiness within my abdominal cavity.

I am still struggling with the feeling of violation upon having things inserted into every opening of my body while I was asleep. In the course of screening and healing me, a camera was inserted into my anus, a tube was slid down my throat, and even my urine function was controlled through a catheter tube.

The violation went beyond natural openings in my body. I have two tiny laparoscopic scars one on the left at my waist line and the other just above my pubic bone. The most noticeable, however, is the 2-1/2 inch opening (I measured) that was cut from above my naval to below it. All these things were done to my body while I was asleep, while I had no chance to give or deny permission.

Photo by Tim Graves
Cottonwood Canyon State Park, Condon, Oregon. Photo by Tim Graves

And, though, I owe my very health and life to the doctors and other medical staff who cared for me, there is a sense of trauma that I feel that I am only beginning to sort through. Much of the time I repress the feelings to enable me to cope with recovery and resuming my daily routines. It is in the quiet moments that horror washes over me! My body twinges or tightens up in an effort to protect itself from that which occurred nearly eight weeks prior. Sometimes the tears come slowly and quietly. Other times I sob horrified at what my mind and body remember and imagine.

The medical staff to whom I feel a great gratitude have nearly completed their task of healing my body but it is the Divine manifest in nature, in the routines of life, in friendships, and in those who love me to whom my further healing depends. It is the Holy Spirit that gently holds my hand, wipes my tears, and patiently listens to my laments to whom I turn now.

Photo by Tim Graves
Cottonwood Canyon State Park, Condon, Oregon. Photo by Tim Graves

And, though being among the dragonfly and sage offer a healing salve, I still have a way to go in accepting myself — my very body — as natural anymore. But I feel hope.

My life experiences thus far, nature, and the narratives of healing, deaths, and resurrections of my faith assure me that I will not always feel this way. In my becoming I have many partners. In my becoming what is to be, I journey with the divine manifest in each creature, spring flower, and snowflake.

I lie down, sleep, and wake up
    because the Lord helps me. Psalm 3:5 CEB

___

This is the second of multiple posts about my experiences of surgery and recovery following a colonoscopy.

Related Posts

God Hides God’s Face From Me! May 20, 2014
Unnatural May 21, 2014
Out of Chaos May 27, 2013
No Big Deal May 29, 2014
Mortality June 3, 2014
Wiped Memories June 6, 2014
Perseverance June 10, 2014
Scars June 19, 2014

Why do I write about this topic?

Following my surgery I had a myriad of feelings. A myriad of web searches to find the stories of others, perhaps to validate my own emotions, left me empty handed. And, so, I write these posts to process my very real feelings and in the hopes that someone else finds them useful following their surgery and recovery.

 

 

 

Cryin’ in the English Countryside

My wife woke up this morning describing a nightmare. Our daughter, who is twenty-two today, was driving around the English countryside lost and crying.She called my wife for directions on her cell phone as she tried to find her way.

This is the quintessential parental angst dream. Our child is in need and we can’t get to him or her.The back story is that our daughter is currently in England, quite competently caring for her adult self, and, yet, she is so very far away.What if something happened?

It occurs to me today—on my eldest’s twenty-second birthday—that the issues have not really changed only the locales are different.When our children are small, we worry that something could happen to them in their cribs at night.And so we have electronic baby monitors or we keep their cribs in our room.As they get older we worry that they will get injured at child care by an aggressive child and so we pick the child care center carefully or we keep them away from other children entirely.When our children begin school we worry what they will learn from others, so we struggle to trust that our values learned at home will carry them through or we monitor their every action.As they leave for college and they become adults, we hover and make decisions for them or we let go while providing a safety net.

And we worry.

We worry about the present.We worry if our parenting is up to snuff.Heck, we even worry in our dreams as my wife did last night.My father tells me it never changes; he worries about us today.

No wisdom today.Just an observation about reality.