The Colon Tiger

As Maggie drove me home following my procedure, I gulped water and munched on the snack of fruit I’d packed for this moment. Relief washed over me like baptismal waters. To be sure, the anesthesia contributed to my high but it was fueled by pure emotion.

Indischer_Maler_um_1650_(II)_001
By Deutsch: Indischer Maler um 1650 (II) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
For weeks I’ve experienced just-beneath-the-surface anxiety about my second colonoscopy. My first, three years ago, resulted in the removal of my right colon three days later. I was physically healthy then, too. I anticipated a clean bill of health and ended up out of work and recovering for months.

And, so, my anxiety before my second colonoscopy was about more than the dread of the prep. What if my healthy-self was not so healthy again? Had I run my last run? Would I be pulled out of work — work I love — to tend to my health? Was my body silently betraying me as it had seemed to three years ago?

Rational analysis of the events of three years ago (no cancer, aggressive treatment, full recovery) might lead to the expectation that I’d be munching fruit en route to pizza following my second colonoscopy but…

We experience life through our emotions.

Though my self-talk had me convinced all would be well, my emotional interpretation lies in wait for a time of weakness. It was like a patient tiger stalking prey. I was first aware of the pouncing emotional tiger during my 24-hours of fasting prior to the procedure.

My growling emotions exploited my hunger.

I re-felt all those feelings of three years ago as my growling tum begged for solid food. The fears, the dependency, the drug-induced paranoia, the physical weakness, and a profound sense of mortality scratched and clawed at my rationality.

The tiger’s irrationality clawed at me during colon prep, too. I cried over stupid shows and yelled at the dog. The morning of the procedure I picked a fight with my wife over an inconsequential matter. In hindsight, I can even see the tiger of previous emotions impacting my reactions to unrelated matters weeks ahead of time.

Our past experiences influence how we feel in the here and now. I worried not because it was a productive emotion but because I am my past experiences and emotions. Though my awareness of my past emotions can help me prevent them from controlling my behavior, I will never be fully free of my past. The absence of a right colon is part of who I am.

I’m more empathetic. I can hear the fears of others facing medical concerns more deeply. I feel with them in ways that I might otherwise not. That stalking emotional tiger doesn’t just claw and scratch. Sometimes it’s more like A.A. Milne’s Tigger who pounces out of the shadows joyfully knocks me over and licks my face. Even in its power over me, my emotional tiger loves me and helps me to love others more fully.

I would never have chosen the events of three years ago but I do not regret them. I think I’ll keep my colon tiger.

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 2, 2014
An Unexpected Onion, January 14, 2015
One Year Ago Today, March 28, 2015
The Long & Short of It, March 29, 2016
The Colon Tiger, October 19, 2017

Running from Embarrassment

Running from Embarrassment
retired
Retired. Photo by Tim Graves. Creative Commons License BY-NC-ND 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0/us/

 

Costumed in a kelly green tracksuit with yellow stripes down each leg and arm, I left our tiny apartment for a run. I must’ve been a sight! I didn’t get into running consistently in college despite that green polyester jogging suit.

 

My feelings of conspicuousness coupled with the memories of public school gym classes led me to abandon running in a few weeks. I associated exercise with being targeted, taunted, and ridiculed.

Running was a punishment in junior high school.

In my thirties and forties I dabbled in running, never getting serious. Still, I couldn’t help myself in my pre-dawn walks, often shifting to short runs. Because no one could see me, I was free to move my body. Those adolescent feelings of negative self-image die hard. Today, the taunting of my poor athletic skills and my husky childhood body still lurk within my psyche.

In the last few years, as my running became frequent and regular, I’ve begun to identify as a runner. That identity is qualitatively different than previously.

My aging body is certainly not qualitatively more graceful or attractive. You will not see me on the cover of Runners World. I am, however, healthier and more comfortable in my own skin. Major surgery coupled with the natural aging process, has changed my mind and spirit. I care less about what others think.

I am healthier and happier because I run.

Re-starting this kind of intensive activity in your fifties can and did lead to a few injuries. I listened to my body. They were minor and I recovered well. As I set personal goals, I challenge myself but am respectful of my limits. Despite craving the daily endorphin fix, I’ve learned my body cannot handle running more often than every thirty-six to forty-eight hours.

I choose to learn from the experiences of others, but I focus on health and self-care rather than anything close to competition. Maybe that’s why I do not participate in group running events. Others say they are about personal challenge, not competition. I have no reason to mistrust other runners but for now races do not appeal to me.

Runs are physical and spiritual journeys that mirror life. Some days I meet goals and challenges. Other days I struggle and run slower or not as far as I’d hoped. Some days I just want to go home.

Running is embracing the imago dei within myself. Created in God’s image, I have nothing to be embarrassed about the limits and skills of my body. My mind, body, and spirit are all facets of who I am.

And so I run. I sweat too much, my fat jiggles with each stride, and maybe I look a sight! This is me, as beloved by the divine as the fittest athlete. But run I must because it heals past hurts, strengthens me in the present, and fortifies hope for the future.

I am runner, watch me go.

The Long & Short of It

In the Dark
A Place to Reflect. Photo taken by Tim Graves at Silver Falls State Park, Oregon. Creative Commons License BY-NC-ND 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0/us/

It was longer, it is shorter now. My colon, that is. Two years ago my right colon was removed. That experience of surgery, hospitalization, and months of recovery changed me. Significantly.

On the second anniversary of my semi-colon, my incision said “hello” with a sensation that got my attention. It’s not unusual for it to speak to me, especially when I’m working my abdominal muscles at the gym.

I confess I like the hellos. They remind me of love, of vulnerability & mortality, and my humanity. The hellos remind me that caring for myself is not an extra. It is an essential.

I confess I like the hellos. They remind me of the love of my wife of nearly 37-years who took time off work to cook me mashed potatoes and help me manage the infected wound area. (It required gross things). They remind me of my children who ignored me when I told them they didn’t need to come see me.

I confess I like the hellos. They remind me of my vulnerability. There was something humbling and spiritual about being dependent: by medical staff in the hospital and my beloved at home. I experienced living fully human. To suffer and depend on others is part of how we are created. We are one family.

I confess I like the hellos because surgery & recovery changed me. I no longer give lip service to self-care. I take care of myself even when it is not convenient. I know — I believe & embrace — that I am important to myself, to others, and to the one I call God.  I start my day with the gym or I stop work early and lace up my running shoes. I hike in the Columbia River Gorge, the sage-marinated trails of eastern Oregon, or I hike the sacred Mt. Hood. I take rest days when my body and spirit needs them.

After two-years with a semi-colon, I am thankful for the “one permutation from cancer” growths that necessitated removal of my right colon. Though my life is still filled with personal challenges, personal mistakes, deep grief at times, I am blessed by the divine presence within creation and  each of us that nudges and encourages every rock and human being to be the most loving that we are capable of becoming.

____

This is the twelfth of multiple posts about my experiences of surgery and recovery following a colonoscopy and removal of my right colon.

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 2, 2014
An Unexpected Onion, January 14, 2015
One Year Ago Today, March 28, 2015
The Long & Short of It, March 29, 2016

 

 

Sticking with the Scar

Sticking with the Scar

One misjudgment and my car lost $300 of value, at least according to Kelly Blue Book. The bumper blemish that remains is so minor you’d barely notice especially on a 2-1/2 year old car. My dad once called this the cost of owning and driving a car.

I have options. I can choose to report the injury to my pride, letting my insurance company pay to repair it, minus the deductible, of course. But that seems silly and a waste of resources. Leaving this scar on the bumper also, for those who care to notice it, is a testament to my human proclivity to make mistakes.

I’ll probably stick with the scar.

***

One necessary surgical procedure and my body was forever changed. The incision area is minor, you’d barely notice, especially on a fifty-something man who rarely goes shirtless in public. My eighty- and ninety-something parishioners call this the cost of growing older.

I have options, I suppose. I could probably have minor plastic surgery. That, is definitely silly and beyond my financial means. My belly blemish, and its occasional  sensitivity, are a testament to my life’s journey.

I’ll definitely stick with this scar.

This scar, unlike the one on my car, adds value. I grew emotionally and spiritually through the experiences of surgery and recovery. I’m more than I was; I like who I am. I like the lessons I learned about myself, my family, and others.

I understand now why people like to show their scars. I’m proud of this scar and I’m going to try to be proud of the bumper blemish on my car. They both say, I’m living. I’m learning. I’m human just like you.

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One Year Ago Today

One Year Ago Today

One year ago today I was in surgery. One year ago today, my children and wife paced awaiting news. One year ago today, my life changed.

Sun Flower
Sun Flower. Photo by Tim Graves. Creative Commons License BY-NC-ND 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0/us/

I am healthy.
The surgery was successful, though recovery included an infection which still tingles from time to time.

I learned about vulnerability. I learned about weakness and allowing others to care for me. I learned that hospital scrambled eggs can be an orgasmic experience after  more than a week of liquid diets and IVs.

I am healthy.
The surgery was successful, though recovery included an infection which still tingles from time to time.

I felt the love of my congregation, my community. I felt the love of my wife whose love manifest in our new mantra, “No more TMI.”

I cried out to God during those days! I sobbed in my wife’s arms the day the biopsy came back negative.

When a trip to the living room wore me out, I whined that I might never hike the trails of the Pacific Northwest again.

I felt the love and presence of the divine in those days as my community prayed for me. I felt the love and presence of the divine in the loving skills of medical professionals. I felt so many things, some about which I blogged and others I could barely admit to myself.

I am healthy.
The surgery was successful, though recovery included an infection which still tingles from time to time.

My journey continues. My struggle and joys continue. My gratitude for the web of divinity that connects me to every human being and every spring bud is boundless. I’ve experienced a resurrection firsthand!

One year ago today I was in surgery. I wouldn’t change a thing even if I could, especially that tingle. Amen.
___

This is the eleventh of multiple posts about my experiences of surgery and recovery following a colonoscopy and removal of my right colon.

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 2, 2014
An Unexpected Onion, January 14, 2015
One Year Ago Today, March 28, 2015

 

 

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No Such Thing as TMI

No Such Thing as TMI
eye splatter
It wasn’t what I thought. It wasn’t splatter from the drinking fountain. It was perspiration that splashed off my own body onto my eyeglasses as I ran on the treadmill. Photo by Tim Graves. (Creative Commons License BY-NC-ND 3.0)

It wasn’t what I thought. It wasn’t splatter from the drinking fountain. It was perspiration that splashed off my own body onto my eyeglasses as I ran on the treadmill. Though I found this fascinating, I hesitated to share until reminded, “There’s no such thing as TMI.”

I’ve grown accustomed to sharing the exquisite details of my bodily functions. Sometimes I hesitate only to be encouraged by my wife of over thirty-five years, “There’s no such thing as TMI!”

This is what happens after you’ve had colon surgery. Nothing is sacred. No topic is off-limits. Gross is just a concept you race past in conversation. After three and one-half decades of marriage, raising two children to adulthood, and colon surgery there really is no such thing as TMI.

To be sure, my wife and I’ve always had a transparent relationship. I could never divorce her because she knows where the metaphorical body is buried. I, too, know her secrets. But the depth and detail of our intimacy expanded during the months after my right colon was removed. There is no such thing as TMI.

This is what happens when you’re beloved without condition. This is what happens when the first person you want to tell about your day, your deepest feelings, your dreams, struggles, the things of which you’re ashamed, and, yes, even that the splatter on your glasses is your own sweat. This is what happens when the divinity within another is mutually nurtured.

There’s no such thing as TMI. Nothing is sacred or, rather, everything is sacred. The sacred, the divinity within each of us, inhabits every cell in our bodies, every drop of sweat, and every emotion. It is in the TMI, that we gain intimacy with one another and God.

An Unexpected Onion

An Unexpected Onion
Image courtesy of Pixabay.com Creative Commons Deed CC0, Public Domain.
Image courtesy of Pixabay.com Creative Commons Deed CC0, Public Domain.

He lay in the bed with a hospital gown. Having woken from sedative-induced sleep and gunshot injuries for the first time in days, he was alone. That’s when she walked into the room, “I’m sorry I wasn’t here when you woke up.”

Abruptly and unexpectedly, I burst into tears.

This relatively innocuous scene from a television show triggered powerful emotions of vulnerability and personal trauma in me.

I had abdominal surgery nine and one-half months ago. Two days after my first routine colonoscopy, the surgeon removed my right colon. The end of the story is I am healthy. Though I had precancerous cells in my body, I did not have cancer.

Apparently, the random itching at the wound site is not the only residual sensation from my experience of last spring. My body and my psyche continues to heal even as I tell myself and others, “I’m healthier than I’ve ever been!”

This causes me to wonder. If my body is still healing, as indicated by the occasional itchiness at the wound site, why would I think I’ve fully recovered emotionally? The short answer, of course, is that I’m good at repressing feelings.

The more complex answer is that each of us are, well, complex. Our emotions are much like onions with multiple layers. When we have gotten to the bottom of a feeling or experience, there are still more layers to peel. Sometimes we repress feelings as a psychological coping strategy. That can be healthy for a time but not forever.

Less than a year ago I experienced the trauma of bodily violation, of utter dependence, and the recognition that I am mortal.  If I ignore or forcibly repress these feelings, they will come out in harmful ways.

I have more psycho-emotional work to do. Time to peel another layer off this onion and allow some tears to flow.

___

This is the tenth 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 2, 2014
An Unexpected Onion, January 14, 2015

 

 

 

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.