Parting Is Such Sweet Sorrow

Moving Day. The day most teens look forward to as they eagerly await their eighteenth birthday…the day of escape from the rules and boundaries they’ve not so secretly fought against during their high school years. While dreaming of a life without restrictions, thoughts often fall on the chance to explore the world, exercise personal responsibility and work through the ups and downs of pursuing dreams, but during the planning, no one ever thinks about what it would be like to return to the nest once this beloved freedom has been tested.

My own journey was much of the same although I’ve always been close to my family, and when it came time to leave home for college there was a mixture of excitement and sadness to be leaving my comfort zone. In addition to returning home for three of my four summers during college, there have been two other times in the past 6 years that I’ve had to rely on the generosity of my parents as they re-opened their home to me. Close to finishing my Masters degree, I relocated back to Northern California following eight years in Southern California and completed classes through independent study. Most recently, without hesitation, my parents offered their support when we learned I would be going through treatment for the cancer. To be honest, there have been challenges for the three of us as we have had to learn all over again how to live with one another. My parents did their best to treat me as an adult despite watching me struggle through some very important decisions, and when arguments would ensue, we all had to take a step back and realize that our emotions were extremely high due to the stress of the situation.

Once we settled into our routine, our focus solely became about getting me through treatment, and it became quite clear that there was no room for my need to be independent. My parents were so incredible as they drove me to all of my appointments, sat with me as I cried over my hair loss and took me to the beach when I was desperate for a change of scenery. They dropped everything twice when I required immediate attention at the ER for hives and again when I was admitted to the hospital for four days after a skin infection from radiation turned into a 2nd degree burn. They’ve cleaned up my vomit in the middle of the night when I couldn’t get to the restroom in time and administered food and medication through my feeding tube when I was too weary to do it myself. They exerted patience while I wrote on my whiteboard when I physically couldn’t speak and essentially put their entire life on hold for months, catering to my every need.

This week, after seven months, I moved in with a roommate, giving my parents their much-needed space to re-discover their new life as recent retirees. As I packed my car, I said goodbye to my folks who were on their way to the church where they often donate their time. My mom did her best to hold back the tears as I assured them I was only 45 minutes away and would see them often. I hopped in the car and headed down the road towards the new chapter in my quickly growing novel of life, completely surprised when the tears poured down my cheeks without warning. I surrendered my body to my ever-changing emotions and allowed myself the time to acknowledge another great change taking place. It was then that I realized, during all the hustle of the past months, my parents and I have gained a new relationship…one that grew during a very tragic but hopeful time…an experience that was the most difficult yet the most miracle filled time in our lives. I stopped by the church on my way out to see my parents one last time. I was so overwhelmed by all they had done for me and all that we had been through that I just broke out in sobs and gave them both a huge hug, describing my gratefulness for being there every step of the way. I held onto them as we wept together.

Based on my reaction, it’s quite clear to me that although my oncologist has recently pronounced my prognosis as excellent, I have yet to scratch the surface of the emotional trauma this caused me. I’m all moved into my new home. We’re all happy that I’m healthy enough to break out on my own again, but that same sadness I experienced my first day of college has returned. That same sweet sorrow…the near end of one chapter and the welcoming of another.

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No Pain…No Gain!

The laughter emanating from the dining room made it clear that my parent’s were still entertaining their guests, a couple from their church. From my location in the bedroom just a few doors down the hallway, I struggled to locate a comfortable position on my bed and begged the aches pulsating throughout my entire body to “cease and desist.” With no relief in sight, I crazily searched the internet for a home remedy and read with hope that hot packs and chamomile tea just might do the trick. Not wanting to interrupt but in severe need, I made my way to the kitchen where dessert was being served. As I rummaged through the cabinets, I commanded the tears brimming to remain at bay but to no avail. My mom asked if I needed help which brought even more tears. In desperation, I realized there was no tea and I began to panic. Realizing how unusual this scenario must be to my parent’s friends, I quickly explained that less than 72 hours had passed since my decision to take myself off of the Morphine prescribed to me by my Oncologist for pain relief. The men were gracious enough to make a quick trip to the local grocery store for supplies while I recounted the last several days to my mom and her friend.

Having spent the last 9 years working in the social services field as a therapist or social worker and having experienced it first hand through friends, I am well aware of and somewhat paranoid at the thought of addiction and how quickly it can creep into an individual’s life. For this reason, when I became cognizant of the fact that I was no longer having any pain but realized the daily pattern of taking the Morphine had become routine to me, I made the rash decision to dump the remainder of the liquid medication. I quickly learned that after being on such a heavy pain reliever for nearly 4 months, I should have decreased to a less potent medication and tapered down with a very specific plan.

It took almost 72 hours of dealing with the massive withdrawal symptoms, i.e. nausea, yawning, depression, muscle aches, stomach cramps, insomnia, etc. before my mom remembered the doctor’s recommendations to follow a “step down” plan. Once I implemented the changes, the symptoms were easier to handle but still affected a major portion of my daily activities.

It’s been over 2 weeks since I discarded my leftover medication and while the research online indicated that most of the symptoms should have been gone within 7-12 days, last night I spent a miserable evening without sleep as I dealt with extreme muscle spasms and vomiting. During an appointment today with the doctor, he responded to my concerns by giving me yet another prescription for a narcotic to help with the pain. Despite my desires to deal with it another way, I was given no choice but to put in the refill in order to experience some comfort. The doctor assured if I followed his plan, I should feel no more pain and should be completely off all medication within one more week.

Throughout the past 7 months, I’ve considered it a personal challenge to find the important lesson behind each new step in my recovery. In this particular instance, while I’ve always considered myself to be a compassionate individual when working with clients who struggled with addiction, having the head knowledge and actually personally experiencing the emotional and physical difficulties that come with dependence is quite a different story. It has made me see that sometimes it takes going through a situation to truly put myself in someone else’s shoes, that sometimes it takes going through pain in order to gain an understanding and true empathy for another’s position.

Going through this time, I have come to understand that I really had no idea what addiction can do to a person nor the dedication, motivation and support it takes to rid oneself of such a strong attachment. I am in true awe of those who are able to walk through the journey of becoming sober…to suffer through the sleepless nights and overcome the gnawing fears and thoughts that tell you it can all go away with just “one last hit.”

Even though I have only been exposed to this high level of medication for 4 months, the level of withdrawal I have experienced is a great reminder that addiction is not prejudice…it is not biased based on gender, race, religious preference, economic status or based on a certain level of education. More importantly, it reminds me of a common phrase that should be applied to the way we respond to others and the way we make assumptions about things we have never experienced and above all, it reminds me to pray for those who are desperate to remove an obstacle in their lives that keeps them in bondage from living a life free of pain, shame and regret. “But for the grace of God, there go I.” And because of God’s grace, I will go, I will conquer and I will continue to spread the message.