Chapter 19: On Pain (and healing)

Most of us know that pain is gorilla-glued to the human condition.  I even think that most of us can summon some sort of peace in that knowledge—a nod, an honoring, I see you.

Trying to ignore the redemptive power of pain and healing in our world takes a lot of energy.  Because proof is sprouting from every inch of charcoaled land, bouncing off the bald heads in infusion rooms, and radiating from the walls of AA meetings, therapy sessions, and homeless shelters.

Wherever humanity finds a home, pain will unpack also.

But did you know that healing is stuck in that sticky, gorilla ooze, too?  That restoration is as human as tears, or pores?

There’s this patch of skin on the outside of my left heel that I just can’t stop picking at.  Little flecks of skin mostly, and every once in a while I larger piece that I rip away when the kids insult my cooking or David works late or another hurricane rolls by.

In middle and high school I tore away the entire bottom of my heel pads so that each step I took could remind me of my shit-stain status; so that I never forgot about the pain inside.  The pain proved I was alive, I could bleed, I was human & not a robot.  My wounds allowed me to fix something in my world of chaos and uncontrollable grief.

A bandaid might not be able to keep Ellen alive but it can help with the blood pooling in my shoe.

I’ve detailed the physical pain my bone marrow transplant & cancer treatment caused.  What I never had a chance, or the words, to describe, was my physical healing.  The one that gave me my life back.

You see, therapy worked really well for the first fifteen months, until it didn’t.  The pace slowed after the first year or so and I felt stuck.

But I’m still picking at my heel and my cuticle.

The aches aren’t easing.

I don’t want bandaids anymore, God.  Where is my wholeness?  I want to be healed!

…like the bleeding woman…and all humans ever…

We just want healing.  We want to feel unafraid and electric.  We want power, not too much that God would expel us from Eden, but enough that we don’t feel an overwhelming need to consume every croissant within reach.

Did you know that showing up for our healing, our purpose, our life is literally the most courageous choice one can make?

In the middle of my six-week stint at outpatient rehab, a brawny paper towel man lookalike—who was graduating and forced to sprinkle a little inspiration on the newbies—stood in front of the group and drenched us.

“As a fireman, my buddies and me, we’re considered heroes.  But you know what?”  He says with tears pooling.  “You all are the bravest people I’ve ever met.”

I want to be fucking healed!

So for the first time in my life the patch of skin is starting to heal.  It’s heel-ing.  Yes, I’ve gone months without abusing it before, but then I could fall back on butter and coffee—that is not the case anymore.

There’s nothing to fall back onto except Grace, and a Goodhardgood God.  Thanks God, for adoring me even when I black out and yell at my kid so loud she pees in fear.  Thanks for holding that so I don’t have to ingest it, or pick at it, or cut it, or drink it, or anything else with it.



How could I stop showing up for the free kingdom compost that God so gladly shovels out?  Ellen showed me how to do that, too.  She never stopped planning her “healed party” because pain and healing are a part of the glue that hold us together, something my sister understood well.

What if I told you that sometimes I go talk to Jesus in my bedroom?  And while laying on my white cloud bed in the dark I allow Him to massage me with these healing flashlights that He keeps in a burlap man purse.  A warm red glow softens up my body and melts away the fear.  And then the pain is gone.  Do you want to go?  I’ll take you to Him.

What about the fact that my brain never fully believed my cancer was gone, and that’s why radiating pain plagued my limbs for years, even after the scans came back clean?  Because in my mind and body the cancer was still killing me.

Or that it wasn’t until I realized I was finally, and truly, safe from my mom’s belts that my back pain started to soften?  Because when my roots felt safe, my core muscles could finally relax and contract, strengthen, move.

Did you know that dread causes pain?  Do not be afraid.  No wonder!  God doesn’t want us to hurt, God wants us to heal.

If pain is a part of our world, then healing is, too.

The Brawny Man is correct.  Showing up for all of your life and trusting a Healer is harder than cancer treatment, the death of a loved one, abuse, infertility, parenthood, divorce, infidelity, trying to explain to foreigners how Trump got elected, and running into burning buildings.

Hold and honor your pain, yes.  It is an awfully beautiful part of your story.  And then, when it starts to feel too itchy & the circles under your eyes become darker than you remember, you have my permission to step toward the redemption that Love offers us all every moment of every day.

To craft and claim a New Story.

It will be the hardest work you do.  It will cost you more than you thought it would.  But I can see that you’re tired of bandaids.  Me too.

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Step 1: I Suck At Life


A photo by Tim Marshall.

I remember wanting to stop more than I wanted to take the pills, but will power wasn’t enough because my biology is different.  I remember keeping a strict schedule with the kids so that every four hours, when my skin started itching and I wanted to Houdini out of myself, I had peace and quiet to help ease me into that narcotic hug.

8am:  TV time.  Take 20mg of oxy and let it trickle into the blood that bedtime kept clean.  Strawberry Shortcake had the same effect on the kids.  We zoned out together, as a family.

Noon:  Rush them through lunch, hurry them into their beds, plop onto the big gray sofa, and take another 20mg.  The constant unyielding drive to make my life feel better made it impossible for anyone to exhale around me.  God forbid one of them resist sleep.  How dare you rob my high from me.

4pm:  Quiet time, which I still enact today, but now it’s so can read or prep dinner instead of melting into the sofa with narcotics, and Dr. Phil.  Dr. Phil is it’s own kind of opiate.

8pm:  Bed time.  I would purposefully go longer than the prescribed four hours sometimes, stepping right up to the edge of sanity, so that when I took the 20mg I felt that womb-y rush a little more like a wave and a little less like a ripple.

I know they advise against mixing narcotics with Vodka, but they probably don’t know how great it feels.  Sometimes I drank.  Often I drank.

Toward the end I was usually a day or five behind the prescription refill, but I had amassed a stash from all the surgeries and medical procedures.  Stealing Ambien from David worked in a pinch.

Toward the end I never felt the waves because I had sunk completely under, like when you dive under the white water and settle into the calm against the sandy ocean floor. I hadn’t breathed in years, since the bone marrow transplant.

Toward the end David left work early and often because I regularly nodded off or needed help with withdrawal symptoms.  How did he manage promotions and raises with a sunken wife?  Thank you, Lord.  Thank you, David.

My life was unmanageable, I couldn’t keep going—that’s all I knew.

I also knew that normal people didn’t need three laxatives a day to keep their bowels moving.  And maybe it wasn’t normal to have a 3-year-old who scratched her body, or a social & spiritual life dissolve away.

Once upon a time I decorated a home for Christmas without Adderall, I know that happened.  What about all the Elton John I used to play as I bopped around the house?  What happened to sex with my husband?

Ohhh, right, oxy replaced all of that.  No need for best friends and morning walks when pharmaceuticals rested in the little porcelain box on the side table next to the gray sofa.

My first morning in rehab, after a night in the Shake Shack (where one goes to shake from withdrawal), I woke up skipping because I could see the surface of the water for the first time in two years.  The filtered, green-blue light whipped my insides into a life-y froth.  I heard voices and music again.  Muffled, but audible.

Then Olive, the tall, southern, and slightly-Buddhist chaplain handed out a worksheet at my first inpatient session.  Only seven weeks prior they ripped my baby boy out of me in an emergency c-section, he flipped breach at the last minute, after my water broke at 10cm dilated—I labored right up to the end.


He knew I needed help, too.  And so he ruined what would have been a perfect delivery.  We could’ve left the hospital before his withdrawal symptoms showed up, before they called social services.

In the big room full of bare faces and even barer souls I sat on a pillow on the floor to help with the pain from my half-natural, half c-section delivery.  Oxy would help take away the pain from the pink incision and chemo-fried nerves, but oxy would also drag me back down into the cold, lonely, quiet abyss.

Olive walked through the first of twelve steps: We admitted we were powerless over alcohol/oxy/adderall/exercise/control/food/love/sex/power/fear/nicotine/marijuana/everything—that our lives had become unmanageable.

I will never feel more safe or more at home than in room full of addicts, a room full of people unafraid to admit defeat, humanity, and fear.  Turns out, nodding off with your children playing near-by and putting your son in the NICU qualifies as an unmanageable existence.  Which was such a relief.  I don’t have to hold it all up anymore.

Wait, nobody’s really holding it all up, are they?  So, we all need help?

Oh I could get used to this.  I inhaled and exhaled every day in rehab.  I drank way too much sleepy time tea because Ambien is a crutch, they told me.  They encouraged meditation or reading instead, which was hilarious.

“I hear you, but there is a very angry lady in the Shake Shack who is in fact shaking, and smells like kimchi, and maybe mentioned punching anyone who turned on the light again.  And if I get punched with a healing abdominal wound I’m sure I would need oxy but this is rehab, you see the dilemma don’t you?  So please give me some Ambien.”

“Sweetie, I can give you chocolate and a hug.”  The night nurse smiled kindly.

“God-damn it.”  Rehab is where I learned to curse.  People in recovery swear because we can’t drink and we don’t give a rip what anyone thinks of us.

“Fine, I’ll take the chocolate.  And the hug.”


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Privilege + Pain = Poverty


I want to write about the garden right now, about the glory of a garden when summer settles in to stay.  I want to advise you that if you belong to young children, and you want to grow produce, ALWAYS GROW PEAS (and cherry tomatoes, duh).  Peas grow quickly and early, which excites youngsters after a winter indoors.  And (you may put this on my grave stone) shelling a pea pod is the single best child’s chore of all time.  Not only an outdoor activity (GET OUT OF THE HOUSE), but one that encourages the sneaking of vitamin-packed pearls.  Did you know that legumes also enrich soil with nitrogen?  Planting peas actually builds a better ecosystem.

But I can’t write about the numerous benefits of pea farming.

Because I hurt.  Oh how I wish I could ignore the throbbing up and down my legs.  I’ve learned though, that if I don’t honor my pain (physical or any other type) then it grows angrier and more afraid.  It hurts me more.  If I am courageous enough to step into it, to touch the achy, zingy, zappy, heavy, hard-to-move parts, then the fog lifts and Light can break through.   So I’ll write about pain.

Narcotics used to help. Oxycodone isn’t a luxury I can afford anymore.  Meditation is free of charge, though, and it actually works.

Once upon a time Adderall pushed me through the fatigue caused by the pain, discomfort, and opiates.  Except, I became an angrier Donald Trump when doctors added uppers to the daily drug cocktail.  When the pain (and stimulants) rattled my mind’s door in the night, stealing much-needed rejuvenation, I had Ambien.

I won’t be a slave to my pain, my limitations!  Instead I became a slave to my meds.

Not anymore, because I cherish the body-temple God gifted me.  A Good Gardener once breathed into the clay that became Claire.  So I touch it, and I breathe God’s breath.  And I cry.  Sometimes I yell, often I yell, when it gets bad.

Do you know who else hurts?  Everyone.  Do you know who else begs for the kind of Love CPR only God can give?  Everyone.  Especially my sisters and brothers in impoverished regions.  Their feet throb, and their backs pinch.  Her veins zap, and his bones feel heavy and hot.  Only, they don’t have a chiropractor who snaps things back into place.  I’m not sure how many meditation-teaching family and addiction therapists exist in the slums of Kolkata.  Over-worked Indonesians don’t have a masseuse to break apart their scar tissue after a shitty day, or the luxury of a Tempur-pedic to settle into for the night.

The Fall (separation) hurts.  It heaves me headfirst into depths of places I pretend don’t exist, fastening me up alongside my aching comrades, whose lives aren’t as picturesque as mine.  I’m not a twenty-eight-year-old, upper class, American, white girl when crippling muscle pain and stiffness keep me hunched over my bed in the mornings.  No, I am every woman when even the air feels too heavy on my broad, sure shoulders.  And what a blessing.

Privilege + Pain = Poverty.  You want to understand and alleviate the plight of the needy?  You must first understand your own broken bits; find their pain inside your own.  That’s where humanity begins and ends.

My pain is a call to action, a call to prayer, and a call to breathe.  So is yours.

Most of pieces of my life fit neatly together, finally.  It often looks like (and actually is) a little mini Eden here on Earth.  Maybe that’s why I love the soil and this land so deeply, because it’s one more way to bring Kingdom Come here, to Colorado.  I talk about peas, because peas genuinely help my days here with my four wonderful monsters.  They heal our bodies & our soil.  Composted pods become soil-boosting magic.  God wastes nothing—not pea pods and certainly not a Mama’s hurting body.  Gardening reminds me of this.

Do you know what kind of marvels and magic exist in those bones of yours?  Do you sense the tingling and zapping and heat that Love writes in your life?  Do you ache because the glory and goodness of it all rests too heavy on your sure shoulders?

Me too.

How badly do you want to step into a body and a world that doesn’t ache?  I want the glory of peas, fresh flowers, and produce straight from the garden every day.  If only every Saturday morning invited buttery croissants, strong, slow-sipped hazelnut lattes, and  children who don’t curb stomp each other. I cry out for every Syrian refugee.  And can we agree that every last cancer cell needs to vanish into thin air?  Instead I’ve received debilitating pain from insane amounts of chemotherapy.  Neural pathways of addiction created by childhood trauma will plague me until the day I die.  And could someone please share the secret to balanced budgets?  Don’t forget the weeds!  God bless those mother-trucking weeds.

Inhale.  Exhale.

Peas and pain are two sides on the same coin. I believe Eden sneaks a little bit closer when we allow God and others to touch the damaged pieces of ourselves, when we touch and honor every piece of our human-ness.  Love’s healing touch alleviates every torment.  The Gospel wins, Love wins, no matter how inky, inconvenient, and imperfect the stain.

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