Tuesday, August 16, 2011

phantom pain.

there's this phenomenon among amputees that's known as phantom pain.  in the days and weeks that follow amputation, patients often feel pain (or itching or burning or simply a presence) in their no longer existing limbs. because the limbs do not exist, neither does the pain. hence the name "phantom".

according to the mayo clinic, codeine and morphine are options for some sufferers of phantom pain. but what i don't like about narcotics, as opposed to the myriad of other available treatments, is that they alter the patient's awareness and clarity and presence (and can just threaten overall health) all to escape them from pain that doesn't  even exist. although these medications bring temporary relief, if the victim of phantom pain is ever going to experience true freedom, he or she is going to have to face the discomfort and difficulty and longevity of one of the alternative treatment options that will treat the pain at its source, that will get rid of it for good.

as i wandered through a dismal week of bad body image last week, i found the core of my being crying out for some relief. i wanted nothing more than to dive into the depths of my disorder, to shut out the screaming voices that have tortured me to no end.

as i was plotting my return to the arms of my disorder, i remembered what has happened before and what would happen again. i remembered standing in front of the mirror at the lowest weight i would ever reach, tears streaming down my face because what i saw still wasn't thin. i remembered how good it felt to devote myself to the single cause of starvation, how quiet the voices would get when they had me where they wanted me, i thirsted for the quietness, but i realized that the quietness was a sense of relief from an excruciating pain with no basis for existence. i also realized that the quietness would only remain as long as i was actively starving. if at any moment i sought some semblance of satisfaction with myself and the mirror, some strand of truth, the voices would chime in and spur me on to further destruction.

i realized that treating my body as if it were as big as the false reflection before me would be the same thing as a victim of phantom pain treating their non-existent, aching limb as if it were actually there.

in other words, starving a body in order to calm a mind is as absurd as
pumping morphine to numb an arm or a leg that doesn't exist.

the only real solution is for the sufferer to stop catering to the false version of his or her body. at first, It may be impossible to bridge the gap between delusion and reality with thoughts or words, so the sufferer must bridge the gap with actions. the amputee has got to get off the morphine and move forward. the anorexic has got to trust that her perspective is skewed and she's got to keep eating and living and waiting for the day that some ray of truth comes shining in her window.

when i look in the mirror, the girl i see is fat. as maddening as it is to see her staring back at me, taunting me and telling me i'm worth nothing, i know somewhere, deep down, that the fat i'm feeling and seeing and hating isn't there. it's a phantom- an illusion cast before me by my disorder. as sweet a relief as acting in my disorder would bring, i refuse to live my life according to a perception that isn't real. 

thankfully, my phantom pain is not constantly at its worst. this morning, i was thankful to wake up to a version of myself in the mirror that was a little easier to swallow. so i'm going to keep living and eating and i'm going to wait until the phantom in the mirror goes away for good. until then, life is sweet enough to manage, and it's certainly better than the alternative :)


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