*For the ones like me, who still fear the mirror.*
Even as I write this, I wonder, is it too much? The shame makes it hard to type. But wanting to hide it doesn’t change the fact that it happened, and burying my dark side doesn’t help anyone else find their light. Besides, my new hero is Amy Dresner and she’s as raw and real as it gets. Read her memoir My Fair Junkie …If she can write about injecting coke in her neck (and other things I won’t mention because my daughter is reading this blog) I can talk about diverting medication.
During my shift at the hospital last week, in the middle of the night, my patient punched me in the stomach.
Working in a busy hospital for almost thirteen years, much of it in CCU/ICU and a stint in the ER, I’ve been on the receiving end of patient assault. It’s more common than hearing thank you some days. But that’s not this week’s blog.
The metaphorical punch happened like this:
I handed a medicine cup full of pills to my patient, who was in the hospital for pneumonia. Let’s call him Pneumo Ned. “Here’s your pain medicine.” Pneumo Ned replied “Thanks… I counted all 3 pills….Wouldn’t want you taking off and using my oxy at home for yourself.”
Ouch. Gut punch.
Luckily, I have a professional poker face – I should win medals. Emergencies and codes happen and afterwards I’m asked “How are you so calm? Don’t you ever get excited?” (One of my favorites stories is when I accidentally poured infectious stool -C.Diff – all over my scrub pants from a rectal tube and made it out of my patient’s room without him ever knowing. You’re reading a nurse’s blog, you’ve got to expect this stuff once in a while.) The point is, I’m that composed. Ned’s words threw me, but he never saw me flinch.
Silently though, I felt my insides curdling, folding in on themselves, trying to die. “I’m such a POS.” I thought. “I can’t believe I became that person. What am I even doing here?”
Pneumo Ned continued….
“There was a nurse that gave me morphine in my IV at another hospital a few times and I never felt the dizzy, woozy drugged feeling that I got with everyone else.”
My poker was face challenged, but didn’t crack. I just got out of there before vomiting or saying something stupid.
Here’s the thing: we nurses often dilute narcotics with saline on purpose to avoid giving patients the “drug flush” that occurs with injections. So there’s that. But there’s also the other thing. You know, the Nurse Jackie thing.
Maybe you can imagine how I felt….you’re in conversation with someone, maybe even a group of people and you hear “OMG! Can you believe so&so… got a DUI, drinks wine at 10am, forgot their child’s birthday, got evicted from their home, wore two different shoes to work, split their pants bending over”….
It doesn’t matter what it is; YOU’ve done that exact thing, were humiliated by it, and hearing it talked about brings back the shame. There’s NO WAY you’re going to speak up and say “Hey I’ve done that too. Really, it can happen to the best of people. I’m one of those best people.” You’re going to nod and smile through your guilt fueled nausea and say “Yeah, can you believe someone would do that?” Then walk away to wallow as the self pity fills your soul.
I was starting to wallow… the Self Pity Spiral sucking me down …and once inside that vortex it can be impossible to climb out.
One way I combat the Spiral is with connection. Self Pity LOVES isolation; they’re a toxic duo, coalescing and growing exponentially. Instead of pouting silently in a corner, which I really wanted to do, I reached out to a girlfriend who’s also in recovery. She asked a very intuitive question: “What was the hardest thing about this for you?”
The hardest thing was that I felt exposed to myself – stripped bare and doused with ice cold self-honesty. Like precipitated withdrawal, there was no lead in; no time to wean off. Just BAM. A mirror was shoved in my face, reflecting back the nastiest parts of myself.
Now I’m not exactly Nurse Jackie, but I am Nurse Tiffany. And the hard truth in the mirror is that I have lied, and I have stolen, and I have lived the risky life of an addict.
Pneumo Ned said something else that night. “I could have been wrong – I was pretty out of it myself. So I never said anything. In my opinion, nurses are the most trustworthy, conscientious people I know.”
We ARE. It’s true. We are the angels that people consider us to be.
AND we are human.
I am a compassionate, intelligent, hardworking, caring nurse. AND I am a flawed, dishonest self-serving human.
Both/And. Not either/or.
The fallacy that we must be one or else we are the other is dangerous. Research shows this leads to perfectionism, self-loathing, self-doubt and criticism. Which – SURPRISE!- lead to substance abuse, eating disorders, suicidal thinking and the cycle repeats.
I hear it frequently in recovery circles..strong, fierce women who still shrink under the shadow of their past “Don’t you know how bad I screwed up?….I know I’m not all bad BUT remember when….I don’t deserve happiness because….I’m less than/worse than because….”
Those distorted beliefs narrated my life for a long time. In the short term, the drive to live up to unreasonably high standards was beneficial. As a teenage mom, the pressure be “good” motivated me to work full time, raise my daughter, finish high school early and pursue degrees.
In the long term though…. The drive to overcompensate for mistakes had me looking for a deep end to drive off of. With no comprehension of self forgiveness, I succumbed to numbing myself with pills and alcohol. Which ironically became the perfect pathway to teach me self forgiveness. I believe we are given what we need if we choose to accept the challenge.
The bad news is that addiction ransacked my life for awhile. The good news is that I found recovery – not just from substances, but from the predispositions that led me to substances in the first place.
Recovery calls for radical self-acceptance. Unconditional self-love. Making peace with the certainty of life’s polarity, and believing I am a perfect and beautiful paradox.
One of my counselors put it this way: You are not just “bad” or “good”. You can be depressed, and still be OK. You can be anxious and know happiness. You can experience failure and simultaneously know you are a great success.
We are NOT all or nothing. Success and failure are NOT mutually exclusive. They are interdependent. We see the light of a candle by way of the background’s darkness.
The situation I experienced at work gave me an opportunity to see my wholeness- my light and dark as one. This theme- accepting and loving my reality as perfect- is showing up all over the place, and it’s not always comfortable. But when I’m reminded of my darkness, I can meet it with compassion. It’s becoming a meditation, a mantra of reconciliation.
“Tiffany, you’re an addict. You really f@%^d up. This is True.
AND Tiffany, listen….
You’re a precious woman. You’re full of compassion. You give so much to others. This is also true. This is more true. This is true right now.”
Notice I didn’t say “Tiffany you’re pretty great…. BUT damn, you’re still an addict”. That’s a one way ticket to the Self Pity Show, with headliners Inner Victim and Self-Critic. The words we use matter – affirmation basics.
It is possible to fully accept the “Both/And” polarity of self, while choosing to pour our energy towards the light – the stuff that nourishes our spirit.
Try it. I dare you. Take a moment and breathe in total acceptance of your ENTIRE self. Everything you’ve done and experienced. Allow yourself the belief that you are completely deserving of UNCONDITIONAL love from you. Because you are.
This is not a job for the weak or the faint of heart, but it IS a job for those of us who have been feeling weak or faint of heart.
It’s going to take courage, and we deserve it. We deserve to look ourselves in the mirror and love every last cell that forms our being.
Where there is much light the shade is deepest.
When it is dark enough, you can see the stars.
Until next time, trying to bask in peaceful polarity. I hope you are too.
Cheers and Gratitude,
Tiffany (both sides of her)