The other night, I woke as Brandon sat up in bed. I watched him as he sleepily stood and walked zombie-like to the bathroom.
And it was like someone punched me in the gut. All of the air rushed out of me as a I was transported back to the hospital...
After Brandon’s initial emergency brain surgery, he had to wear a helmet any time he was out of bed. The doctors had removed part of his skull to allow the swelling of his brain to go down, which meant his brain was exposed. One slip, one fall, one knock to the soft brain tissue would have detrimental, possibly fatal, consequences.
But he didn’t want to wear his helmet. He got annoyed anytime one of us would cry out “put your helmet on!” as he stood up out of bed. He didn’t understand what the big deal was. I remember one time he got up without his helmet to go to the bathroom in the middle of the day. He refused to put on his helmet. His brother moved towards him as I followed. “What!? Is this what you’re worried about?!” Brandon said angrily as he grabbed the bathroom door and pretended to bang it against his head. His brother had his arms out wide as if he was playing basketball defense. I stood behind him in shock with my hand to my mouth as I cried.
In an effort to try to force him put his helmet on before getting out of bed, the nurses would turn on a bed alarm before we turned the lights out at night. If at any time during the night he stood up off the bed, a shrieking alarm would pierce the still of the night. Brandon would sit quietly on the bed waiting. The nurse would come running to turn it off. He’d solemnly put his helmet on and head to the bathroom. Then he’d get back in bed and the nurse would turn the alarm back on.
Eventually, he learned to wake up. Sit up. Put his helmet on. Call the nurse to turn the alarm off so he could get up to go to the bathroom. It must have felt so demeaning to him. I felt guilty because I was the one who begged the nurses to come up with a solution to make him put his helmet on. The bed alarm was it. Of course I played it off to Brandon as if it was all their idea. But it was mine. I was so afraid. Afraid that he would fall without his helmet on. Afraid because I didn’t recognize him.
Even when the bed alarm became a thing of the past, I would still wake every time Brandon sat up in bed. I’m a light sleeper anyway, and whenever he stirred, my eyes would shoot open. I’d quietly watch him put his helmet on, stand up and walk zombie-like to the bathroom.
The other night, as I came back to the room from my painful memory, Brandon got back in bed and promptly fell asleep. I lay next to him quietly crying. Wondering why this memory had been triggered. It felt so real - as if I was there in that hospital room again.
My assumption is that I still have pain to process. And to release.
I also know that I hang on to my pain because it can be comforting. Danielle LaPorte says “pain...can be strangely comforting because it keeps us attached to what we lost...and then the pain can become a part of our identity and letting go feels ridiculously vulnerable.”
It does feel incredibly vulnerable. Even though Brandon and I have continued to move beautifully through recovery, and our life looks very different than it did 3 years ago, I still quietly hold onto the pain of the past. For the most part, it stays hidden. I keep it deep inside where no one can see it. But I’m beginning to notice it creeping up more and more lately. As I continue to grow and expand and learn and push myself to become the best version of myself, the space my body has allowed for the pain is shrinking. It has nowhere to go but out. And out it’s trying to go, even as I try to keep it in. The internal struggle takes a toll on my mind and my body, as I continue to seek ways to allow myself to release it.
And maybe our pain sticks around to teach us something. It’s hard and vulnerable to re-engage with the pain, but I’m also learning so much about myself as I become more aware of what’s behind the pain.
What pain are you holding onto in your life?
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