Art, pain, healing

Over the weekend I’ve been talking with Penny about food addiction again … it’s a complicated thing. An alcoholic can potentially avoid alcohol for the rest so their lives, a nicotine addict doesn’t have to smoke a cigarette ever again. A food addiction faces their addiction multiples time a day. Is it hard? Yes. Do we always succeed? No! But we’re not giving up either…

The other pain is my knee. I’ve got really good movement, and a scan on Friday showed there’s no clot in my calf. That’s great news, but does mean we still don’t know why it’s so tight and sore. Last night I slept with only one pillow knee to ankle instead of two. I slept ok but my hip’s been uncomfortable today. I think I can persist with just the one though and let the muscles adjust.

For me, with pain comes art. Actually, art comes with most things; pain, joy, sadness, anger, love and so on. This weekend I made a Teesha Moore inspired journal, starting with a large sheet of Fabriano Artistico paper that I cut, folded and stitched. Not quite my usual style, but a lot of fun.

And it’s done – new knee

I finally had my second total knee replacement last Thursday, and I am incredibly grateful. The anaesthetist decided he wanted to do a general, not a spinal block, for various reasons. He was right – I’m definitely not good surgery material. His decision probably avoided life support again…

The surgery went well, and I was up that afternoon. The surgeon was happy for me to go home after 2 nights but I chose to stay 3 because we’re 90 minutes away if things go wrong. I was able to get a 90 percent bend day one, which he said he hadn’t seen before. Day 2 the physio said I had in the top 10% of movement. So we should be looking at an excellent result.

As with the last one, my hip is causing me a lot of pain and keeping me awake at night. I think it’s just that I’m standing so differently. As Sandra said, I’m taller already! She’s been a star, looking after me but not fussing. If she hears a crash, she doesn’t come running, she checks on the swearing level and yells out to ask if I’m ok. Very sensible.

The initial bruising is coming out quickly, which is a good sign. Obviously the deeper bruises will come out for weeks. Yesterday and today Sandra has dropped me off at Te Mahana and I’ve spent a couple of hours with Tony; it’s good to do a few laps of their halls. Onward and upward, in a few months the pain will be a distant memory.

If you can’t say it

What cannot be said will be wept. Attributed to Sappho.

If I could say it in words there would be no reason to paint. Edward Hopper.

Every work of art stems from a wound in the soul of the artist. Ted Hughes.

These quotes speak to me to my soul. I paint because it’s good for me and because I can say in my art journals the things I have no words for – or the words I can’t speak. Words are tricky things for me. I can talk a good talk (to quote Shane Koyczan) but there are topics I can’t verbalise on, and words I just can’t say. A lot of addicts are the same; it’s our old foe, shame!

I read poetry, and sometimes use it in my art. Of course what we take from poetry is subjective too. What I read and feel, and what someone else takes from it might be quite different.

It’s the same with art, and journal pages. The meaning might be clear to me – or not – but it’s up to the viewer to find their own meaning in it. Even when the meaning is unclear, making art and sharing it is always an act of putting your soul on display. And, for some of us anyway, our pain…

At the Legato Exhibition in Italy, 2010, with the NZ Ambassador.

Thinky thoughts! #BlogJune 30

I’ve been talking with my friend Penny tonight and, as often happens, the art chat circled back to the roots of our addictive natures, which for both of us led to morbid obesity. We also talked about symbolism in our art.

Penny asked why the Patea freezing works and cool stores appear and reappear in my art, even when I’m seemingly concentrating on the Hokitika Gorge colours. It’s an interesting question.

When I was sitting on Alan’s lounge floor in Hokitika contemplating the series of abstract mixed media pieces I was working on I suddenly realised I’d been loosely drawing the shape of the cool stores.

I’m Patea born and bred and, at 56, have only lived away from here for a few years. I left at 18 and came back at 27. This is home. Growing up, the Freezing Works were central to our lives – Dad’s grocery business depended on them in some ways, friend’s parents worked there, friends expected to work there as generations before them had.

The freezing works dominated the landscape as we drove into town from the south – a symbol of home in the same way the maunga is. The freezing works is long gone, demolished after a fire. The cool stores remain, long-abandoned and heavily graffitied.

My addictive nature has its roots in pain essentially, according to Dr Gabor Máte in his book “In the realm of hungry ghosts; close encounters with addiction” and more recently the movie “The wisdom of trauma”. I’ve talked about some, but not all, of that pain before so let’s put that aside.

For me the freezing works and cool stores symbolise home – not just my town or the family home – but Mum, Dad and my sister. They stand for love and safety or, to put it into an addiction/pain context, those buildings represent anti-pain. No wonder my mind pulls fragments of them out all the time…

Some weeks are BIG

Some weeks are pretty ordinary, others are a bit more full on – last week was BIG. We had an appointment with the respiratory specialist on Tuesday. We were also seeing the Hospice Dr for advice about how much Tony sleeps sometimes and how incredibly drowsy he can be (sometimes he falls asleep while I’m talking to him and I don’t think I’m *that* boring!), and a wound specialist about his foot ulcer. Tuesday morning I phoned Breeda for additional advice about some stuff and she said to go in straight away, which we did.

I won’t bother going into the details but Tony was very sick; they decided straight away a night as an inpatient was needed to get things sorted. They suggested I stay, as he was having trouble answering questions, so I camped out on a sofa bed in his room. We had packed his hospital bag, but nothing for me, so I had to do an emergency run to The Warehouse. This weekend I’m packing an overnight bag for me for whenever we go to A&E or Hospice, just in case.

They changed him from Morphine to OxyContin because, although still an opioid, it has different side effects & will hopefully suit better. He’s certainly having less hallucinations, and the ones he does have are much less vivid. So far, he hasn’t been as drowsy either, except when he’s had a decent dose of OxyC. They also dropped the dose of some other meds, as the muscles in his thighs were getting weak and it seems to have helped.

On Wednesday they felt things were improving but suggested a second night and, somewhat reluctantly, he agreed after I pointed out that him insisting on going home puts a lot more pressure and responsibility on me rather than the experts. Good point! Wednesday evening was very rough, but he woke Thursday looking and sounding so much better. One of the nurses commented that she’d had no point of reference because he was so sick when we got there, and it was nice to meet the real Tony.

We headed home midday Thursday and, while things are not great, they’re a lot better. At their suggestion, I rang the DHB and from next week Tony will have a caregiver for 30 min every weekday lunchtimes to check on him, as well as the morning one.

He’s had some high pain times already and I’ve had to ring Hospice a few times for advice; I appreciate how supportive they are. I’ve got to ring tomorrow and speak to the Doctor because the nurses think the long-acting OxyC needs increasing so he gets less breakthrough pain. As always, I’m thankful to family and friends, and my Twitter pocket friends, for their support and love – this would be an even shittier journey without them.

We loved that the beds have beautiful quilts, and it all feels quite homely.
This is the semi-private courtyard outside Tony’s room at Hospice

Addiction; myth vs reality

We all know what addicts are like, right? We see them on tv, in the movies etc all the time. If you asked people what they know about addicts you might hear things like: they have bad teeth, they’re unemployable, they don’t look after themselves. Think again.

I’ve talked before about the fact I have an addictive personality. It’s one of the things that lead to me having weight loss surgery, and being warned by the weight loss clinic’s psychologist to be careful about addiction transfer. A surprisingly high percentage of women who have weight loss surgery become alcoholics because they transfer from food to alcohol. For that reason, I don’t drink – I’ve had 3 weak alcoholic drinks in 4 years.

I had a total knee replacement three weeks ago and it’s going well. The surgeon prescribed panadol and codeine and, when I went back for a check up, they increased the codeine dose because I’ve got bursitis in my hip due to walking differently now.

I knew there was a risk of me becoming addicted to the codeine, as I’ve been addicted to pain relief before. So I’ve been careful, and watching myself. At 3am this morning I suddenly realised – yes, you guessed it – I’m addicted to the codeine. What am I going to do about it? Not much for now, except to make sure the amount I’m taking doesn’t increase.

Once my knee is fully healed I’ll go cold turkey. It’s easier on your system to wean yourself off but I’d just lie to myself about how much I was still taking because that’s what we do as addicts – we lie to ourselves, and to others. We hide the wrappers, the receipts, the bottles…

Why am I telling you this? Because as a society we need to be more honest about the costs of addiction, and change what we think we know about addicts. I’m re-reading “In the realm of hungry ghosts: close encounters with addiction” by Dr Gabor Mate. It’s not an easy read but it gets to the heart of addiction (emotional pain essentially) and has some useful advice for people like myself.

No, it isn’t easy

Trigger warning: abuse, weight loss surgery.

I’m still recording the lyrics I love, this time it’s P!nk’s (Hey Why) Miss You Sometime. No doubt she was writing about a partner but, for me, this could easily be about food. Yes, food – chocolate, savouries, ice cream. OMG Sante Bars!

 

miss you 20190603.jpg

I had weight loss surgery, three years ago this September, and have lost over 70kg. It probably saved my life. But here’s the thing – I’m still a food addict. Surgery is a tool, not a cure. The line “thousand nights I’ve said goodbye, almost lost my mind”. That’s me and chocolate. Chocolate is my answer to grief, pain, shame, embarrassment, loss, fear, boredom, loneliness; anything and everything.

For me, food does two things. It smothers my emotions, and I’ll do anything to avoid feeling emotions. I’ve lived most of my life carefully flat. And, as an addict, certain food gives me a dopamine hit and my brain lights up with sheer joy. That’s the hard truth of it.

On book I’ve read on addiction suggests pain and shame is at the heart of all addictions. For me, the pain and shame stems from low-level but damaging abuse as a kid by a friend of my father, and an abusive first marriage. Now’s not the time to write more about it, just putting it out there and parking it for now.

Despite the weight loss surgery, and a lot of work on “fixing my head”, maintaining a healthy weight will be a lifelong journey for me. If you think weight loss surgery is an easy out, think again.

And, to finish. I love people, love people’s bodies and think all bodies should be honoured – including fat ones. I don’t hate fat bodies, far from it. My father died of a heart attack at 65, Mum died slowly over more than a decade – my decision to have surgery was to try and avoid what happened to them, and a recognition that I could never lose weight on my own. I have *no* judgment of other people’s bodies.

Does that hurt?

After I got back from conference I unpacked my bag and put my painkillers beside the bed. Tony went and bought groceries and, as always, that meant more Brufen and Panadol for us. Yesterday afternoon I found a couple of packets on my desk, so decided it was time to consolidate our supplies. It seems we have enough to last the long weekend, anyway 😉

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