Good morning, fancy pants. I’m so glad to see you. Isn’t it a perfectly wonderful morning?

It’s been a long time since we talked, and I’ve missed you. I’ve been here, still sober (HOW IS THAT POSSIBLE), fighting my way out of a sort of Matryoshka assemblage of wet paper bags.

Those of you who know me know my husband had stage three colorectal cancer. He still remains cancer free. His next scans are on the 24th, and I am stiff upper lipping until that’s done. He has no symptoms, which is reassuring, kind of- living post cancer is a little like living in a really erratically haunted house: you never know when or if the ghosts will return.

My dad is in a nursing home, now. He lost the ability to walk this fall, likely due to the cocktail of anti-psychotic and sedative meds, after he tried to (and almost succeeded in) killing a wheelchair-bound fellow resident, an elderly woman. He was sent to an in-patient geriatric psychiatric unit, and they added meds until he stopped being psychotic. It took three in-patient stays, seven hospital stays, and because of it, he was kicked out of three different facilities. It was terrifically hard on both of us.

What I struggled with was, as I’ve mentioned in previous posts, the fact that my father was abusive to me as a child, and the violence that re-emerged in his Alzheimer’s disease was nearly identical to what I experienced as a girl. Evidently, there’s a thing called PTSD, and another thing called triggering, and ANOTHER thing called retraumatization. (WordPress spellcheck does not believe me, either.)

So, while all of this blizzard of flaming assholes was happening, my body started to fall apart. I made it a long time- about 18 months from becoming my fathers’ guardian, and about nine months into my husband’s cancer treatment. I made it until the scan came back indicating my husband’s cancer was gone. And then, about two weeks later, my stomach swelled up like I had food poisoning. I felt nauseous, my gut was burning, and I looked about six months pregnant. (Seriously. I can’t wear pants.)

And it stayed exactly like that for the next year. I saw my regular GP, who prescribed a proton-pump inhibitor (Prilosec), and then, when things got much worse, finally agreed to a colonoscopy/endoscopy. They found gastritis, and nothing else. My condition steadily worsened, leading to exhaustion, weight loss, and inability to eat many foods. In desperation, I began researching my symptoms, and found a diagnosis that seemed to encompass everything I was experiencing: small bacterial overgrowth, or SIBO. I decided to see a naturopath, who agreed with my assessment, and said the treatment for the problem would be the same with, or without testing. She put me on a handful of herbal antibiotics, and some homeopathic remedies, and strongly suspected my PTSD had something to do with my digestion. I sought a specialized form of counseling, called EMDR, (eye movement desensitization reprocessing), and began that. It was a revelation, utterly changed my relationship with my father, and I will write so much more about it eventually. But it didn’t do anything for my stomach. I completed the course of herbal antibiotics, and nothing had really changed in my stomach. My brain, yes. But not my stomach.

I found another doctor, an integrative medicine specialist, at the local clinic. She recommended a hydrogen/methane breath test, and in the interim, said I should continue my work with the trauma therapy, and put me on another course of herbal antibiotics. She cited recent research that indicated herbal antibiotics and traditional antibiotics, in this use case, were comparable in efficacy. In fact, the herbal route had been slightly more effective in enough studies to give one pause. I took this new course of meds for 8 weeks, and the bloating and constipation (sorry) were considerably improved. But once I went off the meds, the symptoms slowly returned. I was at a loss. I searched for a solution, and went back to the integrative doc., who obviously cared very much but had nothing left to offer me. I finally found a naturopath in Minnesota who worked specifically with SIBO, and other chronic digestive issues. I started seeing him on February 15th.

The first order of business was to finally do the breath test, which revealed that not only did I have SIBO, but I had a motherfucker case. Ideally, combined gas ppm scores should be under 20 ppm. Mine were 120 ppm. The test also indicated the types of bacteria I was overwhelmed by, which indicated a treatment course. I also had leaky gut, and hypothyroidism. Who knows which thing came first, but he prescribed three herbal antibiotics (the effective ones I’d earlier been prescribed), and two meds for leaky gut, one med for hypothyroidism, digestive enzymes, a massive dose of omegas, and a massive dose of probiotics. I take pills every two hours – a handful of them – all day.

I am in month two of a likely twelve-month course of herbal antibiotics, prokinetics, probiotics, super-restricted diet, and gut-healers. For the record, month one can go and fuck itself, it was so ugly. But the last week has been markedly improved. The truth is, that with SIBO, there are these weird, inexplicable periods of what I can best describe as rest, in which everything just seems to chill. But then roar back. I am hoping for a nice long rest. The remainder of my life, ideally. So, I do the work.

But I lerve food. I lerve it soooo much. living without…so many things has been heartbreaking, at the most acute moments. Also, I’m fairly certain the bacterial population of my gut is sentient, and when it gets knocked back, and hordes of interloping bacteria are felled, I feel really sad and low. It’s hard to differentiate between trauma-processing and bacterial activity, but the net is the same: I feel sad, and I need time and space to reassemble.

For anyone who has read this far, and is feeling worried, I also keep seeing the counselor, who keeps helping me work through…all the things.

And that brings us to today. If you’re like me (and I know you are), you woke up feeling much less nauseas today, pleasantly aware of turmoil in your viscera (think, Battle of Five Armies), imagining a turning point of sorts in the war between one section of your gastrointestinal tract and the rest.

There is one big thing the last three years has changed in me. I feel much clearer about what can and can’t be controlled. I used to feel such crushing anxiety about controlling and avoiding all of the terrible things that could happen. And then, a bunch of them did.  It’s been remarkably, impossibly hard to face the reality that my goodness does not protect me, or anyone I love. And it’s been remarkably, impossibly good to be released from the burden of trying to do anything but love and care for everyone I can.

That’s the update. How are you? 

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I went to an awards luncheon today, wherein I ran into an old drinking buddy of mine. His mom just passed away, and we were talking idly about the need to get together again. I said that I didn’t drink anymore, which had really put the kibosh on our previous type of socialization. He said he really didn’t drink much anymore, either. I promised to text him the next time we were having a BBQ or the like, and we parted ways. then I started thinking: I don’t do ANYTHING social anymore.

Like, since the United States elected a balloon animal president, I am very civically active, with a bunch of feminist activism, and that’s social, a little- but nothing else. No music, no dancing, no late-night yard fires and carousing- nothing. THAT’S DUMB.

It’s like I also quit having fun.

I mean, I have been really making out with sleep since I quit, because SLEEP IS SO GOOD NOW. And dancing is definitely harder when you’re aware your stomach is better at twerking than your buns. And also, cancer pants. that will suck the fun right out of your life like an ogre sucking marrow from your bones. But STILL. Nothing? I can’t keep living with my head down so the universe will think I’m unconscious and stop punching me in the face. The universe will punch whether I’m having fun or not. So I’m going to experiment and see what sober fun looks like.

This Saturday, I’m bowling to raise money for Planned Parenthood, and while I am dreadful at bowling, i think I’ll go have “drinks” with the team after. See where the night takes me.

I am also planning a trip to see friends, and that is equally unprecedented. It has caused beloved husband to blow more than one gasket. But I’m still doing it. Because fun.

 

Before the most fantastic shitsplosion evacuated its’ bowels all over my fragile psyche? So, I’m still doing that.

Here’s the latest chapter. when I quit drinking, and it WORKED, I started really juicing up on the practically incandescent notion that my behavior and my values finally matched. As time has gone by, I’ve started to be a little suspicious of that satisfied feeling. Here’s why: I’m really judgy about other peoples’ drinking. And I don’t notice it until I’m already holier than thou-ing my smarmy little buns through my nightly ablutions.

That, coupled with my desire to explain to the parking attendant why she should eat kale, or sneering at the person complaining about her allergies and buying Febreeze, or telepathically rolling my eyes at the co-worker who is so lonely but just can’t stand to bring herself to go to ANY SOCIAL EVENTS EVER, has made me realize that I might be binging on something I would never have considered: control.

I have a counselor (NO WAY, RIGHT), and we were talking the other day about my strange recalcitrance in forming close friendships. She was saying how this made sense for an abused kid, and she characterized it as this sweet and sad thing, little me inside o big me, afraid to trust anyone and be close. But, I said, it’s actually ugly. I don’t allow anyone dangerous to get close at all. I’m not vulnerable because I am always in control.

Was I drinking so much to be in control of my feelings, or to be free of the need to control everything? Maybe both. But here, at the center of my swirling miasma of shitty coping strategies, one very important clue: control.

And now that I’m not drinking, I’m binging on that. Which is the next thing I’d like to stop abusing.

Hey, team. I’m sorry I’ve been utterly and entirely silent. Everything fell mostly apart. And now, things are continuing to politely reassemble, like the world’s biggest piece of IKEA  furniture. An OLL FAKDHUP (in aisle 9027782571, beside the linen storage towers and sectional chaise lounges), if you will.

This morning, we heard back from my husband’s doctor that the biopsies (he has to do these every three months for two years) of his tumor site are still unremarkable. He has a boring rectum. This means he has been cancer-free for one year.

I’m not crying, because I’m a robot now. But I’m pretty happy about this. And, (drum roll), I’ve stayed sober the whole time. I’ve missed you. You look terrific. Are those new pants?

 

Well, it’s done. 8 months, 16 chemotherapy cycles, 6 weeks of radiation and 4211575752157507 scopes, scans, and examinations, and my husband is cancer-free.

Clear CT Scan, clear endoscopic ultrasound, and not one cancer cell in the biopsies.

Holy fucking shit.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the Large Hadron Collider. I’m waxing philosophical, here, so bear with me. I have felt, over the last eight or so months, sympathetic to the lead electron at the nose of a high-speed electron beam, roaring around an accelerator ring at nearly light speed, every lap incrementally nudging closer to a head-on-collision with an opposing electron beam, traveling at equal speed. But, less dramatically, I’ve been thinking more about what they’ve found.

The intent of the Large Hadron Collider is to investigate the structure of the atomic nucleus. (I copied that from the LHC website). But it’s been doing more than that- like any scientific investigation of the unknown, it has the potential to change everything, by altering our perception of the nature of stuff. If, for example, the LHC reveals that energy becomes matter in describable/predictable circumstances, or becomes matter by describable/predictable mechanisms, it would radically change how we see the universe. It’s literally a tiny change, but it would be a boundless change, philosophically.We already believe/theorize that matter and energy are neither created nor destroyed, which basically means that everything in the universe was always here, in some iteration of either matter or energy. Everything that you are always was, and always will be, in one form or (maybe and/or) another. You are, and always have been, infinite. You probably knew this already, deep down. It’s the kind of thing you can feel, even if it takes you half your life to put it into words, or the words you finally find are from the Large Hadron Collider website.

Since the dawn of science, pretty much, humans have been searching for one unifying theory of everything- one set of rules to describe how the universe works. Pure science often distances itself from “WHY?” The more ruminative or philosophical science community tarries on “WHY?”, but returns first to “HOW?” as the first answerable question, since “WHY?” is a dependent variable. So far, most every new determination in science has been used to take the magic out of “WHY?”, to make it explicable, intelligible, rational. Crashing these electrons around and finding, in the resulting measurable detritus, the field in which energy becomes matter, is the scientific equivalent of finding the body of Christ, withered and carbon-based, behind a very solid rock. It means to many that there is no unifying force of creation. No sentient or, more importantly, benevolent force orchestrating the matter and energy of the universe. No God, loving us individually.

This is confusing to me, in the same way evolution somehow disproving any creation stories confuses me. In fact, I can’t believe one without the other. I feel closer to understanding the organizing force of the universe when destruction and transformation are part of the magic, too.

As Lex Luthor said, in the latest Superman installation, “If God is all good, He can’t be all powerful.” And that’s bumper-sticker simple, right? But it’s also gorgeous. Choose your nomenclature – God, Allah, Gaia(aiaiaiaia), the Universe – in the way that resonates with you, because that’s important. But the rest of the sentence is fine. The cancer is part of the magic. The dying is part of the magic. It’s not the end, or the tailings pile, or the dregs. It’s as much a part of the system as the fucking, the cheeseburgers, the birthing, the poetry, the fall of the Berlin wall; it’s as real and intrinsic to being as your beating heart. It’s not the shadow to the light- not the opposite of life or the other side of the coin. Scientifically, there is no opposite of entropy.

Entropy is the measure of disorder in a system. It’s not a philosophical concept even if it’s growing in your husband’s ass.

What is philosophical to me is the infinite nature of the experience of my stuff. If entropy is an equal part of being, and being is meaningful, then entropy is meaningful, too. Moreover, because I’m intrinsically related to the Universe, I’m comparably connected to you, to my husband’s cancer, to Rwanda, and to Philandro Castile. The space between us is expansive at the same time our connection is connate- definitive, part of the fundamental laws of the universe. And, for some reason I still don’t understand, I have the ability to willfully operate my own little world-builder. I have the ability to decide. 

When I think about the electrons in my body, responsible for the communication of thoughts to action, and then think about how enormous they are, compared to the much smaller particles responsible for the creation of matter, I feel suddenly aware of how powerful that ability to decide is. I can make meaning. If I want to change the universe, all I have to do is change my mind.

One electron, at the head of a roaring stream, circling faster and faster, edging closer and closer to collision. One tiny particle, breaking apart the fabric of the universe, revealing a billion smaller universes within it.

I can love. And that changes everything.

I continue to exist. (At least right now.)

My husband is having his last chemotherapy infusion right now. Then, much in the same way one faces a lifetime of not drinking, we contemplate how to be for the rest of our lives.

And like drinking, it’s probably more a question of what we will do than what we won’t.

Eight months. A whole life.

Also, hi. I’ve missed you all, and you look terrific.