All of my life, I’ve been an expert at damaging myself – often in creative, unique ways.
But the first significant Damage Marker that comes to mind is when, at 16, I was riding my bicycle down a steep, paved hill (leading to the Coast Guard Ship Dock) when, quite suddenly, my brake-shoe broke. Before I knew it, my bike and I were doing (what had to have looked like) wonderful somersaults down the concrete ramp. When I woke up, I was looking up at a guy in a Coast Guard uniform, asking me if I’m okay.
Ever since then, I’ve lived in pain.
Related specifically to that incident, the resulting pain has been in my hips and especially my knees.
Changes in temp, humidity, etc, would cause the pain to intensify and ebb…but never disappear.
Then, not long after joining the Air Force, I was doing onsite maneuvers (in a forest) for Military Police training. As part of this, one of the exercises we would do would be to start (as a squad) in a tight group, rifles in hand, and then (on command) we would spread out as quickly as possible. We would keep running until we heard the Training Instructor yell “Hit it!” When we heard this bellow, we were all supposed to hit the ground and get into a defensive position as quickly as possible. However, I was one of the unlucky ones. The area I was running through was riddled with rocks. So, when I heard “Hit it!”, I dropped to the ground and both my knees slammed into those insidious stones, causing me to curl up like a little baby when the pain shot through both my legs. The military being what it was, my Training Instructor (TI) screams, “Since Jackson can’t seem to get it right, we’re going to do it again!” So, my squad (now VERY pissed at me) bunched back up and waited for the signal to start running in our designated directions…again. And, like before, MY designated direction was through the minefield of rocks; and, like before, when the TI screamed “Hit it!”, each of my knees dropped perfectly onto the sharpest, most cruel rocks in all of South Texas. (Yes! Rocks can be cruel!). This time, though, I did my best to avoid the whole ‘curling into a ball and crying’ thing. I did my best to swallow the pain and assumed my ready position as quickly as I could. Then I held my breath and waited — fearing that the TI would curse my name again and make our squad do it all over…again. Thankfully, however, I heard nothing for several minutes. We all held our positions until the TI called for us to regroup, and then the next squad took their turn.
Needless to say, my experience on the military training field that day did nothing positive for my already embattled knees. And so, the pain I’d already been feeling daily for the last 3 years had nearly doubled in intensity – and has (for the most part) remained that way ever since.
Then, when you add 40 years of martial arts training on top of that, as well as a collection of random goofs on my part, well…it’s safe to say that there has not been a waking hour in the last 4 decades where pain was absent from my life.
Please don’t misunderstand. I don’t say all of this to whine or to make you feel sorry for me. I’m trying to lay the groundwork for my next point.
I HATE taking prescribed medication. I saw what it did to my mother, and watching her slowly degrade and eventually pass away FAR too early in her life – due to an evil doctor who over-medicated her – has served to make me distrust any prescribed medication.
In my early 20’s, managing the pain seemed almost hopeless. So, I began taking over-the-counter pain killers – because, well, they’re over-the-counter, so they MUST be okay for you, right? I tried every pain med available: Doan’s Pills (remember those?), Aspirin, Tylenol, and so on. Eventually, I found Bayer Migraine Tablets (heretofore known as BMTs). Something about the mixture of caffeine, aspirin and acetaminophen served to dull the constant pain, turning it (instead) into an ever-present, intense ache. Although there were still days that curled me into a ball, the BMTs served to make most days tolerable.
About a year ago (after decades of taking BMTs)… I had just fixed my record player and was trying it out by playing some of my old albums. One of my favorites is Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young singing Live. In it, Neil Young sings “Needle and the Damage Done”. I’ve heard the song countless times, but (for whatever reason) that time I actually heard the lyrics — and (for whatever reason) I suddenly saw the correlation between the drug use in that song and my pain killer consumption.
Wow! Talk about Wake-Up-Moment!!
How was my “legal” usage of pain killers any different than the drug usage in the song? The impact was exactly the same.
That scared me. That scared me a LOT!
So, about 10 months ago, I reduced my consumption of BMTs from about 10 a day to (usually) only 2 a week. The goal is “No More BMTs!!” I’m almost there. I’m replacing them with exercise, a MUCH better eye on my diet, and regular stretching. Is the pain gone? No. Is it tolerable? Yes. And – without BMTs.
Sadly, the research I’ve done in the last 10 months leads me to believe that my long-term usage of BMTs has likely done irreversible damage to my body (probably my liver and kidneys). I can’t do anything about that now.
I just pray that my realization will serve as a strong example to you of what NOT do to. Just cause a med is over-the-counter does NOT mean it is safe. Especially when relied upon to feel “normal” (or, in my case, as near-normal as possible).
Don’t do it!
Find a holistic method of dealing with physical pain; one that address the actual cause(s) of the pain – NOT the pain itself.