IMG_1865I’ve been weaning myself off of Hydrocodon, a powerful narcotic that relieves one’s body of pain. The doctor said to take it every four hours after the surgery and “as needed.” You realize its power only after it wears off, and you are left immobilized by the sharp shooting pain in your injured body part. For awhile there, I was pain-free, even my tennis elbow, cramped fingers, and sprained ankles seemed magically healed. However, this drug, while really effective, also causes addiction and constipation, two undesirable side effects. I find reading, writing, or watching TV good distractions from the pain. I don’t realize I’m hurting until I find myself clutching my wounded breast as if to brace it from being physically assaulted. I told my friend, it’s like the pain after getting a tattoo, except it is inside, the carved flesh beneath the skin. I can’t even imagine what it’s like to have the entire breast surgically removed.

I think it’s comforting to know what your body feels even if that feeling is of agony.  How many times have we wallowed in our pain to indulge our broken hearts or bruised ego, listening to stupid love songs, reminiscing on the good times we had that are now like pins and needles poking our psyches. We become willing voodoo dolls, conspiring in our own misery. I find that the best time to get a tattoo, as far as pain management is concerned, is when one is heartbroken or is steeped in shame and regret. During those times, pain manifests itself in blood-stained lines and colors that converge in a beautiful yet macabre revelation. It is happening outside one’s body, not inside, where one does not have control. I remember cutting as a teenager, my arm a veritable score board of the times I had felt rejected or violated, whether real or imagined. It was quite a trip to see blood dripping from a self-inflicted wound. At that moment, it was as if my consciousness was split and I was watching myself bleed; and I would cry, not for the pain but for the liquid part of me that was being spilt. The keloid scars have since been covered by a wind-rustled cherry blossom tree.

Pain begets pain. This much I know is true. The physical pain of my lumpectomy stirs up feelings of inadequacy and frustration. It inhibits me from doing what I am used to doing on a daily basis, like cooking, washing dishes, cleaning the litter, vacuuming. I have embraced these mundane chores as part of my mommy persona, and so when I could not perform them, I feel incompetent as a mother. I forget that being a mother is more than just my spinach quiche and pot roast or my ability to sew. Times like these, kindness becomes such a soothing salve. My daughter offering massages, helping with clearing the dishwasher, my husband getting off work early to take us out to dinner, my friend Anna coming in the morning to help cook for the kids…

It is such a cliche but it’s true how pain reminds us of our humanity, allows us to remember that life is precious, that every day is not guaranteed, and that to breath and take up space on this earth is a privilege. It humbles us to feel pain because we are reminded that we need each other.

About filinthegap

Lani T. Montreal is an educator, writer, performer, and community activist. Her writings have been published and produced in Canada, the U.S., the Philippines and in cyberspace. Among her plays are: Panther in the Sky, Gift of Tongue, Looking for Darna, Alien Citizen, Grandmother and I, and her most-toured comedy drama about gender and immigration, titled Sister OutLaw. She is the recipient of the 2015 3Arts Djerassi Residency Fellowship for Playwriting, 2008 3Arts Ragdale Residency Fellowship, the 2001 Samuel Ostrowsky Award for her memoir “Summer Rain,” and was finalist for the 1995 JVO Philippine Award for Excellence in Journalism for her environmental expose “Poison in the River.” Lani holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Roosevelt University. She teaches writing at Malcolm X College, one of the City Colleges of Chicago and writes a blog called “Fil-in-the-gap”. ( She lives (and loves) in Albany Park, Chicago with her multi-species, multi-cultural family.
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