I remember once when I was a child, the gums in my mouth blew up like an air balloon. My mother rushed me into a local dentist. They put me in this chair and told me to relax. He put this adult-sized mask over my face and told me to breathe, yet I couldn’t. Then he brought the needle out. In a medical office you always have the option of facing away from the needle stick. With dentists, you can’t turn away. It goes right into your mouth and I got to watch it, front-row-center. Five times he stuck me. My mother, an anxious person by nature, was there for moral support. I still could feel the panic and the tears streaming down the side of my face as they forced my mouth open. It was a trigger.
I went to see my dentist this morning. Before the dentist came into the room, I tried to sit deeply into the chair and relax my body. I took deep breaths. In. Out. Slowly. Over and over again. I picked up a magazine and, of all the luck, found an article on child trauma. When the dentist and her assistant came in and hovered over me I started to lose orientation. Their hands became huge as they pressed against my face. Four hands. They both had masks on. Who were these people?
I fear the water hose most of all. They sprayed it directly into my throat, I drown for a few seconds. Then they sprayed it again. Over and over. Wasn’t this how water boarding works? I wondered which would come first, whether I would pass out or they sense that I was dying.
The drill hit my tooth and my entire head vibrated. The drill hit a nerve. The physical pain distracted me out of my panic for a moment and I remember to breath through my nose. Black dots in my field of vision. The sensation of going into a tunnel as my periphery goes to black.
I could stop this, but i’m a man, not a child. So I don’t. I told myself that they weren’t trying to kill me. That I knew. I hold up a finger. They backed away and the dentist said a few comforting words. “No problem Chris.” I felt so stupid. They saw a child and I felt just like that child. This shouldn’t happen to me. Anymore.
It was the trigger. It took me back to a time when I had no control. Yet I live in this man’s body so I felt exposed, embarrassed, and vulnerable. It is something I am constantly working through. The alternative is to never go to the dentist. Never see the doctor. Never live my life.
I climb steep mountains for fun, yet it’s the routine things that seem to scare me the most.
So many of the routines in life are anything but to trauma survivors. It is part of the reason I tell others about my trauma. It makes them aware and sensitive. It’s a way of telling someone this is not about you. This is about me. I may have a panic attack, but that’s just my body reacting and it’s perfectly okay. Even if it looks like i’m not. It’s like an ocean wave that needs to pass.
The effects of past trauma can’t be conquered. You learn to let it flow. You know what it is. It goes. You survive.