I thought it was a loose crown. It was only put on six months ago, one of four treatments I could finally afford; three implants and a crown on one of the root canal victims.
I like my new teeth and my crown. My cheeks no longer look like they’re collapsing. I can chew solid food again and I’ve eliminated the gaps in my smile, save for the one at the bottom just right of centre; the implant there keeps failing, complications of a chronic infection in my chin brought on by decades of self-mutilation.
It was not a loose crown.
I went in on a Monday. It was a good day, which was a nice change; I don’t often have those of late. It was sunny and that helps; the grey winters of the West Coast drag me down even when depression isn’t acting up. I went in feeling optimistic, expecting the dentist to give the crown a wiggle, pop it off, and attach more adhesive before sliding it back into place. Alas, that was not to be.
I didn’t clue in after the first x-ray. Or the second. Obliviousness or denial is unclear. But the dentist came back after the third and sat down.
I’m going to need a specialist, he said. It’s not the crown that’s loose, it’s the tooth. Turns out it’s dying and trying its best to fall out of my head. The root is disappearing; it’s being reabsorbed by my body. The news that this was relatively rare was not as comforting as they might have supposed.
The misery and despair didn’t hit ‘til later though the effervesce I’d been enjoying fizzled. All I could think about initially was the waste of money. Fifteen-hundred dollars for a crown that is now likely destined for the bin. That is not a thrill.
My dentist is kind, and I tried to pay attention as he droned on. Tried not to freak out. I over-react to bad dental news. Probably because I’ve had so much. At any rate, I’m tired of crying in front of the hygienist. Maybe a root canal. Antibiotics to treat the infection I couldn’t feel because everything around that tooth has had the nerves removed already. He was sorry, he said, as he stood and walked away.
I chatted with the hygienist as I walked to the front to pay. I find it an interesting experience, paying for things that suck. Paying for the infliction of pain. I used my points Visa. Might as well get a free movie out of the experience.
I am not optimistic about saving the tooth. I’ve been here before. I am, however, sad and devastated. And a little angry. The great thing about eating disorders is they never stop giving.
You don’t think about the destruction you’re doing in the early days. Or, even in the later ones. You don’t think about anything but the eating disorder. I like to think I might have made changes if I’d known that my body would start to break down after decades of abuse but I probably wouldn’t have. After all, I kept smoking through pneumonia. We aren’t nearly as rational in our behaviours as we like to think and the demands of the eating disorder are severe. Non-compliance is hideously uncomfortable.
I think about the damage now, however. I think about my teeth and the increasing lack thereof a lot. I think about what I’ve done when I don’t eat this thing or that thing because I no longer have the chops. I think about it when I brush the teeth I have left and note their translucence, thinned by years of exposure to stomach acid. I think about damage to things that aren’t my teeth.
What I’ve done isn’t always the first thing on my mind but it’s there. Guilt. It’s hard to let go of, even when you know it’s for the best. The questions always come back. How could I do this to myself? It can’t be undone. It can’t be corrected. I can work on my recovery and try to move on and even stay sober for chunks at a time (eight months and counting) but I cannot change the past no matter how much I wish it.
The specialist will be calling. I will get to pay two-hundred dollars for the privilege of having him tell me that we should try to save the tooth even though the likely, ultimate result will be losing it. I’ve been here before. Procedure after painful and expensive procedure to try to save what will ultimately be lost.
So now I feel bad. My depression just got a kick in the face. I feel guilty although I know it’s in no way helpful. Even though I recognize that the eating disorder was in many ways the reason I survived. It was the coping device that let me live albeit in a dysfunctional fashion, that let me hold off the things – memories and emotions- that felt so terrifyingly destructive.
I think when bad, or unpleasant, or difficult things happen, we should give ourselves times to grieve. We have a “shake it off” attitude in our society. Nothing is supposed to cause more than a momentary blip. This ignores the reality that some things hurt. Some things cause us distress. Sometimes we need time to process.
I’ve decided on two days. I get two days to wallow, to grieve, to be angry, to at times blame myself. To mourn the pending loss of another tooth. Then it’s back to the business at hand, living life and trying to grow as a human.
Focusing on the things that are in my control. And eating crunchy food while I’m still able.
How do you let go of feelings of guilt?