Coming out of anesthesia
I want to know how it feels to hurt
I've been above it all but I changed my mind
It's time for me to come down
-- Amy Rigby, "Time for Me to Come Down."
There are different degrees of anesthesia. At the extreme, call it "Level One Anesthesia," you don't even know you're anesthetized. That's a very comfortable level, if you can attain it. Addicts kill themselves trying.
Drop down a notch to Level Two Anesthesia and you're still numb, but now you know, at some level, that you're numb. And this can't help but interfere with the comfort of your numbness, for you'll naturally wonder what you're not feeling and you'll probably conclude that it's pain you're avoiding. After all, why would anyone avoid pleasure? Then you discover that the mere thought of the avoided pain approximates the feeling of the pain, you begin to fear it, you try to forget it while watching for it, and you wonder how much more anesthesia you'll need, let's maybe try a little more. Addicts kill themselves trying.
Level Three Anesthesia is perhaps the most dramatic; you swing wildly from comfort to discomfort, or at least that's how you feel, as these new feelings penetrate your anesthetic shell and wreak all sorts of havoc until you can shut them out again. You know when your foot's been asleep for a while and you realize it and uncross your leg and you feel that uncomfortable tingling sensation as the blood rushes in again? You really notice your foot, in a way you don't normally notice it. Well something similar happens when the feelings return after you've been numb for a while. You really notice them, you really feel them, much more acutely than you would normally. And if those new feelings happen to be painful, they hit you harder, causing you to recoil violently, desperate to return to your familiar safe harbor of anesthesia. You'll do anything to get there. Addicts kill themselves trying.
Level Four Anesthesia is situational; you anesthetize yourself only when confronted with particularly uncomfortable feelings. You drink to lubricate your way through a party, you pop a pill to take off before boarding that flight. This is a highly-populated level. More bingers than addicts here, though level four is certainly a gateway to addiction.
Drink to excess, pop pills or ingest other out-of-control substances, or do all three, these are the traditional ways to anesthetize yourself. But if you want the longest lasting anesthesia, a self-sustaining sensation that keeps you at Level One for years, you must enlist your mind. With massive doses of avoidance, denial and delusion, your mind can be mind-altering all by itself. No need for alcohol or drugs. This self anesthesia is less toxic than alcohol or drugs, you could even say it's the organic alternative, but it's just as addictive. And more dangerous.
Recently I realized I'd lived most of my life at Level One. Without the assistance of drugs or alcohol. This was quite an organic accomplishment, I thought proudly, but this knowledge quickly dropped me to Level Two, bringing deep fears, increased anxiety and ultimately triggering a severe depression. Especially when, along the way, I began to see the side effects of a life under anesthesia: Successful as I was at avoiding pain, I was equally successful at avoiding happiness. Now I feared pain, which was painful, but I neither felt nor ever expected to feel happiness, which was devastating.
So now with pain around every corner and happiness nothing more than a word in the dictionary, I hesitate to take the next step, staring into the void. I mean, what's the point?
But intellectually I know that pain and pleasure, like light and darkness, succeed each other, and that pain is life -- the sharper, the more evidence of life. Isolated above it all in my anesthetized mind, safe from every feeling in this cold, barren and lifeless fortress I've built for myself, I appreciate for the first time what it means to be one of the living dead.
I think it's time for me to come down.