On Pain

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If I grew up in the age when television became the nation’s mommy, Charles was the poster boy of a time when psychopharmacology offers itself as the cure for the least emotional failings.

When I met him I thought having grown up suffering from Crohn’s disease would’ve toughened him. Instead he’d spent most of his early life coming to depend on medication to make life tolerable.

Charles could never settle for mere amelioration. Every regret, melancholy moment, itch and ache had to be obliterated. He never could make peace with life’s quotidian imperfections.

I watched as he tried an array of psychiatric drugs. Normally they brought fresh distress instead of relief. He was striving for a cocktail of pills that would enable him to be effortlessly happy, never willing to make the exertions within himself that were the only possible real cure.

And he turned to medicating himself with street drugs. Sometimes he was breathtakingly preposterous. I remember being furious the day I came home and he blandly informed me that he’d spent $200 on cocaine because he had a toothache.

The allure of opiates once succumbed to was something from which he could never fully retreat. Little pills whose names I’ve forgotten, heroin, OxyContin, finally the Dilaudil with which he extinguished himself.

Often he’d walk away from opiates for a time. Gloom or a headache unfailingly brought him back.

Some people throwaway whole days in reaction to superficial annoyances (an ailment born of having too much leisure perhaps). They lavish attention on their displeasure as it were a hobby. And watch Oprah.

Some waste much of their life because it doesn’t match the expectations of their childhood (when in history did this malady first appear?). When they aren’t watching Oprah they often foster conspiracy theories.

Charles lived in the grip of both species of self-indulgence.

Not that I have a lesson to offer. Every time I stump my own I’m reminded of my own cowardice.

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