I encountered a ghost this week

I encountered a ghost this week at the dentist’s. It was time for my semiannual teeth cleaning. My wife and I use the same dental practice, about an hour from our home, so we schedule our coinciding appointments.  The same hygienist has scraped my teeth and chatted up my ears for 15 years.  She knows my mouth better than anyone and is one of a very few select people allowed into it.  Considering my history this makes sense.  Only today someone else cleaned my teeth, someone I’d never met before.

 The dental chair is a place of vulnerability.  I lie still while someone roots around in my mouth with sharp instruments easily capable of inflicting pain on my tender parts.  It is hard to speak up or protest with sharp instruments scraping away in your mouth. 

managing the ancient panic welling up inside me

 So today I sat in the chair, and someone with an unfamiliar routine and an obvious degree of nervousness, banged around in my mouth.  I was doing okay, managing the ancient panic welling up inside me, talking down the scared little boy until she grabbed my chin to get more leverage on a particular tough spot of plaque.  Two realities intersected in that moment: the here and now and the past and gone.  For a moment the hygienist hand and the hand of an abuser held my mouth open, immobile, one to insert a dental instrument and scrape my teeth, the other to hold me immobile and insert a body part for his self-gratification.  For just a moment they shared the same place and then my adult voice came to the rescue and pushed back the past.  The reverberations continue for hours.  My sense of safety came into question.  I made it through the process, pretended everything was okay and retreated to my car to await my wife and our trip home.

 A ghost of the past visited today. While he is gone his spectral presence leaves icy chills behind.  Eventually they will pass.  I know this.  I trust this.  Dammit, where are the ghost buster when you need them?

I have learned to be my own ghost buster.

I have learned to be my own ghost buster.  At home I gave myself space and grace.  I was gentle with my fearful side and cared for it.  In the past I would choose to grin and bear it, remaining silent. This time, after a couple days, when I was ready, I spoke up.  I wrote an email to my dentist explaining what happened, without blame, and indicating I needed my regular hygienist in the future or advance notice of a change.  I spoke up.  No longer a victim to my past.  I call that ghost busting.    

Where do you need to speak up in your life?  What will help you to bust some ghosts? You do not have to do this alone. Reach out to trusted, supportive family, friends, professionals to support you.  In my experience health care providers are very receptive to my concerns and needs.  If they aren’t they are no longer my providers.

Feel free to share the ways you bust your ghosts in the comments below.  We draw strength and encouragement from each other.

Be well. Stay safe. Take good care.

Mike

mike@menhealing.org


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2 thoughts on “Surprise Ghost Visit At The Dentist’s”

  1. Josef Blumenfeld

    My trauma history makes a trip to the dentist terrifying and triggering. After avoiding dental care for an embarrassingly long time, you can imagine the condition of my mouth. I had to go. My wife had to bring me and stay with me – for days before the appointment, I was an anxious mess. But I met a dentist that took the time to listen and learn; Dr. Arielle Curtis in Chestnut Hill, MA wanted the experience to be healing physically and mentally. Ignoring dental hygiene meant that I also needed an oral surgeon – Dr. Curtis took the time speak with the surgeon, explain my history and its impacts, and ensure that “the right” person would make sure this experience would be tolerable for me. Looking outside my mouth, she treated the whole patient, allowing me to receive better dental care in a non-triggering way.

    Trauma-informed dentistry (and other medical practices) exists, and I encourage every medical professional to learn more and discover vital ways to help make healthcare more accessible for survivors and others. It’s the difference between medical practice and medical care.

    My wife still has to bring me, but I now go to the dentist every 6 months for regular cleanings and care. One more step in a healing journey that has surprises around every corner.

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