Essay: Your Teeth Matter

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Many years ago, when I was in rehab, in my first year of sobriety, my counselor had some issues going on with her. Her teeth were giving her grief, and she ignored them, to her own peril. In the end, they had to pull them all, and put in implants. A job that cost a lot of money and caused her months of grief.

I seem to be walking that very same path myself.

When you are diagnosed with AIDS, like I was, whatever else was going on in your body took a backseat to your survival, from said AIDS diagnosis. The initial push to survived trumped any other problem, to our own peril, we know today.

The problem with AIDS, and now HIV is problematic. Because the medication you take is solely for the purpose of keeping you alive. And in many cases, the drugs we take are toxic to the rest of our bodies. And in many cases, other areas of care, become infected, or affected. there is no clear cut way, to properly medicate a body that is immuno – compromised.

AIDS does that to your body. You might be able to save the body, but not its constituent parts, separately. So you have to care for what you can, as long as you can, and hope major issues don’t arise. BUT, HIV is capricious. She is stealthy and devious. You never know when something is going to fail, until it fails you. Then you need extra attention or medical attention.

THAT IS, IF YOU CAN AFFORD SAID CARE …

 

We believe that our teeth will always be in our mouths, and that they will be our North Star, and never fail us … Sadly, that is far from the truth.

I should know this because Memere and Pepere, my mom’s parents, and my father’s father all had dentures by the time I came along. Grammy was the only one who died with all of her teeth in tact.

I should have heeded that warning long ago and took it into consideration, but that was not my case. Far more serious issues befell me and the concentration on survival, took precedence over any other arching issue.

Your medical heath came in the order of importance. Survival was at the top of the list. Everything else took a back seat.

Some time ago, my teeth began to fail, as I crossed the FIFTY mark in my life. One at a time. And as they gave me grief, my trusted dentist, who had been located in the HIV clinic, at the Montreal General, did the work for us, at reduced costs, because who could afford full bore dental payments?

Living on a fixed income as we had for so many years, cost us, in more ways than one. Thankfully, hubby has not seen serious teeth issues yet. But he sure is clued in now, because of where I am today.

Thinking that small problems could be “pulled out” and not repeat themselves was a false belief in my own body’s ability to prevent infection and further pain.

Many months ago, hubby insisted that I go find a reputable dentist who could fix my teeth, once in for all. We knew implants were the only real solution. After two sorties into the world of dental implants, and the costs of said work, turned out to be too expensive for our purses, combined.

We cannot afford upwards of $50,000.00 of dental implants.

Basic insurance in Quebec does not cover major dental. So we knew I would be screwed. One outfit, quoted me almost $48,000 and six months work time. The other was higher, around the $50,000.00 mark, with TWO YEARS work time.

I’ve been not doing well since.

Having to accept myself as I am. Knowing there is no viable solution to my teeth problem, at the moment. And having to accept that my friends look at me with pity, that I cannot afford to properly take care of my own welfare, makes me a little crazy, when my friends won’t look me in the eye, or look away from me, when I speak to them is disconcerting.

Over the past two months, I’ve developed serious infections. I had an abscess on the upper left side of my mouth, with a tooth that just disintegrated in my mouth. That got seriously infected and caused serious nerve damage in my mouth and on the left side of my face. My HIV doctor prescribed me Antibiotics for the infection.

That was a week’s treatment for an issue that only got worse. That hole in my mouth is still there, and the infection with it, it only moved around my mouth into the right side of my jaw and the right side of my face.

So, for the last two months, I’ve been on a steady diet of pain killers and antibiotics. I had been eating pain killers like candy, because the pain has been so insane. I’ve had issues with eating food, brushing my teeth, and sleeping at night.

This problem grew exponentially last week. By weeks end, I was a sobbing mess. I do not do excessive pain very well. I can do PAIN. But not PAIN that does not go away, and throbs in my head, like a jack hammer.

One oft day, I was getting ready to Skype with Spencer, and as the call went through and he appeared on my screen, I had a pain attack that went off the charts as I sat in front of him. Clearly, I was headed downhill very quickly. I could not pound away a pain-killer and hope it did the trick in a matter of minutes. WRONG !!!

This went on for two weeks, and culminated last week, when I could not stand the pain any more. I called all the appropriate doctors, my dentist, and made appointments, that fell during the rest of the month, and not appropriately, NOW as I needed them.

I could not get into my HIV doctor because he in on vacation, and when he goes away, nobody takes his patients. That’s just the way the Quebec Medical System works here.

You make an appointment, and hope you don’t progress further downhill in between. I could not get into the dentist either, because she was booked, and they did not think me an emergency, when I made the appointment, last week.

By Wednesday last week, like I said, I was a sobbing mess. I could no longer medicate the pain away. It was just too much on my system. On Saturday, I was up before dawn, waiting for the clinic, in the mall up the street to open.

It became an EMERGENCY VERY QUICKLY !!!

There is a Dental Clinic in Alexis Nihon, right up the street from home. I knew it was there, but never considered walking in there and doing something about my problems, because, I knew, for the last few months, what HAD to be DONE.

There were no two ways about it.

At Fifty One, my teeth need to be replaced.

So This is a General Warning to all of you …

IF YOU DO NOT PAY ATTENTION TO YOUR TEETH AND TREAT THEM AS IMPORTANTLY AS YOUR MEDICAL HEALTH, YOU WILL PAY, IN THE END.

Having several warnings in my life, did not make any difference. Knowing people, IN SOBRIETY, who walked this same path, did not impress upon me, the importance of self-care.

But, when you know you cannot afford certain care, what the fuck to do ???

When one is stuck between a rock and a hard place, one has to accept certain truths, no matter how egregious they are.

Saturday morning I got an appointment two hours later.

I went to the Dental Care Clinic. They could not have been more accommodating.

They certainly rose to the occasion.

I was seated by my appointment time. They had done the x-rays, and in minutes I had several dentists in the room with me, telling me what I needed to know. One doctor said he could root canal the tooth and save it. That I did not need serious surgical procedures.

But I told him that the tooth had cracked and was broken, and was giving me so much pain that I could not stand it any longer, and that the tooth needed to come out.

The three teeth on my lower right side, from the back coming forwards are close together. The one tooth at the back is safe. The two teeth in front had such cavities, and the nerves in both teeth had been impacted, causing me neural infection on the right side of my face.

The choice was surgery …

A second young woman doctor came in and told me she was gong to freeze my mouth and told the hygienist that she should prep for surgery. About ten minutes later, they went in with both guns blazing.

They pulled and tugged that damned tooth out of my mouth, while I was holding onto the chair for dear life. They cleared the tooth in front of it. And twenty minutes later, the tooth was out of my mouth, and for the first time in weeks, the pain was gone.

Talk about GRATITUDE …

They gave me a second round of antibiotics and pain killers to chase them.

They took great pains to warn me of all the things I could not do, for twenty-four hours after surgery, for if I transgressed the warnings, the pain in return would be greater.

The infection in my mouth was all over the place. One round of antibiotics on their own did not do the trick, and the infection made a tour around my mouth. So after radical dental surgery, another round of antibiotics.

I’m eating on the left side of my mouth. Have been for some time now. Now, I just need to wait out a little longer for the hole to heal over completely, before I introduce food to the right side of my mouth.

The issue of what to do with the rest of my mouth is still in play. I have a follow-up appointment on Friday this week to get a full picture of the severity of my problem, because none of the dentists I HAD SEEN about implants did any kind of explorative foray into my teeth.

First they wanted a commitment AND CASH to begin the process.

I could not commit to either plan, because we could not afford to see it through to the end. And I could not, in good conscience, saddle hubby with a $50,000.00 loan that the bank would not give us even on a good day, and thinking that I would not survive seeing that kind of money paid back in full prior to my own death …

And that my friends is the latest saga in I need new teeth and soon story.

Hubby got the job, in principle, he has been working towards. Hopefully in the next little while he will get his start date. And hopefully soon after that, we may have a solution to my problem.

A Platinum Insurance plan that will cover Major Dental.

If that plan exists,  in the constellation of insurance coverage, hubby is going to BUY IN, and pay the extra costs in having that ability to help me finally.

Needless to say, hubby is clearly aware of my situation, and has had a serious time dealing with his inability to provide properly. Because I live on a fixed income from the U.S. Government and that money only pays for the roof over our heads every month. We do not get any more use out of that monthly stipend. So my hands are tied to what I can contribute to the house purse.

Being fucked sucks …

That is just the reality we live with day in and day out.

Hopefully, a solution is on the horizon. We will find it, one way or another.

Thursday: Presence

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It is BRUTALLY COLD outside. ( -23c / -32 w.c. ) At this hour. It is so cold that skin that is open to the cold will freeze in moments, if you aren’t protected. The weather people have been warning us for days about this cold snap that will last at least for another week at best.

The City has opened the Metro Stations as warming centers for the homeless. Shelters are stacking more beds, and the city shelter bus transport system is working over time to make sure that people are not sleeping on the streets and in the parks.

But, let’s be honest too. There are those who will NOT accept shelter assistance. Even if it is minus 30 outside. There are those who prefer to sleep on the streets. And again, this year, people will die from cold and exposure. The story is the same across Canada, in many cities, especially in the Prairie Provinces.

A question that was posed to me a very long time ago was this … Not that I came from a four season city, but I live in one now. If you went out to score drugs or alcohol in the middle of a blizzard, or go out in the COLD to SCORE, then you are able to hit a meeting, no matter how cold it is.

I learned when I moved here, what it was going to take to make it out when it is brutally cold outside. Every year I polish my cold weather gear. Since I changed up my wardrobe months ago, My sporty training gear that I do wear, has to be warm.

I spent a pretty penny purchasing Professional Hockey Thermal Gear this year. I went to a local hockey outfitter and I bought the exact same warming system that professional hockey players wear on the ice. Tonight a friend of mine asked me if I was cold, and I told her no, I am pretty well insulated.

I saw an old, lady friend from the Tuesday meeting. She had not seen me in many months, and she was floored when she learned how hard I had been training these past few months, and the way the KETO diet works, and how much weight I have dropped in the last calendar year.

I notice, on a nightly basis, those young people who are suiting up and showing up. They all have been schooled in where to sit ( UP FRONT) and not in the back. They sit AT the table at the other meetings, we call that (Front Row Sobriety). Our young people struggling through their first sober holiday season, have been present.

And WE are present for THEM.

I spoke to a friend tonight about paying it forward. He agreed. If we can circulate young people into service positions now, and hope they maintain a connection to others, in that service, they will stay sober in the long run.

One of our elder men spoke tonight. There are a handful of old sober men, (read: 30 Plus years sober) who suit up and show up and are engaged. A common complaint within our elder men and women community, is that at some point, old timers or elders, think that they have had enough, that they have served enough, and they back off. Some show up, others DON’T. And a handful of them DRINK AGAIN.

Darkness and Cold are harbingers of bad news. If you don’t suit up and show up and remain connected and PRESENT, for yourself as well as for others, You Are SUNK.

I’m happy to report that our young people are actively involved in meeting fellowship and service. We have worked hard to get them to stay and connect, from the very first, NOW, and not wait until they have a bit more time under their belts.

The sooner we get them connected and serving their fellows, the better off they will be for the future. Our Monday crowd is on the beam, so to speak. They are showing up, even when it is brutally cold outside.

New Years is coming up, here in Montreal. And the biggest bash of the city, the FINAL 375th Anniversary Montreal Celebration, takes place on New Years Eve, in the Old Port. OUTSIDE !!!

I was secretary tonight and in  my announcements, I told the crowd that if they wanted to brave the cold like a good alcoholic to ring in the New Year, that was a choice they could make.

But I also gave the crowd a couple of other choices too. The Montreal Young Peoples conference is hosting a New Years Dance and Party, like they do every year. And they bring them in too. Everybody shows up for this yearly event, which is INSIDE.

The third choice is out on the South Shore, that’s a drive from here, across highways that are all torn up and useless due to construction and demolition. But the South Shore groups are hosting a New Years Dance, with food, fun and a live band.

People have choices. I am sure that in every city where people are sober, You Too can find someplace Sober to be for the New Year.

I spoke to a friend the other day about New York City and the Ball Drop. Some people get to Time Square in the afternoon, and they get PENNED IN, for HOURS. In the BRUTAL COLD, with no bathrooms, no drinks, no food. NADA. Just to see that damned ball drop in Time Square.

I watch that ball drop from the comfort of my warm and toasty living room.

Can you imagine that hell on earth, all to say that you at least experienced New York on New Years Eve, I’d rather eat dirt …

Remember that PRESENCE is the greatest gift you can give your family and friends this holiday season, just by suiting up and showing up, You Too can change a life for the better. Because you are there for them, like we were there for you, when you came in.

Now we teach that if this is your first sober holiday, that let this year be a template for you for years to come, when next Christmas you will know what to do and where to do it, so that you keep a room open for those kids who might need it, because this year, you needed it and we were there for you.

Paying it Forward.

If you practice the sober plan of living and you build it into your life, you will always have someplace to BE, something to DO and people to give TO. Year after Year, for the rest of your life.

Sobriety is NEVER boring.

I hope for all of you this New Year.

Thursday: “Absolutely, Completely, Thoroughly, Honestly” Redux: Secrets and Lies

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RARELY have we seen a person fail who has thoroughly followed our path. Those who do not recover are people who cannot or will not completely give themselves to this simple program, usually men and women who are constitutionally incapable of being honest with themselves. There are such unfortunates. They are not at fault; they seem to have been born that way. They are naturally incapable of grasping and developing a manner of living which demands rigorous honesty. Their chances are less than average. There are those, too, who suffer from grave emotional and mental disorders, but many of them do recover if they have the capacity to be honest.

Our stories disclose in a general way what we used to be like, what happened, and what we are like now. If you have decided that you want what we have and are willing to go to any length to get it – then you are ready to take certain steps.

At some of these we balked. We thought that we could find an easier, softer way. But we could not. With all earnestness at our command, we beg of you to be fearless and thorough from the very start. Some of us have tried to hold on to our old ideas and the result was nil until we let go absolutely.

Remember that we deal with alcohol – cunning, baffling, powerful! Without help it is too much for us. But there is One who has all power – that One is God. May you find him now.

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Tonight, they tell us, will be the last minus twenty we may see this season. It has been a bitter day today, temperature wise. It has been a week full of things to do, people to see and meetings to get to.

I had to go see my doctor this afternoon for my Winter check up. It’s all good news on that front. I have to have a bone density test done soon, because they think that I may have osteoporosis. (read: You are getting old man).

When I arrived at the point that God felt I was ready to work with others, he opened the gates and sent me my troop. And ever since then, I have endeavored to be absolutely, completely, thoroughly, honest. Over the past few days, it has been said that I have kept my troop honest. Which filled my heart with joy overflowing.

There are things we do daily, weekly, and often that keep us on the path to staying honest in all our affairs. Over the past few weeks, we have heard stories, and I have written about them here. The overarching theme lately has been, what happens when we are dishonest, when we keep secrets and when we tell lies.

I can’t repeat often enough, the warnings we are hearing from the chair at speaker meetings.

How it Works, is a staple reading, you hear at almost every meeting, one way or another. It is repetitive, and the words never change. They were written decades ago and are words of wisdom from a bygone era. Tonight, we listened to it read at the top of the meeting, and we heard the reading parsed by our speaker tonight.

“Absolutley, Completely, Thoroughly, Honestly”

There comes a time in sobriety, that we think we have this all wrapped up, and we are doing well, and have no fear of that first drink. Scary …

But when the chips are down, and we are against the proverbial wall, are we able to speak to our friends and fellows, and tell them that “maybe we are not doing so well, and that we may be in trouble, and that the outsides might not be congruent with our insides?”

We go into meetings, and we always want to look good on the outside, because we want our fellows to see calm, sober, good looking people. But just beneath the surface, the reality might be that we are not really calm, or sober, or good looking.

Sometimes, we are just not 100%.

The truth is when we are able to say, “I am not okay!”

If we are rooted in honesty, even if it hurts, we can share anything with our friends and sponsors. This is where, secrets and lies, arise. They say, and I heard it again tonight, that “While we are in meetings, our alcoholism is out in the parking lot doing push ups … Waiting patiently for us outside.”

And you never know, when it is going to happen. We begin to keep secrets, and our old alcoholic behavior rears its ugly head. Our old thinking returns, old patterns return, and we slip into old behavior, oh so quietly. And we might not recognize it right away, and if we don’t, we are off to the races.

They tell us that when we hit a slip, that it is premeditated. That often, what starts as an errant thought, becomes an errant action. Time and time again, we listen to stories of people who go back out, and when they return, we hear what happened and what led them back out the door.

Sobriety Looses Its Priority.

What happens when we keep secrets and what happens when we begin telling lies, not to others, but lying to ourselves to begin with? It begins with us, in our heads. If we are not vigilant we can fall into this trap. Secrets and Lies.

It might be simple and innocuous, but after a while, becomes a snowball heading down the mountain at 100 miles per hour.

I sat there tonight, listening to a man tell a story about being sober a LONG time, falling into old behavior, and then he kept a secret and told a few lies, and then ended up in a bar, with not one beer, BUT TWO …

Then follows years of getting stuck in the proverbial revolving door. Our man is one, that I have seen in my time, who collect enough beginner’s chips to tile a bathroom with. He goes to meetings, but is unwilling to get honest. Sponsors turn him away and won’t take him on, because, let’s face it, if we are being honest, if you aren’t in the game, most men or women would not take you on, unless you are ready and willing to get honest, because this is your life/our life we are talking about.

The warning is very stark and very real.

We heard it again tonight, those similar words,

“Please, for the love of God, Do Not Do what I did.”

If you are out there in the room, and you are pondering a slip, or you are in any way feeling squirrely, or you are coming back, please, talk to someone, don’t leave this room with shit on your shoulders.

When I hear stories like this time and time again, I come home and I write them down, then I turn around and speak to my troop about warnings and prevention.

I remind them that this is not a game to be taken lightly. They need to be in the game 100%, and we work tirelessly, to maintain The Work at maximum efficiency.

Winter has not been kind to our numbers. For the last few months, on both the sides of women and men, we have heard how they have battled the bottle in sobriety.

I go to my meetings, and I know my friends, and I get there early enough that I get to spend twenty minutes talking to them. We know who the front row sobriety folks are, and we also know who the back benchers are. Which is why, at certain meetings, we have moved seats forward and off the back wall. We put out more chairs in the room proper, to make sure, everyone is sitting amongst everybody.

That is why we stress, at my home groups that, the twenty minutes before and the twenty minutes after are the most important minutes in a meeting, because we get fellowship, phone numbers and friends. Not necessarily in that order.

The warnings have been clear … Absolutely, Completely, Thoroughly, Honestly.

Anything else, is a recipe for certain disaster …

 

Thursday … You Can`t Fly on One Wing

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Monday, Environment Canada put up warnings that we were going to get big snow followed by sleet and freezing rain, that would, in fact, impact traffic and travel, Tuesday night, through Wednesday. The TV people were parroting those same weather warnings as well. People were freaking out, and that is never very good.

Yes, it did snow, accidents did happen, and it also rained. The temps rose to a positive 9c degrees, that same day. When I got up, there was very little snow on the ground, a dusting, you might call it, and it was pissing rain.

The warnings did go up, the rush hour was a mess, but a major warning that is put up days before an event, never bodes well for us as a city. In most cases, they get it wrong, and people die because of them.

By Wednesday, I had been feeling a little bit Blah, I was feeling old, and I sat with that, I spent most of Wednesday sleeping, I guess I needed it.

I got up to do laundry that was about it.

Today, I had things to do, people to see, and possibly a meeting as well. I had not planned on the meeting, but I was sitting with one of my guys, and he asked if we were going to the meeting, thinking quick, I said, yes, we’ll hit the meeting.

It was a really good thing we did, because tonight’s speaker just drove home the conversation we began at Timmy’s an hour prior.

The take away … “You Can’t Fly on One Wing …”

If you are an alcoholic, you might understand this sentence.

Alcoholism is called Alcoholism, not Alcoholwasum.

All of us agree on one thing, most of us cannot fathom having just “one drink” and leaving it at that, or drinking “some” wine, or “some” liquor. Drinking for many of us IS an all or nothing proposition.

Our man tonight, spoke about stopping at a bar one night, knowing that he was not going to have just one drink, If he was in for one, he was in for two, then he was in for twelve … for that matter.

“You Can’t Fly on One Wing ….”

That night, after years of hostages and drinking and drugging his desire for not wanting to be alone, a thread that leads from the beginning to the bitter end, follows him into the bar. Drunk and stupid, he propositions the bar maid.

She turned to him, and gave him a withering look of utter disgust.

He went home alone that night. The good thing was that in a way she did go home with him, figuratively, when he woke the next morning, it was the visual of her face of disgust, that was burned into his brain.

Then a moment of clarity …

Our man called his father, who had been sober, since he was thirteen, told him to come to us, and find some “friends.” He did that. That was not his last drink, though, a few more would follow, but he is sober today.

His father, God willing, will celebrate 50 years sober this Spring.

Our man knew the drill, had a sober family member in the house, and time under his belt in Alateen. He watched his father bring a meeting into their house for years before it finally settled where it is today, THEN. It wasn’t like he did not know what alcoholism was.

But he became an alcoholic, and spent the better part of thirty years, drinking.

But for the grace of God, today he is married to a fine woman, from the rooms, now twenty years. He also said, that he wasn’t sure if he could have a relationship with a “civilian.”

I sat with my friend, who is embarking on hopeful marriage and career, who heard our man tonight, tell his story.

Warning Lights were flashing …

God has great sense of timing, in everything that HE does.

Two friends took cakes tonight. One a woman we all know and love, took nineteen years. It has been a very hard year. She buried her son last fall from a drug overdose, and like her sponsor said tonight …

Through all that pain and misery, she did not drink, and that she stayed in the “middle of the boat.”

Most people never find their way to the rooms, and they end up dead. Even if we are family or friends. Sad but True.

One of my mentors, a man I love, took his twenty six year cake as well. His story is another that remains in the front of my brain.

It was a good night.

“You Can’t Fly on One Wing…”