Last night I awoke to strange mechanical noises. Trish was pushing the buttons on her bed and moving it up and down. So I got up and went to her side. I asked her, "honey, why are you moving your bed?"
"Because I want to," she said.
She was obviously worried, so I talked to her for a while. For the first time since she woke form her coma, she started talking about aspects of her recovery that causes her distress. Among the indignities she mentioned was "wearing boots to bed."
"That's not right, " she said. "I don't like wearing boots in bed."
At night the nurses put a boot-like contraption on her feet. Under these, she wears some legging-like things that constantly message her feet and legs. These work to prohibit the formation of blood clots. She has worn them for weeks. Last night was the first time she seemed upset about them.
I called for a nurse. When I had explained what Trish was saying, the nurse turned to her and said very tenderly, "you're right dear. Normal people don't wear boots to bed. The first step toward not having to wear them any more is becoming aware of what normal is. You are getting better, That's why you're suddenly upset with things."
A few minutes later, as I listened to Trish's breathing fall into a normal breathing pattern for a sleeping person, I lay awake a while thinking about what the nurse had said. I thought about the paradox of Trish's recovery actually making her more distressed. It made me think of one of the verse of Amazing Grace, "Twas grace that taught my heart to fear and grace my fears relieved." One of the best definitions of the process of recovery in the field of addictions involves four steps:
1. Unconscious incompetence (I screw up and don't know why)
2. Conscious incompetence (Now I know why I screw up)
3. Conscious competence (I don't screw up so much when I make myself focus on what I know I am supposed to do)
4. Unconscious competence (Most of the time I act in healthy ways without really thinking about it.)
Obviously, people at stage #1 & stage #4 of recovery are the most content people in the process! The folk in the other two steps may sometimes wish that they had remained unconscious of their incompetence! In recovery, people who "put their shoulder to the plow" must not look back. For once one becomes aware, there is no way to go but forward.
In addictions work, we often see family interventions. In these, one family member after another will say things to the addict like "Mom, you are addicted to pain medication. You are hurting all of us and we are tired of it." Or, "Sally, I am not sure I can live with you any more if you intend to keep using your drugs." For the addict, intervention feels like the worse day of his or her life. But it can be the beginning of a new and healthy life. The addict's self-created world gets shattered because it is a sick and counterfeit world and must be shattered. However, if it is the only world he or she knows, then for a while it will be difficult to imagine how life is going to work.
In the spiritual journey, those moments in which we become suddenly aware that we have been hateful, or selfish or a bore or addicted, are terribly difficult to bear, When these moments happen, we are actually making progress in our personal lives. Even though we feel worse we are actually getting better.
Grace teaches our hearts to fear before it moves to relieve our fears. We fear before we heal because we cannot heal ourselves and that vulnerability can be terrifying.
Last night, one of the nurses said, "Mrs. Scott, we are here because we want to serve you. If any of us had suffered what you have suffered, we would require the same care you are getting. We chose this profession because we are called to do this. We know that you are anxious tonight because you are getting better. You are a lady. Naturally, you are uncomfortable doing things ladies don't ordinarily do. But soon you will not have to do things like wear boots to bed. You have to wear them for a few more nights because you are still sick. You were so sick before that you didn't even care. Now that you are better, naturally you want to be totally well. But it is unfolding as it should. Be patient."
As these two servants of health and healing talked, Trish relaxed. Soon she was asleep. Amazing how a truthful explanation can soothe the soul.
"How precious did that grace appear the hour I first believed."
How gross our faults can appear to us the moment we are first willing to actually see them. We may have spent a lifetime not even believing we had faults. Then, for some reason, we receive grace to see our own faults as others see them. The sudden awareness of our own sinfulness and even wretchedness can be devastating. Even though our faults have been there all along and even though we realize that others are no different than we are, it is devastating to know that we are not in some kind of special category of sinlessness after all. We are in the same boat as all humanity and the things we hate in others have been in us all along. When we realize this, we naturally want to be completely well -- right now!
I hear the words of St. John's gospel, "God sent not His Son into the world to condemn the world but that through Him all might be saved." Without words like these, ignorance really would be bliss. One we hear them, our awareness of our own sin becomes an assurance that we are actually being saved. For the grace that makes us aware is the same grace that works mightily to relieve.
Consciousness has its price!