THE ALIVENESS OF ME
The good news is that I was born a healthy 6 pound, 7 ounce baby. The bad news is that I began to lose weight. One pound. Two pounds. When I reached 4 pounds, the doctors finally got the diagnosis right: pyloric stenosis. Pyloric stenosis is a blockage between the stomach and the small intestine. No food was getting through. I was starving and needed surgery.
The good news is that the surgery was a success. Here I am! Since the operation, I have not had any stomach problems. Amazing. The bad news is that I was probably operated on without anesthesia and given a paralytic drug instead. In essence, I was awake for the surgery. I definitely did not receive adequate pain control in recovery.
The day I was to be discharged, the surgeon called my mother into his office. He was a German Jew who had escaped Nazi Germany and his accent was still strong. “Mrs. Villiams, vee vill not be doing surgery again. If she cries, she dies.” If she cries, she dies! No hard coughs or burps. No screaming or crying. No large movements. If the stitches burst, there would be no redo. You can imagine what that was like for my parents. Many of you are parents. Extremely difficult.
According to my mother, “the battle was on.” First, my mother and father sent my brother Wayne to my aunt and uncle’s for a few weeks. Then, they made a schedule so that they could watch over me 24/7. 24/7. The good news is that my stitches remained intact. The bad news is that I learned something terrible about my emotions and about my body. I learned that my emotions kill and that my body is an enemy.
I grew up. I had many friends. I had fun and excitement. Many successes. But I had downs. Big downs. My life was a roller coaster of ups and huge downs. In time, I grew apart from myself. I lost myself. At age 22, I crashed. I had a breakdown.
The good news is that I discovered writing. I began to journal and journal and journal. I wrote poetry. Slowly, I used writing to re-discover who I was. I used writing to locate the emotional me. I wrote my way back.
While I have had many successes since discovering writing–the publication of my short stories and poetry, the earning of a Master of Fine Arts degree in Creative Writing, and a profession teaching writing to hundreds and hundreds of students, a blessing–my biggest achievement is an internal one.
Writing enabled me to know myself inside. I realized that emotions are not dangerous; they are who I am. Emotions are my guideposts to the aliveness of me. And my body–my body is not my enemy; my body is home.
Note: Toastmasters is an international organization dedicated to helping people become confident, successful speakers and leaders. The first speech, the Icebreaker, is meant to introduce oneself to the group. I chose to speak about pyloric stenosis not only to share a super-powerful event that determined the course of my life in every way, but also to raise awareness about the long-term emotional effects of infant surgery. Each person’s infant surgery story is, of course, different, but many people are still suffering from early surgeries they’ve had with or without anesthetic. In fact, many suffer from post-traumatic stress due to preverbal medical trauma. I didn’t mention this fact in my speech because I wanted to keep it more personal. But in a future speech, I will explain the cause and effect relationship between infant surgery and post-traumatic stress or PTS. And I will record it here on my blog for you.