Saturday, April 6, 2024

The Nightmare Inside My Head Cave

Codeine is an opioid.
That's what I found out after I took it.
After eye surgery I was in so much pain, I needed more than Tylenol could offer. The anesthesia wore off. My eye felt like it had been stabbed with a hot poker repetitively. And since my doctor prescribed codeine, I took one pill.
One pill.
One pill and one hour later I was the most paranoid and panicky I have ever been. I had this awful feeling of dread, like there was someone with bad intentions just down the street, who was looking for me and had just turned the corner and was headed my way. The fact that it was nighttime and I had a patch over my eye made it worse. I had just had surgery to remove a pterygium from my left eye early that morning. I really couldn't use my good eye either. To open or move the good one meant the bad one moved with it, so the only way I could be pain free was to keep both eyes closed. I was trapped inside my head cave. And it was DARK. I have never been afraid of the dark, but with the codeine kicking in, I absolutely HATED the dark. I told the dark to hurry up and go away and prayed that I could fall asleep and wake up and it would be light out. I would doze off briefly, my head propped up on two large pillows to reduce the swelling in my eye, and then a few minutes, an hour, I don't know--some time later, I would wake up again, in full panic mode over some awful thing that was out to get me that I couldn't quite explain. I didn't actually THINK someone or something was coming to get me (I wasn't delusional) but I FELT like it. I had this awful anxiety accompanied by clammy skin, racing heart, short, shallow breaths and dizziness. I would sit up in bed and dangle my legs over the edge and suck in deep breaths, telling myself I was OK, that nothing bad was going to happen, that it was all in my mind--or in the medication, in this case. I could only see out of the tiny slit of my swollen left eye which made it harder to calm myself down. I felt trapped inside my head, trapped in the dark, trapped in bed. And quite honestly it was terrifying. I repeated the cycle of panic--wakeup--sit up--try to talk myself out of the panic - lie down again and close my eyes. This happened over and over. Finally, I fell asleep and woke up and it was light out. The nightmare was over. I vowed to never take codeine again.
I also vowed to never take my sight for granted again.
I also vowed to be more compassionate to people who are blind and to people who live with chronic pain. And people who live alone. People with anxiety or mental illness. And maybe even skiers and hikers and mountain climbers. Anyone who could be trapped.
It wasn't just the codeine that was frightening. There was something very terrifying about being "trapped inside my head" unable to open my eyes. For days, I could not keep my eyes open for more than a few seconds. I spent hours on end just sitting with my eyes closed listening to the world go on around me. I did notice one good thing in all the darkness. Food tasted so much better with my eyes closed. I am not sure why. Maybe since my eyes were out of commission, my taste buds moved into the sensory driver's seat? Other than that benefit, I wanted out of my head cave and back into the land of the light. Finally, on about the 4th day, I could open my eyes and peek around the room without as much pain. I was grateful to be out of the cave.

A few years ago, COVID felt like another dark head cave. Lockdowns. isolation, paranoia, panic and worry ravaged our minds. I feel like I came through it pretty well, but I know lots of people who feel like they went to bed in 2019, took a codeine pill, and woke up in a dark cave in 2020. And those folks with depression, substance abuse, addiction and other struggles, often times went even deeper into the cave during the pandemic. Old habits became new again. And no amount of pills, alcohol, drugs or diversion could soothe the pain. Then the lockdowns where lifted and it was time to come out of the head cave and get back to the land of living. Get back to work. Get back to childcare. Get back to school, concerts, parties, college, airports and the doctor's office. But many folks were squinting in this new sun. They were still in pain. They struggled to re-connect. Some of them were children and because they could not articulate their pain, they came out of the dark cave screaming and flailing their little arms and legs. They lashed out toward others or took it out on themselves. Handling them an iPad wasn't going to soothe them. Teachers were on the front lines as these kids emerged. They still have classrooms full of youth showing the effects of being stuck in their head caves for so long. And these same teachers have their own struggles, but often put them aside or shove them deeper into the cave to focus on the kids.

And now that we are a few years out from the pandemic--"back to normal"--we still have folks in their head caves. Just like we did before the pandemic. Maybe it's your child? Mom? Partner? Boss?
Maybe it is you? It's dark and lonely in there and the words you say to yourself echo around until they can nearly drive you crazy. As I am typing this, a song by George Michael came on. He sings about "love setting him free" and "being saved from himself" but ultimately the darkness inside his head cave closed around and consumed him. The official coroner's report attributes his death in 2016 to "heart disease", but if you watched the documentary you know he died of heartbreak, alone inside his dark head cave of loneliness.

I want to stick to the vow I made after my eye surgery: To be more compassionate to those inside dark head caves of loneliness, addiction, depression and anxiety. I remember those few hours I spent sitting up in the night, both eyes closed, steeped in dread and fear. Some folks spend their WHOLE LIVES fighting back the darkness. How can I help? Sometimes just NOTICING they are in the room. Noticing their smile. Their hard work. Telling them they matter. Are appreciated. Will you join me? Sometimes it's the little glimmers of light we provide that help them step out into the sun. And the funny thing is, when you help someone step out of the head cave into the light, you can't help but get a little bit of sunshine on your face as well.

-Hope A. Horner
Copyright 2024. Contact author on g mail at h o p e h 1 1 22 for reprinting or reposting permission.

Struggling with suicide or loneliness? Call 988. 

Saturday, January 13, 2024

No Surfing in Heaven?

As soon as the words were out of his mouth, I was shook. To my core. My mouth fell open. My head jerked his direction.
"There won't be any oceans in heaven." 
Those were the words that shook me to my core.
"What?!" I asked. My eyes wide with disbelief.
He continued. "In Revelation 21 it says, 'Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and first earth had passed away and there was no longer any sea.'"
While I was still processing this literal revelation, he added: "Yeah, the surfers won't be happy when they find that out."
I'm a native Californian. I LOVE the ocean. I live 45 minutes away from the ocean but I go to it monthly, like a pilgrim returning to the holy water. I feel like it re-centers me, calms my soul and reminds me to put life in perspective. I am small. Ocean is big. God is in charge. My mom tells me that when my parents would try to get me to come out of the ocean as a child, I would act like I couldn't hear them so I could stay in longer. I am not a surfer, unless you count the time I tried to surf in Hawaii and fell off my board and scratched myself up on the coral. But I was a boogie-boarder. For my thirteenth birthday I got a new boogie board and insisted my Dad take me to the beach that very same day so I could try it out. My birthday is in February.
The thought of no ocean in heaven was shocking. I stammered my disagreement.
"But wait, God created the oceans; why wouldn't they be in heaven?"

"Well, it doesn't appear there will be oceans in heaven according to Revelation, maybe rivers or lakes but not oceans...oceans were very destructive in ancient times. We're kind of romantic about them now but they meant floods and storms and shipwrecks to the people of the Bible."

"True, but water in general can be destructive and even the earth with earthquakes and what about fire? All that is destructive too. Isn't that just because the world is not the way it is supposed to be after the fall? I mean wouldn't heaven have a perfect ocean - one that doesn't destroy? No storms, no tsunamis? My goodness, no ocean. What about all of God's creatures in the ocean? The dolphins and fish and..." I was trying real hard to save the whales.

He continued: "Hard to say. There is a river in heaven based on Scripture...that has to run somewhere."
The dogs barked at a package delivery person at the door and the conversation ended. At least out loud. The voice inside my head was still talking. What? No ocean? NO OCEAN? Do I even want to go to heaven if there is no ocean? How can this be? God created the ocean and he said it was good. Now he's just going to get rid of the entire ocean and all the creatures in it? What a waste! 

When I got home, I cried. Sobbed actually. No ocean! I felt like a kid who waited his whole life to go to Disneyland. Mom and Dad pack him in the car, they drive in, park and run to the front gate only to find out Disneyland is closed. FOREVER. 

As soon as I could pull myself together, I had two thoughts. One, GET TO THE OCEAN AS SOON AS POSSIBLE GIRL. The darn thing won't be around forever. Even to type it now it makes my eyes water.
My second thought? I am going to have to look into this theory about no sea in heaven. Does every Christian believe this? Read Revelation this way? Could this be true?

Then I prayed a short prayer to God. "God please help me know if this is true and Lord, honestly I pray it isn't."

The first Christian I ran across online who believed there WAS an ocean in heaven was a giant of the faith--Charles Spurgeon. The "Prince of Preachers" says something so beautiful and comforting I am going to share it verbatim here:

Scarcely could we rejoice at the thought of losing the glorious old ocean: the new heavens and the new earth are none the fairer to our imagination, if, indeed, literally there is to be no great and wide sea, with its gleaming waves and shelly shores. Is not the text to be read as a metaphor, tinged with the prejudice with which the Oriental mind universally regarded the sea in the olden times? A real physical world without a sea it is mournful to imagine, it would be an iron ring without the sapphire which made it precious. There must be a spiritual meaning here. In the new dispensation, there will be no division–the sea separates nations and sunders peoples from each other. 

To John in Patmos the deep waters were like prison walls, shutting him out from his brethren and his work: there shall be no such barriers in the world to come. Leagues of rolling billows lie between us and many a kinsman whom tonight we prayerfully remember, but in the bright world to which we go there shall be unbroken fellowship for all the redeemed family. In this sense, there shall be no more sea. The sea is the emblem of change; with its ebbs and flows, its glassy smoothness and its mountainous billows, its gentle murmurs and its tumultuous roarings, it is never long the same. Slave of the fickle winds and the changeful moon, its instability is proverbial. In this mortal state, we have too much of this; earth is constant only in her inconstancy, but in the heavenly state all mournful change shall be unknown and with it all fear of storm to wreck our hopes and drown our joys. The sea of glass glows with a glory unbroken by a wave. No tempest howls along the peaceful shores of paradise. Soon shall we reach that happy land where partings, and changes, and storms shall be ended! Jesus will waft us there. Are we in him or not? This is the grand question.

Then I found this article: Will There Be Oceans in Heaven? (Highly recommend you read this article - it's a short, profound read.)

I started to feel better. Sounds like there ARE Christians who believe the verse about "no more sea" simply means no more chaos, destruction and separation of mankind - what the sea in ancient times represented. I also found it interesting to read about no more saltwater seas in heaven (because we don't need its purifying benefits in heaven) - wouldn't it be great to explore a fresh water ocean? You could open your eyes underwater like you're swimming in a pool! 

And let's remember--God said his creation was good. This included oceans and all the life teeming within it. When the rainbow appeared over Noah's ark after the flood, God didn't just make a covenant with the people of the earth to never destroy them again but with the earth and its creatures. I believe that covenant includes the ones swimming and floating around in God's big beautiful oceans. And my final thought is this: If I love the ocean so much, doesn't God also love it at least as much as I do? I believe he does. Why wouldn't he include the oceans he he created in his new heaven and earth? Because it would divide us from each other? Because they are tumultuous and dangerous? Do you know how small that makes God sound? You don't think the God who created them can calm them or make it possible for us to fly over them or walk on them? I do.

But still, just in case, I will pray for an ocean in heaven. After all, God wants to give us the desires of our hearts.

God, don't forget the seas when you create the new heavens and the new earth. Make them new too. The ones we have now are amazing but I can't wait to see what your perfect sea is like...the one without storms, the one without pollution, the one without shark attacks and oil spills, shipwrecks and destructive waves. Instead one that is a swirl of emerald and turquoise, glassy and pure, teeming with life. One with gentle waves to cradle surfers, propel dolphins and lap heaven's shores while shimmering in your light. Amen!

-Hope A. Horner, copyright 2023. Contact author on X for use at Hope Note.

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