I had a mouthful of metal.
Until this morning, that is. As a child I had every one of my molars pumped full of metal. The tops of the molars were coated in silver, the sides of my molars were dotted with metal. If I laughed heartily (and I usually do) you'd get an eyeful of the dark gray landscape that was my mouth. I think every possible surface had been pillaged and draped in silver.
Personally, I think my childhood dentist was drill happy.
This morning all of those gray hunks were drilled out of my head. I believe all of them were at least 30 years old.
Unlike those childhood experiences of groaning and thrashing in the dentist's chair while he softly murmured, "Just a few more minutes," this morning's dental spelunking was not painful in the least.
My new, wonderful dentist pumped me full of so much Novocaine I never felt a thing. And he administered the Novocaine in such a way that I wasn't digging my nails into the arms of the chair. Unlike thirty years ago, they now have this nifty topical anesthetic they can put on your gums before they prick it with the needle.
So I didn't move.
I didn't flinch.
I didn't groan or moan or even clench my fingers ever-so-delicately into the armrest.
"That was amazing!" my dentist remarked. "It's very difficult for people not to flinch while they're getting Novocaine."
Which gave me pause. Was my new dentist amazing, was he kissing my ass, or have I simply acquired the most amazing capacity for pain tolerance ever? I think it might be a little bit of all of the above.
I think the combination of Buddhist practice and a shit ton of therapy have enabled me to tolerate pain. Both psychic pain and physical pain. The old me would have been ratcheting up the dental appointment long before it began.
As my husband often says, "A coward dies a million deaths, a hero dies but one." I used to die a million deaths a thousand times a day. I'd die in anticipation of events. I'd freak myself out over the prospect of getting a Novocaine shot and get myself all worked up before I even got in the chair. I'd break out into hives the night before a surgery.
But now I bring into play the Buddhist practice of redirecting my mind. If I find my mind wondering to thoughts of "HOLY SHIT HE'S GOING TO JAB MY GUMS MULTIPLE TIMES WITH A BIG MEDIEVAL NEEDLE" I redirect.
I've been practicing redirection for so long that it's nearly instantaneous. It's probably more along the lines of, "HOLY SHI..." and then I redirect to, "Hm. I wonder what we should have for dinner?"
And then, "HOLY..." and then redirect to, "I can't wait 'til the kids go to bed so I can lay like a zombie on the couch and watch The Shawshank Redemption for the 112th time."
And finally, "HO..." redirect to "God I love this movie."
This is how I deal with fears and anxieties about physical pain, medical visits, social engagements, public speaking, making phone calls to strangers, etc.
But what of my teeth? I know you're wondering about my new teeth.
Phase 1? It almost looks like Phase Done to these eyes. I can't believe my own teeth.
I'm ready to throw open my mouth and laugh open-throated with abandon. If you hear me braying like a mule you'll know why. It's because I've got a mouth full of virgin pearly-whites. They are as pure as the driven snow. They are babies' teeth. They are the teeth of a lady who never got her teeth stuck on a Bit O'Honey.
I keep going to the ladies room to open my mouth in the mirror. I stare at all that white surface. It's like all my sins have been erased.
It's dental absolution.
And it's only Step 1, baby.