Deep in the depths of sleep one night this week my girl cat bit my nose so hard I found dried blood in the morning. The next night she bit my earring out of my ear, spitting the small silver arrow out into the bed sheets. And then, two mornings in a row I woke up with swollen, itchy eyes and wrists raw from scratching. There are small bite, scratch and rash marks all over my body marking my flesh vulnerable and human.
After one day of uncontrollable scratching, my mom brought me a spray bottle of jewel weed, scavenged by my stepfather after an epic three hour hunt through the James River Park System. It helped initially but within an hour I felt the fire rise up through my blood again. I tried callendula and cortisone cream. I swore I wouldn't scratch. But of course I did.
Years ago when I started to examine my patterns of love addiction I developed a theory about poison ivy. Poison ivy is like a crush; the more you scratch the worse it gets. And can either be ignored? Never successfully for me. I have a habit of scratching until I bleed. A counseling group years ago taught me the term "frozen need," a need you can never, ever get enough of, no matter how much you get.
I've allowed poison ivy to consume nearly every inch of my body. I've given in to obsessions that have almost taken me out. Momentary bliss inevitably followed by torment in flames. The cycle repeating itself again and again, pain leading to pleasure and pleasure leading to pain.
But I'm changing. This year I called the doctor after only two mornings of swollen, raw, itchy eyes. Sweetheart, she said. Come in immediately. This is not a time to mess around. You could cause permanent damage, she told me, her voice gentle but firm. Go pick up your medication this morning, she advised after examining the raw parts of me.
But I'm supposed to teach a class, I said.
Well, she said. I have a theory. You should always take care of your own needs first.
I like that theory, I told her. I just needed to hear it from someone else. I thanked her and meant it sincerely.
I opened up my class that morning and then told them I had to go but I'd be right back. And of course everyone understood.