Bad Medicine

Every Thursday I’ll post an article having to do with either relational or emotional matters. Hope it helps.

Bad Medicine

The pain in my tooth was murderous, reducing me to a whimpering, whining child. I’d been avoiding the dentist because, up to that point, I’d never had a cavity (I was 44 at the time) and I stubbornly refused to hear that I’d finally have to face the drill. But the decay had done its damage, and I simply had to get help. The dentist confirmed my worst fear, and then some:

“You’ve not only got your first cavity. You’ve also let this go so long the decay has worked its way into your gum, so you’ll need a root canal.”

He sternly charged me to schedule the oral surgery ASAP, a charge I agreed to with no intention of following through. I didn’t want to face the extent of the damage, and oral surgery was, I hate to admit, a terrifying prospect. If there was any way I could avoid it, I would.

There was, and when I discovered it I blessed its name: Ambisol. If you’re not familiar with the stuff, it’s a nifty liquid you can swab on an infected tooth or gum, offering immediate numbness to the most agonizing oral pain. I gratefully rubbed it into the affected area, delighted at the relief and thrilled to be given a reprieve from the root canal. After all, if I found a way to kill the immediate pain, why bother with the long-term problem?

Of course I was being an idiot. Because the longer I killed the pain, the longer I also ignored the problem the pain was trying to draw my attention to. By the time I finally admitted as much, the financial and physical toll was far worse than it would have been if I’d acted sooner.

It wasn’t the first time I’d done this. As a lonely, insecure boy, I should have paid attention to the emotional pain that was symptomatic of my troubled soul. Had I done so, I could have dealt head on with my fear of intimacy, my unresolved rage, and my mushrooming depression. Instead, I discovered the Ambisol of pornography, and developed the habit of numbing my pain by diving, hours at a time, into the netherworld of erotic imagery which offered numbness and relief, but no healing. The result was long-term, and completely unnecessary, damage.

Over the years I’ve come to see how common this is. In fact, when someone I work with abandons his Ambisol, he often feels acute pain but, when dealing directly with it instead of numbing it, he also discovers final and real relief.

Sexual sin isn’t just ungodly. It can also be bad medicine; a potent but futile attempt to deal with emotional pain by numbing it instead of addressing it. So if for you, porn or other forms of sexual acting out have been issues, you may have the two-fold challenge of repenting of the sin, then identifying and reckoning with the pain you used the sin to medicate. That kind of exploration can hurt, and it’s certainly humbling. But life without the Ambisol is freer, better, stronger.

No reasonable person will judge you for being in pain. But God Himself, like any concerned physician, will judge the way you deal with it. ‘Fess up and face up to it, and spare yourself the damage that inevitably comes from long-term, needless avoidance.


Bernard Turner via Facebook | Sep 22, 2011

Very true! Great analogy Joe.

Joe Dallas | Sep 22, 2011

Thanks Bernard. I enjoyed writing about this very weird but instructive episode years ago.

Bernard Turner | Nov 10, 2011

Very true! Great analogy Joe.

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