I’ve talked about the widowhood effect before. This is a phenomena found in widow/ers over the age of 65 (because there aren’t enough of us under 65 to study in a statistically significant manner) in which folks who have lost their partners report greater amounts of pain, are less responsive to pain medication, get sick more often and more severely, and are hospitalized more frequently. I’m sure some of this stems from not having someone taking care of you, or not having someone around to remind you to take care of yourself. But I think there is something else going on.
In video games, you can’t heal while in combat (for all my pedantic friends, you can drink a healing potion or cast a healing spell or use a first aid pack, but you don’t passively heal, which is what I’m discussing here). In the more complex systems, your character or a character in your party can get knocked out and revive at the end of combat, but they revive with a major injury. The only way to heal the major injury is to go back to camp and rest up.
My relationship with Jason was one in which I was safe – emotionally, physically, sexually, spiritually. I could let my guard down 100% and know that not only would he do nothing to hurt me, he would do everything to protect me. I could relax completely, knowing that I was safe. I slept more deeply, I let go of stressful days more quickly, and I found equilibrium at home more easily. All of this let my mind and body recuperate. Though I still recuperate now, I do it more slowly.
The video game mechanism tries to get at the necessity of safety to heal. My real life is living that. I haven’t felt really, deeply, truly safe since Jason died. I haven’t known that someone else was taking care of me. I haven’t felt like I could throw my all into something, because there is no Jason to rescue me when I’ve thrown my all in and no longer have energy to take care of myself.
I am slowly (oh so slowly) getting the things in the basement of my father’s house boxed up and ready to move. I took the lamp that sat on my bedside table a few weeks ago. It took me a few days to bring it out of my car, and another few days for me to clear off a spot on my dresser and plug it in. When I went to bed that night, I turned on the lamp and turned off my overhead light. The lamp has a distinct light pattern and a copper interior that colors the light. Seeing that pattern and color of light spoke to my hindbrain. Something I wasn’t conscious of recognized that pattern of light and said, “Safety.” And in that moment, that piece of my lizard brain let out the breath it had been holding, dropped its shoulders from around its ears, and relaxed. For that night, I felt more safe, more cozy, more protected than I have since Jason died. I slept deeply and woke feeling rested.
For a night, I got to go back to video game camp. I got to be safe.
The effect of that light is wearing off now that I’ve had it for a week or two. But it isn’t completely gone. I still turn on that lamp after I’ve showered and put on pajamas and there is a moment in which my subconscious relaxes a notch and thinks, “safety.” The feeling doesn’t always stick around and I’m back to my usual sleep habits (which to be fair involve me knocking out hard for as many hours as I can before my alarm goes off) but for a moment, I remembered what I lost.
I lost those moments before sleep, when you are cuddled in your lover’s arms and nothing in the world can touch you. Those moments as you wake up when you know that both of you are untouchable in this place. Those moments in which you can relax and your body can heal deep. And this, I think, is part of why I hurt all the time.