No Retreat Baby, No Surrender


(Today’s blog post is part of a continuing series of personal stories about living with Trigeminal Neuralgia, the most painful medical condition known to man.)

“Like soldiers in the winter’s night with a vow to remember.  No retreat baby.  No surrender.” – Bruce Springsteen

I took my brother to see Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band’s “The River” concert last Tuesday.  I wanted to write about it once I got home while it was fresh in my mind, but the show took a lot out of me. By the end of the first song, I was at pain scale 9, which is where I’ve pretty much stayed from then until tonight.  I wouldn’t do a thing differently though, even if I’m just now alert and focused enough to write about it.  I’m trying hard not to surrender to this condition even if it lands me, immobile, on the sofa for a few days.  This entry is part concert review/part I-live-with-TN post, so I hope it all makes sense.

Springsteen isn’t someone most people would think I have cataloged in the jukebox in my brain.  I’m not the fist-pumping, arena rock kind of person most of the time.  But I’ve had a special place in my musical heart for the Boss ever since seeing him live in 1980(-ish). I’ve attended dozens of his shows since then and took my brother this time because seeing Springsteen play live is something I think everyone should do at least once.  And he never disappoints (Bruce or my brother).  And there is a unified spirit among his audience, regardless of age or background that adds to the electricity.  Mid-way through the show, I accepted the fact that my brother isn’t quite as musical as I am.  He hardly moved.  Not even a toe tap. Meanwhile, the lady on the other side of me had an interpretive dance routine for every song, which sort of served to balance things out.

What drew me to Bruce’s music when I was a teenager are the same themes that many “punk” bands sung of – and those were more in my musical wheelhouse.  The sense of dissatisfaction.  The want, no make that the need, to be a person whom we are struggling to define.

I want to change my clothes, my hair, my face…”

Who didn’t feel that way at some point?  Who doesn’t occasionally feel that way now?” Okay, I think I’ve always had pretty good style, but I’ve certainly always wished I had better hair.  And the “face” part has taken on a whole new meaning in these past years. But don’t get me wrong.  I’d never want to trade my face with anyone.  No one deserves to be in this much pain.

Springsteen’s music also speaks of the search for a new place.  Somewhere, although yet unknown, where we can live a better life; someplace that is different from whence we came.  A place where we belong be it in the physical sense or something more.

Together we can break this trap.  We’ll run ’til we drop, baby we’ll never go back.”

I’ve always felt that way, and these days, that feeling has changed meaning for me.  In high school it was about the desire to find someplace less conservative than where I was raised.  To break out of my town.  Over the years, I’ve still had the desire to find a place – the place – where I was always meant to be.  My mystery home where I am totally comfortable with the world around me.  Where I am totally comfortable with me.  That’s a bit of a tall order these days due to the TN.  Now I just want to get to a place where I can be at pain scale 5 everyday.  That’s doable.  That’s not a pipe dream.  It’s just that getting there has turned out to be a very, very long road.

You can hide between your covers and study your pain…”

Part of this trek to a better (and less pain-riddled) life for myself has been to accept my pain, as I spoke of in a previous post.  My brother and I were talking in the car and I told him that being in pain is now as much a part of me as my hazel eyes and left handedness. I no longer wonder if it will happen, I just assume it will happen.  That’s my coping mechanism and it’s helped in a weird way.  I knew the concert was going to pain me – I always sing every song at the top of my lungs – and the fact that it was only about 10 degrees out didn’t help.  Did I have thoughts of “stop what you’re doing you dope,” and “man, you’re really going to feel worse in about an hour,”?  Yeah I did.  But this was a time when the pain wasn’t going to stop me, for, even in pain, singing along with a huge crowd to a great band was something I needed to make me feel alive once again.  I did, however, seriously consider punching the interpretive dancer in the kidney, but I realized getting arrested would mean that I wouldn’t have my nighttime meds.

As for the show itself, well, I can’t be unbiased.  This is the second concert where I’ve seen Springsteen do a whole album start to finish, and The River was an ambitious undertaking.  It is a two-album set that goes from subtle songs to barn burners and back again.  A mixture of joy and sadness, anger and resolve.  And, Bruce being Bruce, there were plenty of extra songs thrown in to ensure that the crowd had three-plus hours of fun.  My favorite song was, “Drive All Night,” where Bruce’s proclaims his love “heart and soul” in a way that is both plaintive and insistent. I wish someone would sing like that about me.  The end of his five song encore was divined to get everyone moving and singing and that it did.  As “Dancing In The Dark” segued into “Rosalita” before finishing off with an extended version of “Shout”, the crowd grew more alive with each note.  And even though I probably went through two tubes of Orajel and way too many meds, I was there, as I have been for thirty-five years, dancing and singing too.  And it was worth it.

“It ain’t no sin to be glad you’re alive.”





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