the short story project


CM Riddle

Primal Cure

Cracks and twinges shot through my jaw. My doctor called it TMJ. It stands for the temporomandibular joint, which is a fancy name for having kept my mouth shut for too long.

    There was a pulling sensation like my jaw was on a rusty hinge – at least that was when I paid attention to the problem. Then my ear hurt, and I thought I might have an ear infection. That didn’t make sense because I didn’t have a cold, fever, or any other indication of being ill. Then the soreness migrated to my back teeth. God, I couldn’t even chew cold air without the nerve-shattering zing of a cavity which penetrated my head.

   I’ve always been curious about the indirect ways the body talks to the mind. Some cautions are elusive, like an occasional sore foot which makes you limp, an indication you are hesitant to move forward, or the pinched feel of tightly wound scalp muscles or tension headaches. They may suggest a change in attitude. Of course, I know now, when my body states the obvious, I must listen. This ear agony and tooth smarting offered insight. I paused to reflect; it didn’t take long to figure it out.

    Each inner ear throb chanted for me to listen. Every pulse within my eardrum whispered accusations. I’d let myself down. I clenched my jaw, and my teeth lock into place, barely able to let out a sigh, my mouth pursed with unspoken words.

    One afternoon I couldn’t take the pain any longer, so I laid down on the couch to meditate. I stretched out, and a flash of purple brilliance sparked from behind my eyes. I saw with newfound clarity the poison to which I had succumbed. It was that of not being authentic.

    My ears hurt because I didn’t listen to myself. My teeth shouted in agony when I refused to deliver the message; I silenced my words. I clamped my mouth closed because – well – because I was afraid to speak up, unsure that once the words escaped me, they would allow my fears to become real; that I might not be enough.

Too nervous to invoke backlash, I kept quiet and suffered. I was caught between now and what if? Afraid I’d be dismissed – what if I didn’t matter? Perhaps I’d be bullied if I brought up my needs? What would happen if I spoke up? What if I set boundaries or even walked away? To exercise my voice might cost me, but could it be worse than this kind of physical pain?

    It didn’t matter; it was time to pay the price.

    I saw the doctor, just in case. He advised, “Eat soft food,” but I heard “Spit it out, will ya?” He told me I could look into physical therapy or surgery, but I knew this healing would take much more than that. This remedy would include courage in large and frequent doses.

   I consulted my inner critic. She told me I hid, so I told her to go to Hell. This truth tightened like a vice. I cried. I was embarrassed, and I couldn’t trust who I was anymore. Then, an echo reverberated my soul; I heard the words, “First things first, my dear. What does your heart long for?” Like Avon, Self-Awareness was calling. 

 A few days later, I tried something new. Marianne, the drum circle leader, slapped her hand against the drumskin and the percussion resounded within my body. I felt its ripple, like a stone cast into a still lake, as the vibrations spilled over me.

   Here I was, in a drum circle, which Kathy, my woo-woo friend, recommended. I sat before a borrowed drum and started to tap and slap its taut skin. Each woman in the circle beat her own drum, and I, too, found my particular rhythm. Boom-pa-pa boom!  I became a part of a greater whole. The atmosphere came alive with our non-stop, chaotic pulse.

        Then, as if on some silent cue, voices projected above the boom of the drums, voices without words or song: guttural cries, sighs, moans, even growls. Ancient deities appeared before my eyes, and I was transported to a long-ago land where my power mattered. It called for me to retrieve it.

   And so I did.

   With each thwack on the drumskins my lips parted a bit more, each thump coaxed my voice to rise, the drumbeats encouraged me to let out my cries, to create a space for joy. My chant squeaked out and then filled the void. At first, my hum was rhythmic gibberish, huh-huh-huh-huh, ha-ha! Then each exhale evolved into the message I needed to release, free-my-voice-and be set free.  I chanted, and I felt valiant and oh-so-incredibly brave. My jaw loosened, and I think I heard it thank me. I’d connected with Divinity in the most primordial way.

       It’s been a few weeks, and with my newfound bravery, I set boundaries to overthrow my fears. When I spoke up for myself, it felt good. My ear pain subsided, and my teeth stopped screaming for Novocain. With each bang on the drum, my apprehension had dissolved. Every bellow and roar cured my TMJ and validated my thoughts and speech through rhythm to boldly claim my worth – so much that I’m already enrolled in the next month’s drum circle.


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