I’ve always been a clencher.
I clench my jaw when I’m concentrating. I clench when I’m pissed. I clench when I’m stuck in contemplation. I clench when I’m annoyed. I clench when I’m writing and when I’m reading. I clench (hard) when I have seizures. I clench all night long when I’m sleeping, and I often wake up with a sore mouth and a killer headache. I do it all the time, and it’s gotten to be a problem--two chiropractors and an orthodontist confirmed it.
So I had to get a jaw splint.
I look ridiculous in it. It’s clear plastic, but it’s not fooling anyone--it’s the first thing people notice when they see me. It looks like a bloated, obese retainer. It puts a half-centimeter gap between my top and bottom teeth. It gives me a lisp. It has caused zits and rashes to pop up along tense muscles all over my face and neck. This uncomfortable thing is supposed to train my jaw muscles to relax. (Oh, the irony.) I have to learn to yield to it if I ever want to stop wearing it.
I have to wear it 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, until it works.
What a struggle this has been.
The second the dentist snapped it into place, my muscles screamed in protest. My face felt taut as a trampoline. My eye sockets ached and watered. My ears rang. It hurt to cough, to laugh, to sneeze. I had a seizure that first day, followed by a migraine. Everything felt way too tight, and I just wanted to take out the splint and go back to the way things had always been, just to end the discomfort of change. But I really don’t want this therapy to take forever, so I’ve been making an effort to be mindful of my jaw, and in doing so, I realized how much damage this tension had actually done to me.
And oh, what a metaphor that is for life.
Change is so hard. We are creatures of habit. Our minds and hearts scream in protest at the discomfort of change, desperately clinging to the muscle memory of dysfunction because it is the only thing we know. We fight the change, even when the change is for the better.
I’ve been wearing this ridiculous appliance for over two months now, and I am learning to submit to it. My jaw muscles are finally stretching and relaxing, and the results are undeniable: it’s helping to relieve my headaches, my jittery vision, my shoulder/back/neck problems. So I’m willing to commit to this therapy, to put up with its constant, obtrusive presence, the zits, and the speech problems. (Thankfully, my lisp is improving.)
True change takes conscious, daily commitment to discomfort.
I am finding that once you let yourself stretch into newness, the old ways no longer fit. What was once comfortable feels too small, like a pair of outgrown shoes. You can’t go backwards. I’ve tried to move my jaw back to where it sat before, and I can’t do it. It doesn’t fit anymore. I’m aware of how wrong it was, how much pain it was causing (in areas that I wasn’t even aware were connected to it), and I don’t want that for myself anymore.
So I’m letting myself adjust to the slow, uncomfortable, taffy-pull of change, and I’m realizing that the end result is nothing to fear--it is good. And it is sweet.
And that’s true for more than just my jaw.