It’s three in the morning. My jaw’s all fucked up from clenching and grinding on a thick bite guard. I’ve gnashed (…biblical, right?…) my teeth throughout most of my life, increasingly into my 30s. And acid reflux. Laying flat plus reflux equals a rude wake-up, and me chewing on chalky antacids and sitting upright in front of a computer screen. And the break in my sleep routine causes the cats to believe it’s time to eat, so every time I move one or both of them begins the process of racing to the food stations. They’re disappointed every time. But…they’re assholes. (Cats are assholes. I love them…but they’re assholes. There’s no denying this fact. They are domesticated only in that they’ve decided to shack up because it’s generally easier to get food, water, and shelter from us. They tolerate our neediness, and on occasion they come to enjoy us as well. But they’re fickle…and will just as soon bite the shit out of you, leaving their bacteria-filled saliva deep in your forearm muscles, as nuzzle you.)
I woke up sweating. Gnashing. Burping volcanic stomach juices.
I went to the dentist a few years back and, quite out of nowhere, the hygienist asked, “Do you have reflux?” It was a question…but it really wasn’t a question. “Do I?” I volleyed with an actual question. “You do…and you’re grinding your teeth.” I’ve been anxious all of my life, with a hair-trigger temper. Road rage. Perfectly circular holes in walls from doors being slammed open. Shit thrown across rooms. One time, I savaged a cheap wooden clothes drying rack because it wouldn’t behave for me. I mean…I fucking raged on that thing. It was Hulk-like. I remember snapping. I can clearly replay the first blind throw, the initial primal scream…time lapse…then the next thought was, “What the fuck did I just do?” In between step one and, “What the fuck did I just do?” it’s all a fuzzy, rageful haze. I frightened the cats into hiding for hours. (Assholes.) Heavy breathing, shards of wood all over the place, pieces sticking in the ceiling, cuts and splinters in my hands and arms. (Later that night, my wife asked me, “Where’s the drying rack? And why are the ceiling tiles punctured down there?” I admitted the deed, embarrassed. Prozak came soon afterward.) And teeth clenching. I did that a lot. I held the anger in. Choked it down. Each time something opened the flood gates to rage, and leading up to the drying-rack incident it was happening hourly, I would gnash my teeth. Hard. This apparently isn’t good for teeth. Or Jaw muscles. Or my emotional stability. Or drying racks. And apparently at night, in my sleep, I’d chatter and grind. Like the fucking Chattering Cenobite from Hellraiser. Like Savion Glover’s mouth. This all wreaked havoc inside of my mouth. Acid washing over the back teeth. Gnashing and Gnawing wearing down bite surfaces. Emotional stability perched on a telephone wire during a tornado. And then came the bite guard. They make a tiny little one, and it costs like $400 because…well, because fuck you I’m a dentist and anything that we need to fit specifically to your mouth requires a payment plan. Or, one can get a store-bought guard for $40. I went with that one. Here’s how it works. Boil water. Drop that bad boy in. Carefully pluck it out and place the nearly 200-degree now-softened plastic into your mouth…and hold tight, but not too tight, and steady. It cools, but not nearly quickly enough. Fun. I suppose that’s the trade-off…you either engage in oral masochism or tithe to Hermie, the elf who wanted to be a dentist but needed to repay student loan debt and still drive a Mercedes Benz. But the bite guard. It’s big. Really big. It’s so big that when I have these (now thankfully occasional) jags with nighttime clenching and grinding, it throws my jaw out of whack. I have to open and close and massage it to get it back into alignment.
And through a combination of pharmaceutical, fitness, meditative, and dietary changes…I’ve arrived at a general place of decent sleep, minimal reflux, low anxiety, and a slower-burning temper of which I have awareness and control. Except just about an hour ago. For now, the antacid has kicked in, I’ve put some water in my gut, and I’m feeling tired again. And this venue, putting word to screen, is a good one for mitigating further an already mitigated temper. And a purring cat near one’s neck, even if she be an asshole 90% of the time, is a furry sack of instant relaxation. Goodnight.