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Coyote Thoughts: Courage and the Dentist

Yesterday I broke a tooth while eating. It happens as one gets older. It just does. There wasn’t any pain; just a raggedy hole, one that my tongue kept checking out. I was lucky that my day wasn’t loaded with things that couldn’t be put off. So I took off for the dentist, and long overdue, to see some of my Ute friends.

I used to stress about going to the dentist. The Trickster Thoughts would take charge, saying, “I hate the dentist.”; “It will hurt.”; “I hate the novocaine shot.”; “It is going to be a miserable experience.”; “I don’t have time to go to the dentist.” and probably worse thoughts than those. I wouldn’t just think them once or twice, but over and over again until I got to the office, making the experience even worse and more prolonged. I can’t feel good while I am thinking bad thoughts. It just works that way.

It is odd when my tongue wants to keep checking out the crater in my mouth, almost as if it has a mind and curiosity of its own. I know if I keep checking the hole it will make my tongue sore, but my mind can only control it for a moment and then when my mind isn’t looking, there it goes again, right back to inspecting that darned sharp edged hole. This is kinda like rumination/dwelling on problems. I don’t want to think about problems, but if I let my mind go, it will choose to keep thinking about bad things on its own. What a weird concept, that it can be hard to take over your own mind to prevent it from dwelling on problems.

A few years ago I decided to make the dentist experience different. I decided that I wasn’t going to think bad thoughts about the dentist until I got there. I usually like the dental folks once I am there and the pain is usually limited to that darned Novaocain shot to numb my mouth. In the past the Trickster Thought “Tells Fortune” would take control, the one that would tell me that it will be so painful that I can’t stand it. Whether I get pain or not, Tells Fortune wants me to mentally pay in advance, which causes fret and worry. It also chips away at my courage. So now, when I start to think about how painful it will be, I think: “I will not mentally put myself in that chair until the dental assistant actually puts me there. I’m not going to mentally pay for it unless the pain happens. There will be plenty of time to cry about it later if it is bad.” 

This strategy worked. It does take a little practice. I could enjoy the drive to Utah choosing what I want to think about rather than be dictated to by the Tells Fortune Trickster.

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Yesterday on my trip to the dentist I used the same technique. I did not think about it until I am in the chair. Because I wasn’t fretting, I was feeling brave and I told them I didn’t want to get the Novocain shot and that if it hurts too much, I will then get the shot. As it turns out, the dentist drilled to take out the broken filling and since there was no decay he didn’t have to drill into the painful area. Cool. Fixed with no pain at all. I didn’t waste my worry on something that didn’t happen. On the way over and back, I got to enjoy the fall views of the new snow on the beautiful mountains. Life was good.

I mentioned that practice is good at spotting the Trickster Thoughts and chasing them away. I get to practice again in December because the dentist told me that a crown needs to be placed on that
repaired tooth. My bravery only goes so far. Next time I think I will believe the Tells Fortune Trickster, “it will hurt.” I will have the darned Novocain shot.

Dr. Beau Washington received his doctorate from the University of Northern Colorado. A member of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, Beau grew up at Haskell Indian Nations University in Lawrence, Kansas, where his Father was a teacher. While researching depression, he also discovered the wide range of problems that rumination (dwelling) on problems creates in other mental problems as well. His active understanding of ruminative thought lead to developing a technique for effectively stopping the painful thoughts that plague distressed individuals. In addition, Beau developed cognitive models of depression and addiction.

Beau’s therapy model is entering the clinical trial stage at the University of New Mexico. He is training behavioral health clinics in his therapy. Beau is also adapting his therapy for sports, making it easier for players to focus on the moment.

He has also developed a Native suicide prevention program called “Coyote Thoughts” ©2013. Beau has trained Native mental health clinics and presented at reservations as well as regional and national conferences. Visit his website