In retrospect, it’s been a long time since I was off opiates for any length of time.
As of yesterday, I officially have six months clean.
It actually doesn’t feel bad to be sober. Not what I thought, really. I thought I’d hate it. I thought I’d be panicked and craving pills all the time, but I’m not. I manage my problems sober and I’m okay with that. Cravings come now and again, but I deal with them. On the overall, it’s not as bad as I’d thought. It wasn’t easy of course, but this addiction thing has been going on for a while.
When I started this blog (way back around 2006) I remained sober for probably 4 or 5 months. The blog was my way of dealing with how awful sobriety felt. My sobriety was not smooth or easy — I was in no programs, not on any meds, just cold turkey and white knuckling it. I remember having transient headaches all day, a deep sense of restlessness, and describing the overall feeling as being in a snowbank in the middle of a blizzard without a coat. I had good days, but they were few.
I eventually went back on the pills after an injury sidelined me.
Prior to that, you’d have to go all the way back to when I was 18 or so before the discovery of prescription pain meds became a semi-regular fixture in my life. I had a small prescription meant to last several months to deal with chronic migraines. Nothing else worked AT ALL, and the codeine stopped the migraine within 20 minutes, so it was the best choice at the time. I used it for my migraines, but yes, occasionally, I indulged in a little codeine on a Sunday afternoon to relax after a long week. Back then, I also drank to excess, but that part didn’t last long. I decided that waking up with cotton mouth and a hangover wasn’t worth it. The codeine seemed a “cleaner” way to relax.
The addiction remained an occasional-only habit for a l-o-o-o-o-o-n-g time. In my 30’s, my migraine doctor retired and all of a sudden, the codeine was very difficult to find from a doctor (docs in this area are deeply resistant to prescribing pain meds). I was in a panic. I discovered ordering pills online. I had a source out of England for a while, another in Canada, then later, a source in Florida (before the feds shut them down). I was still consuming them some evenings and weekends — not every day nor all day. But I do recall thinking to myself that it was too bad these pills were so hard to get because “this feels so good, if I could just take them freely every day, all day, I could be happy all the time!”
Eventually, I’d have my chance to find that out.
What did it? I had a severe injury to my shoulder and elbow, and the insurance company refused to pay for any tests on the injury until I’d been on pain pills for at least 6 months! Yes, really. That ridiculous. I remember the letter. They misspelled the name of the shoulder injury. These are the bozos in charge of my care? REALLY? Well, I wasn’t going to let them get away with that, so I decided to beat them at their own game.
Oh yeah. Smart move, genius.
I also accidentally discovered how good Vicodin felt in the wee hours of the morning. That hooked me permanently. How potent it was. I discovered how certain foods further potentiated those effects. I set my alarm to get up early enough to get ‘high’ so I’d have time for it to wear off before I went to work. I was literally in love.
Yeah, I had one helluva plan. And it seemed fine for the first six months. Then… I made the decision to keep on the meds rather than get testing. I told myself I’d be fine. I wasn’t. The elbow injury had healed, but I mainly wanted the pills for the pain in my psyche.
After about a year, the doctor asked me if I wanted to have my injuries tested and treated (my shoulder WAS still bothering me). So I went in for the tests (which my insurance finally approved) and within an hour, I had a shot of cortisone in my shoulder which solved the problem.
But that shot didn’t solve the problem of my addiction. In fact, it cut off my legal supply of pills. Just. Like. That. Gone. *poof!*
I went without anything for a couple of weeks, but then I discovered a Mexican source and had the money to be able to afford them. I spent A LOT of money on those. Crazy money. I had that kind of money to spend at the time, but it also meant that I did NOT have that money allocated to things like heat, electricity, cable, phone, expenses, taxes, etc. All of a sudden, life was going down the drain… fast.
Yet I refused to see it. As long as I had my pills — and by this time, I was taking two and three at a time, potentiated with a muscle relaxer in equal amounts — I just rolled through the storm. Until it couldn’t be ignored anymore.
The money started running out. I read about loperamide and decided to get off the pain pills for good. I went back and forth for a while — every time I had a few hundred extra bucks I’d order some Vicodin, only to end up on the loperamide again — until I finally, truly, ran out of funds and went on loperamide for detox which ended up as a full-time new addiction. That was about 4 years ago or so.
In summary, I’ve been taking opioids in one form or another for 28 years. That’s on helluva long time.
I now have my 6-month chip from AA which I am proud to say I earned. I resist calling it an accomplishment per se, but in the face of such overwhelming evidence of the length and depth of my addiction, it appears to be an achievement of some sort.
The journey of the last six months has not been smooth. The loperamide is a horrible drug to withdraw from. The first few weeks were spent feeling like I was going to crawl out of my skin most of the time. Exhausted, and at the same time, bizzy-brained, it wasn’t until I finally accepted that I needed the meds that the doc had given me — in the doses he recommended too — that things started to get better. I had to take a big dose of “get over yourself” and let myself be helped. And accept the fact that I needed that help too.
The road hasn’t been easy. If I’d known it would take about two months to get over the worst of it, I would have hung on with more grace. If I’d known the longest lasting symptom was epic diarrhea,… well, I would have invested in some good adult diapers I guess. Not much to do about that except change of diet to cheese, meat, and dark green veggies. Even now, I still have some issues with it. Very frustrating.
And the weight gain? Oh man, this sucks! I have incredible cravings for chocolate (and I’m NOT a chocolate person), and I crave salty chips. Mostly sugar though. I believe the weight gain and food cravings are mostly related to the medications. Risperdal, for instance, is notorious for weight gain. I hope to get this under control when the time comes.
I have also found that I have so many bad habits as a result of being on drugs for so long. It’s part of the depression, I’m sure, but I’ve become very lazy about self-care which I know started with the Vicodin. Of course it’s hard to take proper grooming care in my squalor apartment without any hot water, but basic things fell away. Really basic stuff. So I’m trying to incorporate those things into my morning routine one at a time. Last week I insisted that I force myself to brush my hair every day and at least try to style it. Mostly it’s still in a ponytail, but it IS properly brushed when it is.
This week, it’s tooth care. I’m forcing myself to brush my teeth at least once a day. Believe it or not, I’ve gone a long time without doing that properly — something I used to do with obsessive, prideful regularity. I’ve been successfully achieving that goal all week. I have a long way to go yet. I’m trying to be patient with myself. Plenty of people, especially those in recovery, will say that six months is only the beginning. Just a start.
But for me, it’s a big start.
I’ve made a lot of progress, but I’m still railing against the 12-step system. My AA path is not fast nor easy. I ordered a couple of books that were recommended to me by the NP from Betty Ford/Hazelden: Twelve Steps and Dual Disorders (I got the book plus the workbook). It’s a much gentler approach and more focused on the particulars of what I’m facing rather than the AA big book, which is all about alcoholism — the one thing I do NOT have a problem with. The Hazelden book focuses on addiction (rather than exclusively booze) and emotional or psychiatric illness (my bipolar/depression/whatever-you-call-it). Right from the start, I took a shine to the book’s approach. I can’t say how I’ll feel when I get on those fourth and fifth steps, but I’m willing to follow along for the first few and see how it goes.
Openness and willingness. Those are key, er,… so they tell me.
Plus, I have my blessing from my temp sponsor who told me, “Hey, whatever you’re doing, it’s working. Keep it up!”
I must be on to something.
Haven’t felt like this, my dear
Since I can’t remember when
It’s been a long, long time
You’ll never know how many dreams I’ve dreamed about you
Or just how empty they all seemed without you
Kiss me once, then kiss me twice
Then kiss me once again
It’s been a long, long time
— Sammy Cahn, Jules Styne