It's been a couple of months now since I admitted to myself I had developed an addiction to my painkillers.
I had been suspecting for a little while, noting that sometimes my pain felt more existential than physical.
One particularly bad night in March, I decided to drink alcohol instead of take painkillers and ended up drinking too much. The alcohol, of course, had not relieved my emotional pain or my loneliness, instead amplifying both.
In my feelings of desperation, I texted two partners and my best friend. One partner, the one who had broken up with me the day before, responded. He kept me company, forgave me my transgressions, and ultimately, provided enough relief I was finally able to fall asleep.
The next morning, I was overwhelmed with feelings of desperation. I remembered my father telling me it was with painkillers that he fell off the wagon after some 15 years of sobriety. My lifelong fear seemed realized.
I've always known I am an addict.
I have felt the overwhelming pull of various drugs and other intoxicants over the course of my life. I have worked hard to stay away from all of it, barely touching alcohol until after I was divorced, allowing caffeine as my only vice.
I hit the danger zone after a break-up two years ago, I was drinking a lot. Every day. I reached the point where I was hiding my drinking from my family, pouring alcohol into beverages in my room and them finding out after I was drunk in the living room.
Because I've always been aware I'm an addict and I've always been aware of the impact addiction has on a person and those who surround them, I warned my children early. When I realized I was drinking more than usual, I wasn't worried yet, but I told my children about the warning signs and asked them to watch.
One day, my younger daughter staged an intervention. As part of the intervention she said, "At least you're not hiding your drinking from us," "but I am," I replied, hesitantly, realizing what my words meant.
After our meeting, I set about removing most of the alcohol from the household and avoiding what I had left.
And I was fine.
Until the car accident.
After the car accident, there was so much to manage, not just pain (though there was a lot of that), but the frustration of not being able to work, of not being able to do, of days worth of pain over simple tasks.
The pain finally got to me and so I started taking the pain meds I had.
Lightly, at first, careful not to use too much.
Eventually, the pain was to the point where I was almost always on the drugs. At that time, the drugs didn't make me feel good, I was depressed, robbed of my physical abilities and robbed of my mind. I could no longer keep track of my day, much less my week, my month, or my year. I was constanly angry and in tears for my lack of ability to do anything.
Fast forward to several months post surgery.
It was August or September and my efforts to resume exercise had redoubled my pain and landed me in the hospital. I was starting the pain meds lightly again.
I arrived to work one day, stressed out from something happening at home (don't recall which it was, but I'm sure it's chronicled in this blog) and I couldn't stop crying. I went to my boss and said, "Please don't make me take calls today, I can't stop myself crying, I'll be useless on the phone."
She checked in with her boss and responded, "He just wants you to take calls for one hour. You can take a few minutes now, but then you have to get on the phone."
"Nevermind," I retorted, tears streaming down my cheeks, "I'll be just as useless in a few minutes as I am right now, I'll just get on the phones."
So I did.
I was slow, fighting back tears, making frequent use of my mute button, choking as I was trying to not let them hear the sound in my voice. I was in a lot of pain, but I was afraid to take anything for it, fearing it would make me worse, put me to sleep on top of the tears. Finally, though, my pain grew to the point where I felt if I couldn't relieve my sadness, I would relieve the physical pain. So I took three pills: one muscle relaxant and two painkillers.
Thirty minutes later, I was dancing and laughing.
I could scarcely believe the transformation.
Ten minutes after that, I found fear.
So this is why my father fell off the wagon for painkillers! No wonder...this is amazing!
I didn't immediately start using after that, because I was aware, I was careful about when and how often I took them.
Then we come around to this year.
I met "fire guy" and things were pretty awesome.
Then my best friend ended up in the hospital, followed by a long hospital stay. Fire guy retreated and I was left alone.
It was then I started using. Using for no other reason than to relieve my existential pain.
I was free of the physical pain, having had two procedures in January and February to deaden the nerves in my back and legs to stop me from feeling physical pain.
So now we're back to March. Back to the night I texted everyone I thought could relieve my loneliness to tell them I was using alcohol and painkillers to relieve my emotional pain.
For two weeks after that night, I fretted, I beat myself up, I made myself wrong for my weakness.
FOR BEING AN ADDICT JUST LIKE MY FATHER
I spent a lot of time in tears, afraid, wishing I had stronger painkillers (my drug of choice, after all, was Tramadol, an extraordinarily light painkiller, because I'd had the foresight to repeatedly refuse anything stronger when the doctors asked).
Finally, one day in early April, it dawned me.
I'm making things worse for myself!
My fears and my frustrations were driving me deeper into emotional pain. And for fuck's sake, I was already in therapy, I'm already working on my issues.
I decided right there and right then to let go of making myself wrong.
The drugs were helping me cope at a time when my internal ability to cope wasn't functioning. I was in therapy, I was working on my issues and I was on the verge of a fucking breakthrough, I could feel it.
I just needed to get there.
Since I'm aware I'm an addict, I announced to everyone I care about that I was using and why. I also advised I had no intention of quitting, that my use was to allow me to cope through this difficult time. I included my therapist in the people I made this announcement to and she didn't bat an eye.
Within two weeks after that announcement, I had the breakthrough, the one I spoke of in Loving My Child, Myself.
The Friday before I wrote that post, I realized I didn't need the drugs anymore.
Over the course of that weekend, I went through some considerable withdrawals. I'd been using long enough and at a high enough dose that I didn't sleep all weekend, I sweated through every night and had the shakes during the day.
The following Monday, I was at work, exhausted, when a co-worker texted around 11am commenting about how quiet I was.
"Yeah, I didn't sleep much this weekend or last night, I've been going through withdrawals, they've kept me up all night and I still have the shakes today."
"Wow," he responded, "I can't believe you'd mention so casually that you're going through withdrawals."
I didn't have much of a response to his shock.
I realized, after, though, it isn't to me something I should hide.
It's in hiding an addiction that it gains power over us, a hold on us, where the people who love us lose the ability to watch our backs.
A few weeks ago, I was at a party and one of the attendees was in pain. The hostess brought out a pill bottle which was marked as Vicodin, but she revealed to me it was actually Oxycontin. The addict in me reared it's head and shouted, "Yes, I've never had so good of a drug before...I bet the high is AMAZING!!" My brain replied, "Oh, please don't offer me any, I really don't need it!"
My name is Andrea and I'm an addict.
I don't, however, think this is anything to be ashamed of or to hide from anyone. It is as much a facet of my being as my eternal motherhood, my internal Herculean strength, and every other facet I value.