I misunderstood addiction. I thought I was an expert. Food, money, sex. Unfortunately, addiction understands and humbles me. Generally, I don’t take pain pills because I have a high pain tolerance—just Tylenol and Advil. Post knee replacement four years ago (before the opioid epidemic was a thing), I was given 150 hydrocodone tablets to take for pain. They had given me a few in the hospital when weaning off IV pain medications, and all was well. I didn’t think much about it because I felt OK, not overly weird or high, but able to do what I needed to get home.
Within a week of the replacement, an infection began behind the hardware, and I had two more surgeries on the subsequent Fridays to clean everything up. The infection continued to strengthen. Enter antibiotics. I had a port inserted and administered myself IV antibiotics for many weeks. During this time, I continued using the painkillers as prescribed.
Subsequently, all the antibiotics led me to a weakened immune system. I was losing weight (yay) but having bloody stools. Enter cDiff, an antibiotic-resistant bacteria which they treat with—antibiotics. However, cDiff is also painful, so I was grateful for the prescription, which had a refill. After three rounds of stronger and more potent medicines, all ineffective, I was able to have a fecal transplant. Literally, someone else’s fecal matter is watered down with a saline solution and inserted into my system through colonoscopy allowing new flora to grow and replace the bacteria or fight it off. This was immediately effective. I was up and about as if I’d never been sick.
Consequently, antibiotics have continued to throw me into cDiff, no matter how much time passes. I can get shots, but pills destroy my insides. Since that first surgery, I have had my other knee replaced, a UTI, and another fecal transplant.
(small print: although cDiff does cause easy weight loss, doctors do not recommend it as a diet plan.)
That being said, those episodes have nothing to do with addiction. My addiction didn’t begin because I wanted to be pain-free physically. It didn’t start with the prescription. I have been given opioid medications before without incident.
(Small print: I wasn’t given that opioid medication after the second knee replacement as so many had become addicted, it was becoming an epidemic).
This time, I had four children still at home, and one was special needs, so the fear and stress of being concerned I might not kick the infection was high. My anxieties of failing as a parent were high. My marriage was crumbling, and I was basically a single parent. Yet, when I would take my hydrocodone pill, my anxiety calmed, my brain didn’t worry, and I experienced a personal peace, which for me meant I didn’t give a shit. I LOVED that. I hadn’t ever experienced that in my life. I worry about everything. School, jobs, parenting, schedules, am I doing enough in each area in life, fear of kids being kidnapped, hoping kids wouldn’t try drugs, drinking, etc. (Don’t worry, I get the irony.)
At first, I didn’t even consider myself addicted because they were prescribed. A doctor wouldn’t give me too many. Yet, my thoughts were about them all the time. When could I take the next dose? Should I just take one? Would it still feel as good? Though I felt that I was a better, calmer mother, I knew part of that came from the peace I found within this opioid haze. I spoke with my husband and children about it, how it made me feel, and they mentioned I might be an addict.
Of course, that was absurd. I am always in control. I don’t drink, smoke, and didn’t knowingly take in caffeine. I’ve never tried pot though it seems the latest; it doesn’t hurt anyone fad. I wasn’t on the street purchasing from dealers. I wasn’t going to doctors asking for them. The addiction was real though. I could not deny it. I wanted that feeling all the time! Peace.
Knowing how easily I slip into addictive behavior—lots of rationalizations and such, I knew I needed to place safeguards as protection against…well, me. At first, if doctors prescribed them, I half-heartedly mentioned I “feared” I might be an addict, and then, if still prescribed, I would celebrate, but give them to my daughter, and she doled them out to me. But if I found them anywhere, I took them. Friends homes, I figured they wouldn’t miss one or two. Old prescriptions that laid around the house. By and by, I couldn’t deny the addiction even to myself though I still rationalized I wasn’t buying them or seeing new doctors all the time to get them so I wasn’t “that bad”.
When this pandemic began, I felt like I had conquered the problem. I had a new job I loved. I was meeting people. I started to find my stride in the new town. I live near my grandkids, and i get to see/play with them every day.
After a long search, and two moves, we purchased a home where I felt secure, and our family was at home. The proof existed. I slept through the night. Peacefully. It didn’t look like a boxing match with my sheets when I woke up. Insomnia has kept me awake for years. Again, fears and worries, anxiety about me as a person. The only benefit being my children never snuck out because they never knew when I’d be up.
When Covid started, my tenuous peace was shattered. I, like many, worried I wouldn’t see loved ones again as travel restrictions became greater. Because I worked in a hospital environment, I worried I would carry the virus home. When schools closed, and I still worked, I knew I wasn’t the best parent I could be. My child struggled with home school, and another came home from the military academy he loved. I feared if things became worse, would the children living throughout the country have enough supplies and necessities to see them through? Would my 92-year-old mother pass before I could see her again? What about my sister who was alone? Would she stay mentally healthy? Happy? If I died, would my family know how much I loved them? How much they meant to me? (I know you wish you lived in my head, too.)
As the virus advanced, I was let go (before the end of probation) from my job, which hadn’t happened to me since I was sixteen years old. I live in a right-to-work state, meaning no one has to or does care enough to bother asking why. They don’t have to give a reason. No one wanted to talk to me or hear my side. I had no recourse. Suddenly every insecurity, fear, and anxiety I had as a child, teen, adult, and mother ganged up on me. And they all pointed to one thing.
About this time, I needed a follow-up surgery on my knee. Covid meant I was required to be alone, so I took myself. Pre-surgery, my nurses filled a prescription for opioids, and I didn’t mention addiction. I didn’t say no to a post-hospital refill. I didn’t tell my daughter about the pills. I took some, and I felt that beautiful, peaceful, I don’t give a shit feeling again. I started to think about what I could do to get more. I wondered if I had friends that had recently been sick so I could visit.
This is why I knew I misunderstood addition. I wasn’t in the street; I didn’t look like the addicts from the commercials and movies. I had my teeth, hair, no scabs. I took care of my kids—made meals. I wasn’t selling myself for drugs. In fact, no one would have known if I hadn’t told them. I knew it was supposed to be a slippery slope, but I still felt I was in control. While continuing to rationalize my behavior, a mini blackout forced me to reassess. Not lost consciousness, just darkness for a second or so. Enough to shake me, scare me, and finally confess to my daughter, willingly turning my pills over. And, I had to force myself to admit that I am an addict.
I know I’m an addict because I have to warn people if I’m coming to visit that I am an addict, and, if they have them, could they please put their pain medications out of sight and not in medicine cabinets or kitchen cupboards.
I know I’m an addict because I try to think where they might be in my daughter’s home so I can sneak one or two.
I know I’m an addict because I considered not handing them over. I know I’m an addict because I’ve considered exchanging the real pills with Tylenol, so my daughter wouldn’t know.
I know I’m an addict because I knowingly have placed my daughter in this untenable position—a responsibility for which she didn’t ask. Of me giving her valid reasons why I should have a pill before a stressful situation, only to make it uncomfortable when she says no. (To her credit, she loves me enough to never give in.)
I know I’m an addict because I still think about the pills everyday. I know because I’m wondering as I write this I wish I could have a pill so that I wouldn’t feel the guilt/shame of being an addict. A weakling, if you will.
Now, as much as I want a quick-fix peace, I want my inner-peace more. I work to stay sober because, no matter how embarrassing I find it is to tell people or knowing I have to call friends to clean cupboards for me, everyone supports me. Family and friends lovingly assist me, and join their efforts with mine, to understand and comply, to keep me safe from myself.
It’s a strange feeling to know this particular drug has that kind of hold on my brain. I mainly stayed away from so many other things since my overeating has always made me aware I have an addictive personality.
Secrets excite me and weaken my resolve. This is why I asked for support. So it isn’t a secret and I can’t get away with telling anyone that loves me that if they would just give me one they too would see the “old” me. The one that found it easy to put on her fat suit and hide behind sarcastic jokes made at her own expense.
Also, addiction makes me realize how little I can control, and the stress of demanding everyone to meet my expectations so we don’t break causes the fissures that lead to explosions. I’m happier now. I am more at peace. I understand this is a taut string that frays when I’m not careful. Still, I choose to keep my safeguards, uncomfortable conversations and acknowledge there is always a chance I won’t refuse, I will move to the street, I will beg enough my family gives in, so I keep new strings handy to repair the ends.
Covid marches on, our world hangs on to fragile peace, and my kids will learn and grow to enable them to walk their paths at their own speed. They don’t need to trip over my worry while trying to find their way.
Thank you, my friends, for being there. I haven’t banished or overcome the desire in my thoughts. Is that even possible? Or, do they drag behind you forever? Are they a strength or a weakness?
Perhaps the thoughts are the only proper safeguard in place. The only thing that is a continual reminder that although I still may not understand addiction. Addiction understands me—and waits.