I feel confident in stating that to look at me, you would never guess I am in out-patient treatment for a lengthy opiate painkiller addiction. I own a home, I have copious amounts of cute shoes, and I manage an office of around 30 people. I am, for all intents and purposes, and upstanding and contributing member of society. I am also a drug addict.
It all started innocently enough. I got my wisdom teeth out at 18 and discovered the wonders of Vicodin. My dry sockets may have still hurt after taking the pills, but I could have cared less after popping a few of those bad boys. It became something of a running joke in my family and friends, how much I loved those little white pills that made everything awful seem less so. It was harmless enough; I would get a prescription every once in awhile for various issues and would take the whole thing, whether I was in pain or not. A Vicodin and a beer? That was the makings of a lovely, relaxing evening. Put then came my various battles with chronic pain, pain that on some occasions couldn’t be figured out, so the doctors’ solutions where usually to throw painkillers at it and hope it went away.
For any of you who have been in chronic pain, you know that, at times, you feel like it is going to swallow you whole. You hit those breaking points where you just can’t take it for another minute. You don’t want to do anything but sleep because that is the only time you have any relief. You curl up in a corner and cry because you feel so out of control of your own body. And while you subject yourself to countless appointments, test after test, specialist after specialist, none of which are offering you any answers or cures, you sometimes retreat to the only thing that gives you the slightest relief — painkillers. They had me hopped up on pills while they tried to figure me out.
When I was 26, my TMJ disorder started to get gnarly. My jaw had popped loudly and painfully since I was a young teen, but this was something entirely different. My jaw would lock open, sometimes it would lock shut, and every single time I tried to eat, I was in excruciating pain. I saw multiple doctors, eventually finding a specialist at Stanford who ran me through so many x-rays and MRIs that I was pretty sure I would soon be radioactive and have super powers, who told me the disk that pads the place where my jaw bones come together had worked its way out of where it was supposed to be. Basically, every time I spoke, ate, swallowed, anything that made my jaw move, I was grinding bone against bone in my face. It was awful. I was put on a liquid diet for three months and fitted for orthotics that kept my jaw slightly parted which I wore 24 hours a day. Since I couldn’t close my back teeth all the way, even after I was able to eat solids again, my options were limited. I cannot tell you how many times I took a bite of something, only to have it fall out of my mouth intact because I hadn’t closed down far enough to break the bite free. Embarrassing. I was in physical therapy for a year trying to get my mouth back to normal. I was also on painkillers.
While that was still going on, I fell and tore something in the area of my right rotator cuff. It hurt like a motherfucker. I am right handed and fancy myself a superwoman of sorts, so I use my arms quite a bit. Lifting kids, moving furniture, having push-up contests with my younger brother; you know, the usual. This injury started another round of doctors, x-rays, nerve testing, all sorts of fun poking and prodding. After a year of being jerked around by various orthopedic specialists, I finally found one who would take me seriously and try to fix my damn shoulder. I had orthoscopic surgery done and hoped to finally be on the road to recovery. And also, I was on painkillers.
When the jaw and shoulder events were happening concurrently, I was taking more and more pills. I was going through my prescriptions in half the time I should have. And so I found ways to get more. I have enough friends in low places that I was able to find people I could buy them from. As time went on, I was spending more and more money, draining my savings, putting off paying bills, anything to keep up my supply. I started dating my husband, and while I hid it from him at first, he eventually figured it out. He didn’t know how bad it was; I don’t think anyone who hasn’t struggled with addiction can comprehend the amount I was taking. At my worst, my dosage could have put down a small horse, I would imagine. I was taking 10-15 10mg pills a day. I had figured out how to get the higher dosage from my doctor with less acetaminophen, and my dealer had access to the same. At around $3-4 a pill, I was going through money fast. I wasn’t paying my bills. I was spiraling out in a bad way. I didn’t know what to do. So finally, I did the only thing that would keep me honest- I fessed up.
I told my parents, I told my friends, I told the co-workers I trusted. I needed to stop, but I wouldn’t be able to do it if people weren’t around to hold me accountable. It was humiliating; I won’t lie to you and tell you that is the easy part. Admitting I was too weak to kick this on my own was the worst part. I don’t like to admit defeat. I told my bosses I needed to have some lady-part surgery done (the best excuse if you don’t want your male bosses to question why you need a week off), and I retreated to my husband’s (then boyfriend) apartment to detox. I had done research on what vitamins I would need, what medications would help with the withdrawals, and had met with an addiction specialist to discuss the detox plan. I was all set.
And so I detoxed. It sucked ass. I was in so much pain that my bones hurt. I felt like I wanted to crawl out of my skin. Even though I slept for around 18 hours a day, those other six were miserable. I was in a haze of medications that helped temper the more serious effects of the detox, but it was fucking miserable. After a week, I came home. I went to a few NA meetings, but it is quickly apparent that 90% of the people at the meetings near me are there by court order, usually for dealing, so sitting in a room, discussing exactly what I wanted to be doing and surrounded by people who could get it for me, I decided it wasn’t the option for me.* After about two more weeks of being an absolutely mess, barely able to get through my days, I called my dealer and started using again. This time, I told no one. I hid it from everyone for months. But the stress was too much. I researched other options besides straight cold-turkey because that clearly wasn’t the way that was going to work for me. I had heard about a drug called Suboxone, so I started looking into it. I confessed to my mom what was going on, and she came with me to the doctor. It is a highly controlled drug that doctors have to be specially licensed to dispense, so it requires a little research to find one. I went to him, cried my eyes out in humiliation as I spilled the entire story, and left with the prescription.
I am not a medical professional, so for more information on Suboxone and similar, please refer to this link — Buprenorphine – for starters. In my non-medical opinion, it is a miracle drug. The exact way it works is hard to explain, but what it all boils down to is that you don’t go through withdrawal. It works as an opiate-blocker, so if you take opiates while on it, they won’t work (someone with more medical knowledge than me will probably correct me on that, but that’s the gist I get). Every person is different, but as I understand it, it is usually a long-term process that uses a very gradually weaning down of the medication. This can happen over a matter of months or years, depending on what the patient and doctor decide is the best course of treatment. I have been on the medication for about a year, have weaned myself down to about half my original dose, and am on a positive course to be drug-free.
When people talk of or think about drug addicts, they usually picture junkies in a dark alley or mug shot galleries chronicling people’s descent into meth addiction. People don’t usually think about the white, suburban, middle-class young woman with the good job, loving husband, and amazing family falling into such things. And yet, here I am, and I don’t think I’m alone. I don’t think I’m the only person who let pain management get out of hand. I don’t think I am the only person who was too ashamed to admit the truth for so long because I didn’t want to be perceived like those “other” drug addicts.
If any of you reading this need help, I’m here. I am writing this anonymously because there are people in my life that don’t need to know this information, so having it in with the rest of my articles for this site would cause some issues, but if you need help, or direction, or anything, please reach out in the comments and I will respond to you privately. I felt so isolated for so long and it ate away at me. I am so lucky I found the help I needed before I destroyed my life or the lives of people I love. I know not everyone has the non-judgmental support system they need, so if you need me, I’m here.