Wednesday, January 13, 2016

The day I woke up an addict

One of the age old questions regarding addiction is "how does it happen?"  How does a somewhat seemingly normal woman go from being a good, productive member of society, to drinking their daughter's Tylenol with codeine through a straw?  It's so hard to explain.  It's like a slow process that happens overnight.  Doesn't make sense, does it?  That's the funny thing about addiction.  It makes no sense at all.

I previously mentioned that I had only ever minorly dabbled with drugs and/or alcohol. When my classmates and friends were smoking weed, I really didn't get what the fuss was all about.  Didn't do anything for me.  I refrained from ever getting really involved with substances in my teen years.  I had a couple of surgeries in my early twenties (C-section and gall bladder) and I can remember throwing away bottles of pills that were nearly full.  I didn't like the way they made me feel.  But, all of that soon changed.

Late 2005, early 2006, I started getting really bad headaches.  I was pregnant with our third child, and working a more than fulltime job.  I spent most days puking my guts out and sleeping on the side of the road to get through the day.  I thought this was all pregnancy related and didn't think much about it.  I went to a routine eye exam, and my optometrist noticed some swelling in the backs of my eyes.  I was then referred back to my OB who referred me to a neurologist who evaluated me, and then sent me for a spinal tap.  My spinal pressure was extremely high and I was diagnosed with intracranial hypertension, AKA pseudotumor cerebri, which translates to false brain tumor.  My body was under the impression that it had a brain tumor, yet there was none present.  Hence, the headaches, vomiting, memory problems, and vision loss.  Up until this point, I had been a fairly healthy person.  This diagnosis ended all of that. I was pregnant, but we needed to save my vision, so we began treating the disease with medication.  After I delivered a healthy almost 9 lb baby, we began a more aggressive medication routine.  I still struggled with headaches, and a specialist encouraged me to talk to my family physician about pain management.  At this point, I was put off work on long-term disability, I couldn't drive, could barely be alone with my children, and I was in a depression so deep I didn't think I would ever see my way out.

I remember the day so well.  I drug myself into the doctor's office at the absolute end of my rope.  I told him that I couldn't live in this kind of pain anymore, that I couldn't even function, and  I asked if he could help me.  He explained to me the dangers of narcotic pain medication, with one of those being dependency and addiction.  I shrugged it off because I couldn't imagine myself ever becoming addicted.  I would never be a drug addict.  I would have more control than that. 

In treatment, one thing I learned was that most addicts have a very clear recollection or memory associated with the first uses.  My experience was one of those.  I got my prescription filled, took the first dose, and began a two day marathon of watching Jon & Kate Plus 8 (don't judge!) and taking pills.  From early on, I took more than was prescribed.  If one made me feel good, two would be even better.  As they say in Narcotics Anonymous, one is too many, and a thousand is never enough.  The pills made it easier to cope with what I was going through and not really care about what was going on around me.  I truly believed I had found the answer to my problems.  If I was going to be this sick, at least I would have something to get me through it.  I needed something to take ALL of my pain away. 

At this point, I still thought my use was innocent.  I had a serious, life-altering disease, and I had found something to help cope with the pain, that just so happened to be mood-altering. I started taking the majority of my pills within a short time of getting a prescription filled. 

Then, something strange happened.  Every couple of weeks, I started getting this stomach bug.  It was so strange.  I had chills, intestinal issues, body cramps, and I couldn't sleep.  I would have to stay in bed for days at a time, because it hurt to even move.  When the virus came back a second time, I was a little surprised, but when it started visiting on a routine basis, I began to think something was seriously wrong with me.  Maybe I had cancer.  Yes I probably did. Stomach cancer.  Everyone would feel so sorry for me.  Hadn't I been through enough?  But, I started to notice that the times I would get the "virus" were the days that I had run out of pills.  I randomly googled if not having pain pills could make you feel sick (yes, I was that naïve).  I was astonished to read that I, in fact, was experiencing opiate withdrawal.  You guys, I HAD NO IDEA.  In that moment, I'm pretty sure my status went from physically dependent to full-blown addict.  I began to fear feeling that sickness, so I decided I would take my narcotics as prescribed.  You know, I could be a responsible addict...that way I would never run out. 
It, however, was not that easy.  Any addict can tell you, when we are in active use, we have zero power over the amount we consume.  It's like walking into the face of a powerful, unstoppable, imminent blizzard, and telling it to only snow an inch...because we can handle an inch.  Or handing an armed intruder a five dollar bill and thinking he will be satisfied with that and leave.  When we think we can successfully do that (or successfully manage our use), we are the saddest of fools.    

I could not control my use, because my use controlled me.

I believe, at this point, I became a slave to the prescription. It became my top priority and took precedence in my life.  I did whatever it took to get it.  I lied.  I manipulated. I faked illnesses.  I got caught trying to fill multiple prescriptions at a time.  I researched.  Who knows the state law for at what percentage during the prescription life it can be refilled?  I do. 

Eight years.  For eight solid years, I rode this vicious merry-go-round, pretending I would get off at the next stop, but, deep down, knowing that even if I wanted to exit the dizzy, maddening monotony I found myself in, I could not.  For I was completely fear and hopelessness, but most of all, in secrecy and shame.


  1. Thank you Misty. You have the power to pass on your legacy of recovery to others, and maybe even the responsibility of doing just that. You're amazing, I wish you all the best. I'm so glad that you've been part of my life's journey. I love you!

    1. Oh Kathy, I miss you so much! I'm so thankful we got to be on that journey together-both times! Love you!

  2. Amazingly written! I greatly admire your honesty, Misty! Love ya, Effie! :-)

    1. Thanks Rashelle! I appreciate all of your encouragement! Love you!

  3. Thank you so much for sharing your story!