I fear being judged and mistrusted. Will anyone listen to a “pill popper?”
I suffered from a chronic pain issue, but I hid my problem. I feared doctors, and nurses only saw a drug seeker. It was so hard to admit when things got out of hand; that I needed help. I was a drug seeker. But what if, God forbid, my addiction went one step too far? What if it was too late to get help?
My story starts innocently enough but takes a dark turn. Things all started with a typical female gynecologic issue, debilitating menstrual cramps. Every month I suffered the misery of terrible periods. I missed school and work. I tossed and turned in bed, trying to find a comfortable position. I used heating pads, Tylenol, and Ibuprofen.
I would use anything to alleviate the pain.
One day, a friend’s mom recommended a doctor. The office was quite far away, but the doctor had a reputation for being a good listener with a genuine concern for women in pain.
This doctor gave me hope. She suggested birth control pills for cycle suppression but also prescribed something “new” to make me more comfortable. The hope was the new birth control would reduce menstrual cramping while I took the other medication “as needed” for pain.
This new medication was Hydrocodone-Acetaminophen 10/325 mg, a potent opiate.
I went for a follow-up appointment with my regular doctor. The doctor was highly concerned with this new prescription. I was young, healthy, and on a strong dose of opiates for a long period of time.
Honestly, I hadn’t realized this medication came with dangerous addiction potential. The prescribing doctor never mentioned it. My menstrual pain was gone, but now I was facing a new problem.
Pain pill addiction.
Good-bye magic pill
Getting off pain medication triggers horrific withdrawal symptoms. My menstrual cramps paled in comparison to withdrawal pains. These abdominal pains were the worst thing I have ever gone through in my life.
It was agony.
I needed something to make it stop.
Addicts will do anything to get a fix. In our minds, the sky is the limit. We play out every scenario in our minds to get relief. I called everyone I knew who had ever taken this medication. Sadly, finding pain pills was simple. Many people had extra pain medication leftover from surgeries and other medical problems.
Finding more and more pain medication was easy. I learned all the tricks. I spent many hours going to various doctors and emergency rooms to fill the continuous gap in my life.
Hydrocodone made the pain go away.
I continued this pattern for eight years.
I also have a history of depression. Depression is a common compounding problem for addicts, often not correctly diagnosed. Getting high off pain pills filled an emotional hole, as well as the physical one.
A doctor asked the hard questions
I got pregnant with my first pregnancy. My doctor looked at my prescription history and asked if I was taking opiates. No other doctor had ever confronted me with my actual prescription history. They just took me at my word, and I was good at lying.
I wanted to be honest, but I didn’t have the courage to my doctor the truth. I was not ready yet.
I denied narcotic use.
I honestly didn’t have faith in myself to be done with pills after my son was born. I was worried about going through labor and not having good pain relief.
I had many excuses that all made perfect sense at the time.
My doctor saw through my denials. He enrolled me in a pain management program, and I started Suboxone. The pregnancy was a success but soon after I relapsed. After I had my baby, I went through a few more years in and out of the recovery and relapse phase.
After my second child, I finally got tired of prescription chasing. Calling people for pain pills got old. Finding medication was exhausting.
I always had an excuse or a lie. Eventually, the lies catch up to you.
While I had legitimate pain from some nerve damage after my second pregnancy, it was nothing major. I was uncomfortable at times, but I used the MRI showing a small bulge in my spine to get my pain medication.
I no longer had the energy to take care of my boys without a dose of pills. This life was embarrassing and frustrating.
My depression was growing.
A day came when I had enough. A Suboxone clinic opened near my house. I drove by it a few times before I actually made a call.
The clinic’s fees were not sky-high. Finding affordable help is another barrier to addicts. Without health insurance, it is cheaper to buy pills off the street or go to an ER. Cost is also a convenient excuse to avoid the terrifying decision to go get help.
Now it makes sense to me when people say no one can help you until you are ready to help yourself.
The day I called, I made sure to get an appointment for the same day. If I did not go right away, I would make up an excuse to cancel.
I was fighting an intense internal battle. A war between good and evil waged inside my head. Walking into the clinic was the right decision for myself and for my family.
But I tried talking myself out of it.
I did not want to go inside the door. Entry meant something was really going to change in my life. I don’t care for change even though I really needed it. Addiction’s tight grip on your brain is powerful. No matter how much pain it causes, you just can’t pull away.
I held my head up and tried to keep calm. My heart was pounding. My palms were sweating.
I walked through the door, and I have never looked back.
I started appropriate anti-depressant medication. We also began non-narcotic medicines to help with nerve pain.
I am now 3 years sober. I am also happy.
I take the process one day at a time. I am human. Healing takes time. Everyone has baggage. We are all a little damaged. Our scars are part of our unique story.
My faith in God and my family are sources of inspiration to keep walking the right path.
I thank the doctors who confronted me with the truth of my addiction.
You called my bluff. I needed it.
Doctors who express legitimate, sincere interest can help people who are struggling. Addicts will lie and deceive, but they need the trusted help a doctor can give.
If you are a patient struggling with any addiction problems, please know you can reach out. You can get help without being scrutinized. It may not feel like it, but there are people who know what you are going through and want to help.
It is my genuine hope to bring good out of this dark time in my life. For anyone struggling, I hope they see the light shining from my story.
Ask for help.
Come out of the darkness and join the sunshine.
This article was contributed by an anonymous patient at MacArthur Medical Center and edited by Dr. Jeff Livingston. We respect her privacy and value her strength and courage to share her experience.