In the first part of this series, we discussed how our society views addiction, and the way this negative, misconceived perception actually makes it harder for individuals who have this problem to seek help. I also began telling you about my own experience with addiction to prescription painkillers, and how the shame of admitting that I had a problem was so powerful that I was willing to risk brain damage before getting help. Thanks to my amazing nurse, Beth, however, I was eventually brave enough to accept that I had an addiction issue and obtain medical treatment. This is where we will begin today, as I continue sharing my journey through addiction with you.
I have been through my share of difficult situations, but overcoming addiction and going through the detox process is by far the hardest thing I have ever done. It pushes you to the brink and tests your mind and body in every conceivable way. For this reason, in order to give yourself a reasonable chance at success, it is important to have a clear understanding of what to expect before you begin detoxing, as well as a solid plan to follow. By developing a plan or schedule for how quickly you are going to wean yourself off of your drug of choice, you accomplish two things that increase your chances of being successful. First, you make sure that you are not being too aggressive, detoxing too quickly, and risking your health. Second, the plan takes away any opportunity for you to make excuses to get your fix. You only get to take what is on your schedule. Creating a plan for my own detox was what I was looking to accomplish when I made my appointment to see my doctor.
After telling my doctor about Claire and everything I had been going through, he and I worked out a plan of action to conquer my addiction. My doctor’s first choice was to admit me to an inpatient rehab facility where doctors would be able to oversee my detox, and at the same time they could start me on a new pain management regimen. This would have taken about a month though, and with grad school I didn’t exactly have a month to take off. At most, I could probably take about 10 days over my Spring Break. While I wanted to just stop them all at once over a three day period, my doctor thought that was too dangerous. Eventually, we compromised on a 10 day detox schedule that would get me off of all three painkillers I was using. This was still a very aggressive approach, and my nurses were under strict instructions to closely monitor my vitals, and if I got to a certain point to call 911. He told me that this was going to be hell, but I was confident I could handle it, and worst case scenario I end up in a rehab facility anyway. So, I decided that in two weeks, during my spring break, I would undergo my detox.
Now, I don’t know how much you know about withdrawal or detoxing beyond what you may have seen on television, so I will give you the basics. At first it’s not so bad, more or less like a bad hangover. You have a splitting headache, you are nauseous, and it hurts to move, but you can function to some degree. That lasts until about 8 hours without drugs, when the real fun starts. You start twitching like a bunny hopped up on crystal meth, and you have the worst case of restless leg syndrome that you can imagine. All the while your chronic pain is gradually increasing in magnitude, and by hour 24 without painkillers you can barely speak it hurts so much. You are exhausted, but your body is shaking so much you can’t sleep. You want a pill more than anything just to make the pain stop, but you know you have to keep going. You are starving, but you cannot keep much food down. And that is just up to day 3, while I did this for 10 straight days. It is by far the hardest, most painful thing I have ever endured, and I have been suspended upside down with my back cut open for 20 hours. I would not wish what I went through that week on my worst enemy. Despite the pain and suffering I knew I was going to face physically though, what I was most worried about beforehand was not something physical, but mental.
My real fears about undertaking this hellish ordeal were actually more about my nurses than me, and I had two main concerns. First, I am a gifted communicator, and as a result of this I am pretty good at getting people to do things they may not usually do. I knew that once the pain got really bad, I was going to do and say anything to convince someone to give me a pill. If I succeeded in manipulating my nurse this way, I knew that would mean starting the whole detox process over from the beginning. I needed to be sure I could trust my nurses to be strong enough to withstand my manipulation. Second, and this was what concerned me most, was that I knew that I was going to say things that were hurtful to my caretakers in the heat of the moment, and I didn’t want them to end up hating me. When the pain got worse than I could imagine, and I was begging for some painkillers, I knew I would start getting mean. I was afraid that I would get through the detox, but I would have to replace all of my nurses because of the things I said. I needed to make sure that I could trust the nurses with me during this process to forgive me when it was over. Luckily, I had two nurses, Beth and another nurse we will call “Kristin,” on my team that I trusted this way, and they cared about me enough to forgive me and do whatever I needed to get me through this process.
After coming up with a plan to gradually, but aggressively, get me off of my painkillers and working out the logistics in terms of my nursing care while I was detoxing, everything was in place to get started cleansing my system to get rid of Claire once and for all. Prior to beginning what I knew would be a difficult process that would test me in every conceivable way, I sat down with Beth and Kristin separately and told them a few things that I wanted them to know going into this battle with my addiction. I told them first of all that this was going to be extremely hard on my body, and I was going to be in the worst shape they had ever seen me. I was confident I could handle it though, and no matter how bad I hurt or how much I begged were they to deviate from our plan by giving me a painkiller. I also told them that once the pain got bad enough, chances were that I would no longer be able to communicate my needs effectively. I had chosen them to be with me, because I knew I could trust their judgment in place of my own, and that they should make the best decisions they could to keep me safe and healthy. Next, I told them that I was sorry up front for anything that I say to them during this period, and that I hope they would be able to forgive me when it was all over. Lastly, and most importantly, I told them I loved them and how much it meant to me that they were here, and if not for the way they cared about me there was no way I could beat my addiction on my own. After saying my piece and giving them each a good, long hug, I was ready to get my show on the road (or as ready as I could be).
I know that without the support of the people closest to me that there is no way I could have done this on my own. I was so fortunate to have two people in my life that I trusted enough to keep me safe, get me through this process, and not hate my guts when it was all over. Having this level of trust is what allowed me to focus all of my energy on just getting myself through the withdrawal, because I knew that Beth and Kristin would be there to take care of everything else. This trust, along with every ounce of strength, determination, and resilience I could muster, is what gave me the courage to fight my addiction. I won’t lie to you, I was terrified that I would not be able to handle the pain and that I might fail, but having those two incredible ladies with me and completely trusting them to take care of me made me brave enough to try.
It is a good thing that both Beth and Kristin were with me too, because despite all of my planning and learning about what to expect during my detox, I had no idea what I was about to go through. It was worse than I could have ever imagined, and my resolve was tested in every way. The specifics of this hellacious ordeal are the the topic of the next entry in my addiction series though, so you will have to wait for the next installment to get the juicy details. Until then, think about who in your life you would trust enough to put your safety and well-being completely in their hands. Who would you want by your side if you had to go through detox and withdrawal? Take a minute to shoot them an email or text message telling them how much they mean to you. You may also want to think about whether these people would want you by their side if the roles were reversed and they had to face their own addiction. If you are lucky enough to have this type of relationship, remember that these are the people you should cherish the most in your life, as they are the individuals who will be there for you no matter what. These priceless relationships are rare, so be sure to value them, because when the chips are down they will be right there beside you.