Today we reach the exciting climax of my story of addiction, going through withdrawal as I undergo detox. In the second part of this series we discussed how important it is to educate and prepare yourself both physically and mentally for what you are going to face during the detox process. While it is extremely helpful, and in my opinion necessary, to create a schedule and plan out this undertaking to give yourself the best chance at success, there is no level of preparation that can really get you ready for something as horrible as going through withdrawal. It is one of those things that can only be fully understood by actually going through it. Nevertheless, I am going to share with you what I went through over this tortuous 10 day stretch, in the hopes that you can at least get a glimpse into what people with addiction issues have to go through in order to start recovering from this disease. I am going to recount my story as vividly and honestly as I can, but there are parts of the process that my mind has blocked out (most likely for my own sanity and well-being), so some of this is what my nurses told me after the fact.
Like I have said before, this 10 day stretch is by far the most trying, horrible time in my entire life. While I thought I had prepared myself for what I was getting into, I could not have been more wrong. I don’t think there is any way to prepare yourself for something like narcotics withdrawal. I know that if I was not physically disabled, and I could have taken my medications without assistance from my nurses, there is no way in hell that I could have successfully completed this process without going to an inpatient facility. I also know that if not for the way that Beth and Kristin did everything they could to make me comfortable and keep me fighting, that I never would have made it through this brutal ordeal. The way they would keep cool wash cloths on my forehead, massage my muscles when they were exhausted from twitching constantly, clean up my vomit daily, and hold my hand to give me the courage to keep going are just a few of the things they did that allowed me to succeed. I am getting ahead of myself though, so let me start at the beginning.
I am going to depict what I went through chronologically in journal-esque form, so that you can see the progression of the withdrawal process. I want to give you just a little background information before we get going. My doctor and I had planned out a 10 day detox that would get me off of three different drugs. Every three days I would start weaning myself off of another painkiller (days 1, 4, and 7). This way my body would not be stressed too much all at once, and the majority of the detox would be over in only 10 days, so I could get back to my classes and work as quickly as possible.
- Day 1. I start working my way off of drug number one, and I am doing alright. I feel like I have a bad hangover (headache, nauseated, aches, etc.) and my chronic pain is worse from not taking one of my painkillers, but overall I am going strong. I go to sleep that night wondering whether I will see Claire in the morning, and I am feeling quite confident that this will not be that bad (oh how naive I was).
- Day 2. I open my eyes and, just like the last several weeks, the first thing I see is Claire. I was a little disappointed, but it was still early in the detox, so I got over it. My pain was much worse than it was the day before, and moving in any way was excruciating. I am starting to worry about how bad my pain will get if it is this bad already on day 2, but I try to stay confident. I am unable to keep much food down by dinner, but I can stomach Gatorade and juice, so at least I won’t get dehydrated. I am freezing but sweating like crazy one hour, then feel like I am in a sauna but have chills the next. By nightfall I am completely exhausted and want to just go to sleep, but my pain keeps me up most the night, tossing and turning.
Day 3. After getting at most two hours of sleep, once again I wake up to my imaginary girlfriend. Getting transferred from bed into my wheelchair is so painful that I actually throw up (luckily, I avoided hitting my nurses for the most part). Around lunchtime my right arm starts twitching every few seconds. The muscle tremors are so bad that I cannot even use my iPhone or iPad. My legs feel restless, like they need to run a million miles (which is weird for someone in a wheelchair his entire life). This feeling is so uncomfortable that I am almost in tears. My nurse is able to give me some relief by massaging my calves. By the time I laid down that night, my right arm had been twitching non-stop for over 8 hours, and the muscles are exhausted and burning from fatigue and lactic acid build-up. Despite this soreness and fatigue though, it keeps on twitching and keeps me up most the night. Eventually my nurse has to sit by my bed and hold my arm down, just so I can get a little rest.
- Day 4. I start taking myself off of drug number two. More importantly however, I wake up and Claire is gone for the first time in weeks! This moral victory was much needed too, because my pain is off the charts now that I am off of two of my painkillers. Just getting dressed is so brutally painful that I vomit, or try to since I have not eaten in a while. I can feel myself getting angry with my nurses, but I have a hard time controlling my actions as my body hurts more and more. I struggle to keep fluids down, and I am starving but cannot eat. The muscles in my arm are on fire, but the constant twitching continues. My body temperature is all over the place, and my nurses use warm cloths and ice packs to try to keep me comfortable, but it is an uphill battle. I tell my nurses that I don’t know if I will make it. They tell me to do the best I can, just focus on getting through the pain and such, and that they would take care of everything else. I have them hold my hand as I lay in bed that night crying from the pain and exhaustion. Eventually, I more or less pass out from exhaustion as I cry myself to sleep until the next morning.
- Days 5 and 6. These two days are when my memory is hit and miss. I have snapshots of certain things happening, but it is all a bit hazy to say the least. I can remember my pain being so incredibly bad that I could not even speak coherently. Every breath was like getting stabbed in the chest. Any type of movement at all makes my pain spike to the point that I start wretching with dry heaves, but I am pretty used to that by this point. The muscle tremors have spread to both arms, and they are more severe. My biceps and triceps are completely fatigued and on fire, but somehow my arms continue their little jig. At night my nurse has to cross my arms over my chest (the “coffin position”) and wrap me up tightly in a sheet like you would swaddle a baby, to immobilize my arms so I could get some rest. She sits beside me all night applying cool cloths, rubbing my calves, holding my hand, and doing anything else she can think of to give me some amount of comfort.
Day 7. I start coming off of the third, and final, drug. Mercifully, I actually wake up feeling a little bit better. I am still in agonizing pain and my arms continue going strong, but overall I am slightly less miserable. Starting to wean myself off of the last painkiller gives me a jolt of strength and determination that helps me keep fighting, because I know that the end of this whole ordeal is within my reach. My body temperature is starting to stabilize, and I am less nauseated than the last two days. I, for the first time, feel like I am going to successfully complete this process. Another night of twitching, tossing, and turning, but at some point I do drift off to dreamland for a few hours, which is the first real sleep I have gotten in days.
- Days 8, 9, and 10. Things are getting much better over these final three days of torture. My pain starts tempering down to more reasonable levels now that my body is not jonesing for a fix. I am able to keep down some food again, but I have to take it slow. On day 9 my muscle tremors stop finally, and I get some relief for my tired little limbs. I am actually able to get some decent sleep that night too, which helps me feel more like myself again on day 10. By the last day, most of my withdrawal symptoms are gone or nearly so, and other than my chronic pain I am feeling much better (my pain would not go down until I start my new pain management regimen). I am exhausted, sore, and hungry, but I am on cloud nine because I was able to complete the entire detox. I have never seen Claire ever again.
These 10 days are the most difficult and trying of my whole life. I hope that I was able to do justice to how brutal the detox process is, and that you now have some idea of what many people who are suffering from addiction have to go through. Additionally, I hope that I portrayed adequately how critical my nurses were in getting me successfully through my withdrawal symptoms. If not for the way they cared about me and the unconditional love they showed, I know I never would have made it. Beth and Kristin did everything and anything they could think of to give me any sort of comfort or relief. They took amazing care of me, even while I was being mean and manipulative when they would not give me extra painkillers. Most importantly though, the way that I could see in their faces how much they worried and cared about me made me remember that I was not alone in this fight, which made a huge difference in my determination to succeed. I can never thank these lovely ladies enough.
We are now through the detox process, but the journey is not over. While the worst of the chemical addiction is over, the psychological aspects of addiction are still present, and there is still much to do to get your life back to normal. We will discuss this process of moving forward without having this monkey on your back in the next part of this series. Until then, please think about what you read here today, and how difficult it is for those of us who suffer from addiction to get better.