In The Land of Oxy

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By Shurbelle John Baptiste

The Need For Relief

In 2009 I experienced a great deal of pain which eventually led me to see a rheumatologist.  Three specialists between two states diagnosed me with psoriatic and rheumatoid arthritis and prescribed identical radical treatments.  I declined to undergo infusions and injections which included serious health risk warnings.  However, the pain was so unbearable that I followed the advice of the last doctor and sought relief from a pain specialist. Within hours of being prescribed oxycodone, I felt relief from the excruciating pain which previously caused me to go up and down stairs on my knees and hands, avoid chores, and grimace throughout the days and especially nights.  In addition, I had a baby (doctors suspected the pregnancy triggered the autoimmune disease to develop) and was unable to pick him up.  My husband had to place him in my arms whenever he cried for me and then we used pillows for support.  After using oxy, I was able to pick up my son and play with my daughter again.  I was also able to help out around the house and resume a normal life.  Naively, I thought I found the answer to my health challenge. The celebration didn’t last long.

The Need For More

Each month that I saw the pain specialist for a new prescription, there was an increase in the dosage.  It seemed more and more oxycodone was necessary to combat my pain.  Eventually, the doctor added morphine transdermal patches and another pain medication to the mix.  Gradually, over almost a year, I found that I was becoming completely dependent on the legalized drugs to get through the day, the hours, and the minutes. Prior to being prescribed pain medication from a pain specialist, I never took drugs or pain medication stronger than Excedrin or Tylenol.  In fact, I didn’t drink socially or smoke cigarettes.  I was not privy to the effects of oxy and certainly wasn’t aware that it was as addictive, or more addictive than cocaine and made of the same base substance (opium) as heroin. On use, the opium attaches to your brain, nervous system, and several internal organs, eliminating any feelings of pain and bringing a happy, relaxed feeling. “This pleasant feeling is what drives people to use opiates, and the reason doctors prescribe them to people dealing with diseases and conditions with chronic pain.  Both prescription opiates and heroin carry a high risk of addiction and a high risk of fatality by overdose. A dose of opiates can affect your breathing – as your body relaxes, so too do its essential functions. Taking too much can stop your breathing entirely. This is how people die from an overdose. These effects are common to both prescription opiates and street-obtained heroin.”,  Northpoint Washington.  I would have never embarked on a path that would lead me to the inner struggle against dependency of oxy and other legalized prescribed drugs.

The Need To Draw The Line

The week of my daughter’s 4th birthday I called the pain specialist’s office to reschedule the regularly monthly appointment because I felt out of control and in need of an adjustment in medication.  The patch and morphine weren’t enough in addition to the oxy to ward off the pain any longer.  I was informed that I couldn’t be granted an earlier appointment other than the day which happened to be my daughter’s birthday.  I wanted to focus on her birthday and didn’t want to be in the office which often involved an hour and a half wait time.  I frustratedly canceled the standing appointment, without rescheduling another.  At that moment, I decided that the dependence on the medication was becoming too much of a focus for me and figured it was time to find another way to deal with the pain.  I threw out my pills and ripped off my patch.  I discarded anything within my pocketbook or bathroom that was prescribed by the doctor.

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The Need To Hold On

The night I abruptly stopped taking opioids, I felt a struggle within but couldn’t place a finger on what was going on.  I actually thought I was coming down with something and told my family I felt sick in a way never experienced before.  I tried to go to bed and sleep it off but my mind was really unable to rest.  I felt panicky and alone in the worse way.  I don’t think I slept that night.  I asked my husband and mom to look after the kids because I didn’t want them to see me noncomposed.  The next day, my mom was very concerned about my state and demanded we go to the emergency room.  I succumbed to the pressure, but only after I felt I was going insane.  I became very afraid and didn’t know what was bringing my world down around me. After an assessment and tests, the emergency room doctor told me I was suffering addiction to and withdrawal from opioids.  I was surprised because of my preconceived notions of what addiction was.  I also assumed that if I was addicted to drugs, I wouldn’t have just stopped taking the medication without sensing that I would at least be miserable without them.  Truly, I was shocked by the diagnosis.  The doctor recommended that I begin medical detox, thereby tapering myself off of the opioids instead of quitting abruptly.  “Since addiction is a chronic and relapsing disease, with both physical and emotional side effects and symptoms, treatment needs to be comprehensive.  Medical detox may help smooth out withdrawal, reducing side effects, preventing serious complications, and reducing drug cravings.”, American Addiction Centers. 

After surviving the most hellish night of my life, I figured that I should be strong enough to get through the withdrawal without relying on the dreadful drugs.  I made a spiritual commitment to bet on myself to win that battle, without tapering off opioids.  A deep sense of resentment for those substances and how they managed to sneak up and take control of my mind, soul, and body was also a determining factor in my decision to quit “cold turkey”.  I began to build a hatred in fact for opioids and I was very angry about the entire health industry’s inclusion of opioids within treatment plans.  I was determined that my life wouldn’t be hampered by the challenges that arise with drug addiction.

The Need To Open Eyes About Addicts

I  witnessed so much of the devastation experienced by cocaine users throughout the inner city which I used to live.  Back then, I assumed it was the fault of people using the drugs.  Why wouldn’t they just stop using something that is obviously destructive and the key to their downfall?  I considered them to be weak, I am ashamed to admit.  Along with the majority of society, I branded addicts “Losers”.  How ignorant I was about what they are forced to endure.  Now I know that if I had not used the second-by-second thought of my children (who I would do anything in the world for) as a lifeline, I wouldn’t have had the strength to get through withdrawal.  Each day, for weeks and months, I tended to cry without warning and was constantly hanging on by a thread.  I experienced the deepest, darkest loneliness that I can only imagine as hell for the soul.  I truly don’t have another analogy for the despair.  Recovering from addiction feels like you need to get out of your own skin, but it’s impossible.  You aren’t able to enjoy anything that caused you happiness in the past.  Nothing is funny, your heart doesn’t allow for a moment of laughter.  Everything looks dark, feels dark, is dark.  There are heart palpitations, fatigue, sweats, skin crawling sensations – just to name a few.  And for people to dismissively and passively suggest the answer is for people to just stop using drugs is really expecting more than you can imagine if you haven’t been addicted.  It almost feels impossible to endure.  There is no light during withdrawal.  If it’s there, you can’t remotely sense it.  The truth is we have to stop making demands and expecting so much from people at their most vulnerable with less power to address this “national health emergency”.  Why aren’t we instead pointing the finger at the producer’s of these opioids and making demands that drugs are no longer legally allowed to be sold by pharmaceutical companies, and banned from prescription by doctors?  Unless we have the courage to aim our arrows where they should be directed, please don’t look for other areas to place blame.  Addicts have enough to deal with and don’t need to be shunned or blamed any longer.  Regardless of the source of the drug – the street corner, a friend’s house, a nightclub, or pharmacy, the availability of drugs is the problem.  We have to stop fooling ourselves and drawing differences where there are none.  Cocaine, heroin, oxycodone are all addictive drugs.  I never had to go to the streets but I had a dealer in the form of a certified pain specialist.

The Light At The End Of The Tunnel

I am grateful that I don’t yearn for opioids at all any longer.  Long gone are the days when I could literally climb the walls to try to feel better.  I sense all that is good around me and find the natural world is fascinating.  I can give my family my whole heart, laughter, and joyful spirit.  A spirit that wasn’t damaged or squashed permanently by the drugs after all.    I’ve decided to use alternative means to fight my autoimmune diseases but some days are still a struggle.  Do you know what I find myself feeling and thinking on the most pain filled days? Realizing that I can get through anything, so thankful that I am no longer experiencing withdrawal.

Update

An herbal regiment prescribed by an alternative medical practitioner really helped me to recover more smoothly, once I ceased being obstinately against giving alternatives a try.  A combination of liver detox capsules, a green multivitamin, and liquid fish oil, provided what I needed to feel healthier and offset the physical withdrawal symptoms immensely.  I also received a single treatment of acupuncture which I am certain contributed to my recovery as well.

 

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