It Could Happen to You: How I Became Addicted to Painkillers
In my world, drugs were a shrouded secret, spoken about in hushed voices, whispered behind cupped hands as though the mere utterance of the word aloud was dangerous. As children, we were warned to ‘say nope to dope’, as teenagers, accosted with cautionary tales of those whose lives were ruined by one taste of the forbidden fruit. By the time I was an adult, I judged those who did drugs with the condescension of a naive girl in a sheltered world. It never crossed my mind that people turned to drugs for a reason: they worked.
The first time I felt the pleasure of a drug-induced stupor, I was 24 and had just been diagnosed with endometriosis. I was in excruciating pain every minute of every day. I will never forget the moment I felt the morphine reach my brain; the seismic rush of euphoria coursing through me, as my every cell fired with pain-free delight. My body, previously clenched in agony, went slack and a thankful sigh escaped my lips. As my eyes fluttered closed, I silently thanked Hashem for the medication that took away my pain.
Weeks after that first experience, my doctor prescribed me another painkiller called oxycodone and warned me to take it exactly as directed. Although it made me groggy, I adored the oxycodone from the moment its bitter taste first dissolved on my tongue. Three times a day, exactly as my doctor had instructed, I swallowed the tiny pill and counted down the minutes until it kicked in. I was a completely different person without pain- loving, cheerful and fun. I could make it through the day without crying, go to work like everyone else did, and take care of my kids on my own. Oxycodone became my savior, the wonder drug that took away my pain when nothing else would.
I remember the first night I began to abuse the medication. I had been taking the oxycodone for many months when I noticed that it had stopped working as well as it used to. My pain began to slowly seep through the hours in between pills, and once again like a cruel puppeteer, had the power to make me twist agonizingly with a mere flick of its wrist. I was terrified. Terrified to be helpless, terrified to be dependent on others, and most of all, terrified of the shocking, stabbing, cramping agony that brought me to my knees. That night I took two, innocuous-looking pills from the orange colored container and swallowed them quickly along with my guilt. It wasn’t long before two became three and three became four.
With the endometriosis continuing to ravage my insides, my doctors grasped at straws, fumbling in the dark for something to ease its symptoms. No one could figure out what to do for me. I was sent from doctor to doctor and underwent countless surgeries and procedures, including an unnecessary hysterectomy. My life was falling apart piece by piece, as I became unable to take care of the everyday needs of myself and my family. By that point, the three or four extra oxycodone pills I had taken each day had, at a minimum, tripled. Although my pain management doctor had increased my dosage drastically and even changed it to a stronger medication, I continued to take more than prescribed. I preferred the acidic guilt of over-medicating myself to the mere anticipation of being in pain.
Months turned into years and the pills began to take on the new role of numbing my emotional pain as well. They became my best friends, panaceas for all that hurt me. No longer was I shackled by anxieties, fears, questions of self-worth and trauma. Any uncomfortable feelings or thoughts were swiftly and cleanly taken care of with an instant swallow. To make things even better, I had unmatched energy and motivation when I was taking them! Too tired to clean? Hit the narcotics! Not in the mood to make dinner? Pop some painkillers! In a matter of minutes, they could turn me into a virtual superwoman, complete with sharper senses and a keener mind. I became so dependent on the little capsules that I began to believe I couldn’t do anything without them.
And then guilt and shame began to permeate all of the happiness I thought I was experiencing. All of the lying that was necessary to continue getting the pills from my doctor, all of the sneaking around while hiding empty bottles of painkillers deep in the garbage, and all the deceitful stories I told my husband to get him off my back, began taking a toll on my self-esteem. I was sure I was garbage, deserving of nothing but the chronic illness that still plagued me. Most of all, I was ashamed that I had allowed myself to become addicted to drugs, to begin with.
As the shame wore me down, I found myself becoming exhausted by being a superwoman all of the time, and of the expectations I was placing on myself. Additionally, all of the emotional numbing had turned me into a shell of myself, as I could no longer feel any positive feelings either. My marriage was in danger of imploding due to lack of communication, stress, and most of all, my deceitfulness. I couldn’t remember the last time we had told each other that we loved one another. However, as miserable as I was, I couldn’t stop taking the drugs. I was no longer in control of them; they had begun to dominate me.
Five years after my initial diagnosis and six weeks after the surgery that finally removed my endometriosis, I found the courage to tell my husband that I was addicted to painkillers. Thanks to the surgery I was no longer in any physical pain and felt ready to face my emotional demons. With the overwhelming support of my husband, I began the process of withdrawal and was slowly able to rid my body of the narcotics that had been in my system. Unfortunately, that was not the hardest part. While weaning off of the painkillers was excruciating, re-learning to live without them was pure hell.
I’m not sure I would have made it if not for an amazing outpatient program that I was referred to. In the eight months I was there, I learned a great deal about myself and my life. They taught me coping skills and how to deal with pain without medication. I was encouraged to utilize my strengths to help me stay sober, such as meditation, writing, and singing. I learned how to be comfortable with being uncomfortable. I learned to be patient and not expect a quick fix for every situation. I delved into my past and worked my way through trauma. I learned to forgive myself. I learned that I wasn’t alone.
It’s been three years and I am currently sober, healthy, and incredibly thankful for everything in my life.
I didn’t share this story to teach you a lesson. I’m not trying to tell you to stay away from prescription painkillers or be wary of anyone who takes them. There are plenty of people who take, or have taken opiates, and are just fine. There is a time and a place for them. Becoming addicted to drugs is a lot easier than you might think. You don’t have to be homeless or in with a ‘bad crowd’. You don’t even have to buy drugs from a dealer. What you do need is pain and a desire to make it go away. This pain can be emotional, physical, spiritual- it doesn’t matter. Pain is something that we all have to some degree. Let’s just try to remember that we’re all just doing the best that we can, at any given moment.
Rachel Cohen is a firm believer that sharing her life experiences and struggles will help others change their lives. Special ed teacher by day and writer by night, Rachel is dedicated to making other women feel less alone through her poetry, blogs, and magazine articles. Rachel is also a proud advocate for women with endometriosis by arming them with the accurate information necessary to take control of their own disease and get the proper medical care they deserve. She lives with her husband and two children in New York. Rachel can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.