30+ Years of Addiction

If you go and Google addiction, you are going to come up with a whole bunch of definitions.
Addiction is a primary, chronic disease of brain reward, motivation, memory and related circuitry. Dysfunction in these circuits leads to characteristic biological, psychological, social and spiritual manifestations. This is reflected in an individual pathologically pursuing reward and/or relief by substance use and other behaviors. (WHAT in the hell does that even mean?! And I went to school for this!)
Addiction is characterized by inability to consistently abstain, impairment in behavioral control, craving, diminished recognition of significant problems with oneโ€™s behaviors and interpersonal relationships, and a dysfunctional emotional response. Like other chronic diseases, addiction often involves cycles of relapse and remission. Without treatment or engagement in recovery activities, addiction is progressive and can result in disability or premature death.
An addictive personality refers to a particular set of personality traits that make an individual predisposed to developing addictions. This hypothesis states that there may be common personality traits observable in people suffering from addiction.
Opioid Addiction and Dependence
“Opioids are prescribed to treat pain. With prolonged use, pain-relieving effects may lessen and pain can become worse. In addition, the body can develop dependence. Opioid dependence causes withdrawal symptoms, which makes it difficult to stop taking them. Addiction occurs when dependence interferes with daily life. Taking more than the prescribed amount or using illegal opioids like heroin may result in death.
Symptoms of addiction include uncontrollable cravings and inability to control opioid use even though it’s having negative effects on personal relationships or finances.
Treatment varies but may include discontinuing the drug. Medications such as methadone can help alleviate the symptoms of withdrawal and cravings. Pairing medication with inpatient or support programs generally has the most success.
Consult a doctor for medical advice.”
Sources: Mayo Clinic

After 30+ years of being on and off pain pills for a variety of things, all stemming from a car accident in 1989, and my Mixed Connective Tissue Disease, I can tell you none of the definitions of addict or of addiction really fit me, yet I was most definitely an addict. Though I am no longer tethered by a leash to the opioids, I understand how difficult it is to let go, in fact it’s terrifying! Actually, it’s not just the narcotics, I can honestly say it was as hard to get off of the Gabapentin, that was actually killing me due to Seratonin Syndrome, as it was to come of the pain pills. I am ahead of myself though, I need to start at the beginning, which is really before the car accident, as I started dancing at 3, gymnastics at around 4 or 5 (which I didn’t continue), cheer-leading, pneumonia with cracked ribs at 14 (first round of pain pills) and numerous injuries along the way. It wasn’t until the car accident though that everything began to change. In 1989, my Junior year in high school in St. Louis, Missouri, MRI machines were not in standard use at the Emergency department of the hospital I was taken to, after my head hit the cross beam of the windshield and sun visor, penetrating the windshield, before my seat belt decided to kick in, pulling me back before I was launched out of the car. After they fixed a few bumps and bruises and dings and scratches etc, I was sent on my way with a, “you were one very lucky young lady!” I didn’t feel very lucky.

It was shortly after that I noticed I was off balance. The migraines started within a few weeks. The pain was excruciating every day in my neck and low back, and yet, every doctor we went to said there was nothing wrong with me. The Chiropractor was the only person who gave me any relief, but he stuck to massage even back then, saying he wasn’t so sure there wasn’t more damage. But I’m stubborn, and I was tired of the Physicians trying to prescribe me Amitriptyline, and other anti-depressants for the pain. I knew it wasn’t in my head, I knew what I was feeling was real. I knew the rage I suddenly had was real. The depression was real. My grades started slipping because every time I tried to study, with my head bent over a text book the pain would shoot from my neck down my arms and up over my head, that was real. My personality changed. And then almost exactly a year later I hurt my knee cheer-leading, doing something I did all the time, but I lost my balance, again. I had begun to sound like a broken record at that point. Falls down the stairs, falls off the sidewalk, missed moves and missed counts dancing and cheering all because I was off, something was wrong. I played it off. Put on that mask I had gotten so used to wearing, and acted like it was no big deal, but it was. That was the moment the first refillable pain pill prescription was written, and if I posted the photos of my Junior to Senior year in high school, then Freshman to Junior in college, it would shock you. I started to swell, the weight started to pile on, and I looked sick all the time, and I was, literally. It is hard to look back to my Senior year for me, because I look like a different person. Others noticed, and as teenagers do, made fun of it, instead of realizing that there was an issue. I am forever immortalized as “Shamu” in the yearbook from my Senior year by someone I formerly called “friend”, and to this day, that still stings. And the truth behind the mask, the reality of it all, is that from February of 1990, minus a few years due to insurance issues (which I will get into) until recently, I have had a prescription for opioids, and when I didn’t have a prescription, alcohol and cocaine filled the void.

After doing some research into autoimmune diseases, it says they can be triggered by trauma, and I guess you can say I probably fall into that category. I already had a predisposition with my familial history, but the accident didn’t help, nor did the misdiagnosis of injury, so I just continued the trauma by continuing to, well, be me. I graduated in May of 1990 and by the end of June I had knee surgery and hoped I was on my way to recovery, since I was convinced at this point that pain was just a part of life and that I needed to get over it. So off to college at Emory University I went, all wide eyed and hopeful ready to take on the world! In October of that year, I fell at a party and was rushed to the ER worried I had screwed up the surgery, but it was just a strain, and TADA more pain pills, and when I say they prescribed them by the boat load, that is an understatement. Suddenly my dreams of being a lawyer went up in smoke because I was far too hazy to go to class, concentrate or do anything really other than sing and party, which is all I did. I didn’t really eat, I didn’t go to class, but I did take pills and drink a lot, until I met an angel who saved me. She probably doesn’t know it, but she did, and I will forever be grateful. She cleared away the clouds and got me back to where I could at least finish my year in Atlanta off of the academic probation I had gotten myself into with my deplorable first semester. (Thank you Selin) And then, I hate to say it, but once I moved home, which wasn’t where I grew up anymore, everything kind of goes blank for me, for quite a few years. I have bits and pieces that I look back on, not so fondly, including a marriage I wish I hadn’t subjected either of us to, the loss of friendships, the abandonment of a degree I loved, and lots and lots of alcohol, a few surgeries, and the first visit to a Rheumatologist after some blood work came back wonky. I had a problem I covered well before I walked into that office, the one I had AFTER I walked out became epic, and yet, I continued to wear the masks and put on the best performance of my life every day so no one would notice. I look back at pictures and I wonder HOW no one noticed, but I guess I was a much better actress off stage than I ever was on one. The moment that doctor said, “Lupus but not Lupus,” the decades of battles with doctors and insurance began, and they honestly still make my blood boil. Until recently you couldn’t HAVE Lupus without having Lupus, then the research came out and people realized we weren’t making this shit up, and that autoimmune diseases overlap, and make us look like hypochondriacs. Let me tell you a cold hard fact here, all we want to do is LIVE and to stop having people look at us like we are insane. Stop for a minute and imagine what it’s like to have your body literally be your own enemy.

Doctor after doctor, guru after guru, every self help book etc, and I couldn’t find any help other than the narcotics they prescribed, so on and on it went, for years, and then decades. Somewhere in there I got lost. Literally, I lost who I was, and who I dreamed of being. Everything seemed to slip away from me and I became someone I didn’t recognize in the mirror. The people who saw behind the mask, I pushed away, and sometimes I hurt them or I made them hurt me. It was easier that way, and the years just passed and I continued, being, not living. Sooner than later I was divorced and having a child with someone who wasn’t ready to have a child, mainly because all we really wanted to do was party at the time. But I had always been told I couldn’t have children, so at 26 it was my time and my handsome, strong, bouncing baby boy was born and my world became about him. No pills. No narcotics. No alcohol. Every moment of every day was about him, and then my body started to shut down. I put on 89 pounds AFTER I had him, and the pain was now worse in my back after carrying a baby and NOW I had numbness in my fingers and hands. More doctors, more tests, and no answers, but of course more prescriptions for things like Vicodin, Soma, and Prednisone, which meant I couldn’t care for my toddler as a single parent. Now the pain was starting to get in the way, so I looked for different answers from different doctors. And I found one! This amazing little place in Scottsdale called Your Neighborhood Doctor had a D.O. there who said, “if it looks like Lupus, and it acts like Lupus, then I’m just going to treat it like Lupus,” and I had the first relief in years. Kenalog was my saving grace for years until there were restrictions put on physicians on how and when they could use it, and of course when you have a disease that many people say doesn’t even exist, getting treatment becomes incredibly difficult. One day I couldn’t get my injections anymore, insurance ran out and I was still in the same pain I had been in before and the future for my son and I started to look pretty bleak. Every day I continued to show up for my son because that was my JOB as far as I was concerned, nothing was going to keep me from that, no pain, no heart ache, nothing, and when you start thinking like that, and not looking for other help and options, you tend to do stupid things. Next thing you know I had what can only be described as an impressive cocaine habit. I say impressive not in a positive meaning, but more along the lines of, “how in the hell did you keep your shit together” kind of a way. It’s very hard to write a story of drug use, addiction, pain, and illness when there are so many other people involved, without including them. But this isn’t their story, this isn’t what they knew or didn’t know, or what they think is or isn’t true here either. People see only what they want to see, and some aren’t around to tell their side of things, and this is MY story after all and no one can tell it but me because I lived it through my eyes and with my heart and brain.

All day long, every day for almost 2 years I used cocaine to treat the pain and help me continue to be a Mom, the complete opposite of what they say happens with addiction. I went to class, I went to work, I picked up my son on time, I took care of him and I showed up. When I say I was working, I need to explain that I was working as a Drug Counselor in Phoenix, doing lines of cocaine in my office between clients just to get through my day. I was the Queen of “I use not abuse.” I truly believed I was different and that I was above the rest. I was so fucking arrogant. That is the only thing to call that. There are no nice words for that kind of person. The days and nights when I didn’t have responsibilities, I was a complete mess and it wasn’t just cocaine, it was every pharmaceutical I could get my hands on, after a certain point in time. Tragedy will do that to you, if you let it. As I was falling deeper into addiction and losing myself to the pain I also found my way back to my son’s father, and in a very short period of time true tragedy struck and I was having to now deal with his death on top of everything else and it is truly a miracle I am still here today. I can honestly say my reason for being alive is my son, I couldn’t leave him without a Mother and a Father, and I HAD to be a better person for him. As I was dealing with the grief and quitting my new found habit a friend convinced me to smoke a joint with him to relax and see if it took the edge off the pain. At that point, it was a MUCH better option than what I had been doing and I still had no insurance, so I took the joint from his hand and after a few puffs something started to happen, I felt better. Being the person that I am, skeptical as hell, I decided it was because he told me it would make me feel better and went about my life. Except every time he was around, the same thing happened, and in the back of my mind a thought started to twist and turn itself into existence and I began to wonder about the powers of cannabis. Did I do anything about it? Nope. Did I tell anyone? No. And then life moved on; I started to feel better; I moved; I got a job I loved; and then BOOM out of no where that “Lupus but not Lupus” thing popped up and literally knocked me on my ass. It hit me so hard it put me in bed for three years as a bobble-headed pill popping junkie. And from there, well you can read my story to get up to speed to where we are now. This is my story but there are literally thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of people all across this country with similar stories of addiction, I am not alone, I am simply a voice clamoring to be heard for those without a voice, who continue to live in the darkness.

I remember sitting with my Mom 2 years ago at Christmas and she asked me why I was shaking and sweating, and I told her it was because I had to take an Oxy, “but you aren’t in pain,” she said kind of as a question and a statement, and I had to look at her and tell her that I was an addict. That I didn’t take them for pain, that I literally HAD to take them now to keep the withdrawal symptoms away. She lost it, she cried, she was angry, and it was then that I realized that in some ways I had worn that mask too well for way too many years. It was a rude awakening and that night I sat with my fiance and we discussed how I was going to break that chain, and we came up with a plan for us to start as soon as I was ready. That day came sooner than I planned with a screw up at my physician’s office over a long holiday weekend. As soon as we realized I was out of medication and that I wasn’t going to be getting any until at least Tuesday and it was Friday afternoon at 3 pm, we quickly headed to a local dispensary to pick up several Delta-8 cartridges from Item 9 because I had already done research on that amazing cannabinoid and was pretty sure it would help, a bunch of CBD and some pre-rolled cannabis joints from Dutchie of Arizona. We knew it was going to be a long weekend, and I was ready to have to head to the hospital if things got out of control. We had a pulse meter, a blood pressure cuff and lots and lots of fluids around, but in the end, though it was bad, don’t get me wrong, it was a lot easier than I expected and I feel so much better now that the Oxy doesn’t control my life. That was the first step of course, the real battle has been every day since, choosing to NOT take the easy way out. If you want to feel no pain there are plenty of options, none of them healthy, I should know. Options exist outside what the mainstream medical community would have you believe and every day we see more and more traditional doctors acknowledging the power of a plant that has served mankind since our beginning.

If you or someone you love has a problem with drugs or alcohol seek medical advice first before ever starting a new health care regimen, including adding medical marijuana. I have been under the care of a MMJ Doctor for years now who has assisted me in coming off of the medications I have and you should ALWAYS involve your healthcare professionals in your healthcare decisions! Find a good one who supports your lifestyle decisions!

I know I left out a few details here and there, but I hope everyone got an idea of how addicts can be created not from just tragedy and life circumstances as a child, but from the medical community itself. Patients know their own bodies and physicians should know this because they want their caregivers to listen to them in a time of need. It has been easy to sweep autoimmune diseases and chronic pain under the rug because they occur predominantly in women, and of course, we are an emotional and hysterical breed who overreact and therefore what we say isn’t always the exact truth. At least those are the lies the world has been fed for millennia. Be an advocate for yourself and if your doctor doesn’t want to be part of a team led by YOU, then find another doctor and take control of your life and become your best supporter! Some people may not like it but you are learning to live your best life for yourself free from the chains of addiction and the poisons of big pharma!

Stay wickedly elevated!
Nicole

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