Opiate Addiction: Tools for Recovery

In Part 1, Opiate Addiction: The Slide Into Hell, I talked about my introduction to Norco and Percocet and how I moved from use to abuse.

Then, in Part 2, Opiate Addiction: Detox, I shared the details of detoxing from opiates, including the difficulties of withdrawal symptoms.

Here, I speak about finding support for recovery, not always easy when one doesn’t want to participate in the Anonymous/12-Step programs.

My Take on the 12-Steps

Coming out of the detox fog after a month of withdrawal hell, I began feeling the need for support with my cravings and need for medication, so went on a Google Search & Destroy Mission.

For a variety of reasons, I cannot abide by the Anonymous (12-Step) Programs. I am a-theist for starters. Yes, I know the party line of making anything your “Higher Power,” (“It can be a tree!”), but it is just not an emotional, even spiritual, barrier I can cross.

100 years ago, I attended Sexual Abuse Survivors Anonymous (another post for another day) and, I kid you not, they (not me!) recited the Lord’s Prayer at the end of every meeting. “Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.” Even ignoring the incredibly insensitive-to-other-religions-besides-Christianity issue, there was the whole “Our Father,” part. For crying out loud, many of these women had been raped by their fathers! The ghastly myopic blindness horrified me.

Another major issue I have always had is the “I am powerless” recitation in Step 1.

We admitted we were powerless over our addiction —that our lives had become unmanageable.

Well, I am absofuckinglutely NOT powerless. I am power-FULL. I refuse to think of myself as helpless. I did that already and it did not serve me in the least. Fuck that.

I have attended probably 100 12-Step meetings for a variety of issues over the last 3 decades. Different groups, different locations, always the same spiel. It annoyed the crap out of me how meetings became pity parties… and then the, I-Got-More-Fucked-Up-Than-You-Did stories, members trying to one-up each other with how low their “bottoms” were. It also did not escape me the clandestine drug deals and bar dates made for after meetings. I have been told by many present and former Anonymous attendees that the meetings are the best places to score.

Clearly not a good fit, so searched for those alternatives I knew had to exist.

Rational Recovery

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My first stop was Rational Recovery (RR). I was starving and it spoke to my a-theist Self, so I grabbed onto the program, ordering all the books and pamphlets they had to offer. Once they arrived, however, I quickly figured out, uh… no… this won’t work either.

Their main theme is the belief in an “Addictive Voice” aka “The Beast,” that compels one to use. A sort of devil on one’s shoulder, whispering in your ear, imploring you to do your drug-of-choice.

The Beast: Addictive desire. The animal desire for addictive pleasures, to get high. Your Beast is a perverted survival drive that speaks with awesome, sometimes God-like, authority, but takes on charming and seductive tones as well.

One more negative for me is they have no Support Groups, in person or online. I am a Support Group Junkie, so that was a big turn-off, too.

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Nope. Wrong program.

SMART Recovery

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I moved on to SMART Recovery and very quickly knew I had hit on the right solution for my needs. Scientifically based? Yes. Believes in a person’s being powerful? Ayup. Support groups? You bet.

SMART Recovery is the leading self-empowering addiction recovery support group. Our participants learn tools for addiction recovery based on the latest scientific research and participate in a world-wide community which includes free, self-empowering, science-based mutual help groups.

I started attending the online meetings immediately as well as grabbing their FREE material online. The Tools are the cornerstone of SMART. Based on Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT), SMART has whole exercises for re-training the brain to recognize the issue/craving then working with it.

The central idea of REBT (Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy) is that our emotions and behaviors (how we feel and act) are strongly influenced by how we think. Therefore, changing our thinking can be a very powerful way to change our emotions and behaviors.

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I really cannot say enough good about SMART. I saw me through my first year of Recovery. If anyone has any questions about it, please don’t hesitate to ask!

Mindfulness Meditation

An enormous key to my Recovery was/has been/continues to be Mindfulness Meditation. Because there is so much to say, I’m making it its own post.

Trite, I know, but The Message is: THERE IS HOPE! Getting out from addiction has been one of the most amazing things in my life. One of the best is I am writing again.

The words keep flowing!

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 List of Alternatives to 12-Step Programs

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Opiate Addiction: Detox

I wrote how I fell into opiate addiction in Opiate Addiction: The Slide Into Hell. You might want to read that first.

It was difficult for me to make the choice to go ahead with the Suboxone because I still had about a week’s worth of Norco and a month of Percocet due for refill in 10 days, but I was so upset about stealing others’ meds, I felt I needed to start right away.

Suboxone Film

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Suboxone is one of the major treatments to help with opiate withdrawal. I’d gotten the prescription from the Pain Specialist, but didn’t fill it for about 6 months. Once I did, not taking the Norco and Percocet was a reality and it scared me to death.

Before taking the Suboxone the first time, you have to have actual withdrawal symptoms or it can make you really sick. I was disturbed that I had to feel like shit before I could feel better, but I didn’t want to end up in the hospital, so sat in my chair, waiting for the symptoms to begin. I breathed deep most of the time when I was not in the bed. Tried to meditate, read, Facebook, staying “in-the-moment” as much as I could, but my mind was bouncing around, trying to convince me I was a nut for doing this.

After 20 hours or so, many of which I did end up tossing and turning while trying to sleep, I began feeling bad, then worse, then I was really feeling sick, nauseous, jittery, diarrhea and a very deep fear without taking a couple of pills. I used Dr. Google for the zillionth time, making sure I was using this unknown (to me) medication properly. I’d read reviews of how amazing it was, others who said they became addicted to the Suboxone itself and were trying to detox off of it!

I read over and over how to put the film in your mouth. Don’t drink anything near time, but don’t have a dry mouth. (Ugh. Contradictions!) Don’t drink anything after. It can take up to 20 minutes for it to completely dissolve. Don’t chew it. Do not swallow it. Don’t hold it in your hand for a long time or be sweaty lest it melt on you.

I stood in the mirror, tongue up, wanting to make sure where I going to put the film. Can I lift my tongue high enough? Is that the area there? My mind so worried I was going to fuck this up because I couldn’t follow the instructions properly.

Then I opened the package and quickly laid the strip on the (clean) counter, staring at it. I ran to the toilet for the 10th time that day and came out determined to get this underway already.

I took a deep breath, picked up the film, looking in the mirror, lifted my tongue and laid the Suboxone on the underside before lowering my tongue carefully, closing my mouth and going to my chair to wait while it melted and relieved my detox symptoms.

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Oblivion

Once the Suboxone began relieving the symptoms -and I swear it started working within a few minutes, totally a placebo reaction- I felt myself relax, not realizing how incredibly tight I had been. I set alarms on my phone when to take the next dose in case I fell asleep after being so darn tired and feeling like crap.

This is when time smeared away, feeling like a pretty watercolor having a black & white liquid poured on it. I would fade in and out of awareness… alone most of the time, I cannot really say what I did and did not do.

What I Recall Over the Next 4 Days:

  • Being in the chair, TV off (very odd for me) when Zack left for work at 7am, then still sitting there when he came home about 9pm. TV off, dogs not fed. I don’t even know if I peed or drank anything. I am sure I didn’t eat.
  • Zack asking me to go get tacos. I remember being there, at the counter, but the next memory is being home and Zack asking where the food was. I shrugged that I didn’t know. Shockingly, he asked me to go back to get our dinner already. No memory of driving or being there again. I assume I bought food.
  • I kinda realized I was zombie-like, so called the Pain Doc to discuss my dosage. He never called back. I cut the film in half for the next dose. Vanished again after it kicked in.
  • I was in our room and Zack looked over the balcony and asked where the car was. I said I didn’t know. Days later, when I was off the Suboxone, he told me he’d sent out a search party for the car and I had crashed it into some bushes and, apparently, got out and walked home. It was a mile away.

After the lost car incident, Zack said I couldn’t take the Suboxone anymore. I am sure I had no comprehension of what that meant. It took another three days for me to gather my wits about me and be present in my own life.

Weaning Off Meds (snortylaugh)

As soon as I stopped the Suboxone, I went back on the Norco I had left, still 10 days away from the Percocet. Zack handed me the bottle and said, “Have at it, babe.”

Looking back over the years of addiction, it really is quite a miracle I didn’t die. I remember waking up at times thinking I was dying, not quite gasping for air, but I felt suffocated. In 2011, my sister died of a Fentanyl overdose (same medication Prince died from). Even still, I was so deep in my own delusions, I refused to acknowledge my sickness. Knowing what I do now, I know that opiate overdoses slow breathing down and eventually it ceases. An easy death, but tragic nonetheless.

I knew the detox would go easier if I weaned off the Norco. I swear I tried, but the 7 days of medication was gone in 3. I was then thrown into full-on detox with all that goes with it.

opiate withdrawal timeline

I cursed my lack of control to wean at least 100 times an hour, laying in bed moaning that I was dying. The dogs were not sympathetic and Zack wandered in and out to check on me, but there really was nothing for him to do. While one can die doing a sudden detox from alcohol and Benzos, it isn’t a risk for opiate withdrawals, so all I could do was deal with it.

By the time the Percocet was in my hand, I had kind of evened out, not quite so miserable, yet still feeling like crap in general. Sitting here today, I cannot, for the life of me, figure out the rationalization for taking the Percocet and knowing full well I would be starting all over with the withdrawal as soon as they were gone. Bizarre thinking is all I can attribute it to. But take the Percocet I did. I picked them up in the drive-through and before I put the car in drive, I popped 3 in my mouth.

I felt so much better within an hour. All the symptoms vanished and I felt normal again.

The month-long supply of Percocet was gone in 10 days.

And that withdrawal cycle I show up there started all over again.

All told, I had about 30 days of agony with a few days of a Percocet respite inbetween.

Coping alone, I researched support groups (something I enjoy and have utilized for 30 years), refusing any Anonymous program because I am A-theist and, besides the God stuff, I will not ever say I am “powerless”; I am Power-Full. There had to be others like me, didn’t there?

“Opiate Addiction: Tools for Recovery” comes next.

Opiate Addiction: the Slide Into Hell

I’m 2 years clean this month from addiction to the opiates Norco and Percocet.

looking at that statement above with amazing pride and happiness

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How It Began

It’s funny (not haha) that I cannot even recall when I was first prescribed Norco, but I am pretty sure it was around 2005 for back pain. Around 2007, my Primary Care Doc was concerned with my still being on it and ordered an immediate blood test to see if I was abusing them. I was baffled, not even having a clue what she was talking about. I took them exactly as prescribed… never even dawned on me to do otherwise. I was a midwife, for crying out loud. I had to keep my wits about me! Opiate addiction had yet to make headlines.

Then in December 2008, I broke my foot falling off a Wii Fit Board and had surgery to put a pin in it a couple of days later. The Norco wasn’t quite taking care of the pain, so Percocet was added to the mix. I had at least a year of terrible pain as there were 3 surgeries altogether; I remained on the meds throughout, compliant as could be.

I was an active midwife until early 2011 and that is about where I can see I went from use to abuse. Surely I was dependent a lot earlier, but being unaware of the cycle, I bypassed it without notice.

Thoughts & Words

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I kept Journals during the abuse years (ugh, years!), doing the encouraged 3 pages a day, Morning Pages, as described in The Artist’s Way. The rhythm of the words went like this:

  1. Contentment for a few days after the prescriptions were filled… writing about going to the Y or some birthy topic or other… what my partner Zack was doing at the time… just chitty-chatting.
  2. Heightening “concern” I might be taking a few too many at a time, but not really caring and continuing to take them anyway… yet the distant knowledge that I was going to have to count as I wound down towards the end of the prescription. Non-drug topics becoming fewer as I wrote.
  3. Starting to get antsy about the middle of the month. Even a tad squirmy. I started counting pills. Shit, I’ve taken that many already? Crap. My words became jittery, talking about running out in 2 weeks.
  4. Finding myself worrying now about how the hell I am going to make the pills last through the end of the month. And what about my pain? What am I going to do about my pain? I’d gone through the gamut of physical therapies trying to fix the pain, I had learned pain coping methods in my life several times, but they escaped me whenever it was convenient to do so.
  5. The last week before the new prescription was ready was the worst. My writing was nothing BUT how worried I was about getting my meds. I wrote about counting, rationing, taking 2 pills a day instead of 16. Tears smeared the ink many days that last week.

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(Writing this, I can feel those feelings all over again. My bowels are in an uproar.)

Oblivious to Stupidity

The Percocet at the time was a medication I had to have a hand-written Rx for (Norco is like that now, too, but at the time, I was given 3 refills at a time) and I had to first: Call the doctor’s office, leaving a message asking for my refill Rx, second: wait for the 5 days before they would have the Rx ready to be picked up, always terrified they wouldn’t fill it in time, or worse, at all… third, if they didn’t call me to tell me the Rx was ready in 5 days (usually 2 days before it was time to be refilled), I would get in the car and go sit at the doctor’s office until it was ready. I learned pretty quickly that the law allows one to fill a prescription 2 days before it is due. That meant I had two fewer days to ration the pills I had left.

That wasn’t the last hurdle I traversed. Pharmacies have the power to refuse filling any prescription they want to. As my addiction swallowed me up, I would have diarrhea dropping the Rx’s off at the pharmacy, terrified they would not fill my meds. About a year before detoxing, the pharmacy did exactly that, refused to fill my Percocet Rx’s. I remember sobbing at the counter, begging them to explain why? Why were they punishing me when I was just in pain! They were cruel and sadistic.

I changed pharmacies and resumed receiving my drugs.

And the cycle began again, taking 12-20 pills a day for 2 weeks, blah blah blah. (Re-read above to follow along.)

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Delusions

What is so very strange is this pattern, including writing in my Morning Pages, really was so predictable… was nearly identical every. single. month. For years. And yet, I was so deep inside the cycle, I couldn’t climb out.

There were times when I completely ran out and began asking family and friends for their extras, “just until mine came in,” then I would pay them back. They gave me what I asked for, too. I got those extras about a dozen times and rarely paid them back when I got mine. One friend told me I needed help. I didn’t call her for a long time, livid she would deny me. If I’d have had money, I would have bought them. I Googled what to take if one needed pain meds and I cannot even tell you the incredible advice out there. Nyquil (did it). Benadryl (took tons). OTC sleep aids (check).

My partner Zack clearly saw what was happening and tried, several times, to help me get control. Near the end, he hid my meds, divvying them out one day at a time. I madly searched out his hiding places and took what I wanted. He began counting them and saw what I was doing so got a lock box and locked them up. After he’d locked them that first time and left the room, I sat staring at it and cried for far too long. Sometimes he would be exasperated and just leave me to my own devices, but eventually locking them back again.

The Pain Specialist

My insurance, after a certain amount of time, too long I know now, required me to see a pain specialist to evaluate my medication usage. When I walked into the office, they handed me a cup to pee in. A random drug test. I broke out in a sweat and thanked the Universe it was at the end of the month so he wouldn’t see the copious amounts of drugs I would be taking in a week. I passed the pee test.

Sitting in front of the doctor, I recounted my injuries, faking limited mobility, vowing to him I was not addicted to the pain meds. It was obvious he didn’t believe one word I said. He said I needed to get off the meds, writing me a prescription for Suboxone. He wanted to see me in a month to see how I was doing. I never went back and stuffed the prescription into a drawer.

Colorless Life

I really thought I had zero side effects of the meds. Nevermind I was on a cornucopia of psych meds at the same time (and each doctor did know my entire medication list!) When I had agoraphobia, I was also prescribed a variety of anti-anxiety meds… known as Benzos… also highly addictive. Luckily I didn’t like how they made me feel, so just had Zack lock them away. I could see taking them when I ran out of the opiates and didn’t want to do that.

Writing was very difficult during these years. I thought I had lost my life-long compulsion to write. I could barely eek out my Morning Pages. My blog suffered mightily. I couldn’t keep complete thoughts formed long enough to type them out. I would feel rushes of desire to write when there were lively reactions to articles on my Navelgazing Midwife Facebook Page, but when I opened a Word Document, it stayed white with a blinking cursor. I just knew I was in the depths of writer’s block, that was all it was.

Losing words was the worst, however. Simple words escaped me. I kept a Thesaurus tab open on the computer so I could search for the words I really wanted to use. I began laughing that I needed to play charades to get a complete thought out. I honestly thought it was just an age thing. shaking my head in disgust

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Meghann First

Of course, when I was away, Zack had no control over my use/abuse. It was always a treat to travel.

When my daughter Meghann has her babies, I go to Texas to be her doula, birth and postpartum, staying for about 6 weeks total, helping wherever I could. She had her second baby, her second cesarean, in March 2014 and 36 hours after the birth, she nearly hemorrhaged to death, requiring another, more invasive surgery, to save her life. She was in the ICU for several days. Meggie has her own wonderful blog, Practically Hippie, and she tells her harrowing story in The Rest of Preston’s Birth Story (Part 1).

Once she was home, I was in charge of helping her with her pain meds. Norco. I was meticulous with them.

Until I ran out of my own. I took just one once. Not so bad, right?

Meghann was no longer taking the Norco after about 3 weeks, taking Ibuprofen instead. So, I rationalized, she didn’t need them. By default, they were mine, right? Standing back and looking at myself, even then, I was disgusted with what I was doing. When she exerted herself, she needed a Norco. I chilled for a few days to make sure she had what she needed. But if she didn’t ask for one for a few days, I helped myself again. She did have a refill on there. I could go get it and she would never know, right?

Zack’s Turn

My partner of decades, transitioned from female-to-male beginning in 2011, culminating in Sex Reassignment Surgery (“bottom surgery”) in early June 2014. (I will write plenty about my experience with his transition, I promise.)

The phalloplasty (when the penis is made) is such an extensive surgery it requires almost complete bedrest for 30 days afterwards and limited mobility for many months still. There are three surgical sites made at the same time: the forearm, where the nerves and veins and arteries are removed and used to form the phallus… an enormous slice of skin off the thigh in order to cover the cavernous arm wound… and, of course, the groin, where 100+ stitches hold the new penis and testicles onto the body. Most of us can barely comprehend the amount of pain this surgery creates.

Zack was prescribed Norco and Percocet for pain.

(You can already see the train wreck coming, can’t you. Sadly, I could not.)

We were in San Francisco for the surgery, staying in an Air B&B condo. We stayed right at a month, but it overlapped with my needing my meds mailed to me. It was a crisis when it was time, a fiasco that sent them to the wrong zip code and a couple of days later, my picking them up at the warehouse.

I’ll just borrow a couple of Zack’s until mine arrive. Hmmm, I’m already out of Percocet? A months’ worth, gone in less than 2 weeks. Crap, what am I going to do? I snuck into Zack’s bottle while he was sleeping 10 feet from me. He’ll never know.

Shockingly, he took the pain meds rarely. He has the pain tolerance of an elephant. Not me. I am a complete wimp. (I thought; I am not anymore!)

We finally got home and Zack was able to move about freely, albeit slowly. I am not kidding when I say the very first thing he did was walk to the counter and count his Norco. Many were missing. Even though he was wounded in many places, he was apoplectic. I was filled with immense shame at what I had done. He nearly cried telling me how sick (addicted) I was to be stealing his meds after the surgery he had just had.

I filled the prescription for the Suboxone that day.

Next up: “Opiate Addiction: Detox