As an actor, I had to pretend, imitate, hide, steal, keep secrets, and even transcend. I created believable characters and delivered Oscar-worthy performances.
Ooops, wait a minute . . . did I say, “Actor”?
I meant, “Addict”.
“As an ADDICT I’ve learned to pretend, imitate, hide . . . “.
Although, after 40 years of addiction I’ve become quite the actor. I was so good that when I stopped acting, there was no one left. There was no one remaining. I’d lost the central character . . . me.
It’s said that addicts have to hit rock bottom before they can begin recovery. Trouble is, I didn’t recognize rock bottom even when I slammed into it.
I thought it would BE like in the movies; when the alcoholic wakes up face down in a ditch, with no memory of how she got there.
I never embraced a ditch, but I did pass out face-down in a bowl of Fruit Loops once.
And I thought it would LOOK like in the movies; like the crack addict with sores and discolored teeth who eventually blows up her house while brewing chemicals.
Although I never had sores or blew up the house; I did lose a lot of teeth, and I did set the sofa on fire by falling asleep with a cigarette in my hand.
The tragedy is that I never saw the similarities between them and me.
As a result, I co-failed in marriage, spent a lifetime in a foggy buzz, and lost most of my memories. I was constantly using drugs, pursuing them, or desperately trying to hide my addiction to them.
My addiction was accessible, convenient, socially acceptable, and kind of legal. And it only required two things: my willingness and a reliable drug dealer.
And I had both.
I was lost and floundering, and he was greedy and available. So together we entered into a relationship in which neither of us acted or looked the part.
We never spoke in drug code on the phone, or met in a dark alley in the hood, or in the bowels of inner Detroit. And my dealer wasn’t paranoid, dressed in Goth black, or covered in tats and piercings; and his pants did NOT hang below his butt.
Nope. He was confident and clean-cut.
And he wore white.
My dealer was my doctor.
And my addiction was to prescription drugs.
I took my first pain pill when I was fifteen years old and suffering with a migraine.
Three things happened:
- I felt the buzz of codeine.
- My addiction switch was flipped on.
- I lied about feeling relief because I already wanted more.
It was that quick and easy.
Over the next 40 years, I lived on a daily cocktail of medications prescribed for pain, muscle tension, anxiety, sleep, depression, and seizures.
And because of the migraines, finding a dealer doctor was easy.
As with all professions, there are good doctors and bad ones. The good ones won’t prescribe pain meds if they aren’t truly warranted. They will work with you to reduce pain and eliminate or control the cause of it.
And the bad ones won’t. They won’t take the time. But they will take a quick moment to write a script and take your money.
I don’t blame my doctor for my addiction, but I will say:
“I couldn’t have done it without him”.
Now, four years later, I take full responsibility for my health, behavior, and life. I volunteer my history of addiction to my doctors because once I do, there is no turning back. And every time I own it, I’m a little proud; because I’m reclaiming myself.
I don’t oppose mainstream medicine or the legitimate use of prescription drugs. Pharmaceuticals save lives, manage diseases and disorders, and relieve pain. If I could tolerate an effective bipolar medication, I would take it in a minute. And if I was having surgery, I would take pain medication during my recovery.
But my pills ceased to be for pain and morphed into a crutch and a habit.
There was always a reason to take one; if I was insecure, upset, depressed, or even just bored. And I was not discriminating about what I ingested. I quickly discarded the inconvenience of discrimination, along with my dignity, judgment, and self-confidence.
As long as I felt . . . better. Or numb.
I didn’t know about bipolar disorder and self-medicating, or about masking and delaying grief, and I didn’t know about addictive personalities or that it can be genetic and run in families.
I couldn’t be an addict . . . because my drugs were prescribed.
“These are needed”, they said.
And I was hurting and without tools to cope with the pain of life or death . . . so I pretended to believe them.
And I took a pill.
EVERY SINGLE DAY, for years.
I don’t know what spurred me, but I slowly weaned myself from one medication at a time until, eventually, I stopped taking all ten medications (Do this under the supervision of your doctor!).
Today, I still take pills. The ones I need; for thyroid and migraine (a migraine med, NOT a pain med), and Xanax for sleep or extreme anxiety.
I’ve been clean now for four years.
Boy, what a different world.
It’s all brand new. And I’m doing everything for the first time.
Now, without any fog to act as a buffer, I’m living in a world FULL of people with issues. It’s difficult, as I’m still finding and developing tools for coping and interacting with them.
Sometimes, I miss the warm fuzzy fogginess of codeine. Things seemed easier. Nothing really touched me. When I felt things, it was dreamlike.
But I’m awake now.
And that means I’m seeing all of life’s beauty for the first time. But I’m also feeling my bipolar disorder; acutely. And my grief. And now, living an inactive, disabled life has become much less tolerable. It was easier when I didn’t care.
But getting clean makes you care. It also makes you restless and uncertain of your next step.
Yes, I’m awake now. And I have a small window of opportunity to try to live an entire lifetime . . . again, the right way.
Why am I sharing all of this?
Because America is suffering from an epidemic of addiction.
Prescription drug addiction is the #1 addiction in the USA today (NOT marijuana, alcohol, or heroin). There’s an estimated 20,000 prescription drug-related deaths annually.
SO WHAT CAN WE DO ABOUT IT?
- START AT HOME by setting an example. Watch your child’s behavior. Be diligent. Keep all medications inaccessible or you will become your child’s drug source should they become curious or depressed.
- BUCK UP. Feel life. It’s okay to be sad or experience pain sometimes. When physical or mental pain persists or interferes with your quality of life, THEN it’s time to visit your doctor.
- STOP SHARING your pills. Your friends may become addicted or have a bad reaction. You might be well-intentioned, but that’s not the way to help.
- BE WILLING TO DO THE WORK OF LIVING healthier. Whether that entails diet, exercise, quitting smoking, stress management, or physical/psychiatric therapy. Seek natural and alternative therapies.
- DON’T SELF-DIAGNOSE. You’re not a doctor and your friends aren’t either. And however educated, they don’t know your medical history; online information is ambiguous at best, and every patient is different. Consult a doctor.
- OVER-PRESCRIBING DOCTORS WILL QUICKLY OFFER YOU PAIN MEDS. It doesn’t mean you have to take them. You can “just say no”. If pain meds are needed, remember that they’re not a long-term solution.
- RECOGNIZE your addictive personality or family history.
- BE RESPONSIBLE FOR YOUR LIFE. Dr. Random doesn’t care if you live zoned-out and in a stupor. Protect and contribute to your quality of life.
This is 2014 and there’s a new addiction in our country.
It’s lured us with its legality and promises of a quick fix for whatever ails us. With the pop of a pill, we don’t have to feel even remotely uncomfortable ever.
But is that what we want?
And is that the legacy we leave our children?
I spent 40 years spinning my wheels and going nowhere. I wasted a lifetime.
Rewrite the script to your life story. If you don’t know how, find someone who does and ask for help. There are plenty of us around.
I was nearly 50 years old when I stopped hiding from the pain of life and took my first baby step towards change. And then I took another. And another. I shed the dealer. And the addict. And I stopped playing the victim.
And when the fog cleared, I looked around. I thought that there was no one left. But I was wrong.
I’m directing my own movie now. And at the end of the day, there IS someone left.
And that’s a start.