Posts Tagged With: addiction

REMAINS OF THE DAY

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.

And another.

And another.

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.

Don’t you.

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.

Me.

I remain.

And that’s a start.

Categories: Addiction, Inspiration/Motivation | Tags: , , , | 45 Comments

HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME!

Friday is my birthday and I’m turning FOUR YEARS OLD! Yay me!

HUH?

That’s right. I no longer celebrate the number of years since my birth. I now celebrate the number of years since my rebirth; the years I’ve been nicotine free.

 

I smoked 2-3 packs of cigarettes a day for over 30 years; it’s no wonder no one believed that I could quit. If I was awake, I had a cig in my mouth. Every move I made, place I went, and thought I had, was based around taking my next puff. And no matter how long or hard I sucked, I couldn’t seem to get enough.

 

It was exhausting.

People say you have to want to quit, to be successful at it. But I was pretty comfortable in my addiction, until the day I caught a bad cold and learned I had emphysema. I didn’t want to quit. I had to.

 

I decided that if I was going to war with this addiction, I needed to prepare for battle. So I did my research and armed myself.  

 

I requested information from the American Cancer Society and joined their phone counseling program. I was advised to set a quit date and chose my birthday.


Then, I told people about my plan. The guy at the store where I bought my cigs actually laughed.

I learned about visualization and how to imagine possible weak moments, so I would know what to do and could combat them when they actually happened.

 

I also learned about the voice of addiction. You know those thoughts that have you toying with the idea of smoking just one cig? The thought that says you can quit tomorrow instead? That thought is your addiction talking. Ignore it. That voice still whispers in my ear on occasion, but I silence it.

“Sorry, dude, shut up.”


I started on the medication Zyban which is taken WHILE you quit and can help reduce withdrawal symptoms.    Amazingly, my cigs started tasting mucky and I put them out sooner. 

 

The night before quitting, I cleaned the ashtrays, scoured away the smoky smells, destroyed all remaining cigarettes, and stocked my refrigerator with TONS of healthy food.

 

Some previously purchased tools included a pair of walking shoes, my first athletic bra, and an MP3 player. I awoke that first morning and reached for the cigarette on my nightstand. It wasn’t there. 

“Oh, *%&$! It’s gonna be a loooong day!” I whined.

Then I got up, laced up, and went for a walk.

This obnoxious, but well-intentioned four year old has a list of THINGS YOU DON’T WANT TO DO while you’re trying to quit smoking:

DON’T OVER-THINK IT! Don’t try to imagine the rest of your life without cigarettes, or even the rest of your week. Just take it one day at a time.    

DON’T ANTICIPATE THE WORST! I envisioned myself draped on the sofa crying desperately for one more puff, while being slammed with wave after wave of cravings.

They say that cravings last no more than 20 minutes, but I’ve never had one last longer than the time it takes to get a tasty snack or lace up my walking shoes.

 

SOMETIMES, DON’T LISTEN. I’ve been told that heroin users who try to quit using have a higher success rate than smokers do. Now WHY ON EARTH would you tell me THAT?! I’m sure it was said in the spirit of support, but that’s why we smokers don’t even try to quit. We think it will be pure torture.

I expected this:

But it never happened.

DON’T EXAGGERATE! You’re not solving the problem of world hunger or curing cancer . . . you are choosing to stop an addictive behavior.   Nothing more.   Just make up your mind, put on your big person panties, and do it. And don’t look back. Don’t make a mountain out of a molehill.

DON’T UNDERESTIMATE YOURSELF! You can do ANYTHING! Be your own superhero. Afterwards, you’ll live in a healthier world that you created for yourself and you’ll be amazed at your newfound confidence.

 

So HOW AM I DOING FOUR YEARS LATER? Well, my smoking dreams have long ceased, as have my daily cravings; and my idle hands have discovered more productive activities. There are many days, and sometimes even weeks, when a cigarette never even crosses my mind. I would’ve never thought that possible.

 

There have been those of you with questions for me. Many a wrinkled, weathered face has coughed, gagged, huffed and puffed as they inquired with concern about possible weight gain. Quite familiar with this excuse, I peer through the haze and smell of the ashtray . . . and smile at the irony.

 

“Yep, I’ve gained some weight. So what. “

 

So what if I’m a bit chubbier due to my incessant new habit of popping grapes and consuming large amounts of cheese; I’ll tackle that or adjust it . . .  all in good time. At least now I’ll have the breath, the energy, and the time, to work it off and to work it out.

 

Sometimes those first few baby steps can be a bit wobbly.

But I’m standing stronger these days.

 After all, I’m a big girl now. I’m turning four.

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(For information on quitting smoking, visit any of these sites, see notices in your newspaper, or call for free programs provided by your local hospital. Also available: hypnosis, acupuncture, the nicotine patch, smoking cessation programs, or support groups).

National organizations and Web sites

Guide to Quitting Smoking: AMERICAN CANCER SOCIETYwww.cancer.org/Healthy/…/GuidetoQuittingSmoking/index

QuitNet
Web site: www.quitnet.com Offers free, cutting edge services to people trying to quit tobacco

Nicotine Anonymous Toll-free number: 1-877-879-6422 (1-877-TRY-NICA)
Web site: www.nicotine-anonymous.org For free information on their 12-step program, meeting schedules, printed materials, or information on how to start a group in your area

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Office on Smoking and Health
Toll-free number: 1-800-232-4636 (1-800-CDC-INFO)
Free quit support line: 1-800-784-8669 (1-800-QUIT-NOW)
TTY: 1-800-332-8615
Web site: www.cdc.gov/tobacco Free information on smoking and health; phone hotline for people who want to quit

National Cancer Institute
Toll-free number: 1-800-422-6237 (1-800-4-CANCER) for cancer information
Toll-free tobacco quit line: 1–877–448–7848 (1–877–44U–QUIT)
Web site: www.cancer.gov
Direct tobacco Web site: www.smokefree.gov Quitting information, cessation guides, and counseling is offered, as well as state telephone-based quit programs

American Lung Association
Toll-free number: 1-800-548-8252
Web site: www.lungusa.org Printed quit materials are available, some in Spanish. Offers the tobacco cessation program “Freedom from Smoking Online” for a small fee at www.ffsonline.org

 

Categories: Addiction, Holidays/Birthdays, Humor, Inspiration/Motivation | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 44 Comments

THE RIGHT SHOES AND A BOX OF BANDAIDS

Recently, I heard, “Oh, Julia! You’re so strong! You quit smoking after 30 years, you overcame a lifetime of prescription drug addiction, you quit drinking soda, you lost so much weight, you’ve had so many losses and you’ve let go of so much pain!”

I just smiled.

“I love you, you silly fool, but ARE YOU KIDDING ME?! Look at how incredibly WEAK I was! I smoked three packs of cigarettes a day for over 30 years, I popped pills and lived in a fog to escape from life, I ate my way through 195 pounds of comfort food, and I clung desperately to my bitterness and grief. I was one of the WEAKEST people I ever knew!”

Strength is a choice.

You don’t have to be born strong, or be a rock star, or be someone incredibly noble, and you don’t have to be super extraordinary. All you have to do is decide . . . and try. And it starts with one single, tiny, baby step in the right direction. Sometimes it’s literally putting one foot in front of the other and remembering to breathe while you’re doing it.

You know what? There IS something worse than making a mistake and falling down, and that is not trying at all. Shoot, a little humiliation and a skinned knee aren’t going to stop this old gal! Besides, I’ve learned to wear humiliation pretty well; all it takes is the right shoes and a box of Band-Aids!   

So, friends, while you’re out in the world today, if you encounter someone who is a bit too loud, or kind of pushy, or really obnoxious – try to remember that those people are usually the MOST frightened and insecure of all. Try to be patient and not to judge them too harshly. Remember, sometimes being brave and being strong have to be learned and practiced. Maybe we can teach by example through kindness and patience?

And if you’re afraid . . . that’s okay, I’m standing right next to you; just take my hand.

Categories: Addiction, Grief/Healing, Humor, Inspiration/Motivation | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 54 Comments

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