DAY 5: SHIT JUST GOT REAL

The short story today is that last night was beyond awful. The long story is pretty long so no worries if you’d prefer to stick with the short version. I Love each one of you just for caring.

MLMB…

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I think I sort of know now why it’s so hard for so many people to stop using opiates. For the second time in my life last night I experienced the inexplicable kind of anguish that is narcotic withdrawal. This time actually wasn’t as bad since it started at 10:30 and the last time I looked at the clock it was 1:30 in the morning with no relief in sight. I know not how or when, but I did finally fall into a semi-sleep until about 5:30 when I woke up to just being reeeeeally exhausted. I’ll take exhausted any day but the cause of it today is really hard to fathom until you’ve been there.

The first time I went through this was last year – almost exactly this time last year – when I had gone to a treatment center for help with getting off of the fentanyl. Their bright idea was to put me on oxy-fricking-contin which is a completely backwards approach! But, against my better judgement, I let their own junkie doctor convince me of the benefits of his miraculous approach. Suffice it to say I was only there for two weeks but it seemed like forever before I finally got real clear that I was dealing with some mighty shady people and had to fight my way out. The last day I was there I ended up alone and cornered by four of their “professionals” trying to convince me to stay after having needlessly spent an entire night in…

Full.

Blown.

Narcotic.

Withdrawal.

All of which was due to their bizarre approach in general and the incompetence – and indifference – of the night nurse in particular. But that really wasn’t what was on my mind that night as I rocked back and forth uncontrollably in a chair, my legs stomping up and down as though that might get me somewhere, pounding my thighs, my head, my chest, pulling my hair as it swayed in front of my eyes leaving me with no vision for escape, my torso twisting like I was trying to escape an invisible straight jacket, and screeching like a banshee as it became worse and worse with every minute… with every gasp of oxygen I could actually take in. And that was just on the outside.

On the inside I knew for certain that I would not – I could not – survive the night ahead of me. That banshee that I heard screaming in my own voice was coming from a place inside my body that I didn’t even previously know existed and sure as hell wouldn’t have dived into willingly. I’m sharing this even though it certainly wasn’t attractive and I’m pretty damned embarrassed that I actually paid thousands of dollars to end up in that condition.

If there is a hell on earth, I spent a very long and grueling night there. I don’t recommend it. Yet somehow, like this morning, I emerged from that frenzied night terror intact but mightily shaken. Thankfully last night was just a small taste of last year’s “incident” but it felt like such…a…long…time… until I was finally granted a measure of peace in a fitful sleep.

By this year (and at my own request) I had responsibly, with medical supervision, titrated down to the lowest dosage possible. Even so, I was still apprehensive that I might experience at least some lesser level of what I went through last year. My doctor assured me it would only be “mild discomfort” and he would give me everything I would need to manage this on my own at home. What he failed to mention was that a return phone call on a Friday afternoon didn’t fall into the “everything I’d need” category. I did finally get a call this morning… so I suppose there’s THAT.

As y’all can attest, with all of my previous ramblings (for which I’m eternally grateful that you’ve patiently entertained thusfar) I really WAS only experiencing “mild discomfort” and I was managing it pretty darned well thank you very much. But last night? Last night was a three-plus hour flashback into that indelible descent into the pit of opiate hell of a year ago.

Mind you, I never once felt any kind of euphoria from the patch. Never. I know it seems counterintuitive since fentanyl is said to be at least fifty times stronger than morphine. But with the high opiate tolerance I had developed at that point and with the medication being released at a constant rate, I saw it as a way to stop the cycle of stupid/in pain/jonesing for my next pill. Full disclosure here: I did have the bright idea to boost the in-between times with mass quantities of the Merlot that was so in vogue at the time. So basically, I spent a couple of years or so stuck on stupid. I’m not proud of it and I’m pretty embarrassed at all the cigarette burns and the spilled red wine and the apologies made on my behalf by other people when I’d fall asleep – no when I’d pass out – on the patio. Thank goodness I kept my insanity pretty much contained to moving from the patio – where I could smoke – to the recliner in the living room – where I could finally, blissfully feel nothing at all.

And so the fentanyl patch seemed to be the answer to stopping all of the ups and the downs of the pills. I knew without question that I would be physically addicted to an opiate, but I could function again! I even stopped enjoying that red, red wine of the times and started to feel almost like other folks. Yeah, right… that’s what opiates are best at… convincing you that they are precisely what you need, the only thing you need, and the thing that you MUST have to deal with the absolute bottom line reality that…

“Pain is everywhere. Suffering is optional.”

Although I highly doubt this quote was intended as an excuse for addiction it sure seemed to fit the bill for me!

But now I was just a special kind of junkie with a dealer who happened to have a medical license. I was different. I wasn’t like “those” people and I’d beaten the family legacy of addiction that I’d sworn never to fall prey to. Little did I realize that I would spend the next fifteen years or so of my life cluelessly chained to a multibillion dollar pharmaceutical industry and trapped in the seduction of a medical community who wanted their own cut of the cash while the margins were high. And that’s not even counting my own willing contributions in the way of insurance premiums, office visits, and prescription drugs.

At any rate, for me, when it came to jumping off that roller coaster this time around I had a strategy and a long term plan and I was ready! But of course, for me, being special meant it was never about a quest for a fentanyl high. It was the terror of the fentanyl low… and ultimately the fentanyl NO and after last year’s adventure I knew without a doubt just how low that low can get. But the NO? Here I was sailing along… okay, fumbling through in a flu-like haze but you catch my drift. I’m not sleeping well but at least I have the flexibility to rest during the daytime. And so I crawled into bed last night for the fourth time feeling pretty satisfied with myself so far.

Little did I know the terror that crawled into bed right behind me. A terror that would take me to the point of wishing I had never cut up those extra patches that I flushed on Day One of what I now saw as a ridiculous odyssey. Truth be told – and it’s a shameful ugly truth – is that without that chemical coursing through my veins I was taken to a place so horrific that I would have gladly swallowed a slice of one of those patches had they been within reach. I was debased to a point where I knew there was no limit to what I would have done to just…make…it…stop.

What all of this has been about… me finally taking the typically long way back to the original point of all of this is that I can *so get* how and why so many of us end up abandoning all pretext of a normal life just to make our pain, any kind of pain we are carrying around in our minds, our bodies, our souls to… just… stop. Or at least slow down. Maybe just a little… Or maybe for just a little while…

And it is my belief that thus begins the spiral for so many who have found themselves losing pretty much everything they ever had or ever cared about in search of that next pill, or powder, or needle, or sadly even death. I totally get how it can so easily happen because it was happening to me. And I had no clue! I wasn’t even chasing a high! I was being a responsible junkie and I found a way to justify that because I’ve faced hard things in life… really hard things in mind, body, and spirit… that it was okay for me to seek out “help” for MY pain because I was somehow more deserving than folks who just wanted to get high.

Whether we are chasing a temporary euphoria just for kicks or we’re looking for a momentary ease of our anxiety we are all exactly the same. I now can clearly see that I am no different from that man or that woman or that young person who is so lost in this epidemic opiate haze. I am no different from that man or that woman – or that child – without a home… be it structural or spiritual. Once we get on that roller coaster we can quickly discover that we no longer control the ride. And whoever or whatever your particular conductor is, he ain’t letting you off until he’s sucked out every ounce of you he can squeeze. And once he’s taken all you’ve got, when every good and decent thing you ever were or ever owned or ever Loved is gone, he will happily toss you off those rails along with all the other empty souls who’s tickets he enticed them to buy on that beautiful sunny afternoon from a lifetime ago. You’ll be at the top of the heap again… the heap of all those ravaged souls who’s tickets have received his final punch.

So how will it go tonight? I don’t know. And, yeah, like I’m seriously terrified that it could happen again… maybe even this afternoon… maybe even before bedtime. But what I do know is that as agonizingly mind and body bending as those three or so hours were, I woke up today… tired, weary, worried… but I woke up. I made it through three hours of sheer hell in order to give a major “fu*k you” to a conductor who’s bull$hit I’m no longer buying. Not because I’m brave. I’m just tired of being stuck on stupid. And besides…

Pain is everywhere.
Suffering is optional

MLMB…

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