08 October 2012

Inside addiction

After two years without drugs, Health24 user Heather* looks back at her journey out of the depths of addiction.


After two years without drugs, Health24 user Heather* looks back at her journey out of the depth of addiction. (*Not her real name.)

I lie awake waiting for the alarm to go off at 5:30am. My heart and head are pounding already. I feel sick to my stomach. I get up and go to my dressing table. I start to count out the tranquillisers I can take today. Fourteen. I take two. I take some codeine painkillers as well. Going through to the kitchen I take some anti-nausea tablets. I still feel ill and panicky and my head is pounding. I start scratching through my husbands stock of psychiatric drugs. Ah! Ok, here is some valium the doctor gave him for his flight to the US two weeks ago. One of these will help. I begin to prepare the children’s breakfasts and my own. By the time 6am comes I am “ready” to wake everyone. I am starting to feel better, not normal, not ok, but better. Maybe today will be okay.

That was how every morning of my life started during active addiction. Of course it didn’t start off that way. At first it was only the codeine and not every day. But soon, my body began the inevitable cycle of an opiate addict. My body started generating pain in order to get the “relief” it needed. For 6 years I took codeine every day, all day, just to make it through the day. I knew something was wrong and I looked for help. Help from doctors, therapists, hypnotists, aroma therapists – you name it, I tried it  - nothing worked. I was unable to stop even through my two pregnancies – I just couldn’t see how I could survive without it.

After my second child was born, I developed thyroid disease which was misdiagnosed as post-natal depression. I was treated with anti-depressants, tranquillisers and sleeping tablets. Over the next four years my consumption of these steadily increased. I suffered from constant panic attacks, headaches and insomnia. I slept or lay down – isolated – whenever I could. I used tranquillisers before every stressful situation, especially driving with my two kids in the car. I became obsessed with my tablets, counting them over and over each day. Even when my thyroid was treated, my doctor whom I was also seeing for therapy, made no attempt to stop my medication or even slow it down.

I became emotionless and flat. My only interest was in using and sleeping. I wanted to escape. I wanted it to end. My body was physically weak and bloated. I was developing all sorts of weird allergies. Clearly my body and mind had had enough. But deep inside I knew that things could be better and I did not stop reaching out and praying for help.

I began to realise that I had an addiction and began to do some research on the drugs I was using.  I realised that I could not cold-turkey myself and that I needed professional help to do this – I panicked and I used more.

Six months later I asked my doctor for a second opinion and my 'Higher Power' delivered me to an honest psychiatrist who told me that he did not understand addiction. He referred me to an addiction specialist. Finally I had found the help that I needed.

Getting my affairs in order 

In-patient treatment at a primary care facility was recommended. After getting my affairs in order, I was taken to the facility by my husband. I consumed all the tranquillisers etc I had left on the way. I was unable to fill in my own application form I was so stoned. Reality did not hit until about 3am the next morning. The facility had to give me tranquillisers to wean me off them gradually, but they had not given me enough. It is difficult to describe my withdrawal as the details now are fuzzy. I remember disorientation, pain, panic, fear and body stiffness. These symptoms continued for 4 weeks, getting less as time went on. I don’t remember the details, but the experience of that withdrawal is so etched on my memory that it remains the single most convincing factor in my struggle to stay clean. That and the memory of the living death I experienced while using. 

When in treatment I discovered what had really been happening in my life for 4 years. I learnt how I had stolen a lot of money from my family business in order to pay my doctor for drugs. I also learnt how I had neglected my children and family. I realised the risks I had taken on a daily basis, driving under the influence. I was shocked into submission. I had come to treatment to stop the tranquillisers, not the pain pills and certainly not alcohol. I was not prepared to embark on a whole new way of life embodied in the 12 steps. I was not ready, but my life was at stake. Because relapse is not an option for me. I was lucky not to lose my children and my business and my family. But I won’t be so lucky the second time – I know that for sure.

So I left treatment to return to a family business where no one trusted me, a marriage which had broken down and children who were neglected and damaged.  And I tried to fix all this, one day at a time.

I did all the suggested things, because I didn’t know what else to do. I went to meetings, did step work, got a sponsor, prayed and did service. I didn’t want to do any of these things, but I was desperate to recover.

My life got better. My debts started to get paid off, my kids started to be happier and I gained trust at work. I made good friends in the Narcotics Anonymous fellowship that helped me through the tough times. My marriage did not survive, however, but we are better friends today than when we were married.

Fast forward to 18 months clean. I am in my own house and divorced, sharing custody of the children with my ex-husband. My new sponsor suggested that I write my doctor a letter sharing my experience with him as part of my step 9 process. I did so and by doing that lay to rest much of the resentment that I felt towards him. I did not expect a reply, but I got one.

Interestingly he admitted that he knew that I was an addict, but he thought that I was not ready to confront my addiction, so he continued to supply me.  He was concerned that if he not continue to supply me, that I would have done something rash or hurt myself. That may be true, but he never, not once in four years, tried to help me reduce the amount of pills I was taking. I think that he didn’t and doesn’t understand the devastating affect of addiction to prescription drugs. He saw a woman “coping”. Getting up every morning, driving the kids to school, working, fetching the kids from school, making dinner, going to sleep. All while under the influence of codeine and tranquillisers. I was alive, barely, but certainly not coping and not living.

As I write this I am coming up to my 2 year milestone. Life has its challenges. I am learning, through NA to live each day without the use of drugs. I know that if I follow the programme and do everything I need to do to maintain my recovery – I need never have to use drugs again. That’s all the promise I need to keep going – its enough.

(Story supplied by Narcotics Anonymous, October 2012)

Narcotics Anonymous website

24 hour helpline: 083 900 6962

Send us an e-mail and share your hard-fought addiction story with us.

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How genetics shape addictions

Scientists can now block heroin, morphine addiction


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